In a single year, THQ's UFC Undisputed series has gone from relative unknown to a lynchpin in the publisher's annual lineup. Powered partly by the growth in popularity of the real UFC, the debut entry in the series met with tremendous success in 2009 and has sold 3.5 million copies since its release in May. That's the kind of success that demands a sequel in the form of UFC 2010 Undisputed, which THQ and developer Yuke's will be delivering on May 25. It will be released on the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3, as well as later in the year on the PSP.
While it's not surprising to learn of a UFC sequel, finding out who the face of UFC 2010 will be may come a surprise: current UFC heavyweight champion Brock Lesnar will be the cover athlete for the game. Lesnar, who won the heavyweight championship from Randy Couture at UFC 91, has been the subject of much speculation of late. After pulling out of a scheduled fight at UFC 106, rumors surrounding Lesnar's health problems left many insiders wondering when or if the big man (who previously wrestled in the WWE and, in 2003, served as the cover star for THQ's WWE SmackDown! Here Comes the Pain for the PlayStation 2) would return to the UFC octagon. Recently, however, Lesnar appeared on ESPN with UFC boss Dana White to announce that he would be returning to the UFC in 2010, which was good news both for fans of the sport and the video game.
As for UFC 2010, the folks at THQ and Yuke's have been hard at work improving on what was a very strong debut in last year's game. To get a handle on all of the changes and additions, we had a chance to speak exclusively with Omar Kendall, one of the game's designers. Our conversation touched on all of the major features in this year's game, as well as on some of the smaller improvements that will make their way into UFC 2010.
GameSpot: Let's start by looking back at UFC Undisputed 2009. What do you think were the greatest strengths and weaknesses of that game? What was the most surprising feedback you received from fans?
Omar Kendall: First, I'd like to thank GameSpot for showing UFC 2009 Undisputed so much love. The site had some of our biggest supporters early on, and it did not go unnoticed!
One of UFC 2009 Undisputed's biggest strengths is that the game really captures the true essence of the UFC. This is something the team tried really hard to make sure happened. And based on the overwhelming response from UFC fans and the gaming community, we think we achieved our goal. As for a greatest weakness, we can be pretty harsh with the self-criticism, so we're constantly trying to improve the whole game--even stuff the fans or reviewers may not have touched upon. And, ultimately, we feel that this drives us to work even harder.
The most surprising feedback we received from the fans was the overwhelmingly positive response to our demo. When we set out to make a genre-defining game like UFC 2009 Undisputed, there's always that doubt that what we create won't quite mesh with what the public was thinking how a next-generation UFC game should play. It was really exciting to meet and, in many cases, exceed the lofty expectations of the community.
GS: What were the top priorities with this year's game?
OK: The top priority with UFC Undisputed 2010 is a continued march toward being perceived as, "As Real as It Gets." We're constantly tinkering with game systems, graphics, and modes to ensure we deliver the experience our fans deserve.
One example of this is the revision of our fighting technique system and the introduction of the fight camp concept to our Career mode. In UFC 2009 Undisputed, players chose a striking technique and a grappling technique at the beginning of their careers and then worked exclusively on leveling those two techniques. This year, players will be able to visit fight camps and work on individual moves that they want to improve on or add to their arsenal. For example, if players want to strengthen their guillotine choke or learn something more esoteric like a Peruvian Neck Tie, they'd go to a fight camp and work on it. Afterward, they'd be free to go learn something else from another fight camp, like a judo throw or a special takedown.
GS: UFC 2009 successfully married deep combat and easy-to-learn controls. What's changed with combat in this year's game?
OK: We're glad to hear GameSpot feels we were successful in this regard. The fight system in UFC 2009 Undisputed is something we pride ourselves on with the game. We're constantly looking for ways to improve on our systems, and one big way is in the further improvements to our ultimate fight control. In UFC 2009 Undisputed, clinch grappling and ground grappling were handled with multiple control schemes, which could be cumbersome to juggle depending on the fighter's orientation. This year, we undertook a new design philosophy that allowed us to better align our clinch grappling and ground grappling. In essence, players will now perform clinch pummels and throws using the ultimate fighting control the same way they performed transitions in UFC 2009 Undisputed.
GS: There was some criticism of the submission system in UFC 2009--the button mashing/stick rolling wasn't a particular favorite and there seemed to be a lack of flash submits. How has the submit system changed this time around? Is submission success still tied to your opponent's stamina level?
OK: While we've done quite a bit of tinkering with the submission system, the stick rolling method of submission execution and escape (known semiofficially as The Shine) will return. It's something that's steadily become a signature element of the game, and we're pretty fond of it. What we did want to change was the button mashing/brute force escape we utilized last year. This enabled fighters with high strength to be just as good at getting out of submissions as fighters with high submission defense.
Now all fighters will utilize The Shine, but the parameters that govern the success of getting out of a submission have changed. For UFC Undisputed 2010, the submission calculations will use either a fighter's submission defense or his current energy level expressed as a percentage--whichever is higher. For example, let's say a fighter has a submission defense skill of 50. If the fighter has 100 stamina and full (100 percent) energy, the game will look at this energy level, and the fighter will have a great chance of getting out of a submission. If the fighter has 100 stamina and has used the majority of his energy reserves, the game will look at the fighter's submission defense skill; in this case, shine hard! We feel this system is fairer to players and more representative of how an actual submission struggle would go down.
As for flash submissions, all we can say is stay tuned! We've overhauled much more of the submission system, and we can't wait to show it off.
GS: Will the cage have any effect on gameplay this time around? If so, how will it be used?
OK: We've implemented full cage support in UFC Undisputed 2010, and its effect on gameplay is huge. Since this year also sees us introduce new fighting techniques, including Greco-Roman wrestling, we feel that this, combined with all the other gameplay elements, like using the cage to prevent a takedown, is sure to have a dramatic impact on the way the game is played.
Our design approach to implementing cage gameplay allowed us to utilize our universal grapple system concept. On the ground, we have a rising hierarchy of positional advantage based on how much threat potential one fighter has in relation to another. In the case of two equally skilled fighters in open guard, for instance, the fighter on top is in a slightly better situation than the fighter on the bottom. We express this by saying the top fighter has a 55/45 advantage over the bottom fighter, expressed in the damage output of his strikes, the lethality of his submissions, etc. Put the same two fighters in the mount position, for instance, and that advantage changes to something much more dramatic, like say a 90/10 in favor of the top fighter.
We've utilized similar thinking with regard to the cage. Let's say we have the same two equally skilled fighters in the single collar tie position in the middle of the octagon. We consider this position to be one in which both fighters have equal advantage--a true 50/50 position. If one fighter manages to push his opponent up against the cage, he'll restrict his movement, limit the force he's able to generate on his strikes, and make it harder for him to regain energy; thus, shifting the balance in the favor of the free-standing fighter. It's an elegant system that we feel accurately represents the strategies employed in a real UFC fight.
GS: What's new in terms of fighter customization?
OK: This year, we wanted to give players more control over the customization of their fighters, but we also wanted to make the process smoother and more player friendly. For UFC Undisputed 2010, we've substantially increased the number of available parts for creation, but we've also added a ton of new features and improvements. One of the biggest changes from the previous game is the way we allow players to allocate individual moves for their fighters. Last year, we had base styles, each of which came with a set of predefined moves. This meant that all Brazilian jujitsu (BJJ) fighters had the same moves and techniques as other BJJ fighters. We wanted to change that this year, so we opened it up and now allow players to assign individual moves to their fighters on a move-by-move basis. There are well over 200 moves that can be assigned, mixed, and matched to create truly unique fighters.
Also new this year is the ability to fight orthodox, southpaw, or switch and assign a dominate power hand. Players can also choose their navigation style from a number of different postures to give their fighters more of a distinct look. There are several other customizable features that we'll also be sharing over the next few months.
GS: Adding sponsor logos to clothing in UFC 2009 required a ton of menu navigation. Is it easier this time around? Have any other aspects of sponsorship changed?
OK: We knew we had to make some improvements to this area of the game, so we completely revamped this system. The new system, which we've also applied to the placement of tattoos, uses more of a drag-and-drop style interface. Gone are the predefined spots where logos can only be placed and the series of menus that were required to place a logo. This year, it's as simple as picking shorts, picking a logo, and choosing its location on the shorts. Speaking of clothing, many top brands in MMA are back, along with some new ones, so players will have access to an extensive assortment of new designs and logos. In addition, we are also allowing players to pick or create their own post-fight clothing, which is worn during winner announcement scenes and certain areas in Career mode.
GS: The career mode in UFC 2009 was a good first step, but it was also heavy on menu navigation. How have things changed with UFC 2010? Will your career still be limited to a certain number of years?
OK: We'll be talking a lot more about our Career mode experience later this year, but what we can say is that we've put a lot of time and effort into making this mode an even more enriching and authentic experience for players. For example, an element we felt was missing from last year's Career mode was the sense of investment in a fighter and each of his fights. We've included several new features to help build up each fight and give them more meaning. An example of this is a new system we've added called "Game Is Watching You." The GIWY system tracks everything players are doing during the fighter's career and reflects it through commentary during fights. Joe Rogan and Mike Goldberg will reference the fighter's previous fights, his training partners, titles held, and other things he does during his career. Opponents will also take notice of performances and adjust their fight styles and strategies to counter strengths and take advantage of weaknesses. We're excited at the progress we've made to this year's Career mode over last year's [mode] and will release more information down the line.
GS: What's new with fighter training?
OK: The core methods of fighter progression from last year were really well received and are still in place. However, we've made some improvements and new additions that we look forward to sharing with everyone later this year.
GS: Tell us about the new fighting styles in the game. Will fighters still be limited to two fighting disciplines?
OK: In addition to our six returning fighting techniques (boxing, kickboxing, Muay Thai, wrestling, judo, and Brazilian jujitsu), we've added three more: karate, Greco-Roman wrestling, and sambo. We've also moved away from the concept of one striking fighting technique and one grappling fighting technique in favor of a system that allows fighters to learn individual moves as they see fit. We feel this more accurately represents the type of cross-discipline training that the modern UFC fighter needs in order to compete at the highest levels.
GS: Online fighting was a crucial component of last year's game. How has online improved this year?
OK: We're really excited about what we're offering online players in UFC Undisputed 2010. We have a pretty dedicated online following to this day, and in order to bring even more people together, we're introducing online fight camps. Fight camps unite many different fighters under a single banner to compete against fighters from other fight camps to unlock new milestones and rewards.
Fight camps, which feature their own matchmaking and leaderboards, aren't just about competition. After all, how do players get better at the game if they don't practice? Players can use the virtual space of their fight camp to spar and teach each other the ins and outs of the game. Players can even bring in their Career mode fighters for an online training session to train with other players and get an extra career "cred" boost. Those boosts make better fighters and those better fighters make better camps. We're sure that fight camps are going to have a great impact on UFC Undisputed 2010's online landscape, and we look forward to showing everyone how it all will work later this year.
GS: Will it still be possible to "max out" created fighters for use online or will there be some restrictions in place to keep things more realistic?
OK: We know this was a problem for some players last year, so we've taken steps to prevent maxed-out CAF characters from being created and have instead applied more of a realistic approach to attribute and skill advancement. We'll be releasing specifics later this year.
GS: Finally, any other modes or aspects of the game we need to know about?
OK: We've added several new modes this year, including a Title and Title Defense mode, as well as a Tournament mode. In addition, our Classic Fights mode will return with some substantial changes. We'll be releasing more info about all of these modes later this year.
GS: Thanks for your time, Omar.
Look for more on UFC Undisputed 2010 this weekend as we get our first look at the game in Las Vegas.