Interview with Brian Hayes

In 2014, video game publisher Electronic Arts (EA) debuted “EA Sports UFC”, the first in their acclaimed MMA fighting game series in which players can step into the Octagon as any legend of the sport from Ronda Rousey to Lyoto Machida and many more.

EA released their follow-up, “EA Sports UFC 2” for gaming consoles in 2016, and are set to debut a new chapter in the franchise with the upcoming “EA Sports UFC 3”, set to hit gaming consoles around the world on February 2nd, 2018.

Today, EA’s creative director, Brian Hayes sits down with KFK to give a look behind-the-scenes into the making of the franchise’s upcoming third instalment, along with sharing some stories of rubbing shoulders (literally, in some cases) with some real-life MMA champions, and giving readers a glimpse into the process of making a fighting game based on the world’s most popular combat sport!

Hi Brian, thank you so much for taking some time out for us today! Hope you’re doing well?

Hi Brad, I’m doing great, thanks!

Perfect. Well let’s dive right into asking did you have any martial arts experience yourself prior to the creation of EA Sports’ UFC games?

I did sport kickboxing for about two and a half years when I first moved to Vancouver, and I also got into boxing because I was heavily involved in the “Fight Night” franchise. Then, when we started the first UFC game, some members of the team started doing Jiu-jitsu classes at work, and I did that for about the first eight weeks until one of our animators really messed-up my arm, and then I just kind of decided to stick to fighting in video games from that point on. (Both laugh)

A little mandatory tension at weigh-in!

A little mandatory tension at weigh-in!

On that note, can you share with us how UFC 3 first got started? What can gamers expect as far as upgrades and new features in this newest instalment of the series? 

Well, the CEO of EA, Andrew Wilson, is a big fan of MMA, and an avid practitioner of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu himself. So, he was really interested in getting the license from the UFC to make the first game in the series, and we’ve steadily been trying to improve the series and create a deeper, more authentic MMA experience for people to engage in since the first game in the series debuted.

For UFC 3, we’ve made some really significant updates to the striking elements of the game. We’re utilising a new animation technology that we call “Real Player Motion” that’s basically redefined the way we do motion capture with our athletes – it’s allowed us to create a much more responsive in-game control of the fighters. One of the most satisfying things for me when I’ve seen people try out UFC 3 and start to pick up on the control scheme is that much, much more of what are legitimate approaches to striking in combat sports in real-life are exhibited by the game. Whether its controlling range, using angles, or feinting, using effective combinations are all coming to life in the game much more so than they ever have before.
We’ve also had UFC fighters in the studio during the development of UFC 3, and to see how quickly they pick up the game and how they apply their knowledge as real fighters to their approach in the video game is one of the most rewarding things for us as well.

Suplex time!

Suplex time!

Sounds like it’s getting more intuitive, I like the sound of that! So, do all the fighters featured in UFC 3 perform motion capture for the game?

Well, there’s about 270 playable fighters in UFC 3, and I’ve had the privilege of meeting many MMA fighters since we first began on the series. While we try to have as many of them as possible for the mo-cap, usually it’s only a handful, because logistically, it’s difficult to coordinate with that many fighters, and we also only have so much time to use our mo-cap facilities for any one game, whether its UFC 3 or our other games like “FIFA” or “Madden”. So, a lot of the guys we use for mo-cap are local MMA guys, and a lot of them fight in minor league MMA organizations. Having said that, we were able to have more active UFC athletes do mo-cap for UFC 3 than we were able to for UFC 1 or 2.

So, which of the MMA fighters you’ve met during your time working on the EA UFC games franchise left the biggest impression on you?

Probably the one who left the biggest impression was Cat Zingano. When I first met her, I asked her if I could take a picture with her, and she said “Sure”, and when I asked her to put me in a rear-naked choke for it, she said, “Only if I can finish it.” So, I thought if we’re going to do that, I might as well get it on video, so I have a video of Cat Zingano choking me unconscious! (Both laugh)

Armbar time!

Armbar time!

I also flew out to Japan to do press for EA Sports UFC 1 when it first launched, and met Mark Hunt for his fight with Roy Nelson. Later on, I was doing press in Australia for UFC 2, and got to sit cageside for Mark’s fight with Frank Mir. As he was exiting the cage after the fight, he recognized me and said, “Hey, you’re the video game guy back in Japan!”

Nice, and certainly some memorable moments there! So, how would you say the making of a fighting game like UFC 3 differs from making other fighting games like “Street Fighter”, “Mortal Kombat”, or “Tekken”? What are your favourite fighting games personally speaking?

Well, for one thing it’s a lot less gruesome and there are no fatalities! We also very much strive to remain authentic to the sport within the game. For example, a lot of other fighting games don’t really work in concepts like stamina. So, let’s say when two fighters make it to the 5th Round in UFC 3, they’ve each had their stamina depleted by that point, so that has an impact on many factors that determine how successful you can be against your opponent as the fight progresses.

As far as favourite fighting games, it might sound like a bit of a cop-out, but it’s been such a lot of fun and a great experience among ourselves on the team with testing the UFC 3 that I’d have to say it’s my favourite of the three UFC titles I’ve worked on. As far as other titles, my picks would have to be “Fight Night”, “Fight Night: Champion”, and “Fight Night: 2004”. “Karate Champ” was also a legit one for me growing up as well.

Some real classics there. On that note, if we can cross over from games entertainment to movies real quick, what would be your top 3 martial arts films?

I’d have to say, “Enter the Dragon“, “Drunken Master 2“, and “Fist of Legend“.

The epic heavyweights, awesome! So, as someone who works in the gaming industry, what do you think will be the next big leap forward in the fighting game genre? Will virtual reality become a big thing for home consoles in the future?

Well, if you play a lot of the virtual reality games on the market today, there’s a real lack of spacial awareness of your own body. You’re basically just seeing two disembodied hands and whatever is in front of you, so the fact that you aren’t seeing your own body is a big challenge for virtual reality as far as fighting games go unless you’re able to feel your own body. It’s something that came up a lot when Kinect hit the market, but it’d be really hard to make you feel the experience of your body in a fighting game, unless there’s some kind of neurological implant in the future (Both laughs).

Think I just had a “Matrix” moment…that’d certainly be a wildly exciting quantum leap forward in the figh to sphere! Thank you so much for your time today Brian. We’re really looking forward to the release of UFC 3!

Thank you, it’s been my pleasure!

“EA Sports UFC 3” launches on 2nd February 2018 on Xbox One and PlayStation 4 gaming consoles. Stay tuned for more news and you never know, there just may be some special KFK exclusives for you…In the meantime, love fighting games? Tell us below which and how they’ve influenced you over the years, join in the conversation on Facebook and follow us on Twitter!

From the earliest days of childhood, Brad Curran was utterly fascinated by martial arts, his passion only growing stronger after spending time living in the melting pot of Asian cultures that is Hawaii. His early exposure developed into a lifelong passion and fascination with all forms of martial arts and tremendous passion for action and martial arts films. He would go on to take a number of different martial arts forms, including Shaolin Ch'uan fa, Taekwondo, Shotokan Karate and remains a devoted student, avid and eager to continue his martial arts studies. Brad is also an aspiring writer and deeply desires to share his love for martial arts and martial arts movies with the world!

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