When EA Sports announced this week that legendary martial artist and movie actor Bruce Lee would appear in EA Sports UFC as a playable character, some people scoffed at the news and pointed out that he never actually fought competitively. This might be true, but according to his daughter Shannon Lee, Bruce Lee is, in some ways, more of a real fighter than a lot of MMA brawlers today because he "lived and breathed" martial arts.
"I think that people who have negative comments [about Bruce Lee's inclusion in EA Sports UFC] are misguided for the most part," Shannon Lee told GameSpot this week. "Some people don't realize that my father was more than just an actor, that he was truly a real martial artist. In a lot of ways more so than a lot of the fighters today because he lived and breathed martial arts. He often said everything he learned in his life he learned from the practice of martial arts. So I think there's some misunderstanding in that regard.
"I think some of the purists out there [will say] 'Oh, Bruce Lee never would have competed in real life...' And my answer to that is this isn't real life; this is fun, Bruce Lee liked to have fun."
"I think some of the purists out there [will say] 'Oh, Bruce Lee never would have competed in real life...' And my answer to that is this isn't real life; this is fun, Bruce Lee liked to have fun. This is an opportunity to live out a fighting fantasy," she added. "And I think we should all be grateful that the technology exists to have some fun in this way. And there are just some people who are haters [laughs]. And there's not a whole lot I can do for those people than just to tell them that they might enjoy their lives a lot more if they stopped worrying about everybody else so much."
Also in our interview with Shannon Lee, she recalled being very enthusiastic when EA originally approached her to ask about including Bruce Lee in their upcoming UFC game.
"I was super-excited. But as with everything, you always have to take a beat and really check in with yourself and see how you feel about it," Shannon Lee recalled. "And honestly, when I checked in with myself, I was really excited about it. I know that there are purists out there who will say 'oh, Bruce Lee didn't compete in real life!" This is a video game and it's meant to be fun."
"And I think there are a lot of people out there who don't really know that my father was the caliber of martial artist that he was," she added. "They see him in movies and so they think he was primarily an actor, but that couldn't be further from the truth."
One of the reasons why Shannon Lee was not only OK with, but excited about her father's inclusion in EA Sports UFC as a playable character was because she believes EA has the right technology in place to create a virtual version of her father with a high degree of fidelity and authenticity.
Just look at some of the images and you'll likely agree that the power of the Xbox One and PlayStation 4 has allowed for an eerily accurate representation of Bruce Lee. But while other fighters like Chuck Liddell or Ronda Rousey had their bodies scanned in for EA Sports UFC to ensure authenticity, this was obviously not possible for Bruce Lee. This was a hurdle EA could not overcome, but Shannon Lee had an interesting workaround. In the 1960s, filmmakers made a mask of Bruce Lee's face for the movie Green Hornet and Shannon held onto it over the years. She sent it to EA and they were able to scan it to create Bruce Lee's face with a high degree of accuracy.
Though the final version of Bruce Lee that you see in EA Sports UFC looks incredible, it definitely took a lot of work and refinement, Shannon Lee said. "There were definitely points where I said 'Ooh, they've got to change that' and they did," Lee said. "I really can't say enough that they have worked very closely with me and my team to make it the best presentation that they can."
Bruce Lee's legacy is forever preserved in movies where he's seen as a total master of martial arts. But what if a novice player uploads a video of themselves playing horribly with Bruce Lee? Will this tarnish Lee's legacy? No, Shannon Lee says. She even encourages newcomers to play as Bruce Lee because doing so will honor his legacy, she says.
"That doesn't concern me. If anybody was the perpetual student, it was my father. If they're not good players and they're using him to get better, I also think that's something that fits in perfectly with his legacy of...he used to always say 'you're only defeated if you accept defeat.'"
In movies like Enter the Dragon, Bruce Lee is an indomitable force that eviscerates his enemies with ease. But this doesn't mean he's going to be a 100-rated character in EA Sports UFC, creative director Brian Hayes told us.
"We're evaluating Bruce Lee as he was known, from the people who trained with him, as opposed to 'Let's put him in the game as the unstoppable force that was depicted in cinema.' People that had the experience of training with Bruce Lee will, without fail, speak about his tremendous athleticism, his speed, his strength relative to his size, his commitment to exploring innovative training techniques," Hayes said. "We're taking the approach that he's a tremendous athlete that is trained, primarily, in striking disciplines, but expanded that as he grew as a martial artist to include an appreciation for how important fighting on the ground was as well. With our recreation of him in the game, he is the lightning-fast, lethal striker that you expect from what he was in reality. But perhaps only a capable grappler on the ground, as opposed to just being the guy that's rated 100 in everything.
"For us, this is about creating the most authentic version of Bruce Lee we possibly can, from what he looks like visually to how he actually moves inside the Octagon" -- EA Sports UFC creative director Brian Hayes
We also asked Hayes if including a legendary, and no longer living, character like Bruce Lee was, in a way, selling out his memory. Hayes shook this off, saying he doesn't see it as overstepping any boundaries, going on to explain that he is a Bruce Lee super-fan and making clear that EA went to great lengths to ensure the legendary fighter was portrayed accurately in the game.
"For us, this is about creating the most authentic version of Bruce Lee we possibly can, from what he looks like visually to how he actually moves inside the Octagon. The notion of selling out his memory is not something that I would care to evaluate with any great effort. From my own perspective, when I was 12 or 13 I saw my first Bruce Lee film, and then went and rented every Bruce Lee film that there was from the local video story immediately after that. I made a crappy pair of nunchucks with my friends with a piece of string and two pieces of dowel; one of us split our head open trying to do stuff like Bruce Lee. I'm just an enormous fan, and having the ability to simulate his participation in a sport like mixed martial arts is just a really cool thing to be able to do."
"People that say, 'I can't believe that Bruce Lee is in the game.' If it doesn't make you happy, then I honestly don't care," he added.
And what of the trolling potential of video games in 2014? You can imagine someone uploading a video of themselves playing as Bruce Lee in EA Sports UFC and losing horribly just for the sake of mocking the beloved fighter. Shannon Lee isn't losing any sleep over this.
"Look, it's a game. If people are posting YouTube videos of him not performing well...they've got a lot of time on their hands [laughs]."
EA Sports UFC launches June 17 for Xbox One and PlayStation 4.