EA Sports UFC Interview: Gameplay Mechanics, Realistic AI, Animations And More

Creative Director Brian Hayes on why you should keep an eye on this next generation fighter.

MMA fans aren’t hard to please. Give them some good ol’ fashioned violence and they’ll happily forego the story-line aspects associated with, say, professional wrestling. However, that realism is paramount to the entire experience and when EA Sports UFC is meant to be the next-generation of punching dudes in the face and breaking their limbs using painful submissions, it certainly needs to feel real. Luckily, the team at EA Canada are ensuring just that.

GamingBolt spoke to creative director Brian Hayes about reaching out to non-gamers using the DVR functions of the Xbox One and PS4 to the realism that the Ignite Engine brings to the foray. And yes, the dreaded resolution question comes up as well.

Ravi Sinha: This will be the first UFC title to be heading to next-generation consoles. What inspired the desire to go straight to the PS4 and Xbox One with UFC rather than making it a cross-generational title?

Brian Hayes: Unlike all the other fabulous EA SPORTS titles, we didn’t have an existing UFC game on the current generation. Making a cross-generational title would essentially entail making both products from scratch. That requires a tremendous amount of development effort, whereas other games with existing current generation games can build upon of their existing current generation games (and that’s still a big effort for them every year).

We wanted to put all our resources towards making the best game we possibly can for the next generation of consoles, as opposed to splitting our focus and possibly seeing both products suffer as a result.

EA Sports UFC

Our Real Time Exertion system simulates a different kind of player motion, we can show muscles flexing, tendons straining and veins bulging underneath the skin; simulating the movement of the human body in ways no other game can.

Ravi Sinha: We already know about how the Ignite Engine will function in FIFA 14 for next gen consoles. Can you tell us exactly how it will function in UFC aside from the full body deformation that’s been touted?

Brian Hayes: The pillars of the Ignite Engine are True Player Motion, Human Intelligence and Living Worlds. We’re focused on using the Ignite technology to deliver against those pillars in the context of a UFC experience. In addition to the Full Body Deformation system, EA SPORTS UFC also features Precision Movement, a locomotion system similar to FIFA’s that makes the movement of the fighters around the octagon more realistic and believable.

Our Real Time Exertion system simulates a different kind of player motion, we can show muscles flexing, tendons straining and veins bulging underneath the skin; simulating the movement of the human body in ways no other game can. The fighters themselves are recreated to the highest level of detail and our new facial animation system makes them appear more alive, more intelligent and more intense than ever before.

Ravi Sinha: How does the AI function to make fights more realistic and to allow for changing strategies? How do you create a challenging AI which is still capable of having its weaknesses exploited?

Brian Hayes: Similar to a real UFC fighter, most of them anyway, we are creating AI that allows for each fighter to start a match with a game plan. Fighters work for weeks in training camp to prepare for their next opponent based on their understanding of their comparative strengths and weaknesses.

However, as a noted pugilist once said, “everybody’s got a plan until they get hit in the face.” It’s not possible to know how effective a game plan will be until the actual fight is taking place. How strong are your strengths? How weak are your weaknesses? The AI regularly evaluates the effectiveness of their game plan and will switch things up when things aren’t going the way they expected. Of course, depending on the fighter and their abilities, there may or may not be a more effective back-up plan. Which is why being a capable practitioner in all elements of MMA is such an important thing in the current day UFC.

Ravi Sinha: What is the level and scale of animations this time around? Are you going and capturing every single fighter’s likeness for authenticity? How big of a step is it over previous titles?

Brian Hayes: Wow. I don’t have exact numbers, I just know it’s a lot. We’ve done days and days of mocap and there are going to be moves in this game that haven’t been in any other games previously. We have captured a lot of moves to help recreate the fighting styles of many fighters, but not every single one. Certainly, every single fighter is a unique individual, but not every single fighter has such a unique style of movement that they require a completely custom set of animations. For some fighters we have capture a lot of custom stuff, for some fighters just a few things, and some fighters just use the same moves as other fighters with the same style.

The submission game is going to be different, but at this time, we’re not revealing precisely how. We are still implementing some features and have lots of tuning and tweaking to do on others, so it would be premature to discuss precisely how the core gameplay is going to work.

Ravi Sinha: How will the gameplay be changed this time around? Will we see any changes to the core gameplay in terms of, say, how submissions will function (which changed in UFC Undisputed 3)? Will there be any new modes or options?

Brian Hayes: The submission game is going to be different, but at this time, we’re not revealing precisely how. We are still implementing some features and have lots of tuning and tweaking to do on others, so it would be premature to discuss precisely how the core gameplay is going to work. Obviously, you will be able to fight an opponent inside the octagon using a variety of MMA techniques. Similarly, on the modes and features side, we’re not ready to discuss specifics, but you can obviously expect there to be a single-player UFC career experience, a variety of online modes of play, customization options and some new things all together.

Ravi Sinha: One of the bigger new additions are female fighters with Ronda Rousey leading the charge. Do you feel that games like UFC are contributing more towards a gender-neutral gameplay environment that can be enjoyed by all?

Brian Hayes: I hope so. I think it’s great that the UFC has brought women’s MMA into the fold and we are excited to have real female UFC fighters in the game for the first time. If that entices more females to play EA SPORTS UFC, that’s great. Everybody loves a good fight.

Ravi Sinha: EA Sports UFC is not a launch title for next gen consoles and this gives you more time to optimize your code and performance. I am also sure that at EA Sports, you utilize every platform and its features to its maximum. Having said that, do you plan to use to the extra GDDR5 memory on the PS4 in the game?

Brian Hayes: We are making the fullest use of the PS4 hardware we can, but there are no specific additional features that we are implementing because of the GDDR5 memory.

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It’s not unreasonable to expect that someone could see Anthony Pettis jumping off the cage to do a spinning back kick for a highlight reel knockout and decide, “Hey, I think I would like to jump off the cage like a ninja and knock somebody out.” It would certainly convince me.

Ravi Sinha: Talking about the Xbox One version, will cloud computing or Kinect control be utilized at all in the new UFC? If so, how will it change the nature of the game’s experience?

Brian Hayes: One of the coolest implementations for cloud computing I’ve seen or heard of have been in helping deliver massive gameplay areas filled with tons of characters – neither of which present big opportunities for us because only two fighters compete inside a 750 square foot Octagon. Certainly, as we develop this franchise, we’ll be exploring the features of the Xbox One and how they can improve the EA SPORTS UFC experience. However, for this first iteration, we really focused on using the power of the new hardware itself to create the best foundation for the franchise we possibly can.

Ravi Sinha: As someone who is working exclusively on next gen consoles, what are your thoughts on claims of these consoles becoming obsolete in the next few years when compared to a high enc PC? Do you think consoles will hold their own at a graphics level when compared to the PC technology?

Brian Hayes: All I can say is, I know there are plenty of PCs out there that are more powerful than my Xbox 360 or PS3, but neither of those consoles are obsolete to me. High end PCs are always going to be around and pushing technical boundaries. I have a feeling that when this new console generation is winding down it will have its version of ‘GTAV’ or ‘The Last Of Us’ that still manages to blow everybody’s minds, despite the fact that there are more powerful machines out there.

Ravi Sinha: There’s been a lot of talk about the Xbox One and PlayStation 4 in terms of their DVR capabilities. Do you feel this benefits a franchise such as UFC among non-gamers, especially with the popularity of the support?

Brian Hayes: There is certainly a potential benefit for a game like UFC. The more avenues there are for people to see what the game looks and plays like, the better. It’s not unreasonable to expect that someone could see Anthony Pettis jumping off the cage to do a spinning back kick for a highlight reel knockout and decide, “Hey, I think I would like to jump off the cage like a ninja and knock somebody out.” It would certainly convince me.

Ravi Sinha: With all the talk about 1080p and 60 frames per second on next generation consoles – with studios needing to walk a tighter rope with cross-generational titles – what is your take on the whole scenario and how does it influence the presentation of UFC?

Brian Hayes: Basically, we’re just trying to make the dopest looking game we can on these new gaming consoles.

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In the online space, we are focused on making sure the experience is rewarding and that the matchmaking functions, by and large, always set you up for an enjoyable scrap.

Ravi Sinha: Furthermore, is UFC going to run at 1080p/60 FPS?

Brian Hayes: UFC is running at 1080p. The game sim is running at 60 FPS, but rendering at 30 FPS with motion blur. From prior experience working on Fight Night Round 4 and Fight Night Champion, which rendered at 60 and 30 FPS respectively, we discovered that 60 FPS didn’t have a hugely beneficial impact on gameplay, but motion blur had an enormous impact on visual quality. In fact, when we focus tested the two, the majority of people preferred the 30FPS experience with motion blur. So, as opposed to arbitrarily jumping back to 60 FPS for little discernible benefit, we decided to put those resources towards improving the visual presentation of the game in other ways.

Ravi Sinha: Can you please talk about the multiplayer component of the game? What kind of modes can players expect?

Brian Hayes: Again, I’m not at liberty to discuss in great detail any of the specific modes and features at this time. However, obviously, you are going to be able to play against other users in this game, both online and offline. In the online space, we are focused on making sure the experience is rewarding and that the matchmaking functions, by and large, always set you up for an enjoyable scrap. We want the modes to be compelling and stay fresh, giving the players motivation to keep fighting. More details to come on that stuff for sure.

Ravi Sinha: Last question! Do you think UFC has the potential to be as big as the FIFA franchise?

Brian Hayes: If we’re able to deliver fun and entertaining experiences that excite our fans and the UFC itself continues to grow the way it has over the past 20 years, I think there is great potential for this franchise to achieve the same level of popularity as some of EA’s biggest franchises


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