Exclusive interview with EA Sports Game Designer, Rocky Rivero

Props to EA’s PR department for putting up with our persistent requests of getting a pre-alpha copy of EA Sports MMA sent to us so we can destroy it in stunning fashion. In exchange, they gave us EA Game Designer, Rocky Rivero, to destroy while LCD soundsystem plays in the background. Instead, Jay asked him every question he could about the upcoming EA Sports MMA game and published it for all of you guys to drool over.


So how are you guys coming along? All on track?Yeah we’re definitely on track. I was with some of the community guys earlier today and they’ve been playing the game like crazy. They’ve been beating me back-to-back all over the building. Other teams as well are jumping into this build of the game and really having fun with the game. So I would definitely say development is on track and we are seeing improvements from a week-to-week basis. It’s a pretty exciting time.


This is team Tiburon that also works on Madden, is it mostly Madden people working on EA MMA?Not necessarily. We gave a handful of people teams. Some from Madden, some from Nascar…I can think of an animator specifically from Fight Night Round 4 who was working up in the EA Canada studio who came down to help us out. The way I like to think about it is that at the beginning of the project, we knew we wanted to do something really great with it so it’s like we tried to handpick the best ninjas from EA that we could, really come out strong with the first iteration of this game. It’s certainly going to be a franchise and we wanted to come out strong right off the bat.


Have you played UFC Undisputed 2010 yet?Oh, absolutely. I was up til about 3:30 in the morning last night playing the hell out of the career mode because if you think about it, it’s like a game of poker and they had to show their hand and put it all down so now we’re able to see everything they did and didn’t do as far as the game is concerned. It’s not just me. The more other people from the team plays their game, the more confident we are that we are going to come out really, really strong.


Whats going on with your career mode?So as far as career mode I can tell you that we have elements that they do not. There are things I can’t talk about just yet, but they clearly don’t have the elements we have and I can say that definitely because i was playing their game and I was like ‘OK, cool…’. How do I say this, we are going with such a global emphasis on the game that we are doing things they could never do. They are restricted by the UFC license. I like creative freedom. Working on the UFC game, sure that would be great. They are a big name here in the states. But the thing, they are restricted only to the octagon. [They’re] restricted to their fighters and [They’re] restricted to their rule set. Whereas with us, we’ve been able to announce recently that the fact you can fight in Japan gives you 10 minute first rounds 5 minute second rounds. We have fighters from around the world, not just Strikeforce and in Japan we are gonna have head stomps and we are gonna have soccer kicks and you can’t see that in a UFC game because that’s not what a UFC game is about. So we have this awesome creative liberty to really show people what MMA is about, not just what UFC MMA is all about.


Touching then on the Japanese rule set, when you add in soccer kicks etc, will you be taking out elbows? Will you be able to customize and define your rule sets?We know in Strikeforce elbows are not allowed on the ground, so we are going to try to be as authentic as possible to the rule set. As we get people’s hands on the game, we want to deliver the best gameplay experience possible. It might be a balancing act of ‘what serves gameplay best’ vs ‘what serves the authenticity of that rule set best’ and in Strikeforce, we are going to adhere to the rules pretty much one-to-one unless it prohibits fun gameplay, because that’s what it is. Its a videogame and it’s supposed to be fun ultimately.


I guess I’m saying can you turn elbows on and off in a sub-menu before a fight?Those are things we definitely want to explore. One thing we are all about is giving the user the freedom to choose how they want to play the game. An example of that is right off the bat, if you like the ‘Fight Night’ controls with the analog stick to deliver strikes [you can use that] or you can use the buttons. If we could extend that to rule sets and get a crazy permutation and come up with that just to see what would happen, we want to enable that and give that to you as much as possible.


Explain advancement of position in the ground game using the face buttons.So the control scheme, given that we are pre-alpha and this isn’t the final control scheme, but what we showed at E3 used the A button to try to advance. Say you are in someone’s closed guard after taking them down. You press A again to try to advance to side control. Now imagine you are more of a skilled grappler or jiu-jitsu kind of guy. Your skills will be that so you won’t necessarily go from minor transition to minor transition. You might go from side control straight to full mount. So that’s kind of how that’s working right now. If someone is in your guard trying to advance, you press B to deny it. We wanted to make the controls as simple as possible but like in any good fighting game, it’s simple to pick up but as you play it for awhile the intricacies start to show.


The EA MMA producers have said they want this game to be as lifelike and realistic as possible, so if I’m Aoki fighting Melendez am I going to attempt to just pull guard?Well right, Aoki was laying on his back telling Gilbert to come down there with him and Gilbert was having nothing of it because why would he want to go down there? He wants the stand up that’s where his strength is. Our game is the same. Aoki is not going to be the most devastating striker, he isn’t going to be like Robbie Lawler. So yeah you’re going to want to clinch up, pull guard and to sink in one of his crazy submissions.


How high is the bar for this game?Since we are EA, with that comes certain expectations: incredible graphics, awesome gameplay and great online. When you hear about EA those are some of the things you expect to hear. The interesting thing about this time around is that we are actually the underdog. It’s just so awesome for this company to be the underdog. It’s not that we are resting on our laurels, but it feels good we feel that pressure that out there they (THQ) think they are the best and [because] they have the UFC license they are going to dominate the market. Not at all. We have a lot of people on this team that are very passionate about doing something really awesome for the MMA experience and that added pressure is fueling us. It’s great. When you set up a fight and you have the clear favorite and then the underdog ends up winning, its awesome. We have a memorable fight now, but just wait for the underdog to take out the top guy.


Well competition breeds a better product. The fans are the winners.If I were to take the designer element out of it, and just me as a fan, the gamer part of me that’s been playing since the 2600 of course…competition is going to drive the developers to do the best they can and the person that ultimately wins is the consumer. I’m an MMA fan. I watch UFC fights, I watch Strikeforce and Dream fights. I wish i could put a build in front of you right now because I think you would be very impressed with the global experience and what we have done for the intricacies of MMA. We have what the hardcore fans will appreciate right off the bat which is the detail. With our control scheme, we can teach the intricacies of MMA to the casual fans of the sport and breed even more fans of the sport and make it bigger.


Did you see the video we made of our press release copy of UFC 2010?Yeah you didn’t treat it too nice


Any chance you can send us a copy of EA MMA so we can destroy that too?Yeah talk to our point of contact closer to the ship day and hopefully you can review it or burn it…or whatever.


The fire might be played out, we will try to come up with something very special for you guys.Oh man i can’t wait to tell some of the other developers about that, they will get a big laugh out of it.


Speaking of a ship day, can you confirm October 29th as the release day?We will be sticking to any announcements we make at E3. Stay tuned.


What’s the better system to develop on: PS3 or 360?As a designer, I feel it’s easier to work on a 360. When it comes to just the technical elements of it, the sheer power of the PS3 and the additional space you get on a Blu-Ray, it’s kind of a trade off. I’m a speech designer primarily and I’m consistently fighting for disc space because there is only so much a DVD can hold whereas if we were exclusive to PS3, I could put incredible amounts of audio on there. It’s a trade off.


Well, the PS3 version of Undisputed 2010, for example, had more features and matches exclusive to it because of Blu-Ray. Does EA have any similar plans?Well that’s kind of a PR thing, but let’s just say I overheard some of their plans for E3 and my jaw just dropped. Any announcements that we make regarding that type of thing will be made in a timely manner through them. E3 is pretty much the start of our extravaganza up until the ship date, so I would stay tuned with that.


Will there be licensed clothes in the game? Fedor’s sweater? The ultimate sweater of power? Yeah we are still in discussion right now with what articles of clothing we want to have. You’ve probably seen some of the trailers where for example Randy Couture comes out in an Xtreme Couture shirt. It’s all about getting with the fighters and seeing what they want to do and come out to. Fedor is 99% going to be at E3 and that is one of the places where we will sit down with him and talk about how he feels he performs in the game and what he wants to come out to. This is no different than any other fighter who has come to visit the studio whether it’s a Jacare or a Cung Le or Couture. We get them in and we get them playing and we say “Don’t be nice because you are here, tell us what you want because we want it to be awesome“. We want a Gilbert Melendez who is a gamer to throw the game in and say ‘Man, I’m in a game, it’s incredible…and it doesn’t suck.’ We want Gilbert to sit down with a couple buddies and have a badass game that involves him, you know? So when we bring them in we get great feedback.


What’s going on with the create a fighter? Can you design your own t-shirts? We want our MiddleEasy t-shirts to be created in the game.We want to have the most robust creation system possible but we won’t be able to talk about this until we have more details.


What about taunting? Is there a Nick Diaz button?So check this out, this is something I haven’t had the chance to talk about with anyone else; because I am a speech designer, I know what our plans are for that sort of thing. We will have taunting in the game and Nick Diaz is certainly known for his taunting so with our licensed fighters I wanted to generate speech specific to them, for example Couture gets in a clinch and Mauro and Shamrock talk about his Greco background and how strong he is in the clinch. With Diaz, if you taunt, there is a chance the announcers will say “There is Nick Diaz at it again with his smack talk” and Shamrock will jump in and talk about remembering when Diaz gave him the finger at the weigh-in. That’s the kind of stuff we are trying to do.


Yeah I know you guys want it to be as realistic as possible, but if you stick to your guns on the Diaz smack talk it might give you an ‘M rating’.Yeah, there are definitely some things that Nick Diaz does that would have the ESRB all over us.


Are you familiar with our Top Ten Staph Infections article?Yeah…Randleman still grosses me out, that was one of the first times I understood what a staph infection was and you can see inside him. Ugh, back when I joined the team someone told me to Google Kevin Randleman’s staph infection. I didn’t understand, but they were like “trust us”. I was blown away, you can see his muscles.


So bad. So, so bad. Any chance in the career mode you can contract staph and be bummed for six-weeks while you take antibiotics in some sort of mini-game?You know, very very early on when we were just getting started with the games preliminary designs we put everything on the table, saying ‘what is the sport of MMA all about’? Everything from the rule sets that we were talking about earlier, all the way down to guys getting staph infections. We are trying to get as much into the game as possible, unfortunately we can’t get everything in the game but it’s a funny idea, especially with the graphics we have…it would look pretty brutal.


Tell us about the blood in the game. Reports are that it’s more dynamic than most other games before, fill us in?Certainly, we look at other fighting games and you being a gamer you know, you hit someone in a certain location and they get the same style of cut and it opens the same way and bleeds the same way every tim. So we are proud of the fact that we have a more dynamic and robust system. Bluntly put, there are a lot of ways to wreck a guy’s nose, that also goes beyond bleeding, variety in bruises and swelling, blood transferring between fighters as well. So if you mess up a guy’s face and he takes you down and he has his face buried in your chest while you are in guard, you will see his blood on your chest. So we have that in and working. We also have it during the stand-up game and where you wreck a dude and the blood goes flying and it will stay on the canvas. It’s not gimmicky or anything. It stays there and doesn’t disappear.


Will it get on shorts too? All over the body?Oh yeah, all over the body.


What physics engine are you using?We are using primarily the Fight Night engine.


Does your cage play differ in any way from Undisputed? Is the mechanic prominent?When it comes to clinching against the cage, it serves the same purpose as it does in real life. So, say you and I are fighting and I pin you up against the cage, your move set is effectively limited, you’re not going to be able to take me down and your strikes are going to be far less damaging and you’ll notice your stamina going down since grappling really is the most exhausting aspect of the fight, right? When you’ve got someone’s weight up against you, up against the cage, it tends to make you extremely tired. Conversely for me, when I have your back against the cage my strikes are more damaging, I know I’m depleting your stamina and those are the sort of things that put me in the position to more easily win the fight. Now that’s not to say that when I have your back against the cage you’re stuck there until I finish you off. You can still try to circle off the cage and reverse me to the cage or push off entirely to create space and engage back into some stand up, perhaps go for the take down once you have created separation.


Games like Fight Night allow you to do some dastardly things on purpose (low blows). Can you grab the cage or anything like that? That’s one of those questions that if i had an engineer here with me, his eyes would just go wide. There is a difficulty in grabbing meshing to have where their fingers are actually grabbing the mesh is hard to do, not clipping through it. If you did grab the cage, how would that adjust the physics of one or both fighters? What animations account for that? To be honest, for this year’s version of the game I don’t see it happening, that’s not saying it won’t, but technically it’s very difficult.


Besides that technical hurdle, what has been the most difficult challenge in the development of EA MMA Well let me put out this mantra we have for you…it’s about maximizing depth and minimizing complexity and that in particular goes for the ground game. The ground game is a difficult thing to do, we’ve had a lot of success with games like Fight Night Round 4 doing the stand up with boxing, but then we have to add the clinch element and the ground element. The clinch thing we got a pretty good grip on right away.


No pun intended…Yeah, but the ground game was certainly a lot of work at first, but it was a fun challenge…but I think where we are at right now with our ground game is so much better and so much easier and so much more intuitive than what you see from the competition. So getting the ground game to feel like a chess match, but not as difficult as game of chess if you’ve never played before. That was one of the biggest and most fun challenges we had.


It sucks how we have to talk about downloadable content nowadays before a game is even released and half the time the “downloadable content” is on the disc anyway. How will you be supporting EA MMA online with DLC?Those meetings are actively taking place now, and even though we have had brief meetings in the past, we haven’t had anything with any absolute finality on DLC. We are still kind of exploring our options as to what we are going to do…the thing is to keep in mind that the team is comprised of gamers. We feel the same pain you do when we realize the DLC was on the disc the whole time, so whatever we have to do to not put a bad taste in peoples’ mouths is one of our primary objectives. Now I don’t know ultimately what the plan will be or what we will end up doing, but I know this team will do the best it can for the consumer.


EA has been quoted as saying “If you are an MMA fan and you pick up the controller and play the game, it just makes sense.” Can you extrapolate on that?The main thing is the consistency of the controls. You’ll notice that in the competitor’s product, depending on where you are they are kind of expecting you to understand different control schemes based on where you are in the stand up clinch or ground game. That can be confusing and what we don’t want people doing is hitting pause and constantly checking the move list to figure out whatever this complex permutation is so I can do something simple in the game. So with us, I’m saying A button is always going to be advancing. A is for the take down. A, when you are on the ground is what you will be using to advance position from closed guard to half guard etc. Now conversely B will always be your deny button, so say you’re coming at me with a takedown attempt, I’m going to press B to deny that. It may be a knee to your grill, which has an awesome animation, I may press B depending on my time window and I will end up in a sprawl. So B is always a deny kind of thing and it’s consistent so you always kind of instinctively go for that button depending on whats going to happen. A will always push forward and B will always deny. If I flick on the stick using the Fight Night controls then that will always be a strike of some kind. Using the FN control scheme if you hold down the left trigger and flick with the right stick then you will kick. That’s the stand up, if you are on the ground or in the clinch, you will be delivering knees now. The thing is that you are always using your leg. There is an inherent understanding that if you are holding the LT you will be using your leg in some capacity, whether that is a kick or knee those are the things that you almost subconsciously start picking up. Just recently we were at a press event in Vancouver, and we had people getting their hands on the game for the first time ever. So my process was, for the first fight, give them an understanding of the controls. For the second fight, let them know some intricacies and then on the third fight, no holds barred, let’s just go at it and see what happens. Within two fights, and I was legitimately fighting back, people were KO’ing me and submitting me and that’s within a couple of games. That quickly people were able to get on the sticks, get comfortable and understand the game, high-fiving and enjoying it with their friends, it was really rewarding to see.


What fighter was the most disappointed by their ratings?Are you familiar with the Mayhem Miller video? Where we punked one of our managers?


Oh yeah…Miller knew about that. We set that up and tanked his ratings, but there was a time where we got Miller back in and played a prank on him at Maddenbowl some months later. What we had done is when he went for a take down and pressed the button he would act like a ballerina and dance or every time he got hurt he would make (girly) noises like “stop, that hurt ow-ow” and immediately he realized that he got punked and the whole room is laughing at him and only a moment before, he was so happy looking at the fighter select screen saying how cool it was that the red stripe was in his hair telling us how we got the detail and he was geeking, and within a minute he was bummed as he was dancing like a ballerina and slap boxing. When he said his style was ‘slap boxing’, we put real slaps in there for him.


Any video of it?We’ve been trying to find the video and we’ve been trying like crazy to dig it up. I’m fortunate to be someone who was there, but we weren’t showing video of the game at that point but Showtime was there and was filming Miller’s face, so we’ve been trying.


Any funny motion capture suit moments?I don’t know if you’ve seen the Cung Le video, but the person holding the pads for him in that video is me. So Cung is working on kicks but he says he needs someone to hold a pad for him and everyone is looking at me. So OK, I’ll hold the pads for Cung Le…and Cung is trying to comfort me ahead of time saying he is gonna hold back and ‘Only go 90%’, and I’m thinking ‘If I get kicked in the head by Cung Le at 90% I’m gonna die’. So the first kick is a beautiful front kick that sends me flying, I mean it was like a kung-fu movie man and I looked up at him with these wide eyes like ‘Oh my God!’ and he didn’t even say a word and had a look on his face of ‘Yeah, I’m a badass’. So later in the session, he’s doing head kicks and I’m holding the pad up high and my forearm was just barely exposed and he nailed it and it hurt immediately. I’m doing my best to be a tough guy and I’m cracking a joke about how that’s how Frank Shamrock felt and on the inside I was thinking ‘Oh my God, did he just break something!?’ So one half of me is like ‘Cool I can brag that Cung Le broke something on me’ and then I thought to myself ‘Oh man, I think Cung Le just broke something on me’.


Ok, lets end it on this: Do you think right now in pre-alpha, your game is better than the competition?No matter how I say it, people are going to say I am biased. I work for EA, so what I will do is refer back to that Vancouver event and those people actually said it; ‘Man you guys are pre-alpha and I am having way more fun with this than (undisputed 2009), I don’t want to go play Undisputed (2009)’. That’s what was out at the time and these people said they loved the controls and that they didn’t think they could go back. That’s members of the press telling me that and that was really gratifying to hear that this early considering we are pre-alpha.


We broke the story on Shaq being in UFC 2010, do you think that sells games? Any plans of adding celebrities to your game?Well it makes sense because he does train MMA. Those are the kind of things that come up during the DLC discussions and what is being approved and not approved is still being decided, what we will end up doing I’m not sure. It wouldn’t be good of us to be closed minded. We like to be completely open minded to try to decide what would be best for consumers. Do we want the equivalent of a Shaq in the game? Will it draw any extra attention? Those are the kind of decisions that that have to be made for the consumer, what will they appreciate most and what will be of the best value to them and what will they have the most fun with.


Do you have any rights to any retired legends?It’s unfortunate I can’t name names right now, but I can think of a lot off the top of my head right now that we have that if you’re a hardcore MMA fan and you’ve been a fan before TUF, then you are going to be very, very happy with some of the announcements we have coming up.
Published on June 1, 2010 at 4:09 pm
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