Following in the footsteps of John Madden and Tiger Woods, Olympic gold medalist Michael Phelps wants to start his own video game empire. But curiously enough, swimming might not be the main event.
"Swimming will be a part of it, but it won't be set in an Olympic pool going back and forth," said Adam Kline, president of 505 Games, the company releasing the series.
Does that mean our local aquatic hero could be roughing up bad guys and saving the world? Or will he be running amok a la Grand Theft Auto? The folks at 505 are still toying with a few different ideas and can't comment just yet.
More details will emerge closer to the first installment's planned release in spring 2010. The game should be available on consoles and the iPhone. But the lack of specifics hasn't stopped video game experts from speculating.
"I'm intrigued," said Adam Sessler, host of the popular TV show X-Play on the G4 network. "There's no way to simulate what's impressive about swimming in a video game."
Other sports such as football and baseball work well in the video game realm because of the level of strategy, Sessler said. Swimming just doesn't translate.
"Swimming is so nuanced there's no way you could replicate it," he said.
"The other key element that makes swimming so impressive is the level of strain you're putting on your own body. Outside of just trying to make your arms tired with the [ Nintendo] Wii, there really is very little way to capture swimming in a game," Sessler said.
In fact, there aren't many video games on the market that take place underwater, period. It's easy to get lost in aquatic worlds, and the resistance of swimming in water tends to throw off gamers, Sessler said.
"Swimming - in even a Mario game - is a miserable experience," he said. "Water is always a bad zone for games in general."
Sessler is pulling for something more adventurous such as Michael Phelps: Navy Seals. But anything with the name "Michael Phelps" on it will fly off the shelves at first - especially considering how impulsive iPhone gamers tend to be, he said.
"That name alone is going to be the initial draw," Sessler said. "The quality of the game once purchased becomes a secondary matter. If they really are trying to make a franchise out of this, it's going to be tricky balance."
In the past, video games that have focused on the summer Olympics ended up being mundane button pushers, Sessler said. But if Phelps were open to the idea of doing something more tongue-in-cheek, this series could really be a hit, he said.
"If he has enough self-effacement to poke fun at that notion of celebrity, I think you could have something very clever," Sessler said. "I just don't know if anybody is comfortable going in that direction with a brand name as wholesome as Michael Phelps."
Regardless of the premise, Kline and the rest of the 505 crew said they plan to put a lot of muscle behind this series with the hope of giving it some staying power.
"We will spend a very pretty penny in marketing this project, because it's important to us," Kline said. "We believe it's the next Tiger Woods project. ... It could be here for the next 10 years."