Q&A: We speak with creative director Brian Hayes about the major changes coming to UFC 4's gameplay this year.
EA's UFC franchise is back this year with UFC 4 and it's shaping up to be a punishingly powerful entry in the series. EA is making a series of major changes to the gameplay this year, improving and expanding on striking, grappling, takedowns, and the clinch game. Additionally, UFC 4 brings in EA's own Real-Player Motion technology from Madden, FIFA, and NHL to provide a more authentic representation of MMA cage matches.
GameSpot recently caught up with creative director Brian Hayes, who dove deep into the numerous gameplay improvements this year. He says the changes to the clinch game will be immediately recognizable and very impactful, while players should appreciate the improvements that EA has made to submissions and striking, Hayes said.
Also in the interview, Hayes spoke about why UFC has parted ways with commentator Joe Rogan, who calls fight in real life for the UFC. "He hasn't been shy about saying this on his own podcast like he hates doing it," Hayes said.
Be sure to check out the full interview below, as Hayes also speaks about the benefits of launching at the tail-end of the console cycle and more.
UFC 4 launches on August 14 for PS4 and Xbox One. Those who pre-order get the exclusive fighters Tyson Fury and Anthony Joshua:
What are some of the biggest changes and improvements the gameplay this year?
Probably the single biggest change that we've implemented/undertaken this year was just completely overhauling and rewriting the clinch game, taking EA Sports, real player motion or RPM tech, as we call it, and just expanding that from beyond just locomotion and striking into an all new clinch system. So the clinch game is much more accessible, fluid--your ability to get into it and out of it using locomotion, throwing strikes inside of the clinch transitioning to different positions and actually doing trips and takedowns, it's just a completely new system. So the part that's unique about it is that previously on other iterations of the game, the clinch was essentially an extension of what is the ground game.
And you were essentially playing the ground game standing up, you know, in the clinch. Now, it's actually more like the closest possible range of stand up fighting and striking. So it's just much more accessible and fun in that way. It's from playing the beta on a weekend or you know, earlier this week, just you know, quickly grabbing somebody in single collar and throwing some uppercuts before they break away, it just completely changes the way that clinch factors into every single fight compared to previous iterations of the game.
"If you're trying to throw a spinning side-kick to the head you don't have to hold down as many buttons to pull it off as it used to in the past." -- Hayes
So that's the most significant change we've made. But then it's also been the addition of grapple assists controls to just make the existing ground game more accessible to more players. And we've updated the stand up striking controls with sort of dynamic striking inputs. So there's a tap/hold mechanic to make every single strike not only more responsive, but make some of the more complicated ones previously more accessible to throw. So if you're trying to throw a spinning side-kick to the head you don't have to hold down as many buttons to pull it off as it used to in the past.
What about subtle changes?
Some subtle things we've done is actually adding levels to some of the strikes. So for a lot of, of the more sort of hardcore fans like that, being able to see that when you're, if you're in career mode, or if you're a a licenced UFC fighter that doesn't have like high striking ability. The technical prowess with which a fighter throws some strikes will be different based on whether or not it's a level one or level two strike or level four or level five strike.
So as some strikes get higher and level, they are actually thrown with more technical prowess as I said, so that's a nice subtle nod that we, we actually hope to expand on moving forward. But it's a nice little touch to see that like, yeah, this guy isn't really a great kickboxer. He's got kind of sloppy looking leg kicks, as opposed to guys like Edson Barboza. Like he's got some good looking like kicks.
There's elements inside the submission game like being able to strike. I mean, it's not really it's not subtle when somebody punches you in the face when you're, you know, they're trying to put an arm bar on you but like, it's something that's never existed before in our series. So like when adding new elements like that to the submission game. The big thing is that there are two new submission games, one for choke submissions and one for joint submissions. But so are instances depending on what submission you're in, where you'll get the opportunity either as the defender or the attacker to throw hammer fists or different strikes at your opponent to try and mess them up during the submission games, different ways to escape from submissions to like, some slam escapes opportunities that will arise during those experiences.
And then, I mean, I think there's a lot of subtlety within the clinch game--it is an overhaul obviously, like a technical thing, but the positions, the transitions that occur the, you know, the fluidity with which the players sort of change positions and navigate across the octagon when you know when they're in the clinch. There's a lot of subtlety in that like, it's not just a it's not just it's not just a big ticket feature. It's really something that's the sum of a lot of parts.
How has the implementation of Real-Player Motion tech impacted UFC 4?
Well, we've expanded our use of Real-Player Motion technology and the two biggest areas would be that complete clinch changes. But then also an overhaul of how takedowns are done in the game. So yeah, clinch game has seen a complete overhaul. So there are new takedown inputs as part of a new dynamic, striking control. So you actually attempt takedowns with button inputs now rather than analogue stick inputs, but then there's the opportunity for there to be battles for takedown, so I might shoot for a takedown and if your defence is decent, but not perfect, it will actually end up into a situation where you can continue to drive for the takedown and with locomotion to try and steer me toward the cage and get the finish where I can use my locomotion to try and sort of escape from the takedown by countering what you're doing against me that sort of idea of a takedown battle is something we never had before and that is accomplished by the expansion of RPM tech into the takedown system. And then there's there's also a whole whole list of new takedown animations in the game just depending on context--if I time it's super well and you have low stamina it'll be just a dynamic like driving spear straight to the ground.
There's high impact slams, where do you like Daniel Cormier guy up on your shoulder and basically put them ass over teakettle, pardon my French, and slam him on his head. So real player motion tech, basically the two biggest things the extension of that from not just striking locomotion, but overhauling the clinch game and then rewriting the takedown system as well.
In terms of feedback, how much of the changes this year are based on what fans told you about previous games versus your own game design ideas?
I think that a lot of the a lot of the big ticket ideas or a lot of the big things will be based more on sort of internal sort of concepts like looking at at broader sets of data, and then a lot of like the nuance changes …. there's a lot of tuning and balancing that happens in terms of like, how much how much vulnerability should a fighter have when they're leaning this direction and their opponent throws a hook. Those kinds of changes and tweaks and tuning and balances are things that when we are sharing the game via like an internal test environment with our community. That's where a lot of those conversations are driven.
In terms of balancing the minutiae, the subtlety, the nuance of like, very, very sort of, like deep meta changes and rebalances. So if we're looking at in terms of code change, it probably skews heavily towards like, you know, a lot of the code change is stuff that the team comes up with, but a lot of like the the tuning changes stuff that we partner with with that, that sort of core community so if that makes sense."
You're releasing UFC 4 at the tail-end of this console cycle; what are you doing to make the most of the new systems?
Just doing everything we can basically-- it's not an easy thing to … especially coming out on the tail end and with the recent announcement of [PS5 and Xbox Series X], to make a big wow but we've always been a title that prides ourselves on strong visuals. And we've just done whatever we can to sort of squeeze the most out of our existing technology to create a compelling visual and gameplay experience. So there's a lot of things that we've done with regards to updating gameplay cameras, sort of updating, lighting and shaders to give the characters sort of more shape. Sort of make their their musculature sort of come through in ways that hadn't in the past. And then there's just new experiences with things like career mode, having a new onboarding experience with a bit more of an introductory cinematic narrative, introducing characters to help you sort of get onboarded to the experience, but for the most part … we've been pretty good at making games on the current generation. You know, this being our fourth, our fourth one on Gen 4, so there wasn't necessarily a great deal of like now we, we kind of already knew what we were doing by UFC 3. So this was more of a, how can we create new experiences given our knowledge of creating games on Gen 4? How can we just create new experiences rather than necessarily something that's pushing the technology into a place that has never been before.
"We've always been a title that prides ourselves on strong visuals."-- Hayes
For the commentary team this year, you've moved away from Joe Rogan. Can you talk about that?
He hasn't been shy about saying this on his own podcast like he hates doing it. If you're not a person that you just mentally get into that space, then I can see how it could be a very, you know, challenging, you know, potentially mind numbing experience for a certain type of individual. And he just hates he hated doing voiceover then that was something we knew from from UFC 1. He was open with us from from the very beginning that he hated his experience of doing voiceover on previous iterations of other UFC games, and things were no different for us. He hated doing voiceover on these games as well. That has nothing to do with with us in particular, or, you know, our games versus other games. He just, he does not like sitting in a booth reading lines for hours at a time.