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Sizing Up EA Sport's Return To The Octagon

For years, THQ maintained a legacy of creating an earnest representation of mixed martial arts games with its UFC Undisputed series, but now that EA is the only game in town, we’re hoping it will step up it’s UFC performance. We talked with creative director Brian Hayes to find out how the developer has been training for its return to the octagon.

EA released an MMA game a few years ago, but what's changed now that you have the UFC license?
Hayes: The biggest change is obviously the launch of the next generation of gaming consoles. EA Sports UFC is being developed for both the Xbox One and the PS4, so that gives us the opportunity to do things that previously weren’t possible. But the UFC has changed also. While it continues to be the fastest growing sport in the world, they are really focusing on making inroads globally. As the sport continues to expand its reach, there is the opportunity for the game to do the same, and even strengthen or amplify the awareness of the UFC around the world.

What kind of technology are you using to make these fighters, and the fights themselves, look realistic?
Hayes: Our mission statement since early development has been, “Make Them Feel The Fight.” We’ve been focusing on using the power of the next-gen consoles to bring the fighters to life in ways we couldn’t previously. Ninety-nine percent of the fighters in the game are created using a proprietary head and face capture technology, which provides us with the most realistic character likeness possible. Similarly, we’ve been able to body reference capture for the vast majority of the athletes, which helps us recreate the geometric proportions of their body as well as accurately recreate unique identifiers. There are so many factors that go into recreating the fighting characters and they are all brand new for this version of the game. New animation systems for the body and face; new gameplay lighting and shaders; a new real-time Exertion system to drive muscle flexion, skin discoloration and vascularity; and a Full-Body Deformation system that allows the fighters’ bodies to actually deform each other when they come in contact in grappling situations. The short answer would be, all kinds of new technology.

We've heard that fighters will now have changing goals and fight plans in the ring. What exactly does that mean, and how does it work?
Hayes: I don’t think your average UFC fighter gets discouraged easily, but they do go into each fight with a gameplan and if that gameplan isn’t working decisions need to be made. It’s no different for Fighter AI. If you are facing a fighter with tremendous submission abilities, you should expect them to try and get the fight to the ground and play to their strengths. But if their opponent is successful at thwarting takedown attempts and keeping the fight standing, a backup plan can be followed. It goes without saying that this kind of behavior will be most effective for fighters with diverse skill sets. A guy like Jon Jones can be very effective on the ground, in the clinch, and fighting from the outside so he has a lot of options. Whereas, a more one-dimensional ground fighter might try to start using their limited striking and still not be able to turn the tide in a fight.

Submissions are a big part of UFC, how does your submission system work?
Hayes: Anyone who’s had experience with Brazilian Jiu Jitsu first hand knows that you can fight with your eyes closed. It’s so much more about spatial awareness and sensing your opponent’s weight and position. In a video game, the only information we can give you is visual so it’s a really challenging task to bring BJJ to life in that space. That being said, we want our system to showcase more of the technique involved in setting up each submission and utilize the elements of directional movement, misdirection and timing. Essentially, the defensive is constantly looking for a way to wriggle out of danger and the offensive player is constantly trying to prevent them from escaping while simultaneously looking for the right window to lock the submission down even tighter. You’ll see and hear more about this as we get closer to launch.

How are you allowing players to use the environment to their advantage?
Hayes: As the sport has evolved, so has our game, and there are elite fighters that are able to use the octagon to their advantage in different situations. EA Sports UFC features a variety of octagon attacks that allow the fighter to plant a foot on the fence, leap off of it and attack the opponent. These kinds of attacks can be unexpected, cause a lot of damage, and make a big impact with the judges.

Read our impressions from E3 for more details on EA Sports UFC.

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