EA Sports, UFC collaborate for stunning next-generation video game title – MMAjunkie.com
The UFC brand strives to be the best in every way possible. So when UFC President Dana White announced this past year that the organization had teamed up with EA SPORTS for a next-generation video game title, aficionados of the genre knew something special was in the works.
The UFC has released several video game titles with other developers in the past, and even EA SPORTS has tried its hand at an independently titled game in 2010. But now that the two industry-leading brands have merged together for an MMA game designed exclusively for next-gen consoles (PlayStation 4 and Xbox One), fans should expect the most lifelike combat experience yet when “EA SPORTS UFC” hits retailers later this year.
“In a lot of video games, the characters look like action figures,” Richard Burgess-Dawson, EA SPORTS technical art director, told MMAjunkie. “For this, we’ve tried to pay so much attention to detail that we don’t even want players to notice the characters.
“We want this game to feel so natural that absolutely nothing comes into question.”
Building from the bottom
Bringing the UFC environment to life is a long, complex and particularly unique process for the developers of “EA SPORTS UFC.”
While authentic gameplay and presentation is a major priority, what makes the game special is the attention to detail on more than 100 playable characters.
Many MMA fans follow their favorite fighters with diehard dedication, so the developers put a direct focus on ensuring each character looks, feels and plays like its real self.
“The efforts we’ve gone through to make this the most realistic UFC game ever were extraordinary,” art director Jenny Freeman said. “You can see blemishes in the skin, wrinkles in the face and all the ridges in the skin. It’s got that feel that you can almost reach into the screen and feel the texture of it all.”
Bringing each fighter to life is a tenuous process that has dated back nearly two years. The EA SPORTS team was granted an all-access pass to the entire UFC roster and sat down with fighters for 3D head and body scans from more than a dozen angles.
The scans allow game creators to capture each fighter’s unique facial and body attributes. It’s a complicated ordeal, but one that requires commitment if EA SPORTS hopes to live up to the UFC brand.
“We did a staggering amount of scans,” said Blair Leckie, EA SPORTS’ motion capture director. “We get exposed to a lot of A-list athletes, and these guys are the best to work with. UFC wants to be represented very well inside this title, so we’re going to do the organization and the fighters well in this game. The UFC and EA teams take pride in accuracy.”
That commitment to accuracy has translated into stunning results. Once a player starts an “EA SPORTS UFC” match and a fighter walks through the curtains into the UFC’s trademark octagon, it feels like watching a live broadcast, not a virtual remake of one. And it’s all made possible by the technology from the next-gen consoles.
“All of a sudden, these guys actually look like the real guys,” Burgess-Dawson said. “The last count we had, there was 23 different layers on one character. In ‘Fight Night,’ (a popular EA SPORTS boxing title) there were about four or five different layers for a character.”
Benefits of next-gen
While a majority of video game developers are forced to split their attention between creating games that are compatible with both current-generation and next-gen consoles, that’s not the case for “EA SPORTS UFC.”
Early in the creation process, a decision was made to focus entirely on the next-gen consoles. The “EA SPORTS UFC” team believes that while many gamers still use current consoles like PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360, the rate of usage for those systems is going to decrease.
Developers said writing new code specifically tailored for next-gen consoles was a challenge – but the work has maximized what’s possible when it comes to creating an MMA video game.
“From a technological standpoint it’s all new from scratch,” creative director Brian Hayes said. “Not having any code that we built from the past has really allowed us to focus on making this a next-gen experience. All our stuff is brand new from scratch – the latest and greatest.”
Of equal importance is that EA SPORTS expects the upcoming game to be one of many UFC titles in coming years. A strong foundation has been built for the future, which hopes to see a new game released on a semi-annual basis.
“To make the fighters look the way they look on next-gen is a significant investment,” lead producer Nate McDonald said. “But the other part of it is it’s a long-term partnership that we’re looking to have with the UFC. We want to start with a really solid foundation and we’re planning for the future of the franchise.”
Bringing the fight to life
Realistic characters are of great importance in “EA SPORTS UFC.” But an aspect of perhaps greater significance is a combat system that makes the fights look and feel as natural as possible.
MMA is one of the most complicated and unpredictable sports in the world with hundreds of ways to win or lose a bout. Many athletes train a lifetime to build their strengths and polish their weaknesses, but when fight time comes around, it’s nearly impossible to predict exactly what will unfold.
Striking in combat games had dated back to the days of familiar titles such as “Mike Tyson’s Punch-Out!!,” “Street Fighter,” “Fight Night” and countless others where characters punch and kick.
While a generous amount of time has been placed on creating an authentic, free-flowing striking system, the real challenge for previous MMA games has been grappling, which has much less precedent in the gaming world. Previous MMA titles have had difficulty emulating a submission system that seemed realistic, and EA is not immune to that struggle.
“It’s not as easy as pressing a button and you have it all the way locked into an armbar,” Hayes said. “There is securing the arm, breaking away from the body, proper positioning of the legs – we tried to bring all that to the forefront. We want to bring everything to life in the game.
“A lot of people love jiu-jitsu for the battle, the chess match. There is stuff that brings that to life, stuff that comes out in this game where you can see the battle happening.”
Creating a grappling system that’s lifelike expands well beyond the right mechanism with the controller scheme. It also means tailoring that mechanism to the realistic capabilities of each individual character.
“If you’re a guy like Pat Barry, you want to do everything possible to avoid the ground because just like in real life, that’s not where he wants to be,” Hayes said. “If you get taken down you want to get up as quickly as possible, because once the submission game starts you’ll be at a distinct disadvantage.”
Attention to detail
Miesha Tate’s pigtails drag across the octagon floor while she tries to get up from bottom position. Roy Nelson’s mullet flutters when he gets hit with a hard punch. The octagon walls even bend when Cain Velasquez presses an opponent against the mesh fence for a takedown.
The rigorous amount of detail put into “EA SPORTS UFC” must be seen to be believed. There are countless animations in the game that make use of the power of the next-gen console, and each one is more mind-blowing than the last.
“We have the fighter’s toes spread out every time they touch the ground. Making sure the feet aren’t sliding around unrealistically,” Hayes said. “We’ve created a more believable sense of what the fighters can do when they’re in the octagon.
“When you’re playing the actual game, you may not pay attention to the fact the fighters toes are spreading every time they step around the octagon, but we want to showcase that stuff in more detail.”
Unable to block a body kick from UFC light heavyweight champion Jon Jones? The impact will ripple a shock wave across the skin of a fighter’s torso. Does Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira have a deep anaconda choke locked in? The disturbed breathing pattern of the defender shines through as he tries with all his might to stay conscious.
That’s just the tip of the iceberg in “EA SPORTS UFC.”
If a fighter’s physical demeanor can change between rounds, why can’t the same happen in “EA SPORTS UFC?” It does, and the evolution of a fighter between the beginning and end of a grueling bout is a sight to behold.
If you’re in the later rounds of a match against an opponent who has notoriously poor conditioning, you’ll see and feel the effects of damage and exhaustion.
“Our real-time exertion system is meant to show how the fighters change throughout the fight,” McDonald said. “Guys will turn red; their skin will turn flush. Once they start sweating, the muscle flex technology is in there. We have animated breathing that looks amazing. You’ll see veins pop out in fighters’ heads, or tendons popping out of their neck.
“We have done everything possible to make them look like real human breathing organisms instead of two action figures that look good, but don’t actually look like living beings.”
The commitment to authenticity is not limited to the fighters. Whether it’s announcer Bruce Buffer introducing a fighter, commentators Mike Goldberg and Joe Rogan calling the action, or even UFC President Dana White sitting in his reserved cageside seat, the developers of “EA Sports UFC” appear to have thought of it all.
“We have 100 guys, and then all the stuff right around the octagon,” Burgess-Dawson said. “We have the crowd, the octagon girls, the commentators and all the rest that we want to have look authentic. We have these very detailed, highly recognizable characters. The guys around the octagon are actually reacting to what’s going on in the fight. The cameramen are tracking the action. All that makes it much more natural.”
While “EA SPORTS UFC” does not have an official release date, the second half of 2014 appears to be a realistic target.
The team is 100 percent dedicated to delivering the best product imaginable once the game becomes available to the general public, but before then thousands of intricacies must run smoothly.
“EA SPORTS UFC” is miles beyond anything previously seen in the MMA video game genre. For fans of MMA or even just sports games in general, it will be a must-buy.
“As a game developer in general, I’m excited how we’ve used this hardware for the game,” Burgess-Dawson said. “It’ll show we not only have the character likeness, but when you press play it keeps going. The number of PS3 games and Xbox 360 games that look great in screen shots and aren’t the same in the game are limitless. For this, you won’t ever break the illusion of a real UFC experience.”