Whether you watch UFC or not, you’ll almost certainly know of the sport and its poster-child Connor McGregor. His rise to becoming one of the eminent and probably one of the most relatable sports stars in the world is a fascinating rags to riches story of dedication and perseverance. Or he’s a talented idiot with a big mouth. Either way, it’s unlikely anyone else will follow quite the same path into the increasingly commercialised UFC, but I’m sure that many people can dream of it, and what are video games if not dreams made reality?
Without the need to pump out games each and every year for UFC, EA Canada get to take their time with development, helping them to make great strides in how the game is designed and how it tries to recreate the intricacies of one on one mixed martial arts fighting.
At the heart of this is the new Real Player Motion locomotion which saw the team throw out all the previous animations from UFC 2 and start from scratch with thousands of new animations to produce even more fluid and freeform motion. There’s bound to be plenty of moments that stick out like a sore thumb, but the way that animations blend together allow for combined hits while moving in various directions, and the way the game replicates some of the most iconic fighters and their unique styles of movement will be more realistic than ever.
Brian Hayes, Creative Director explained, “We basically wrote the stand up gameplay from scratch, so everything we did on UFC and UFC 2 when it comes to locomotion, blocking, head movement, striking, combinations, we threw it all out and started again. Also from a strategic metagame perspective, there’s a whole lot of wrinkles that we’ve added – and wrinkles probably isn’t even the right word. There’s a lot of foundational pillars that we’ve added that didn’t exist in the gameplay before.”
Where the likes of FIFA and Madden have shifted their single player focus over to telling character driven stories and away from adding systems to their long in the tooth career modes, UFC3 is all about redefining the series’ career mode. As just the third game in EA’s series, there’s still scope for the developers to mix things up and get the foundations right before coming to tell a zero to hero story some time in the future.
Brian explained, “Looking at the feedback from UFC 2 and from the in game telemetry and research, we know that career mode was one of the most played modes, but we also know from feedback that career mode was one of the least satisfying modes. So with UFC 3 we could invest in a cinematic experience, but then that would limit the amount we could do to actually invest in making changes to career mode. Career mode was something the vast majority of people were playing, but they weren’t satisfied by it, so we needed to address that for fans before we look at giving them something entirely different and entirely new.
“Assuming that the response to this is satisfactory, and I think that it will be because we’ve added a lot of depth and choices, [a cinematic experience] is something we’ll look at in the future.”
Even when you have simple gameplay goals as opposed to dramatic ones, you still want to shoot for the stars, to become the greatest of all time, the GOAT. That’s at the heart of the career mode, as you build up your reputation, fanbase and fight for various championships through your character’s progression. Across all the fights, you need to aim for six world records and two promotional records – most pay per view buys, and largest social media following, for example – in order to be considered the GOAT. However, where you used to already start off on the Ultimate Fighter TV show, you now begin your career in the fictional World Fighter Alliance – yes, I pointed out just how much this sounded like a supervillain team from a Spider-Man comic.
“[The World Fighter Allienace] is pseudo-fictional or quasi-fictional in that is did used to exist but no longer exists,” Brian explained, “but basically you start off in the minor leagues and the premise is that your performance is going to determine how you make it into the UFC. If you’re an absolute stand out superstar and knock everybody out, you’re going to get signed up relatively quickly; if you do kind of OK you might get invited to a season of The Ultimate Fighter, and if you struggle a little bit, you’ll get called up after having to go through a few more fights.”
There’s no real way to get told to stop trying and go home, but however you progress, the career structure puts pressure on managing your preparation time before you step into the octagon for your fight, spending a certain number of points on activities in the run up to the event. Naturally, you want to head into it in the best condition you can, and so it’s a nice parallel to the real world that you need to be trained and have a high fitness level to consistently compete. Simply training to boost your raw attributes won’t be enough against advanced opponents, so you might decide to spend some of your points learning new moves and perks with a training partner by completing certain challenges, such as not getting knocked down for 150 seconds to earn a reinforcement perk. You can also simply spar with an opponent to test yourself and doing well could give you offensive or defensive top on how to best a similar opponent.
On the other side of things, you could take to social media to promote your fight and spark rivalries with other athletes – sadly, the options don’t include late night presidential ranting – meet contractual obligations by attending press conferences, predict a fight result and so on. It sounds like an involved system, but the clean interface and simple choices you can make help make it flow quite quickly. After a while, I’m sure most players will quickly blitz through the run up to an actual fight.
That can all be thrown to the wind a little if you’re given a short notice fight to stand in for an injured fighter. Suddenly the pressure is even higher on your preparations without the time to build up your fitness, perhaps a mandatory obligation that takes up a whole week of your time and so on. Thankfully if you yourself are injured, it can be quickly wiped away with a trip to a physio during your next set of preperations, giving you a hint of real world issues but without hampering the actual game.
It all adds up to a solid looking and well rounded career mode. There are little moments of flavour to go alongside it, with bad blood narrated cinematics and commemorative UFC Minute videos when you reach certain milestones and goals, but really it’s all about building the foundations of a career that both mimics the real world obligations and training of UFC fighters and turns them into a game.
Of course, the career mode is just one part of what’s shaping up to be a major step forward for the series. Having the time to effectively throw out everything that was there before means there will be greater nuance and depth across the board, from aiming to become the GOAT to the moment to moment action in the octagon.