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PSLS Interviews: EA Sports UFC — Handling Online Multiplayer, Finding the “Sweet Balance” in Gameplay and More

May 23, 2014 Written by Alex Co

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PlayStation LifeStyle recently had the chance to talk to EA Sports UFC producer Jazz Brousseau, where he reveals a few pertinent details regarding the game’s ground game, why it’s not going to see a last-gen release, whether EA Sports UFC will be a yearly entry and tons more.

Brief background on Brousseau, he’s a seven-year veteran at EA, and has worked on the NHL franchise, before eventually landing on the Fight Night Round 4 team. Once Fight Night Round 4 shipped, he then moved on to Fight Night Champion and the soon-to-be-released Mixed Martial Arts sports game, EA Sports UFC.

PlayStation LifeStyle: What was the team’s decision in not releasing the game to PS3 and Xbox 360? Isn’t that too big of a userbase to ignore – especially when it comes to revenue?

Jazz Brousseau: Yeah, certainly when we made that decision two years ago to only focus our efforts on next-gen it felt maybe we were making a gamble. In hindsight, I think we made the right choice. The reason is really simple: it’s just that we wanted to provide the best experience possible. We wanted to really showcase the power of the EA Sports Ignite engine, the power of next-gen. And we didn’t feel that we were going to be able to do that if we had to divide our attention to Gen 4 and Gen 3 (PS3 and Xbox 360).

So, we made the call very early on to focus all of our efforts on PS4 and Xbox One; and really bring the fighters to life…really focus on the presentation and do things we weren’t able to do with current-gen (PS3 and Xbox 360).

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PSLS: Besides the ability to improve the visuals, what are some of the advantages or advancements you have seen by developing for next-gen platforms? 

JB: A lot of the things we were able to do with next-gen hardware are really small, subtle details you maybe wouldn’t notice on their own; but you bring them all together and it really sells the realism a lot more. One of the examples we point to a lot is on Gen 3, crowds would move in very robotic manners; they would all sort of move at the same time in the same way. In Gen 4, it really allows us to sort of break the monotony of the crowd up and that extends throughout the entire game. It’s just little things you do that on your own, may not seem to be a big deal, but it’s sort of “the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.”

PSLS: Will EA Sports UFC be an annual title like Madden and EA’s other sports titles?

JB: The strategy for UFC is going to be the same strategy we took for Fight Night; so it’s not going to be a yearly release. It doesn’t give us enough time to make the big improvements that we want to make. It’s hard to put a day on it right now; but I would not expect to see one (UFC game) next year.

PSLS: How did you manage to find the “sweet balance” on the ground game since it’s the hardest part of the game to implement in a game? Is it closer to THQ’s version of a ground game or to EA Sports MMA?

JB: So, most of the ground game including the clinch is done on the right stick. So it’s very easy to take a guy down to the ground and start transitioning between different positions. In play-testing, it’s something that has been a strength of the game so far. People are really enjoying themselves, and I would say the easier part is putting all the transitions on to the gestures of the right stick. There’s no crazy half-circles or full-circles (gestures), everything’s done with quarter-circles with the right stick; it’s very intuitive, which is something I think you’ll agree once the demo comes out.

Apart from that, the submission mini-game, we took a really different approach to it than what you’ve seen in past MMA games. We really tried to add some layer of strategy and depth to it. So it’s not just a button-masher or y’know, chasing a blue overlay around an octagon. Players do the work to get into full mount.  Just to back up, the submission mini-game is actually a staged approach; players will sort of play a game of cat and mouse going through the different stages of a submission before finally submitting their opponent.  Part of that strategy also comes in the form of “if I do the work to get to full mount using the right stick, the number of stages I have to go through to put that submission on you is going to be fewer than, say, I put that submission on you from the half guard.”

Aside from that, we really concentrated on for EA Sports UFC is making that learning curve much more accessible. We have a mode called “Challenges,” and that is sort of a play pen for players to go into and practice to practice very specific portions of the game away from the fear of losing to an online opponent or the CPU. So, for example, the ground game is not just Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. You have Wrestling and if I just want to practice my takedowns or my takedown defense or if I just want to practice submitting my opponent, I can go to this area and practice those specific aspects.

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PSLS: How is the striking game? Will it be more similar to THQ’s UFC Undisputed, EA Sports MMA or Fight Night? How will striking combinations work?

JB: The striking game is actually much similar to Undisputed than it is to EA Sports MMA or Fight Night, which I know is going to be surprising. We didn’t implement the “Total Punch Control” system from Fight Night. We felt that the direction that we wanted to go in certainly with the ground game, grappling  and the clinch; it felt more natural to put all of that stuff on the right stick along with the gesture movements. Whereas throwing a kick, throwing a punch felt more natural to put on the buttons, which is really fast – sort of quick reflex actions. So, all of the strikes will be on the face buttons and most of the grappling and ground game will be on the right stick.

PSLS: Has the team decided on a way to punish quitters in an online match? It’s never fun when you’re about to win and your opponent leaves the game paused or instantly disconnects to rob you of a win.

JB: So, with disconnects in online, we’ve taken a little bit of a different approach than we had in the past titles. We’re really going to focus on sort of penalizing people who quit. So, it’s not just a matter of giving you a loss and increasing your DNF (Did Not Finish) score. We’re going to use that DNF score in more meaningful ways. So, if you quit too often in a short period of time, you may be temporarily banned from matchmaking. You may see your position in the leaderboards removed entirely. We really want to provide a fun experience in the online space and we take disconnects in online pretty seriously. I definitely hear you loud and clear in terms of it (intentional disconnects) being a problem. We’ll continue to monitor player behavior and work with our customer service team to address players who abuse that.

PSLS: Can you explain the “banning” in online multiplayer more and how it works? Will you ban the player profile itself?

JB: In only extreme cases will it be a permanent ban. What we are doing is we’ll be temporarily be suspending accounts from matchmaking. We won’t be suspending them from playing the game; but if you disconnect from a match too often, obviously there’s going to be a grace period — because there are sometimes legitimate reasons to disconnect from a match — but if you do it too often and if your DNF percentage goes to passing a certain threshold,  then the game will take action and we’ll temporarily suspend you from matchmaking.

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PSLS: Will there be Pride or other arenas in the game aside from the Octagon?

JB: For this version of the game, at least for launch, no. The WEC, Strikeforce, Pride promotions they all definitely are licenses that we’re interested in leveraging in the future. We know there’s a strong demand, especially for Pride, which was quite successful in Undisputed and that’s definitely something that we’re keeping an eye on. But for launch, we’re only going to be focusing on the UFC.

PSLS: Just to confirm, there also won’t be Pride rules/Pride game modes where you can do soccer kicks and such?

JB: For launch, no.

PSLS: I’m pretty sure you saw Anderson Silva losing the way he did against Chris Weidma with his leg going all “rubber band.” Will we see that sort of thing in EA Sports UFC?

JB: There’s definitely the concept of regional damage. If I take too many kicks to the leg, I’ll be hurt there. Unfortunately, by the time Silva broke his leg on Weidman’s check, we were too far into development to mimic that in the game. But certainly with the power of the EA Sports Ignite (engine), we’ll certainly be looking into building that sort of gameplay functionality  and something we’re interested in doing. If it happens in the Octagon, we want to be able to reflect that in the game.

PSLS: With Anderson Silva’s loss, did this affect his ranking in the game?

JB: No. We work with the UFC very closely in determining what the ratings for each fighter should be. Not only their overall, but individual stats. Ultimately, the UFC has the last sign-off on all ratings for all of the characters, which is quite different from some of the other sports games that we’ve worked on. But they’ve been a great partner to with and like I said, they have the final say.

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PSLS: Who’s the fighter with the highest overall rating in the game?

JB: I’m pretty sure it’s Jon Jones.

PSLS: Now that you’ve mentioned that the UFC has the final say in terms of ratings, will the team be allowed to push regular updates to tweak fighter stats?

JB: Yep. Just like the NHL has roster updates, I believe FIFA and Madden has as well. EA Sports UFC is no different, we’ll be able to course-correct and adjust ratings of the fighters as the game evolves and we get feedback from the game’s community.

PSLS: How many total fighters is the team looking to include in the game? Can we expect Hall of Famers like Mark Coleman, Ken Shamrock, etc. to make an appearance?

Royce Gracie is in the game, I believe he’s a pre-order exclusive. The other fighters won’t be in the game for launch, but we are interested in expanding the roster once we’ve launched the game. For our late June launch, we’re looking at about 98 fighters to be included in the game. And obviously we have plans to expand that roster but we haven’t really announced any fighters just yet.

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PSLS: Bruce Lee was revealed to be a pre-order bonus, are there any more “fantasy” fighters like Van Damme, Chuck Norris, and the like planned in the future?

JB: Never say never, it’s always a possibility. I think we feel Bruce Lee was sort of a one-off. The philosophies that he lived by really captured what MMA is about today. So, I think probably not. Never say never, but who knows?

PSLS: You mentioned a demo, when will that be out for the PS4 and Xbox One?

JB: I don’t have that info on hand, but I know we submitted the demo and it was approved very recently – I think it was last night (interview was conducted on May 17). But it should be out soon. Typically it’s about 2-4 weeks before the game comes out. We’re past that date, so I expect it to be released soon.
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We’d like to thank Jazz and EA for taking the time out to talk with us regarding EA Sports UFC. You can check the game out when the demo drops (which will be “soon” according to Jazz), or when the full game hits retail this June 17 for the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One.