The Numbers Game: A Hands On With EA Sports UFC

“This is bullshit!”

I don’t remember if I screamed it internally; I probably said it quietly under my breath.

When I picked up the controller to play EA Sports UFC I did what all fans do when they turn on a sports game for the first time, I went straight for my favourites to see who was ranked what, who had what rating. Who did EA think was the best pound for pound fighter in the world, who was the highest rated fighter?

Shock.

“How the hell is Anderson Silva only 94 and Jon Jones is 97?”

Unbelievable.

“This is bullshit!”

This is Anderson Silva! The greatest of all time! The Pele of Mixed Martial Arts, the man who holds all of the records, the man who did what some thought was impossible. The man who fights in The Matrix. Goddammit.

Okay. Backtrack. I wasn’t that annoyed, but my jimmies were rustled to the point where this controversy formed the foundation of my first question to Jazz Brousseau, the Assistant Producer charged with showing me EA Sports UFC.

“Why the hell is Jon Jones rated three points higher than Anderson Silva? Come on man...”

It wasn’t really a question; more of a veiled fanboy threat.

“You can talk to the UFC about that,” laughed Brousseau, “they actually had the final say with all the fighter ratings.

“So if you’re not happy, you should tweet Dana White and let him know!”


I’m not going to tweet Dana White. I’m not going to do that because, on the whole, I am happy. Despite pedantic grumblings on who is rated above who, and why Anderson Silva isn’t the highest rated fighter in the game, I am about as happy as I could have expected to be with EA’s first crack at a UFC licensed game.

But only two hours previously, I arrived to the event caked in a thick layer of cynicism — who could blame me?

For a long time it felt as though EA was hiding its UFC game in plain sight, releasing trailer after trailer featuring stylised footage — apparently taken ‘in-game; — that provided little insight into how EA Sports UFC would actually play. The questions began to pile up. How would grappling work? How would submissions be initiated? How would EA represent the delicate game of chess that is Brazilian Jiu Jitsu? Would EA Sports play like its own MMA game or more like THQ’s UFC series?

And dear God why was EA so reluctant to release in-game footage?

Fair questions. Here are some answers:

Grappling works with the right stick, in much the same way that it did in THQ’s UFC Undisputed series, but it’s far more responsive and it looks and feels fluid. Submissions are initiated via a modifier and the right analogue stick, the game then transforms itself into a surprisingly accessible game of cat and mouse where players battle for supremacy and positioning — much like it might in a real match. It’s relatively difficult to explain without the game in front of me, but suffice to say it is intuitive, it works across different stages and I like it. A lot. It’s difficult to make any final judgements given my limited time with the game, but it might have been my favourite aspect of EA Sports UFC.


But back to those bloody ratings.

Unlike most sports games, where developers have free reign over which athlete is rated what — how fast Lionel Messi runs, how accurate Ronaldo’s free kicks are — EA Sports were required to have UFC take a pass on each and every fighter’s statistics.

“There was a lot of back and forth,” explains Brousseau.

Not only were the UFC involved in helping shape the overall ratings of each fighter, there was also extensive discussion regarding every single individual statistic — the numbers that govern knock out power, take down defense, submission skills, etc.

“It was very detailed. You would not believe the spreadsheet we had to send them.”

But according to Brousseau, the EA/UFC back and forth was a good problem to have.

“They were heavily involved in the making of the game. We felt that was a good thing, certainly for our first kick at the can with the UFC game,” he said. “It’s not usual to have a license be as involved or be as passionate about the development process. We meet with them weekly, they did sign offs on all of the content and it’s been a really good relationship. It’s going to benefit the game in the end.”

It’s an interesting insight into the process. Putting on the old tinfoil hat, a part of me wonders if the UFC having input into ratings is just another outlet for fighter promotion. It makes more sense to have new fans — introduced to the UFC through the game — believing the younger Jon Jones is a better, more exciting fighter than the 39 year old Anderson Silva, or the retired Chuck Liddell. It’s a good avenue for them to promote new, exciting fighters like Anthony Pettis or Renen Barao — fighters that aren’t quite the PPV draw that Silva or GSP are, but probably should be.

But that’s an aside. Back to that video game…


EA Sports UFC is something of a chimera. The spectre of Fight Night is wholly present and striking battles between newbies have the potential to devolve into the ol’ rock ‘em sock ‘em robots thing. But again, much like Fight Night, managing your stamina is paramount. You’re more prone to flash knockouts if your stamina is rock bottom.

I learned this the hard way when Bigfoot Silva’s oversized paw clipped me and sent me flying to an early bath when playing as Alastair Overeem. Kinda hilarious considering that’s precisely what happened when those two fought in real life.

On that note, here are a few things I spotted during my time with the game, little details that — as a huge fan of MMA — really impressed me in terms of their similarity compared to the real thing.

The fact that I found myself shooting for takedowns when gassed or getting tooled in striking. It often became the desperation tactic it can be in the real sport of MMA. I liked that.

I also enjoyed that submissions were easy to access, but difficult to complete, and could be finished in less discrete moves if I was smart enough to put myself in the right position to begin with.

Things I didn’t like? That fact that I was knocked out twice by Vitor Belfort whilst playing as Anderson Silva. Vitor’s rating must have been approved before they banned Testosterone Replacement Therapy in Nevada.


Again, back to those bloody ratings. I almost wished I’d never seen them. I almost wish I’d never checked. Brousseau agrees with me.

“On a personal level, I’ve tried to champion not having ratings at all, he says. “I think that I’d love to get to a place where ratings are completely under the hood. And we speak more to the style of the fighter. Certainly in a game like UFC I’d like to get to a place where we don’t objectify things as much.

“MMA math doesn’t work.”

Brousseau is correct: MMA math doesn’t work. MMA math usually refers to the fact that saying Fighter A lost to Fighter B, therefore Fighter A has no chance against Fighter C, who Fighter B couldn’t beat — or some variant of that. Long story short: styles make fights, and I think EA Sports UFC has done a decent job of capturing that.

Of all the sports you could hope to replicate in video game form, mixed martial arts must be among the most difficult. There are just so many intangibles to a fight, and video games thrive on established rulesets — they thrive on consistency and the application of numbers. In his last two fights Anderson Silva was knocked out by what many perceived to be a lucky punch that landed when the seemingly invincible Silva was showboating. That was immediately followed by a rematch where Anderson literally snapped his leg in half in one of the most grotesque freak accidents I’ve ever witnessed in sporting history. No game could hope to capture that sort of random insanity. Not in any real sense. But EA and UFC have had a damn good crack at it.

I guess what I’m trying to say is this: EA, UFC: I forgive you for giving Anderson Silva a lower score than I think he deserves. I forgive you because you have created a video game I think I will enjoy very much.

Is normal.


Comments

    The fact that Serrels walked away from playing it first hand with a positive outlook is good enough for me. Got it preordered and can't wait (Mario Kart will help tide me over).

    Thanks Mark!

    Still super excited for this one! It does sound like the grappling system hits a good balance between dynamic and technical.
    I’m hoping this game is the kind of huge next-gen leap that we got from Fight Night when the 360 launched all those years ago.

    If anyone else wants to nerd out about it, that d’arce choke on Rashard Evans in the second screenshot is all kinds of weird technique. Andersons(?) right arm is not deep enough and is forearm isn’t blocking the artery on Rashard’s right side (it’s on his trachea), he should be gripping his left bicep with his right hand and he should have all four fingers and his thumb wrapped around in the same direction instead of the “holding a can” grip he has on his own forearm.
    Also it’s going to be super hard to drive Rashard’s left shoulder into the carotid artery from underneath him. He should roll on top and press his weight down while squeezing to get the finish.

    It’s still got better technique than WWE’ 13. Don’t even get me started!!!

      Think it might be Jones not Anderson as Evans is Light Heavyweight but I like your detailed breakdown. It might just be that it isn't a screen of the perfect d'arce choke but one being worked towards or just "looks cool".

        I hope it’s a transitional thing, not necessarily because I have a problem with the technique either. More because it looks like a really weird angle to be going for that kind of finish and if he is moving into a d’arce then it would be a pretty dynamic move. Dynamic = good as far as I’m concerned.

        It would make more sense if it was Jones, I guess all the Anderson talk in the article overtook my brain. You can fight with Anderson at LHW though.

        Edit: Also Jon would have no excuse not to have his arm far enough in to grab his own bicep. His arm is about 5ft long!

        Last edited 21/05/14 2:08 pm

    Sounds great. I love how these games have evolved from being buttonmashers. EA had a stumble with their previous UFC game and I loved the THQ ones, this sounds like a step in the right direction.

    Hey Serrells - Does it use Total Punch Control or a variation of? Or is the striking more akin to the THQ UFC games?

    Last edited 21/05/14 1:29 pm

      Striking is closer to THQ -- on the face buttons. But the stamina bar gives it a Fight Night feel.

        Hi @markserrels

        Did you play for long enough to get an idea of how damage is aggregated?
        I’ve seen in screenshots the outline of the fighter at the top of the screen which I’m guessing shows limb damaged- do you know if taking damage to a single limb or area makes a fighter more likely to be stopped with a strike to a different area?

        One of the things I disliked about the THQ games was that while each limb would individually affect a fighters overall performance (influence speed with leg shots, stamina with gut shots ect), apart from a flash knockout the only way to end a fight was to 100% (or close to it) a single limb.
        It meant that mixing it up and battering the whole fighter was far less effective than it should have been. You could tee off on a guy and batter all his limbs up to 80% only to be beaten by a guy who you’d outstruck 4 to 1 because he only threw jabs and kicks to the one leg.

          It's been stated/shown elsewhere that damage and knockouts are much more like EA MMA than UFC Undisputed, which is to say you don't have to 100% an area of the body to finish someone. Which is a very, very good thing.

    Is normal. I is back. Thank you Dana. Thank you oo-F-C.

    Guys Ive tried the game and no joke it is amazing .

    Nice preview, super stoked this is coming out soon.
    I'd like a bit more in depth discussion about career mode though.
    Regardless, day one purchase!

    love the is normal at the end. very nanderson silva like lol

    Jones is on the cover and he's the current UFC P4P #1.

    That's probably why he's rated higher.

    If there's anything I've learned from sports games is that in nearly all cases the cover star will have the overpowered stats that year, relatively speaking.

    Incidentally, what were Gustafsson's stats?

    Last edited 22/05/14 5:10 am

    Is it possible to change what color trunks a fighter wears? Like a uniform selection in the fighter select menu?

    Jones is easily a better fighter than Silva. The only edge Silva might have is in striking but even then it would be close. On the ground and in the clinch Jones would maul Silva. Case in point, Jones out wrestled Chael Sonnen while Chael Sonnen easily outwrestled Silva in all his rounds against Silva save the last round they fought and, if you're going to credit Weidman's victories to "luck" then you have to say that Silva was lucky that Sonnen tripped while going for that backfist also because Sonnen dominated for the whole of the first round.

    Furthermore, people forget that in the last fight against Weidman, Weidman dominated the fight prior to that and was even close to stopping Silva via TKO at one point in the first round. So I would argue that "luck" (or lack of it depending on your perspective) was more of a factor in Sonnen vs Silva.

      I don't think it is fair to say he is 'easily' a better fighter than Silva - I think that's a pretty silly thing to say about the undisputed greatest of all time (who is 39!). More importantly they are completely different sizes so you cant really compare it. Jones is a GIANT LHW, Silva is a big MW.

      Cain would beat the ever loving sh*t out of both of them. Does that make him the better fighter? No. He is a bigger, stronger guy.

      If Jones magically shrunk to a comparable level via some sort of purple Mario mushroom you would expect Anderson to deliver some brutal punishment to Jones on the feet - sure Jones would land a few but by all account Anderson could take them, and Jones to drop some horrific elbows if it went to the ground.

      To say one is 'better' that the other is not a valid statement. Anderson was without a shadow of a doubt (in his prime) the best fighter in the world IN HIS WEIGHT CLASS. Much as Jon Jones is now in LHW.

        Silva walks around at 220lbs. Jones walks around at 240lbs. The weight difference isn't that substantial (20lbs=about 8-9kgs). Both men are natural heavyweights (>210lbs) and cut more than their difference to make weight for MW and LHW respectively. Similarly Silva is only a few inches off Jones in height. Silva has fought and won comfortably at LHW also. Therefore the weight difference does not make them incomparable in my opinion.

        You brought up Cain Velasquez. I don't agree that Velasquez would unquestionably defeat Jones. Jones has a height and reach advantage and is as much of an athlete as Velasquez. Again, Jones walks around at about 240 and Velasquez fights at 241 (Heavyweights don't have to cut) so Velasquez won't have a weight advantage either. It would come down to ability. And in that arena I think it's pretty even from what we've seen. Both men are superb atheletes, excellent wrestlers and accomplished strikers. It would be an interesting fight to say the least.

        Now even if I haven't convinced you with the above argument, then you still have to contend with the fact that Weidman is clearly a better fighter than Silva. Weidman's ground game is better (we saw that from the fight) and he has better standup than Sonnen to make up for whatever advantage Silva has on the feet. So in saying that, you can only think Anderson Silva is better than Jones if you think Weidman is better than Jones. He just might be but I don't think he's done enough to prove it yet.

          Sorry mate, your logic here is way off.

          Anyone who says 8 - 9 kg isn't a substantial advantage/disadvantage in the fight game is dead wrong.

          Also, what weight they walk around at has no bearing to what they fight at. Fighters cut a lot of weight for fights but they don't magically go back to their walk around weight in 24 hours.

          As an example, my younger brother is a professional fighter. He fights at 84kg so he generally weighs in at 83 or so kg. The next day he is around 87 - 88 kg for the fight but he walks around at 93 - 94 kg.

          Also in your last paragraph, you are trying to use some magical mathematical formula to show Weidman is better than Silva and it just doesn't exist.

            Why their weight difference is negligable

            Well my point wasn't that they should fight with an 8-9kg disadvantage. My point was that they cut more weight to meet MW/LHW respectively than their 8-9kg difference and so any size advantage is negligable considering there are some LHW fighters that don't make such a drastic cut (Lyoto Machida who is fighting Weidman for the MW title, held the LHW title for a time and was beaten by Jones when he tried to get it back from him).

            All Silva needs to do is cut from 220 to 205 (15lb) instead of his usual 35lb cut (which he's done before with his fight against Stephan Bonnar and Forrest Griffin) where Jones makes the usual 35lb cut he often does is all I'm saying.

            Why Chris Weidman is a better fighter than Anderson Silva

            My last paragraph was based on some facts that I'll share with you about the last fight Silva had with Weidman.
            -Silva got destroyed in the first round.
            -Silva almost got TKO'd and if the ref had stopped it when Weidman was ground and pounding him then I wouldn't have blamed him because he was taking some damage and wasn't intelligently defending himself (OK not a fact and more of an opinion this one but at the very least the fact is that there was a moment the fight was close to being stopped in favour of Weidman)
            -Weidman SPECIFICALLY trained the low kick check. It wasn't meant to break Silva's leg but it was meant to discourage Silva from kicking his legs. A properly checked leg is painful at best and at worst.. well you saw what happened.

            Further to that, in the fight previous to that one.
            -Weidman won that first round.
            -Weidman knocked out Silva.

            And finally if you're going to put down Weidman beating Silva to "luck" please remember that-
            -Chael Sonnen was destroying Silva in the first round of the previous fight and got caught in the second round because he tripped from a missed backfist attempt.
            -Chael Sonnen was destroying Silva in all rounds of the fight previous to that and got caught with a "lucky" triangle.

            Now how much you credit luck in either case is a matter of opinion but at least be consistent with your application of luck as a factor (if it is your position that luck played a bigger part than skill in the case of Silva Weidman I and II)

            I hope I've made my case to you.

      I find it funny how I this dry article they say MMA math doesn't add up and the first thing you say is , well jones took sonnen down easily and Anderson got taken down by sonnen haha
      Different styles create different approaches and therefore different wrestling, wrestling is just wrestling, different fighters have different forms of wrestling.
      And in the silva sonnen rematch, sonnen got one take down and then failed on 3 or 4 take downs in the second round before getting finished.

        Clearly I don't completely agree that MMA math doesn't add up. While it's not an exact science (the same can be said for most sports), we can, with confidence, make a case as to why some fighters are better or worse than others and it's one I won't repeat (for more clarification please continue reading the responses I've made to others). If you don't agree then I'd be interested to see what your counter-argument would be.

        Furthermore even if I grant you that a comparison of their grappling styles is not possible (which I don't) my other point was that if you believe Silva to be better than Jones then you have to square that with the fact that Weidman is better than Silva and has beaten a lot of the guys Silva has beaten and remains undefeated, and because of that will have to fit him into the mix somewhere.

        I mean it was easier to rule the hypothetical Jones/Silva dream match going one way or the other perhaps when Silva and Jones were top of their respective divisions. But now that Silva isn't number 1 MW anymore, the picture is incomplete if you don't mention at least mention Weidman.

    As a huge Vitor Belfort fan, you made me incredibly happy.

    Find it funny that in this very article it says MMA math don't add up****
    Wrestling isn't just wrestling****

    Jon Jones is the #1 pound-for-pound of the world. 6 positions above Spider. How come did you expect Anderson would have higher rating?! Besides, Jones never lost (the Hammil bout should have declared a NC).

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