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The deets on EA’s MMA game

When we foud out that Jackal James, a journalist from the UK, attended the EA MMA unveilling last week, we asked if he’d mind providing a few thoughts and impressions on the game. Here’s what he sent over…

I was at the UFC 2009 world premiere in Las Vegas back in June 2008. In fact, I was the only European MMA journo invited to that event. Without treading over too much old ground, I – along with everyone else – was pretty bloody impressed with what was on show.

We got a canned presentation and a trailer featuring a fight between Rampage and Forrest, with both fighters in attendance. Then a couple of Yukes guys hopped on an early build of the game and had a Jackson versus Griffin throwdown, which ended when Rampage snatched the pad from the guy controlling his digital doppelganger and (very conveniently) hit a knockout punch out of nowhere for the win. (Check that shit out on youtube)

Last week, I was once again the only European MMA journo invited to the official world premiere of EA MMA on Chicago (although I’d actually already spent about an hour with the game behind closed doors at a secret location in the UK). Suffice it to say, I had visions of my Vegas trip dancing around in my head and the EA guys were going to have to pull out something pretty special to impress me, especially since I’m a massive fan of UFC 2009 and all things UFC in general.

I’m pleased as punch to say that, at the same point in the game’s development cycle, I’m actually more impressed with EA MMA than I was at the equivalent event for UFC 2009. Indeed, even comparing this early build of the EA game to the finished UFC product, it staggeringly illustrates just how limited the THQ title really is, in many respects. There are no southpaws, you can’t switch stances, knockouts are complete dice rolls, there’s no interaction with the cage, the clinch and counter mechanics are hugely limited, fighters are all template-based and feel the same…

Don’t get me wrong; I really do love UFC 2009 to bits. It’s awesome, and I invested a shitload of hours in it. But I think we, as fans who have had to deal with largely shitty MMA videogames over the years, were so stunned and blinkered by the things that UFC 2009 got right – or even the simple fact that we finally had an MMA game that was actually good – that we overlooked a great many things that it got wrong.

But whichever version of events you believe (Dana White’s “EA fucking fucked us and has always hated MMA” or Peter Moore’s “No, I was supporting MMA since the first UFC game on the Dreamcast, when I worked at Sega”), one thing’s for sure: the guys at EA Sports didn’t overlook a goddamn thing. In fact, they were taking diligent notes about the successes and failures of THQ’s product, and directly fed that into the development of their game.

EA MMA is being produced by EA Tiburon, the studio behind games like Madden, NCAA Football and Tiger Woods. The team is working in conjunction with the Fight Night Round 4 team at EA Canada, with whom they have been working closely to customise the fantastic boxing engine to apply to MMA combat. As a point of note, Fight Night and EA MMA will release on alternate years, rather than as annual updates (so EA MMA will hit in 2010, Fight Night Round 5 will be ready in 2011 and so on).

There’s a lot of stuff that simply can’t be talked about without EA’s lawyers pounding on my door, but those familiar with Fight Night’s controls will feel right at home in EA MMA. The fluidity of the control scheme will be consistent through all facets of combat; so, for example, you’ll use the pad to execute strikes in the same way on the floor as you do on the feet, or even in the clinch – an aspect that has the depth of War And Peace compared to the Marvel Comics clinchwork of UFC 2009. In the THQ game it was simply a procedure whereby you could throw strikes or get a takedown from a different position, in EA’s game it’s a fluid, dynamic system where you’re constantly pummelling for over-unders and double-underhooks to get dominance.

The same thing goes with numerous other aspects, such as the three-tier defensive system (where you can now, among other things, catch and counter kicks without automatically falling down to the ground, which was obviously a disadvantage for stand-up fighters in UFC 2009), and the constant dynamism of close-quarter and ground fighting (where both fighters can throw and trade strikes simultaneously, rather than having to wait for the other’s strike animation routine to finish).

As you’ve undoubtedly already heard, EA announced a deal with Strikeforce to feature in the game, which will form the bulk of the presentation bells and whistles through the commentary team of Frank Shamrock and Mauro Ranallo, and ring announcer Jimmy Lennon Jr. Other alliances with non-UFC promotions are also signed or in the works and, since the game features rings as well as cages, it’s not unreasonable to assume that there may be some Japanese promotions featured in the game as well (we know of one big-name star who has yet to be announced, but fights in Sengoku, for instance, and of course there’s Strikeforce’s cosy relationship with Dream as well).

There’s literally so much stuff that I could talk about that I could write pages and pages and pages on this game. Sadly, various restrictions and embargoes prevent me from going into too much detail here and now. It seems like soulless shilling, for which I apologise, but if you want to find out more about things like the implementation of ring restarts, Unified Rules, Pride rules, the real story behind the UFC-EA feud, specifics regarding the control system, the truth behind whether women’s MMA will be in the game, announced and unannounced fighters, interviews with fighters and game designers and all manner of other stuff that hasn’t been covered by anyone else (which I know for a fact, since the Tiburon guys I spoke to behind closed doors told me that nobody else had asked certain questions), please check out the upcoming issues of the two magazines I write for, FSM (Fighting Spirit Magazine) and 360 Gamer:

I’m not holding out, or trying to hold information to ransom, there are just certain realities about what can and can’t be written outside of a certain place and time. Both of these are UK mags, but you can pick up copies internationally at the above websites. Cheers.