Up until this point, EA has been teasing us with bits and pieces of information on its upcoming mixed martial arts game. We knew a few of the fighters on the roster, including Fedor Emelianenko, Frank Shamrock, Randy Couture, Jason Miller, and Muhammed "King Mo" Lawal. Thanks to an event scheduled the day before last week's Fedor-versus-Rogers fight, we know some additional members of the EA Sports MMA roster, and a little bit more about what the development team intends to do with the game to make it stand out.
But before jumping into any details about the game itself, EA revealed its partnership with Strikeforce as a premier league featured in MMA. This means that Strikeforce matches in the game will feature the same cage, ring announcer (Jimmy Lennon), and commentary team (Frank Shamrock and Mauro Ranallo) that you see on TV. This doesn't mean that all fights are Strikeforce matches, but rather that it's potentially just one of many other leagues featured in the game. And finally, EA Sports announced that both Jake Shields (who would go on to win his fight the next night) and Brett Rogers (who lost to Fedor in the main event match that same night) would be available on the EA Sports MMA roster.
With that out of the way, executive producer Dale Jackson took to the stage to give an overview of the gameplay, and from the very outset it's obvious that EA is putting a lot of focus in one particular area: making fighters behave much as they would in a real fight. "The example I can give you is Fight Night Round 4," says Jackson. "When you play with Ali, he fights like Ali. That's what you have to capture. There are no two guys that go out there in the ring that are an exact, mirror copy. [You have to] learn how to adjust to people's styles and take advantage of [their weaknesses and strengths]. That's what I don't think you've seen in an [MMA] game before."
"[THQ's UFC] game is button masher game to be real with you," adds MMA fighter King Mo, who was on hand to talk about EA Sports MMA and answer some questions. "It takes no real skill to be good at the UFC game. It's not even that realistic. You can pick Rampage and submit everyone with arm bars. In this game, every person is realistic."
The first few seconds of the demo illustrated part of Jackson's point. It showed Fedor's and Rogers' unique stances in the cage--Fedor bounces side to side on the balls of his feet, while Rogers takes a flat-footed stance. As the fighters move away from each other to opposite sides of the ring, they drop their hands. We then see some of their respective strikes. Then, Fedor showed off a massive overhand punch--almost like the one he used to knock out Rogers the next night. Meanwhile, Rogers' strikes are a little more orthodox, nothing fancy about them, but there's a lot of power behind every punch. "Those are some of the subtleties that make a difference and can help you identify fighters," says Jackson. "If you go out and start throwing strikes with Brett [Rogers] versus Fedor or any other fighters in the game, you're going to notice a difference in the way they play and how you operate them."
Next, we saw some of the finer points of fighting. First were hit reactions, which showed that a fighter's reaction to strikes changes the longer a fight progresses. This opens up opportunities that you wouldn't normally have at the beginning of a fight. For example, if a fighter has a weakened leg, it makes him less mobile and potentially more susceptible to a takedown from his opponent. We then got a glimpse of some parrying and countering with Fedor throwing a kick at Rogers and Rogers catching it.
Since Rogers is more of a stand-up fighter (and not one to take a fight to the ground, especially against someone like Fedor), he throws a few punches while holding Fedor's foot. Conversely, when Fedor catches one of Rogers' kicks, he takes him down to the ground. Still, every fighter in the game has a basic set of skills, so while Rogers may not be a submission fighter, if he sees that Fedor has a weakened arm, he might still be able to pull off an arm bar if the opportunity presents itself. "Everything we have in the game, we have to think how we could make it so a stand-up striker or a wrestler who wants to stay on his feet can stay within their game plan or stay within their comfort zone or take someone out of their comfort zone," Jackson explains. "If we had this and the only thing you could do is take a guy to the ground every time you caught a kick--as a stand-up striker, I'm in a miserable spot." It's also worth pointing out that in situations like this (or when you're on the ground in the guard position) either fighter can throw strikes at any time. Or to be more specific, you don't have to wait for one fighter's punch animation to finish before the other can throw a punch, so either combatant can let the fists fly in any position. We saw a little bit of this when Fedor and Rogers were in a clinch, continually maneuvering their arms and body position to set up a strike or a takedown.
At the end of the presentation, the EA representatives controlling Fedor and Rogers went at it for a bit. We saw Rogers give Fedor a pretty good knee to the head when Fedor shot in from too far away. If anything, the entire presentation and demo showed that EA is really trying to make the fighters in EA Sports MMA as authentic to their real-life counterparts as possible, and from a visual standpoint, the team is well on its way to accomplishing that goal. But we're still interested in how the game controls. We were told that there will be fully customizable controls available, but the default setup (which maps strikes to the right analog stick) is designed to take full advantage of the complexities of the sport that arise in different situations. We're also eager to learn more about the different arenas EA has planned for the game. We got a brief glimpse of several different arenas (or training areas), including a traditional dojo, a Brazilian jiu-jitsu gym, and what appeared to be a boxing ring. EA Sports MMA is scheduled for release in 2010 on the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3.