Different Strokes

Dive in with Michael Phelps to "push the limit," pushing the limits of interactive swimming.

mikephelps58 (photo credit: MCT)
(photo credit: MCT)
Olympic swimming champion Michael Phelps is taking the plunge into video games.
His first, “Push the Limit,” scheduled to be released in June, uses the Kinect hands-free control sensor for Microsoft’s Xbox 360 system in lieu of a pool. Players stand upright and work their arms – no kicking required – in a variety of swimming stroke motions as they advance from introductory swim meets to championships.
“The better stroke technique you have, the faster you go,” Phelps says.
“It’s extremely realistic. If you had asked me five years ago if I ever thought I would have a video game coming out with swimming in it, I’m not sure what I would have said. I would never ever have thought it would be like it is. It is cool and fun.”
Phelps’s techniques were captured with special high-speed, high-definition cameras for incorporation into the game. “It’s all based on moves and actual strokes,” he says. “They’re trying to pretty much make my stroke look as close as possible in the game as it is in person.”
At the beginning of the game (no price or ratings yet), Phelps – who won a record eight gold medals in Beijing in 2008 – teaches proper swimming technique, from diving in to reaching for the wall. “He is breaking down the dive component, the swimming component, the turns, all the key aspects,” says Pete Matisse of publisher 505 Games. “Michael is actually mentoring you through that process. But the ultimate goal of the game is to swim against Michael and actually beat him.”
Even diving into the pool has its intricacies. For instance, to start a freestyle swim race, you bend down as if to touch your toes, and at the start of the race, move into an upright position to trigger your swimmer’s dive into the pool. How quickly you transition from bent over to proper swimming position determines your velocity entering the pool.
Now upright, you do “the swim” to speed through the pool. “Literally you are standing there, you feel you are swimming on land,” Phelps says. “It’s kind of a workout in itself.”
Proper form propels you forward; bad form can leave you slowly treading water. And you won’t be swimming in any bland virtual lap pool. Competitions take place in pools in exotic environments such as atop skyscrapers, in a Japanese dojo and a glass pyramid.
There have been swimming games in the past, but as with track and field games, they involved repetitively tapping buttons or toggling a joystick.
During focus groups conducted by 505 Games and developer Blitz Games (“The Biggest Loser Ultimate Workout”), Matisse says, “there’s an initial barrier: How are you going to make a swimming game? The take-away was when they actually experience it, it’s like, ‘Aha, I get it.’” The Kinect controller has proven essential in the design of an immersive experience, he says. “We couldn’t have done it on any other platform,” Matisse says.
“This is a situation where we have the right guy in terms of history of the sport, we have the right technology with Kinect, and we think we have the right game-play mechanic to really deliver on that competitive swimming experience.”
In addition to recruiting players to his game, Phelps also hopes that some might dive into the actual sport. “A goal of mine since I started was really to grow the sport of swimming, and having the ability to come up with a swimming game, it shows that my goal is actually occurring.”
– USA Today/MCT