By Jason Nawara
On the soft carpet laid out inside the LA Convention Center, Zeus and I just navigated through thousands of smelly humans (myself not excluded) at E3 in order to get to the EA Ignite station. We hopped in line to see what was up with this new, supposedly very impressive engine, and we were quickly ushered through a dark hallway and into the belly of EA's Ignite room.
I'm going to make this a separate paragraph, as I think it's important to single out what I'm writing here: I'm a gamer, if you couldn't tell, but I'm a gamer who likes to call himself ambidextrous. I can switch from PC keyboard/mouse controls to Playstation, to Xbox with no problems. I play all games, from MMOs, to sports games, shooters, RPGs, ultra-realistic shooters like Arma, etc. I literally play everything. Madden is a gaming series that I, for better or worse, buy every single year. And if you follow the series, you know that in 2013, EA switched over to to its Infinity Engine, that was supposed to bring physics to a new level. Well, that didn't go too well, so they are completely reworking everything with Ignite, and it's pretty friggin' unbelievable.
Trust me, this is going to get to EA UFC, but for now, hear me out.
Zeus and I played an NBA Live 14 demo (yes, it's back) that demonstrated the power of Ignite. Basically, you could feel the weight of the player you were controlling. Shifting your momentum was more than just a physics engine tacked on to the game engine, it effected the way you would play situationally, and at what we were told was only a 40% complete build, it played so viscerally these words don't do it justice. This Ignite engine is what's going to be powering all the EA Sports games moving forward, and when shown in EA UFC, it's completely going to change the way we look at fighting games. Physics in gaming used to basically mean basic momentum carried forward, and inertia helped you with bowling through whatever got in the way, but now this engine gives life to every little piece of the body. You feel it when you make a crossover dribble, and when applied to what we saw with EA UFC, it's mind blowing. Seriously, completely mind blowing. It's why the tagline is Feel the Fight. I promise, this is no shill.
As we shuffled into the Ignite room showing off EA UFC, NBA Live 14, Fifa 14 and Madden 25, Zeus and I stepped front and center while Creative Director Bryan Hayes broke down EA UFC and what to expect. We were not allowed to take pictures, we were not allowed to film anything, so we watched his presentation twice in order to retain all of the features and massive amounts of information he rattled off one after another. Basically, EA did the brave thing and showed us stills of why EA MMA was so decidedly last gen, and what Ignite does for EA UFC specifically. It's time for bulletpoints.
Disclaimer: What we saw here was a pre alpha build of EA UFC. It was hands off, but I can assure you, it was gameplay. You're going to have to trust me. On to the aforementioned bulletpoints:
- No more floating hands. When you take someone down in EA UFC, you actually grab them, and the collision between two human bodies is obvious. The transitions and the way the bodies react to the impact is truly, truly next gen. If anyone follows me on Twitter, you know I've been begging for next gen gameplay, and not just graphics -- this is next gen gameplay. This is two bodies reacting to each other, not just two characters on screen with the same simple set of actions and reactions ready to trigger the next canned animation.
- The footwork: No more ice skating! It was the big complaint of EA MMA, and UFC 3 did a good job of trying to fix it, but with the Ignite engine, every step is planted firmly on the mat. Weight is thrown behind the punches, and the fight is more realistic because of it. As Duke, the EA UFC PR dude told us, imagine throwing teep kicks and distance creating strikes that are actually there simply to keep another fighter at bay. I can't begin to tell you how impressive the footwork alone is.
- The cage is fully animated and bends and reacts to every situation.
- Anyone can do the showtime kick (well, almost anyone). They showed Bendo Showtime kicking Pettis, and vice versa. They also showed the reactions of the cage while a fighter is backed up in the clinch and against it.
- The blood and facial damage... My GOD the blood and facial damage. They showed a set of five or so fighters post-fight and beat up as hell next to each other, and I'm being 100% honest when I say this: The only reason I could tell a certain fighter picture was not real because I know this certain fighter has never been beat up to the degree he was shown here. So in other words, the damage is simply unbelievably amazing. Picture perfect. You can almost push in the blood and fluid gathering underneath a fighter's eye, it looked so real. Brian explained that the damage is now 3D in nature, and is no longer treated like a hitbox, where a little cut opens, and then opens more, and you see the same blood or damage over and over. This is some serious stuff. Small bumps, hematomas, swelling of the face, black eyes and cuts are all picture perfect and look so, so real. Even at this pre alpha stage. Imagine the best possible damage effects in a fighting game ever. That's what you have here. And the coolest thing, as Brian said, it's all random, like a real fight. If you get taken down in the first 20 seconds and take a sharp elbow to the head, 1 strike can be the difference between you and a pool of blood.
- The AI is much smarter apparently, with it reacting in real time to the challenges you present it. No longer will a wrestler simply spam takedowns. It's a dogfight now. And your opponent thinks.
- OK, the real time body deformation. We were shown a picture of a fighter in a body triangle as someone worked in a rear naked choke on their back. Then we were shown this in EA MMA and it's 'floaty-ness' was obvious. Then we saw it in EA UFC. Alright, so the stomach of the dude who is getting body triangled, is getting pushed in. His neck veins are bulging and he's straining to get free. All of this is happening in real time, and their bodies are reacting accordingly. This is extremely hard to explain as far as how impressive it was, but trust me; it's really impressive.
- Submissions are HUD free right now, and it's gotten way more realistic. It seemed to me that EA MMA and UFC 3 would probably be the high watermark for submission systems, then EA UFC goes and blows those out of the water with something so intricate and simple, it was a true derp moment. As Brian explained, one doesn't simply press a button and attempt a submission, it's worked for. You inch your way into the submission. So take that real time deformation that I wrote about above into account here: as you are sinking in a rear naked choke for example, your opponent's face is going to turn red, as he stuggles to breath. He's going to eventually turn purple as he gasps for air, and I cannot stress this enough: It looks incredible.
I will eschew the bulletpoints for this point that isn't a bullet: I'm not hyperbolizing here. Everything we saw was pre alpha, and it looked better than anything you could imagine. The individual pores on a fighter's face look like they could form a bead of sweat at any moment. The eyes looked creepily real, and as Zeus tweeted, Ben Henderson will randomly brush the hair out of his face as the fight goes on. Back to the points of bullet. These images don't do the renders justice.
- We were given control of Cain Velasquez, Ben Henderson and Jon Jones' heads that were running in real-time on the EA UFC engine, and I don't really know what to say besides the level of detail they can show of these fighters is through the roof. They told us it was because of the fact that it was only two people on screen, rather than the ten plus refs in an NBA Live or Madden. Bruce Buffer was shown the faces right in front of us, and I couldn't make out everything he said, but his enthusiasm was at the level of a Dan Hardy intro.
- The mat inside the Octagon gets appropriately disgusting. You see the water stains from the red and blue corner. Blood is in splotches, or drops, but it's very different from EA MMA or UFC 3, where the blood on the mats was slightly odd. It will be a smudge there, a pool here, or a collection of splatters. It's all very versatile and the diversity was rather shocking. I can't remember if it's in our interview below, but a fighter will react to blood in a fight like a real fighter would. If he's gushing like Carlos Condit vs. GSP, the fighter will wipe it out of his eye and face, smearing the blood.
I can't recall much else, and I'm pretty sure Brian and Duke will think I did a pretty good job of committing all of this to memory while in the midst of a cornucopia of flashing lights, loud noises and booth babes. But, as a final, stamp, I want to reiterate a few things:
- The planting of feet and the distribution of weight is amazing.
- The facial damage is incredible.
- The real time deformation is one of the most fascinating technological improvements I've ever seen. Since gaming has gone 3D, it's been 'floaty.' This changes everything.
- As a fight goes on, the sweating, and veins bulging in a fighter is just so realistic it's weird.
- Everything down to the tape on the gloves seems to shift. It's hard to explain, but you have to look at the character model as more of a complete being now. The shorts react to the fighter and the fighters actions, and I know that's nothing new, it's how it's implemented into this that makes it so different and awesome.
To me, as a life long gamer, I feel like this E3 with it's next generation of technology front and center, is the next phase of gaming as we know it. One could say the 8-bit and even the 16-bit era's were basically the same, with only certain games pushing the envelope of what we considered games. Then Playstation 1 to PS3 with the Xboxs and Nintendo consoles in-between were only there to bridge the gap into this new era. I'm completely ready to go ultra gaming hipster and say how kids will take this for granted, but I'm still in complete awe of what I just saw.
I'm not buying a next generation console for anything but Metal Gear Solid 5 and EA UFC, everything else will be gravy. But there is no way I won't be playing this moment one. I can't get over it. I have to end this article before it delves into a mish mash of lovey dovey adulation. But it's not like EA doesn't deserve it. Rest assured: You've never seen anything like this. EA UFC is shaping up to be the MMA game we've always wanted, and the one we've always deserved.
If you have any questions that I may or may not have answers to, throw 'em in the comment section or ask me on Twitter @JasonNawara.