At E3 2013 I got the chance to see a closed-door presentation on how EA’s Sports Ignite initiative would be evolving the UFC franchise: to say that I was impressed is an understatement.
The power of any sports game comes from the power and precision of its engine: something the Ignite campaign hopes to instill into all of its titles, adding the capability to portray your favorite athletes with an accuracy never seen before. So how does that apply to UFC? Everything, it seems.
What was most interesting about this presentation is that the series very openly critiqued its own previous installments to show how it approached learning from its shortcomings. Take, for example, the idea that for a full-contact sport, there wasn’t much contact before. Screenshots and videos of prior games showed when grabbing opponents for a takedown or submission, there were plenty of times when your fighter wasn’t actually grabbing or taking down anyone: there were inches of space between fighters in most instances, being picked up and tossed with what must have been telekinesis.
What the next UFC: Ultimate Fighting Championship title is looking to bring is “Full Body Deformation,” that is, full skin-to-skin emulation and realism. What this means can be best explained with an example our presentor gave: the old games, when seen in screenshots, were akin to two action figures being pit against each other by children. When two fighters grapple with Full Body Deformation, the skin around where their hands are grabbing will actually look like their being grabbed. When a fighter chokes an opponent, skin discoloration will intuitively show off how close they may be to submitting, along with a vascularity system that makes veins pop. Add in authentic likenesses and expressions captured from real UFC stars using 360 degree of hi-res camera motion capture, and fighters look more like themselves than ever.
Damage is also being evolved with the linear systems of previous games. Think about efforts to make shooter games more real: how, before, damage happened exactly the same, with three shots in a wall causing it to crack, three more causing it to chip away, four more causing it to splinter and break, and another dozen more to take the whole thing down. Similarly, in fighting games, punching an opponent in the face a few times would open a small gash in the same exact place, a few more would open it up, and a few more would cause it to swell and bleed heavily. What the next UFC: Ultimate Fighting Championship title is creating is a non-linear, real-time damage system that – like evolved damage systems in shooters that now have real-time graphic engines – causes damage in a realistic way. We were shown several fighters with a few rounds of facial bruising and cuts, and it was brutal. Most importantly, it looked so true to life that when shown a comparison of four real faces to one virtual face, no one in the room could tell the difference (except for me, I’m proud to say). It’s not pretty: it’s raw, visceral, and real, and just the kind of thing fans of UFC would expect to see in a true UFC game.
This realism extends not just to the visuals, but to the gameplay. Precision movement is being added to the game, replacing earlier titles where characters sort of just slid around the stage like ice-skaters. Now, with each fighter actually stepping and hopping around the ring, the dynamics of the combat system have changed dramatically to keep up with the movement. Any martial art enthusiast knows that the way a fighter moves, how he steps and turns into his punches and kicks changes the power that comes out of each hit: so with precision movement comes precision striking, allowing players to really dig into the fighting style and tactics of their favorite fighters when stepping into the octagon. With similar improvements to the cage, which has been given “true physics” enhancements, players can finally truly use the cage as a weapon, using it to trap their opponent against it, bounce their opponent off of it, or actually use it to perform special signature attacks, like Anthony Pettis’ amazing knockout kick.
With the introduction of MMAi, EA is also hoping to introduce smarter enemies, enemies who use their knowledge to strategically pick apart opponents just as well as you do. The AI will be adaptive, noticing your habits and trying to find the holes in your style to take you down. Submission battles will also be expanded, with multiple stages of submission grappling that add even more authenticity to maneuvers than ever before.
There’s still a lot of time before the next UFC: Ultimate Fighting Championship game releases: we were told that the game is in very early development, pre-pre-alpha if you will, and will still be in alpha when the other EA Sports Ignite titles hit the shelves. But if this presentation was any indication of where the series will be going by the time the game is released, it’s easy to see just how far a leap the franchise will be making with not just MMA games, but fighting games – perhaps even all games – in general. It’d be amazing to see what full-body deformation could bring to a 3D fighting game like Tekken or Dead or Alive, for example, or making motion controls and Oculus Rift virtual reality more immersive. All we can do for now is wait, but you’ll forgive me if I’m a little too excited to be patient. Next-gen needs to get here, and fast.
Check out the E3 Trailer below, followed by a few images of the first announced UFC fighters (from EA).