Following the launch of EA SPORTS UFC2 this month, GiveMeSport sat down with the game's creative director, Brian Hayes.
The latest edition of the MMA franchise, which has outsold its predecessor by more than 50%, has been praised for its stunning realism and brutal knockouts.
So we quizzed Brian on the creative process behind the game, how many people it takes to design the most realistic UFC game ever, and why Ronda Rousey is the perfect cover star alongside Conor McGregor. You can click here to learn more about the game.
Hi Brian, so when did you guys start the process of designing the game? And what was your starting point?
The process of designing UFC started in earnest just a few short weeks after UFC1 shipped. There was a period when we were still doing things around UFC1 but we were also starting to think about the things that were too big or too challenging to do via a content update but that could go into UFC2.
Basically, once we wrapped on UFC1 everybody took a breather for a little bit, then we were back at it to look at UFC2.
What were your biggest takeaways in terms of improvements you need to make from UFC1?
Two of the biggest things were making sure there was a much larger variety of experiences for people to interact with, so increasing the number of game modes and depths of features available for different types of gamers so there’s something for everyone to enjoy.
The there was improving the ground game, primarily, in terms of core gameplay. The new dynamic grappling system and the grappling assist hub, that’s probably one of the biggest changes from UFC1 to UFC2. That’s made the gameplay more fluid and fun than it ever has been before.
You had an idea for improved grappling - How difficult was it for you to execute the ideas you wanted and turn it from an idea into reality?
For me as a creative director it’s astonishingly easy [laughs]. All I have to do is say ‘hey, we need to make this better’, and there’s genius people who code and do animation who figure out how to get it done.
But it is pretty straight-forward in the end. My job is to make sure the priorities are clear, so when there are discussions about whether we should do one thing or the other it’s me who has to make sure that whatever we’re trying to accomplish is at the heart of what we’re doing.
"When you’re right in the thick of it in full production it’s probably in the region of 100 people working on the game."
The technical part of it, in terms of what our engineers have to cook up in order to make the dynamic grappling system a technical possibility is seriously impressive.
So did the creative and the technical departments match up on this project?
Each team talked to each over every single day, all the time. We give each other feedback on how to improve constantly. The whole team happen to sit no more than 50 feet away from each other so it was easy to communicate.
How many people does it take to design such a detailed and complex game?
When you’re right in the thick of it in full production it’s probably in the region of 100 people working on the game.
But in the earlier and later stages when the operation is rolled back slightly and some people are enjoying some well-earned time off it shrinks down to less than half of that.
What was the biggest technical challenge you faced along the way?
the biggest technical challenge in terms of figuring out whether it was going to work at all was and figuring out if there was enough content to make it happen was the dynamic grappling system.
Just for that alone we’ve added an additional 2200 animations just to get that system to function. They’re not all necessarily unique animations that you can see clearly but there are so man small components to get the full effect, and so that each fighter can do things independently of each other.
That was a massive undertaking and really a great accomplishment from the team.
A main focus of the game is the art of the knockout - can you explain how you’ve moved this aspect on from UFC1?
The knockout physics system means there are no more animations in the truest sense. Every time a fighter does get knocked out, their fall to the ground is driven by a detailed and robust physics simulation. It’s so much better than physics simulations I’ve had in other games I’ve worked on or even played. It’s come so far. In 2004 we had ‘rag doll’ physics knockdowns which is like you’ve cut the strings on a marionette with no sense of bones or ligature.
Now we have a very complex simulation of the physiology of the human body. So when you knock someone out the momentum of the strike and direction of the strike all plays a part in delivering a very believable, very authentic but very dynamic and exciting fall from grace as it were.
"I’m pretty sure there’s no consumer demand for actually feeling the pain so I imagine that’s where the line will be drawn in terms of realism in games"
The great thing about it is that no two knockouts in the game are the same. That’s a big step from UFC1, where you’d start seeing the same knockout eventually.
UFC2 takes things to new levels in terms of realism - so what’s the next step for technology in fight games?
We’re always going to be able to push it further and get higher levels of fidelity and simulation - I’m not sure we’ll ever be able to actually put people in the Octagon though. I’m not sure they’d like that anyway, I’m comfortable sitting and playing at home [laughs].
I’m pretty sure there’s no consumer demand for actually feeling the pain so I imagine that’s where the line will be drawn!
What made you pick Ronda Rousey as a cover star?
She’s a a great fit for us because she’s huge. What she’s accomplished in MMA and UFC in a short amount of time is unprecedented. The mere fact that we went from having no women fighters in UFC1 to being able to play as a female fighter in UFC2 tells you everything.
The fact that when she lost [to Holly Holm] it was the biggest story in sport tells you all you need to know as well.
So presumably you’re going to take a couple weeks’ break and get to work on UFC3??
There will be some people starting to do early work on UFC3 in the next few weeks! But there’s also a lot of people doing post-launch support for UFC2.