UFC Undisputed 3 Interview – Kicking It with Sr. Designer, Wes Bunn
Written Tuesday, January 31, 2012 By Richard WalkerView author's profile
It's standard practice for sports franchise to stick to a rigid release schedule of yearly updates, but THQ is bucking the trend with UFC Undisputed 3, freeing it from the rigours and restrictions that come with annual launches.
As a result of this, UFC Undisputed 3 is the first in the series to enjoy an extended development period, which has enabled the developer to refine more of the core gameplay systems, while completely overhauling others.
Having been given the opportunity to play preview code of the game for an entire day, we took time out of the hours of virtual ass-kicking and face-punching to talk to Senior Designer, Wesley Bunn about all things UFC, from career mode to PRIDE, new systems and beyond.
Starting work on UFC Undisputed 3, what were the key areas that you wanted to improve upon over UFC Undisputed 2010?
One of the big areas that we wanted to improve upon was making the game more accessible, so that people could just pick it up and start playing right away. What we found with the past games is that it was a very complex game of a complex sport, and the barrier for entry was really high. But when most people got the hang of it, they thought, “oh, this is really fun,” so we wanted to make it so people can just pick it up and play right away. The new control scheme we've added, has you just pressing up and down on the right stick for transitions now, making it a lot easier for people to now pick it up and start playing.
The whole theme of the game was education, so we've introduced a whole new tutorial system. We found that people don't play through the standard tutorial mode, so what you're going to see when you hop into your very first fight in any mode, is this tutorial system of pop-up hints will appear, telling you how to play the game in a basic format: how to punch, how to kick and so you get the basics.
Accessibility and education were the highest things, but the other thing we wanted to introduce was the new submission system, and that came directly from our fans. They wanted a new submission system and we wanted a new submission system. So, we sat down and really tried to isolate what would be a good system, so the system we have in place now is what we feel represents the real battle of a submission: the cat and mouse. This submission system is a lot better than the past ones.
So, it doesn't involve frantically twisting the right analogue stick anymore?
It still involves using the right stick, but no longer is it just who can spin it the fastest, which was our variation of the button masher. We didn't feel that was technical enough, so the new submission system uses the right stick to go around this HUD, and it's a cat and mouse dynamic. So, the attacker is on the outside of the HUD, while the defender is on the inside trying to escape and you're trying to overlap with the attacker. The longer you stay on top of the guy trying to escape, the closer you are to finishing the submission. Essentially it's the same submission as we've had in the past, but we're just bringing to life what's happening under the hood, so you always know if you're winning or losing, or how close you are to escaping. That was always the problem in the past. You'd start a submission and would be like, “am I close to finishing, escaping or what?” With the new submissions, you'll always know how close you are to winning or losing the submission.
We've had a good look at career mode, and there seem to be a few mini-games for training your fighter, like flipping a tyre for grounding an opponent. What other kind of mini-games are there in career mode?
That came from our fans with the career mode early on with this project, which we haven't done in the past: having the community involved. So we had a lot of feedback since the very beginning and what we heard was, there weren't a lot of ways to train your fighter in the past career modes, so we introduced training games. We don't like to call them 'mini-games', we call them training games. We hate the term 'mini-games'. That's why we haven't done them in the past and we didn't want games where you're pressing buttons to continuously lift weights, because that's not what you're doing in the game itself when you're playing. All of our training games incorporate the actual gameplay mechanics, so like with the tyre flip, that builds strength in your legs and it's good for takedowns and promotes explosiveness, so you use takedown controls for the tyre flip and you that's how you get good at it. We have the tyre flip, we have a sprawl drill where a ball is rolled towards you and you have to try and sprawl on top of it, we have the focus mitts and the heavy bag. There are actually 14 training games. Seven of them are drills like the tyre flip and things like that, and there are seven that are isolated sparring. No longer can you do a free sparring session and punch someone in the face, only to use all of the points on boosting your submissions. We hated that, so we've fixed it for this one.
Is Marc Laimon still in the gym as your trainer in UFC Undisputed 3 then?
Actually we use (play-by-play commentator) Mike Goldberg this year. Again it's all about education and in UFC Undisputed 2010's career mode there were a lot of systems in place and we never really fully explained how it all tied together, so a lot of people were getting lost with the career mode. This year Goldberg walks you through all of the systems, telling you how to raise your attributes, how you go to camps to learn moves and things like that. Now Goldberg is your guide and it ties into making the career mode more accessible and more fun, while reducing the amount of time between fights and that's huge. There was too much time in the past in-between fights and the emphasis should be on the actual fights.
As this is the first UFC title since UFC Undisputed 2010 and since EA Sports MMA released, can you tell us what you made of EA Sports' effort to enter the MMA games market?
They did some interesting things in there and I'm sure they've been studying us as well (laughs). They did some things well, like their online was pretty good and the online broadcasting feature was pretty good. Their modes were pretty solid, gameplay was pretty solid. I prefer crisper responsiveness and it felt a little sluggish on the controls, so I wasn't too happy with that. But their roster was pretty good at the time, and they borrowed things from us and we definitely researched them, so...
And I guess from your perspective, having the UFC license puts you in a favourable position, and gives you more to draw upon...
Yeah. It's huge.
What has getting the PRIDE license brought to the game this year, other than the obvious stable of fighters, rules and so on?
Well, PRIDE was something that we wanted to do since the very first game, as I've always been a huge MMA, UFC and PRIDE fan, so to get PRIDE in this year was a huge thing for me! It presents new gameplay, it allows you to do things you can't do in the UFC, so you can knee to the head, but positions like sprawl and north-south, which aren't as deadly in the UFC, they're dominant in PRIDE. You get to those positions and you can finish the fight pretty quickly. So there's knees to the head, soccer kicks and the round format with the longer first round. That ten minute first round is tough, especially if you play on the new simulation setting where energy costs are higher, there's more damage and so on. It really changes the way you play the game actually. There are no elbows in PRIDE either, but I really wish there were. We had to remove those, because you can elbow in UFC but not in PRIDE. You can soccer kick and all that stuff, but no elbows for some reason.
Was PRIDE difficult to implement then as you're adding and removing certain aspects from move sets and things like that?
A little bit, yeah. I'd say getting the soccer kick functioning, because it's not like choreographed, it's not like WWE where you know I'm going to do something and I just do it. That's the hard thing that people don't understand about our game. You've got two players independently controlling their fighter and they're always doing something, so getting them to sync together and play an animation is very difficult, so getting that right was probably the biggest challenge. I think it (the soccer kick) plays out really well now and it's really easy to pull off from those positions, and it's also really satisfying when you do.
In UFC Undisputed 2010 you had Shaquille O'Neal as a hidden fighter, accessible with a cheat. Can we expect any hidden bonuses or things like that in UFC Undisputed 3?
This time we've tamed it back and put more emphasis on the actual fighters (laughs). We had Shaquille O'Neal in there instead of some UFC fighters that should have been in, so this year we've got a lot of fighters that we're including, especially with our DLC plans. If you go to out UFC Undisputed Facebook page, you can get Alistair Overeem for free (when you hit the 'like' button), which is kinda cool. Look it up on www.facebook.com/UFCUndisputed and you'll get Overeem for free.
Do you have a system of unlockables, say for progression through career mode?
A big thing that we changed in career mode is that in the past you had these cutscenes where Dana White would come into your gym and say something like “hey kid, I'll give you a shot!” We kind of wanted to bring players into the brand of UFC, so this year we've removed the cutscenes and what we have in their place to propel the career mode forward is what we call 'live movies'. What these do is accent things you're doing in your career, so when you get your first loss, a movie will play with UFC fighters talking about what it was like for them when they had their first loss. It's kind of cool to tie it all in and have these guys share what they were going through, as you're going through it during your career. A lot of this stuff is exclusive to this product, like these interview questions that we presented to the fighters, and during the pay-per-view we had them answer these questions, so it's stuff that you haven't seen before. There's multiple variations, so each time you play through, you'll have different videos from some of your favourite fighters like Jon Jones, Anderson Silva... The top guys are all in there and you can hear them talk about stuff. It's cool.
When it came to capturing fighters for UFC Undisputed 3's motion-capture, how many did you manage to get involved?
We didn't do it for everyone, but we have a huge library from the UFC and they've been a great partner to work with, giving us every DVD. This is the first time that we've actually had UFC fighters suit up in mo-cap gear, so this year we had Frank Mir, Matt Hughes, Nate Diaz, Sean Sherk, Kendall Grove and there were a couple of other guys who came in and put the suits on and did the navigation, so you'll see their navigation types in-game. All of our strikes and all of our combat animations are actually hand-animated. We don't mo-cap any of those, just for timing purposes it's a lot easier.
This year seems like the biggest overhaul and undertaking for the UFC franchise yet, and to show that, you've ditched the yearly updates for numbered sequels. Is that something that's going to stick now, so you're able to take your time with each one?
I hope so. Ultimately that decision isn't on me, but it gives us more time and with the extra time comes better quality. We were able to redo a lot of the animations, in the clinch, the striking and on the ground, as well as overhaul our career mode and add some other things with online modes as well. That extra time allows us to make a better product, so in the future I hope this is the way it stays. I think as of right now, that is the plan, but with the yearly cycle it's really hard to get all of the things that we want into the game.
Finally, who is your personal favourite UFC fighter?
You'd think I'd have locked one down at this point, but I have so many as I'm such a huge fan. It depends on the mood that I'm in or who I'm playing against, but I'd say my top 5 is Anderson Silva, Jon Jones, BJ Penn, Mirko Cro Cop – big Cro Cop fan - and believe it or not, the old-school Fedor, back in the day when he was destroying everyone.
UFC Undisputed 3 is out on February 14th in North America and February 17th in Europe.