Fight Night Round 4: Five things you need to know

Imagine Buster Douglas never happened. No face tattoo. No jail. No ear biting. Just Mike being Mike, the baddest man on the planet.

That's the Mike Tyson in Fight Night Round 4. The ferocious fighter who stalks his opponents with intensity, focus and a knack for making a minute-long fight the most exciting sixty seconds in sports.

The blood and spit flying. The facial deformity with every uppercut.

That's the legend of the young champ. The legend that made him the most iconic heavyweight since Ali.

Fight Night Round 4 Gallery

Hart Take a first look at EA Sports' upcoming Fight Night Round 4 with our screenshot gallery. Gallery

But seeing this image of Mike walk to the ring with his trademark towel, that's the image I remember seeing as a kid of the boxer who made the sweet science must-see TV.

It's the image I've missed for years. An image I almost feel like was stolen from me. But it's something the creators of EA Sports have captured with so much authenticity, I almost feel like Michael Spinks should fall down the second he turns on his 360.

Seeing that image also makes me realize that this isn't just Fight Night 3 ½. This is Fight Night 4, and with it comes a more physical, more realistic replication of the sport than previous versions.

Forget seeing Burger King dancing around the ring, this year it's about Tyson and Ali and capturing their likenesses, from Ali's robe down to the last punch.

The dream fight boxing fans always debated can now finally be settled in video game form.

Ali or Tyson? A fight like this used to be decided by the quickest hands. I guess the answer now depends on who has the quickest thumbs.

ESPN recently got an exclusive sneak peek at Fight Night Round 4 and had the chance to pick the brain of the game's producer Brian Hayes. Here are five things you should know about the next champ before it hits stores for the PS3 and 360 June 30.

When it comes to gameplay changes being implemented in Round 4, the Fight Night producers concentrated on what they call the four S's: speed, strength, strategy and style.

And when it comes to what you need to know about Fight Night, producer Brian Hayes begins his presentation talking speed.

"Fight Night Round 3 is a tremendously fun game that people loved to play, so we didn't want to change our direction away from the fun," says Hayes. "What we tried to do was bring a little more variety, authenticity and strategy to the game. We want people to have as much fun as they did with Round 3, we just want Round 4 to be more of an authentic simulation of the sport.

"And when you break it down, speed is tremendously important to the sport of boxing. The faster you can throw your punches, the faster you can move your feet, the faster you can move your head, the better off you're going to be. So one of our focuses for gameplay was to make sure we deliver on that sense of speed. These boxers we have in the game and the boxers people end up creating for themselves, these guys are supposed to be simulations of elite, championship-level athletes. We need to make sure they feel like the elite athletes you think of. You don't want to get into the ring and feel like you're controlling a guy like me in the ring, you want to be controlling a guy like Shane Mosley who has lightning-fast hands, lightning-fast reflexes, and can move around on his feet very well. Delivering that sense of speed, that sense of fluidity you see when you're watching a fight, we want you to have that same sensation when you're controlling our boxers in the ring.

"This also applies to our new corner game between rounds. In previous iterations, our between-round games were kind of tedious. They were interesting the first time you see them because you had a big close-up of a high-resolution face model, but they force you to sit there and rub a guy's face for 30 seconds with repetitive, simple controls. For the most part, we found that took away from what people really want to be doing, and that's punching each other in the face. So we put our focus into making a corner game that still had a lot of strategy for the user to do, and in Round 4, both users are actually doing it at the same time.

"We developed a system where based on your fighter's performance in the previous round, they earn a certain number of points that their trainer can then use towards either regenerating some of their health, regenerating some of their stamina or healing physical damage like cuts or swelling to the face. And all three of those things are very important to your performance in the next round.

"If you're tired, then you want to recover stamina because stamina helps keep you powerful and resist damage from your opponent's punches. If you're low on health, that means you're pretty close to falling down, so you want to get your health back so you can withstand a few more punches from your opponent without hitting the canvas. And obviously, if you have a huge knot over your eyebrow or a massive gash on your cheekbone and the ref is thinking of stopping the fight, you need to pay attention to that and make sure you can go out and keep working subsequent rounds so you can go and try to pick up the victory.

"There are a lot of strategic decisions to be made based on what's the status of your fighter, what round the fight is in and who your opponent is, but these are decisions you can make very, very quick and both users can make them at the same time on a menu-based interface that is really easy to navigate. You can get in and out of the corner game and back to the action very quickly.

"Obviously, if you want to stay there between rounds and watch scenes of your trainer motivating you and putting ice bags on your head and see the ring girls, all of that is there and it's lovingly recreated and looks amazing. But if you're like a lot of people who, like I said, just want to get back to punching each other in the face, you can jump right back into the game."

People play boxing games to watch the blood fly, the knees buckle and their opponents crumble to the mat. And with Fight Night's new physics engine, EA Sports boasts that it will change the way gamers throw and land punches, not to mention the reactions of the poor polygons on the receiving end.

"We have a new physics-based gameplay engine, and with that, we have a tremendous collision detection system," explains Hayes. "These are two full-bodied athletes fighting in the ring and they're not clipping into each other as they fight. Arms aren't passing through each other, hands aren't disappearing into the other guy's torso. They just look much more corporeal. And with the physics-based animation system and gameplay engine, we're not relying on video-gamey mechanics to deliver punch strength. In Fight Night Round 3, to throw a harder punch, you wound back the stick more. In Fight Round 4, we're actually utilizing the physics engine to analyze the direction, the force and the level of contact for each punch, and we're using that to determine the impact the punch is going to have.

"So it's no longer about how far you wind up the stick. Now it's about how it hits the target. It's about how cleanly it lands and what current level of stamina you have and all of that stuff. So you'll see a much more varied number of interactions because of the collision detection and because of the physics system, because punches are not always going to land clean. Some will slide off of the side of the head or skate over the top of the head and not have a lot of affect, but when they land clean, that's when you'll see the big impacts. It's much more realistic if you're used to watching real fights. You see forearms bouncing into shoulders and punches just missing off the side of the head as opposed to it always being either a punch that hits or a punch that misses. So the variety of punch impacts that you see in Fight Night Round 4 is much more realistic and it's a much more varied experience. It looks like a much more fluid fight playing out before your eyes.

"And we talked about the strength of the punch heading toward the target, but there's also the target itself. The big change there is that opposed to the head and body just being a simple two-sided punching bag where if you hit it, it means ten points of damage, we're now recreating more physiologically-accurate hot spots on both the head and body. So if you take the point of the chin -- which is a very bad spot to get hit because it slightly dislocates your jaw, then your jaw snaps back into place and it shakes your brain -- we're able to place a hot spot on the chin or on your temples, whereas places like the flat of your forehead might not be a great place to get hit, but at the end of the day if you have a choice to get hit on your forehead or your chin, the forehead is better. Again, this adds to the varied collision detection system because your head has hot spots and weak spots that withstand damage differently.

"Same thing goes for the body. Boxers throw thousands of punches a day, so their abdominals are usually well-conditioned and trained to take those impacts. But there are certain areas like the ribs or shots to the liver that can be very, very painful no matter how many sit-ups you've done. So we were able to add those spots in there to add to a wider variety of punch impacts and the results of these punch impacts when you're playing the game.

"Not every punch is going to mean the same thing when it lands. It depends where it lands and how it lands."