Interviews: Lightning Fish Games - Get Fit with Mel B
Posted by James Newton
Get Answers with These Qs
Get Fit with Mel B is the first fitness game for Move, although there's been plenty of sweat poured out in Sports Champions. We had plenty of questions about how Move was used in the upcoming workout title, so we collared developer Lightning Fish Games and demanded answers.
Movemodo: First of all, please introduce yourself and your role on Get Fit with Mel B.
Phil Marley: My name's Phil Marley, and I'm the Creative Director here at Lightning Fish Games.
MM: What sort of involvement did Mel have in the game’s creation?
Phil Marley: I can honestly say: total. Unlike in some games that feature a celebrity, where there might be a introductory clip of them and then a motion-captured avatar doing the exercises, in Get Fit with Mel B every single exercise is actual video of Mel doing it. Not only does this mean we deliver on our promise - you're actually working out with Mel - but it also means you're exercising with a real person who moves like you do and even strains a little bit on the tougher exercises. CG avatars can be a bit 'overly perfect' sometimes they even move in ways that are impossible to reproduce, which can be really frustrating for the player.
During the video shoot for the game, Mel was constantly suggesting changes or even whole new moves, and added a lot of really cool dance moves to the dance aerobics section: when Mel tells you at the start of the game that 'I'm going to show you how to get fit the way I do', that really is true.
MM: What marks Get Fit with Mel B out from the other fitness games we’ve seen in recent times?
Phil Marley: What we wanted to do with Get Fit with Mel B was to deliver something that really worked, without compromise. A lot of fitness games don't include the full range of muscle group exercises: for example, because a lot of them rely on handheld motion controllers, they can't include any sort of push-up. They've looked at motion controllers and asked 'What exercises can we make work with that?' The problem is that, without push-ups, unless you have some sort of resistance equipment (which again, most fitness games don't support), it's very hard to work the upper body. Similarly, without incorporating equipment like wrist weights, it's very difficult to properly work the arm muscles.
We decided from the start that it wasn't acceptable to compromise on this stuff, so we brought in a team from Oxford University's Active Vision Lab to help us develop our own, proprietary camera-based system that works with both the Kinect sensor and the PlayStation Eye to track the player even in a push-up, and even when they're holding equipment. We already knew we could support equipment and floor-based exercises on the Wii thanks to our existing tech, and the Wii Balance Board, so Wii owners are fully catered for: we already have a loyal fanbase on Wii from our first two fitness games, and there's no way we're abandoning them.
So, while other people asked 'What exercises can we make work with this motion controller', we asked Fitness First to devise exercise programmes for us and then developed the tech to support them, so we didn't have to compromise. So Get Fit with Mel B's biggest stand-out point is that it gives you a proper, no-compromise workout that actually works.
MM: Please explain a little more about the “Your Progress” portion of the Mel B website.
Phil Marley: The “Your Progress” portion of the website has been thought as a support to deliver a real customized fitness experience and make fitness goals easier and more effective to reach. In this reserved area of the website, there will be the possibility of storing personal data and get more fitness information and charts tracking results, objectives and progress, downloading Mel B official cookbook including more than 120 recipes and discovering suggestions on how to cook food healthily.
MM: The game is big on nutrition as well – what sort of research went into creating the “healthy eating” sections?
Phil Marley: One of the cool things about the way the game works behind the scenes is that it dynamically structures your workouts: it picks the exercises that make up each day's workout based on your needs and your goals, and individually tailors each exercise according to your strengths and weaknesses: so if we both need a chest and arms exercise, you might get 16 full push-ups, whereas I get 12 push-ups on my knees. This mimics the way a personal trainer works: everything's custom-made for the client. It has the benefit that you get a different workout every day. We did the same with the nutrition system: rather than creating set menus that you follow, we worked with a top nutritionist to create a system that takes into account your age, sex, height and weight, your goals and your food preferences (you can specify that you don't eat beef, pork, chicken, fish, shellfish, nuts, dairy, eggs and so on and we'll take that into account) and then creates a menu plan especially for you.
Our nutritionist, Carina Norris, wanted to go beyond normal weight loss and weight control diets and actually improve people's general health as well, so the meal plan system factors in nutritional guidelines such as not including red meat in your diet too often, having oily fish a certain number of times per week, and so on. Then, as the final stage, we actually adjust each individual recipe (and there are 140 of them) for your needs, so you might get an extra scoop of rice or a bread roll, but because I need to lose a bit more weight my version of that same recipe won't include those. What all this gives you is a menu that's unique to you and your needs.
MM: How is the PlayStation Move controller used in-game?
Phil Marley: The great thing about the PlayStation Move is the amount of accuracy it gives us when tracking upper body exercises. So you'll find in the game that we ask you to hold the PlayStation Move whenever the exercise involves your upper body.
MM: Is it essential to use the Move, or can players work out using the Eye camera alone?
Phil Marley: There are some exercises that just aren't possible to track sensibly with the Move controller - for example, a push-up. So we use our own proprietary optical tracking system to track you for these, and have you put the Move controller down while you do them.
In the European release, because the PlayStation Eye was such a big seller over here, we've also included the option of working out with just the PlayStation Eye and no Move controller, so we use our optical tracking throughout. We even included the option to work out without the Move controller or PlayStation Eye (you self-score yourself on each exercise) for users who want to try the game before they buy any new hardware.
MM: Were there any unique features of the Move you were able to use in the game?
Phil Marley: There are some exercises that involve putting the controller behind your back (for example, in tricep extensions it's hidden some of the time). Having both the orb to track optically plus the motion sensors means that even these tricky exercises could work well.
MM: The game is out on multiple formats too – is there anything exclusive to any version or are they all identical?
Phil Marley: On the Wii of course there's no camera, so we show just Mel rather than you and Mel, but we support both the Wii Balance Board and MotionPlus. On PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 you work out next to Mel and the experience is pretty much identical between the two.
MM: The game has been out for a few weeks now in the United States – what has the reaction been like amongst users?
Phil Marley: Very good - we always try to stay in touch with our users and we factored in a lot of the feedback from our first two fitness games into this one. For example, one of the things we've included this time is 'Custom Workout', which gives you absolute control over which exercises you do, how many reps, etc. That feature was specifically added because our more 'hardcore' users on the previous games wanted to have that level of control. So among our fanbase people seem to be finding that we've delivered what they were asking for. Amongst new users people like the fact that it's video, not CG, which if you haven't played one of our games before is quite a difference.
One recurring comment we're hearing is that people are surprised at how good a workout they get from the game. Mel doesn't mess around! You can read the latest reviews on our website.
MM: One thing we’re always curious about when developing a fitness title – did anyone on the development team lose a significant amount of weight? Any “feelgood” stories stemming from the game’s creation?
I was on the game every day doing different workouts: during the Beta period, when obviously we have to keep testing and tweaking, I personally dropped seven pounds in a couple of weeks. There's also a blogger I came across who's been using the game for two weeks and has already dropped 10 pounds.
Also, two of our QA staff lost over 10kg in 6 weeks, just from testing Get Fit With Mel B!
MM: Lastly, is there anything else you’d like to say about Get Fit with Mel B or your experience working with PlayStation Move?
I'd like to thank the fans of our previous games for their support and feedback, and also say: if you haven't tried the game yet, give it a try. We think we offer the most complete package on the market: there's a lot of variety, you get nutrition too, you can use equipment if you want to and - most importantly - this actually will get you fit!
One thing that some people ask is: is it suitable for men as well? We have the same number of goals for men as for women: 25 for each sex - so men can choose things like 'Six Pack for Summer' or 'Upper Body Strength' while women have everything from 'Drop a Dress Size' to 'Goodbye Tummy'. There's really something for everyone, and all of the nutrition adjusts to suit both men and women, so for men looking for a way to get fit: yes, this will work for you.