EA Sports UFC 3 Interview — Producer on New Tech, Delivering Lifelike MMA, and More

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With the advances of technology and graphical power that happens with each console generation, sports games, in particular, get closer and closer to emulating their real-life counterparts, and with the newly-revealed EA Sports UFC 3, players will get one step closer to feeling like they really are in the octagon.

During a reveal event in New York City, DualShockers had the opportunity to speak with EA Sports senior producer Marc De Vellis to discuss the upcoming EA Sports UFC 3, with De Vellis specifically giving some more insight into the technology that is driving the team’s most realistic take on mixed martial arts to date.

Al: We’re here checking out some UFC 3 with Marc De Vellis, the senior producer on the project. I gotta say — it looks incredible so far — but you guys had a gameplan. I mean, you guys had a gameplan building this from, let’s call it “the Trilogy” from UFC 1, 2, 3…walk me through that a little bit.

Marc De Vellis: Absolutely. So, a couple years ago, after UFC shipped, we had the entire team get together and really brainstorm “How are we gonna take the franchise to the next level? How are we gonna make the most fun experience for the fans?”

And what you saw today is sort of the fruits of the labor of what the team’s been working on: really that focus on revolutionizing gameplay all through that RPM tech. Like, that’s a game-changer.

A: And yeah, let’s talk about that, that’s pretty crazy. For those that didn’t realize, and I guess the best analogy was that you guys were taking snapshots or doing a mo-cap, and then kind of chopping it up into little bits and pieces before. That’s gone. This is totally fluid now.

MD: So, for the last 20 years at EA Sports, what we’ve been doing is we go into mo-cap and we capture these snippets of data, these two to three seconds of loops that we move forward and back and we stitch that together. So when you watch our games, even UFC 2 when you saw the replays, it’s just these animation loops that are “stitched,” so you don’t get that fluidity because of the blended animations.

This year, our RPM tech (Real Player Motion), what it allows us to do is we go into mo-cap, and we capture unobstructed motion data from real athletes and actors, so it’s no more two to three second stops. It’s that they move in different shapes, diamonds, and for 30-40 second patterns.

And what this tech does is in a specific frame, it chooses the specific animation, and it’s just natural, so it’s always picking the theoretical best frame. So, on every single motion, and on every single strike, when you see Conor [McGregor] in there, it’s 1:1, it looks 1:1 — there’s no blending happening there. So it’s taking our motion to levels that we’ve never delivered because we’ve fully-revamped 5,000 animations.

A: And that’s crazy. So, 5,000 animations now, and it’s in all facets of the game: it’s not just in the fighting engine, the locomotion’s different now, the intros are different, you have customization as far as you know, just the movement of the taunts, and Conor’s regular movements. To me, that’s the authenticity of the game.

MD: Absolutely. There’s always this challenge in video games when you see a still screen image and you say “Oh that looks amazing,” but as soon as it moves or a character moves, it breaks the immersion.

And the challenge this year for us was that we know our screenshots look amazing; we know when you freeze the game, [you ask] “is that TV or is that the real game?” It looks phenomenal.

The challenge that our art team took on this year was as soon as our characters move, we still wanted to keep that immersion where it looks 1:1 like real life, and that’s where RPM comes in because it is 1:1 to real life: we captured those animations. It’s not stitched together; it’s not these two to three-second loops. So all the subtleties of the hip changes and the level changes and bouncing on their feet…

A: I was going to say, just footwork alone you could see the difference in how guys are moving around the ring: where they’re stepping, where they’re planting their body weight, that’s just a complete difference.

MD: It’s a complete change to the strategy now as well. So not only does it look beautiful, now it’s almost like locomotion is your first line of defense, right?

If somebody’s in the pocket, you have the fidelity and that connectedness to the sticks, it’s actually so responsive that you can actually dodge in and dodge out, whereas you couldn’t do that before because you’re on this linear path, if you will. So you can slip in and slip out; you have full control of motion.

A: And with that motion comes now the ability to kind of move and use that motion to continue to punch and kind of slip punches, go for reversals…

MD: That’s a game-changer, right. So, if you played UFC 2, you knew that when…

A: Somebody’s planting their feet, they’re gonna swing.

MD: Yeah, exactly. And even if you’re trying to chase down your opponent, every time you punched, your feet were firmly cemented to the ground. So for a fighting game — when you look back at it now — it’s a fundamental shift in how you play because now you can actually throw jabs moving forward, you can jab moving backward.

And you know similar to what Conor — you know how he knocked a lot of his opponents out — when he’s moving backward throwing his looping left, you couldn’t do that in UFC 2. In UFC 3, you can.

EA Sports UFC 3 Interview -- Producer on New Tech, Delivering Lifelike MMA, and More

A: It’s kind of crazy to see that you guys have taken that progression. It’s funny because I saw the progression from UFC 1 to 2, and I argue that UFC 2 was the best fighting game out there. You know, because a lot of people say oh Street Fighter and all that, but to me, that’s not real fighting.

Is that something you guys are looking to do? Are you guys looking to kinda challenge those guys and say “Okay it’s cute to throw fireballs, but hey listen, let’s step into the octagon and show some realism here.”

MD: Well, our vision for the last few years for the entire development team is that we want to be the world’s favorite fighting game, and I think that answered your question. It’s not good enough to be the best MMA game: we want players to have an amazing fighting experience.

And whether you’re casual, or whether you’re hardcore; that’s been the vision, and we’re getting there. And every year we’re getting better and better.

UFC 3 is fundamentally a better game, and when you look at the traditional fighting games and when it’s more just pattern recognition, and you’re mastering patterns compared to if you’re mastering split-second decisions. If somebody’s throws a hook you know okay: if his head’s down now and I can throw a flying knee, he’s vulnerable and I’m gonna knock him out.

That doesn’t exist in a lot of the other games, and I feel like if we can keep refining that: that’s what’s gonna make the EA Sports UFC franchise and take it to another level.

A: Can you guys see a progression into — I know there’s a big talk about streaming and Twitch and TwitchCon and all these eSports — is that a realm that you guys are kinda looking to push into?

MD: So my theory there is I don’t think the push necessarily ever comes from…

A: It needs to come from us.

MD: Yes, it needs to come from you. And all that we can do as game makers is make the game amazingly fun, and make sure the gameplay is the foundation of that experience. So if the gameplay is ready for eSports, our fans in the community will tell us.

And just by the nature of the competition, I feel that UFC 3 is finally ready: it’s built from the ground up with 5,000 new animations, brand new tech. You know: you can come in as a casual user, hammer the buttons, and have fun.

But if you’re a power user and you want to put in the work, and the hours, you will master the game.

EA Sports UFC 3 Interview -- Producer on New Tech, Delivering Lifelike MMA, and More

A: If you want to nail a Mighty Wiz-Bar, is what you’re talking about.

MD: You can do it, and we’ve seen it. The hardcore players, they spend upwards of hundreds of hours, I’ll put it that way, into the game and they’re phenomenal at it. So when you strike, you know it’s like chess: they know “okay, he threw that strike, I have three or four options, and that one option probably has a higher probability of knocking him out.”

So if we can get the majority of the community at that level, that’s when eSports is born: so all we can do is keep making the experience accessible, but also deep enough that the competitive gamers have an arena to shine.

A: Now there’s been a lot of talk about the new tech: you got the Xbox One X coming out, did that play into your development. You know, obviously fidelity is something that you guys are looking at so I’m sure 4K assets and that…

MD: So, we will be upres-ing on the higher performing consoles.

A: So the Pro and the One X.

MD: Yes, and the game looks phenomenal. So what you’re seeing today looks stunning, but on the top consoles, I’ll leave that to you guys, but I’ll say it looks pretty badass.

A: Now any thoughts of moving into other spaces like PC and let’s say Switch, because Switch is catching on now, and it’s maybe not as powerful, but maybe put a little Mario hat on a fighter and…

MD: [Laughs] I know FIFA is pushing efforts on Switch right now, and FIFA is still the priority right now to make sure that we nail that experience and we make that as fun and the best experience as possible.

So Switch right now for UFC isn’t an immediate priority. I will say though that looking past UFC 3, there’s a lot of demand for PC. So it’s something that we’re reevaluating because it’s this groundswell of our audience asking for PC.

So you know: if the fans want it, all we can do is listen and assess it. It’s not for UFC 3, but potentially something we’ll look at for UFC 4.

A: Incredible. Now you kind of hit my next question: so obviously we’ve got the iteration of UFC 1, 2, and 3…you guys are looking at UFC 4 already it sounds like, and kind of where this can go, what can we keep building on.

MD: Absolutely. So the beautiful thing about being a game developer is that you work with so many talented people, and what you’re seeing today is only a snippet of what we’re able to deliver in two years, but we have a huge backlog of ideas that we want to bring to the franchise.

EA Sports UFC 3 Interview -- Producer on New Tech, Delivering Lifelike MMA, and More

A: So there’s just a giant whiteboard somewhere with ideas…

MD: Well we have whiteboards in all of the offices that get filled every day, and we just backlog all these ideas. So, right now I’ll say though, just like the fighters say, we’re focused on UFC 3, because the team is back home literally today finalizing the game: focusing on the bugs, focusing on the polish.

We’re still not done with the game yet, so when it launches on February 2nd, it’s gonna be the most polished experience possible. As soon as we finalize the game, that’s when we start to look at UFC 4, and when I say “start to look at UFC 4“, what that means is “open up the vault of ideas, get everybody in a room,” and you know smiles go on the faces again, and it’s like kids in the candy store again where we get a lot of these ideas on to boards and we start streamlining.

And here’s the thing too: what we do is even though we’ll start doing early concepts looking towards UFC 4, we really pay attention to UFC 3 and the fans and the live service. We do a lot of research after and listen to fans: that’s why the stats that you saw today with Career Mode, it took us four or five months post-launch to really listen to the fans.

We heard it directly from them and were able to say “They weren’t happy with UFC 2‘s Career mode.” It was one of the most-played modes, which had the highest dissatisfaction, so that’s why it took a majority of the lion’s share of our team’s efforts to add that immersion in this year.

A: And I find that very interesting and I think it’s telling of what you guys are putting into the project that you guys are listening to those comments.

You know, a lot of gamers — it’s easy to crap on a game and be negative and say “ah it doesn’t have this, it doesn’t have that,” but you guys are taking that and being constructive with it, and saying “Alright, let’s pull that data, let’s understand why they’re not happy, let’s understand what we can do to kind of fix those things,” and even integrating some of those videos like How-To’s, into the game itself.

MD: You know, it’s one thing if a few of our fans say it, but when the groundswell of our players says it, you have to listen. At the end of the day, we’re not necessarily making the game experience for ourselves, and I think that’s what is separating EA as a whole is a player-first company, right?

We’re focusing on the players: they have a voice, we’re integrating that into all of our franchises, and UFC is definitely a byproduct of that vision. Andrew Wilson our CEO talks about that all the time, and I can definitely see it in our franchise and I can see it across the other titles as well.

It’s a real thing, and to be able to be humble as well of our shortcomings. It’s not custom where you stand up and even though UFC 2 has been a massive success for us, the team is still humble to say “okay, we can do better on Career Mode, we can do better on gameplay.”

So what we’ve been doing with motion capture we’ve been saying for 20 years: we’re gonna flip it on its head and we’re gonna take some risks. Because when those risks pay off, you see, like that trailer, it gives people shivers. And that’s what we’re here to do: we’re here to deliver the most fun, highest polished experience possible.

EA Sports UFC 3 Interview -- Producer on New Tech, Delivering Lifelike MMA, and More

A: Which is incredible, we can see that and it’s crazy to think that you’re still a couple months out: you guys are still working on the game. What would be the one thing you would say to a fan or a gamer, what would be the biggest surprise for them buying the game?

MD: I think the biggest delight for a fan and a player of our franchise is that when they come in for the first time and they play their first game, and they just feel as soon as they touch the stick for the first time and they see the athlete move, they’re going to be blown away.

Just that one moment, because it happens every single time. So I think just that one moment when you start the game, move around, throw a couple strikes, and you can actually strike while moving and backwards, and afterward if it ends up in a big knockout, it’s a bonus.

But just that first experience: I’d love to be a fly on the wall and watch all those fights because you hear the buzz in the room today. It takes people aback, like it’s a big step forward and I would think that they’re in for a great surprise when they first play it.

EA Sports UFC 3 will release for PS4 and Xbox One on February 2nd, 2018. For more on the game, you can also read our interview with UFC fighter Demetrious Johnson for insights on his involvement with the game and his passion for streaming.

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