The one thing all UFC video games to date have in common? They all suck. But when you look at UFC 2009 Undisputed, you can tell this game is going to be different. Not only does the franchise have a new developer and publisher, but the ground-breaking physics engine THQ is using really goes a long way to capture the sport like never before.
In fact, the game looks to have such a perfect blend of eye-popping graphics and bone-popping gameplay that we could be looking at one of the sleeper hits of 2009.
We caught up with the producer of the game, Neven Dravinski, to get all the dirt on the project.
The Mag: Sorry to go right for the throat with the first question, but all of the past UFC games have been pretty bad. Convince me that this game will be different.
Dravinski: Dana White even came out and put the pressure on us, talking about how the first UFC games all sucked. I think the first thing that really sets us apart is technology. Now, with the next-gen platforms, we have a lot more firepower to bring a ton of more animations. Typically in a fighting game or any sort of combat game, you have this issue called clipping where two characters get too close and the animation that plays out causes a punch where an arm slides right through a mid-section unrealistically. But with our game, because we really wanted to replicate that close, intimate combat, one of the things we're really proud about is our physics and collision system. We have this concept called Zero Penetration, and what that means is when a guy throws a punch and there is a hand blocking it, it's going to act like a real life punch. If there is a hand in the way, the punch is going to skip off the hand. It might slide through the block and hit the face. And all of these animations allow us to deliver a much more realistic MMA experience than anything we've ever seen. One of our designers is even training with Eddie Bravo at Legends Gym in Hollywood, so our guys are really focused on creating the most authentic mixed martial arts experiences available.
I hear you guys did something a little different with the voice-over sessions as well.
We wanted to try to create a pay-per-view experience, where it feels like you're not just watching, you're actively participating. To do this, we brought in Joe Rogan and Mike Goldberg for 36 hours doing VO. And the way we captured the VO, we would just sit and play the game and pipe the gameplay into their booth and have them call what they see. And one of the cool things we did, is we always made sure that we brought in both announcers together. Typically for sports games, they bring in one guy who does play-by-play and one guy to do color, but these guys have a very unique style where sometimes Joe will do play-by-play or Mike will do color, and sometimes they talk over each other, and it was really important to us to create that realism with the VO. They both did an incredible job.
How tough was it to balance the game so, say, a striker doesn't always overpower a submissions expert when it comes to gameplay?
This is a fighting game, but it's really about the sport of Mixed Martial Arts. So to that end, we really specialize each fighter in one particular grappling and one particular striking technique. You're pitting the styles against each other. The three striking techniques are boxing, kickboxing and Muay Thai, and the grappling techniques are Brazilian jiu jitsu, judo and wrestling. Rampage is a boxer/wrestler in our game. He's really known for his boxing and striking and his ground game really falls into wrestling as opposed to judo. So, this all adds to the game having that easy to pickup and play but difficult to master aspect to it. You can get in and bang with your friends by using punches and kicks with the face buttons, but much like the real UFC, if you want to win every time, you'll need to invest some time and learn the upper echelon of the control scheme. You can't be one-dimensional. You won't get by for long by just knowing the stand up game. You'll need to learn the submissions and the ground game and the transitions involved. The game does a good job of creating an easy level of entry, but there is a deep, deep game there if you want to invest the time.
How long does the average fight in the game last?
It really just depends. If I'm fighting my lead designer in the office, there is a lot of back and forth. There are a lot of tension-filled fights where you feel the fight can end at any moment. You get him in a submission, but then he pulls out and tries to knock you out. Then again, there are fights that end really quickly. We have a lot of attributes that differentiate each fighter from striking offense and defense to grappling offense and defense, so there are a lot of variables involved. As a result, you can get a flash knockout. Typical fighting games can be rigid, where you're health is down, then you get hit one more time and you die. But with us, it's a lot more loose, like a real fight. If a guy slips a punch, then I come in and catch him, that may result in a flash knockout. Just like the real UFC, if you get caught, you get caught. But at the same time, if you're fighting someone really good, and you both understand the control scheme, the fight could go the distance.
How brutal do the fights get? Is there a lot of blood? Do the fighters get bruised?
That's a big thing for us because the UFC's tagline is "As real as it gets." So that's our unofficial motto here. For each of these fighter models we take three-dimensional scanning and photographs of them, and each model goes through multiple stages of bruising and swelling and cuts and bleeding. We want to immerse you in the world without showing you a stamina bar. You'll know how your fighter is doing based on how he looks in the game. You start throwing elbows at a guy's face and it will open him up. The blood will spill on the mat. We're not openly gratuitous, when you pull an arm bar, you're not going to pop the bone out of his arm, but if I start kicking you in the legs, you'll see multiple levels of bruising and swelling. Guys will get punched in the eye and there might be multiple cuts. On top of that, the animations in the game change themselves, so if you get tired or you exert yourself too much, your hands will drop, you'll be breathing heavier, your movements won't be as fluid or as quick, so there are a lot of nuances that we try to replicate to show your fighter's status.
What will the game's career mode feature be like?
In career mode, you're basically working your way up through the system of UFC. So, you're going to create your character, you'll assign yourself a striking and grappling technique, then you train those skills. You won't have as much power, energy or ability as the typical UFC fighter when you start out, but as you progress through career you'll get better. And we don't have any cheesy mini-games where you mash the buttons to push a weight bar up. The training you do in the career mode is fighting like you would in a real fight. So if you have a fight coming up, and you're a boxing/wrestler guy and you're next opponent is a Muay Thai guy, then your training partner will be a Muay Thai fighter, so you can train against those moves. There's a whole interactive calendar system where you know your fight is in a couple of weeks and you'll need to pick where you'll train, where you'll spar and where you should rest in order to build up your stamina. It's like a game within the game where you might want to risk training right before a fight, losing out on some of your stamina, but at the same time gaining valuable points on your standing game. The choices are all up to you on how you shape your career. And once you start building up his skill, you can take your created fighter online, so it's a cool way to get invested in your character and his abilities. It also lets you replay the game multiple ways because you can start one career as a boxer/wrestler, then when that career is done, you can play as a fighter who is into kickboxing and judo and have a completely different experience.