UFC 2009 Undisputed was great, and so were its sales. Suddenly, mixed martial arts fans have a monster franchise on its hands, one publisher THQ is determined to make the most out of. So, ala EA Sports, we can expect a new UFC game ever year. The first follow up, UFC Undisputed 2010, is due out on Xbox 360 and PS3 on May 28. After getting a first-look at the game in Sin City itself, Las Vegas, we stepped into the octagon with producer Neven Dravinski to squeeze out some of the finer details about one of our most anticipated games of 2010.
Q: What are the plans for Create A Fighter this year? That was one of the areas last year where it felt like there was room for improvement...
Neven Dravinski: Create A Fighter has improved tremendously this year. The things you saw [in the presentation], the concepts in the gameplay... for example, the handedness of fighters, southpaw being an addition this year. In Create A Fighter you're going to be able to set the handedness of your fighter - and that's also the dominant hand, versus which one is forward. Those two play together, so you could be standing orthodox but your dominant hand could be your left hand. It doesn't mean you're going to have this super jab that's going to knock people out, but there is [combat] calculation associated with that. There's going to be a lot more information related to Create A Fighter. I mean, you've got to have PR doing something for the next four months! But there are certainly a lot of improvements visually, you can see. Last year we had 80 fighters, half of them were created via the Create A Fighter system, but this year they're all created via photo-realistic techniques. A lot of improvements went into the Create A Fighter system to match that aspect.
Q: The decision to build each fighter individually, rather than using CAF.... was that taken a long time ago? EA is making a big deal about their game [EA Sports MMA] being very individual in its approach to fighters.
ND: When the game started out, the 2009 game, we started with what was an even more limited roster than what we ended up with. We wanted to give you the best UFC experience possible, and the strength of the UFC is the size of their roster. It's not one or two guys that make the UFC, it's the best fighters in the world overall, in every weight class, fighting together and fighting against the best competition. So that decision was made long ago. Certainly while every game is being made there are always things we keep in the can for the subsequent years, and working with UFC would have been impossible without their support and their help. UFC helps us in creating these models, and every fight they're taking photos of these guys. We're organising worldwide photo shoots - like, I'm finding a photographer in Amsterdam to take a picture of a guy in London, to make sure we get our models. There's a lot of effort and co-ordination on a worldwide level. We have guys in Japan. I had my VP going out to Japan, he speaks Japanese and was making photoshoots happen there. So certainly it was one of the aspects that needed to be improved upon from last year, and we were happy that we were able to do it on such a grand scale.
Q: How will you maintain the game's accessibility as the complexity increases?
ND: Well the dynamic of that "easy to pick up, difficult to master", that still exists in this game. A lot of the things we've done have added more variety and levels, and have created a system that entices you to try these things and learn them. Learning the timing, much like in the real UFC, is a tricky thing, but it's such a cool part of the gameplay now. Last year attacks were very rangy. The up close fighting didn't have the same visceral impact that the strikes from far away did. With the advent of the sways, we've revolutionised the way the game is played. Now there's less of a tendency to stand back and then come in with an attack that has a lot of translation. Now you're able to get in close and try and experiment. You can still stand back much like you did in 2009, but there's a whole other level that's been added to the game that increases the fun factor. We've given the tools to make the game more fun, rather than the frustration that might have happened in previous situations. It's going to entice people to play more.
Q: Given the success of the first game, was it not tempting to do less?
ND: That gets brought up a lot. I have the chest pains to prove it! The people who are on our team have all worked on some of the best games and know what it takes to make a triple A title. We're hyper competitive animals; not only within our own company, but within ourselves. If people aren't cutting it on our team we're pretty vocal. There's a lot of internal pressure we put on ourselves. When I said we sat in a room and said, 'We have to crush 2009', I wasn't joking. That was the goal; that we need to destroy this game. While we felt we got close, and we were certainly happy with the success that was achieved with 2009, there was so much that we wanted to do, and there's such a standard that we hold ourselves to, that the end result... people don't see all the things that maybe could have got in there, but all we see are the things that we didn't do and the things we have left to do. I don't think you'll ever see this team sitting back and just basking in our success.
Q: Has EA's game given you extra impetus and motivation to make sure this is the best game you can make?
ND: Well Madden's a great game! [laughs] As I said, we're competitive animals. When I look at our team and our designers and what we do, our competition is ourselves. We don't know what they're doing...
Q: I don't think Dana [White, UFC president] would agree with you...
ND: Well, Dana is one of my favourite people in the world. That guy is the hardest working, most competitive guy I've ever met. He's reached a point where he demands excellence, and working for a guy like that pushes us to be as good as it gets. You see that permeate through every aspect of his organisation - that there is this need to be number one, to be the best. Working with somebody like that and seeing somebody like that working, representing the brand - we feel like we're part of the team - the number one fighting franchise in the world, makes us... regardless of what else is out there, we need to represent that to the fullest extent.
Q: Does that mean you've already got a list of stuff for 2011?
ND: I've got a list of stuff for 2015 at this point. There's never a time that we're not thinking to ourselves, 'wouldn't it be cool? How do we do this? What can we improve upon?'. Everything is building the base. There are still things we haven't done that we know we're going to do, we just have to figure out when.
Q: Another area Undisputed could have been stronger in is online play. There are problems with people cheating by disconnecting.
ND: Certainly. That was a lesson learned from last year, and those sorts of things happen, but we worked diligently to put out that patch. Online is going to take significant improvements this year. We have this concept of online camps, which are, essentially, guilds you can join with your friends, and learn things online. The online experience is going to expand dramatically in the upcoming game. Without giving too much away, you're going to see a lot of really cool stuff.
Q: What about the career?
ND: We're going to be releasing a lot more information about the career, but it has undergone significant improvements. If you look at how the gameplay's improved, that sort of improvement permeates every aspect of the game as well.
Q: Tell us about the submission system.
ND: Last year, we felt there was a stage process. You got into these states where your arm is pushed back - there was no visual indication of who's winning. You would just get into a static state, into another static state, and then somebody would come up the victor. This year we've come up with what we think is a much more elegant system, where you're getting not only visual representation from a player's limb moving into a position - and that's going into one of the other aspects we're proud of, which is we're educating people on the sport of mixed martial arts. There are people who say they don't watch UFC, but are able to learn things, like what's a Kimora, or what's this specific submission? You're seeing the result of that submission. For example, with the Kimora, arm's moving back, the camera's moving in depending on your success, the closer you are to a submission, the camera's zooming all the way in, the worse you are, you're moving back. Again, that is a more elegant way of displaying success or loss in the submission system.
And the advent of doing switches within the submission system is a really cool thing. That adds another layer of depth to the gameplay, where you're able to then make a submission switch, and it recalculates the math under the hood of the victory or loss. It is a gamble - you may end up in a worse statistical state on the submission switch, but as I mentioned, it forces your opponent to rotate in the opposite direction. So if you can catch someone off guard and you're able to get in a couple of rotations before they're aware of what's going on, that's another layer of gameplay advantage that we built into the system. In addition to tying into the posturing system, where now you can execute multiple submissions from the same position just based on your posture. There will be flash submissions - that's a new addition for this year. Last year there were flash knockouts, no flash submissions. There will be flash submissions in this year.
Q: How do you switch the submission?
ND: Initiating a submission is clicking in on the right stick. To do a submission switch, you hold the technique button, the LB, and then click in on the right stick, and that'll perform the submission switch.
Q: We saw Kimbo [Slice] in the trailer. Can you confirm any other fighters will be new, or give us an approximate number on new fighters?
ND: That's really a PR question. Sure I can confirm, but they have their plans in a lot of areas. Everyone you saw in the trailer is definitely in the game.
Q: Why no Kimbo on the front cover? That would sell like hotcakes!
ND: That's a question for Dana. Dana's a smart man who knows his brand. We work extensively with UFC. They're great partners for us.
UFC Undisputed 2010 is currently in development for Xbox 360, PS3 and PSP. Home console versions are scheduled for release on May 28, with the PSP game to follow later in the year.