VIDEO games are now such big business that designers are going to ever-greater lengths in their quest for realism. Olympic super-heavyweight boxing champion Audley Harrison has taken time out of his training schedule to help two Warwickshire games designers learn the basics of boxing. Feature writer PAUL BARRY reports.
IN THE BLUE CORNER NAME: Justin Forrest AGE: 31 HOME TOWN: Kenilworth, England WEIGHT: 11 stone (154lbs) REACH: 70 ins HEIGHT: 5ft 10
IN THE RED CORNER NAME: Audley Harrison AGE: 30 HOME TOWN: London, England WEIGHT: 18 stone REACH: 83 ins HEIGHT: 6ft 5
OLYMPIC champion Audley Harrison has seen plenty of boxers, good and bad, during his rise from unknown amateur to potential world title challenger. Cynics might say he's fought a few of the worst ones.
But he's unlikely to have seen anything quite as hopeless as the recent sparring bout between computer game designers Justin Forrest and Jon Hare at his gym in London.
Harrison looked on and shouted polite words of encouragement as Justin and Jon, usually found behind desks at Southam-based computing firm Codemasters, got into the ring and indulged in a bit of what footballers call "handbags at 10 paces".
Justin, a 31-year-old dad, said: "It was quite comic, having a champion heavyweight boxer watching as two computer games designers tried desperately to punch each other.
"I'm not quite sure what Audley thought of our sparring. He was teaching two people who had never boxed before in their lives, except for a couple of rucks in the school playground."
Justin and Jon, who have spent the past 18 months developing Codemasters' latest game, Mike Tyson Heavyweight Boxing, went to the gym to check out Harrison's moves and learn more about the sport.
"Audley was very accommodating to give up his time for us," said Justin. "He showed us the basic stance, defence moves, evasive manoeuvres and how to move around the ring, hold up our guard and throw body blows. We did weight training and general fitness, and then sparred against each other while Audley watched.
"Audley was telling us to turn our bodies and keep our hands up in the ring. The first thing we learned was that most people instinctively use their stronger right hand as a guard, but that boxers keep their stronger hand back to give big hits."
Harrison, one of several current heavyweights featured in the game, said: "It takes true grit and determination to become a professional fighter.
"I was happy to show these guys what the world of boxing is really like, because I want fans to be able to play a realistic and adrenaline-packed game. You have to work 24/7 to win in the ring and this was just a taster of what life is like as a boxer."
Justin and Jon certainly got a taste of what Harrison was about - and they were both too scared to spar with the gold medallist.
"There was no way either of us were going to get in the ring with Audley, and he didn't suggest it," said Justin, who lives in Kenilworth with his wife Clare and their three-month-old son Dylan.
"I've had my nose broken playing football, and just one little jab from Audley could have done a lot of damage. The guy is really big. When he picked up the PlayStation controller it was just a tiny thing in his hand."
When Harrison played the computer game, he was delighted to see some of his trademark punches recreated, like where he whirls his fist into a powerful uppercut.
He was also pleased with the impressive sequence where his character enters his home arena, Wembley.
Players can create their own boxers from scratch, setting everything from the size of their ears (small ones might be handy when fighting a hungry Tyson) to their psychological profile, which in Tyson's case is "psycho".
Codemasters' licensing staff worked closely with Tyson's manager Shelley Finkel to make sure the game matched Tyson's expectations. Tyson has played it and given it his personal thumbs-up.
Tyson's prowess though has been overshadowed by his behaviour out of the ring.
He served three years in jail for raping a beauty queen and another 16 months for a road-rage attack, and many said he should have been banned from boxing after he bit off part of Evander Holyfield's ear during a fight in 1997.
With children among the most avid consumers of computer games, it could be argued Tyson isn't an ideal role model.
Codemasters communications manager Andrea Matthews said: "We have had some quite in-depth conversations about whether Mike Tyson was the right person to base the game on. He is very controversial.
"But when we are licensing the games, we always go for the biggest star we can. "People in the gaming community know Codemasters, but boxing fans may not. For them, Mike Tyson is the biggest name in the business."
The game, released on June 7, has one feature which reflects the ups and downs of Tyson's career. The final level allows players to pit today's Tyson against the ultimate bonus opponent - Iron Mike in his youthful prime, before all the scandals.
Unpredictable Tyson may still be boxing's top attraction, but Justin reckons Harrison is a star of the future whose intelligence and pleasant manner will serve him well.
"He is a very nice guy, a thinker, and I was very impressed with him," he said.
"There is a huge amount of expectation surrounding him and he gets a bit of a hard time from the press. But he's intelligent and eloquent enough to deal with that. He is improving in every fight. All the signs are that he will make it to the top."
FACTFILE CODEMASTERS was founded in 1986 by brothers David and Richard Darling. This year's Sunday Times Rich List valued them at pounds 130million, making them the 10th richest people in the West Midlands. Today David is the company's chief executive while Richard is creative director.
The average age of Codemasters' employees is 25.
THE Colin McRae Rally series of driving simulation games is one of the company's most successful products.
CODEMASTERS employs more than 380 people, with offices in America, France, Germany, Spain and Holland.
THE company headquarters at Stoneythorpe near Southam are next to the house of chairman Jim Darling - father to David and Richard. The purpose- built office complex stands in 140 acres of picturesque grounds and is being expanded to accommodate 600 staff.
Cover boy is beaten by Tyson
A COVENTRY boxing trainer has a starring role on the cover of the new game.
Paul Hudson, aged 28, was picked for the inlay card of the Playstation 2 game, Mike Tyson's Heavyweight Boxing, by staff from Codemasters when they visited the Coventry gym where he works.
"They came round looking for a heavyweight to appear on the front cover and we did a few shots and they liked it," said Paul, who lives in Wyken. "Then I went down to London for a shoot and I'm now on the cover of the game.
"The original cover was going to feature Evander Holyfield but they chose me instead, showing me getting a hook from Mike Tyson!"
Paul, who works as a fitness trainer at Future Fitness gym, in Far Gosford Street, is delighted with his starring role.
The game is due for release next month to coincide with Tyson's big fight against Lennox Lewis on June 8.
Paul, a former Binley Park School pupil, was made up for the game cover by a make-up artist from TV show Casualty.
He said: "I've got cuts and bruises on my face - it looks like I'm getting beaten up.
"The game has been advertised in a lot of magazines and my friends have all seen it.
It's just something good to look back on."
Emma Nicholls, studio manager at Codemasters, said Paul was the ideal game cover star.
"We heard he was big, tall and a good boxer and when we saw him he looked the part," she said. "We thought he was the right stature and a good opponent for Tyson."
PACKING A PUNCH: Codemasters games designer Justin Forrest lines up against Olympic boxing star Audley Harrison; PULLING PUNCHES: Audley's heavyweight bout with Mark Krence on Tuesday (top) and a screen shot from the new game (above); TAKING IT ON THE CHIN: Paul Hudson
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|Publication:||Coventry Evening Telegraph (England)|
|Date:||May 24, 2002|
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