Before the launch of EA Sports’ MMA title, IncGamers caught up with Development Director Nick Laing in London to find out more about the new title and also get some hands-on time in the ring. Yes, James decided it would be a good idea to get some MMA training in, much to our amusement. You can watch the video or read the transcript below.

Nick, EA Sports  MMA, it’s a brand new IP for EA Sports. How difficult was it to pitch to EA that you wanted to make an MMA game.
It didn’t turn out to be too hard at all.  The sport is huge and Peter Moore has already talked about how he’s a big fan of the sport so it was matter of getting the right team together at and having the right foundation and getting going. I’ve been working on the game for more than two years and there’s a core of guys who’ve been working on it longer than that.
Before you started developing the game did you have set ideas of what you wanted to do?  Obviously THQ released UFC Undisputed.  Did you look at that and see what the good and bad aspects were and then make our own unique part?
We were working on this game before that game came out so we’ve had the benefit of looking at the last two games but it’s been kind of strange because like I say, personally, I’ve been working for more than two years.  I’ve had two children since I started this development cycle and there was a core of people working before that.  We started with the Fight Night engine and we were able to turn that into the MMA engine, we added ground game, kicks and spinning backfists and stuff like that so there was an awful lot of thought that goes into a project this size and we’re lucky to have the foundation that we did.
How vital was it to seal a deal with a major promotion like Strikeforce?
We’re really glad to have Strikeforce be part of our product.  They been great partners, those guys have been a blast to work with too but we’re really about the global nature of the sport.  There are events all over the world; even in our game we have six different promotions all over the world.  Major AAA promotions in Japan. One of the things we want to make sure to do is celebrate that kind of global nature.
Will there be different rule sets.  When you see Pride and things like that, are we going to see the different rule sets that you can choose?
Absolutely.  I’ve been a big part of MMA, been a part of the industry for a long time, since the mid 90’s and one of my favourite things is that ten minute first round in Japanese rules. The whole thing is about managing your stamina and nothing tests that like a ten minute round. Except of course when you’re fighting in Brazil and there’s Vale Tudo and it’s basically twenty minutes and that’s it.
When UFC came out Dana White made a big deal when EA Sports was announced at E3, he kind of made the threats about any fighters that came in EA Sports wouldn’t participate in the UFC. What did you guys make of that?  Do you think they were scared of the competition?
Dana is going to be Dana and at that time he was probably one of our best PR guys.  We got a lot of phone calls during that time but we love the UFC as a fighting promotion. I’m a big fan of MMA like I said and we have plenty of fighters in our game like Randy Couture. He’s been part of the UFC for a very long time.
Because of what Dana said about the UFC did you approach any fighters who said they want to make it in the UFC and didn’t want jeopodise that being in EA Sports?
I didn’t really come across that personally. I don’t deal directly with any of the hardcore contract negotiations but we didn’t have any problems like that.  We are really conscientious about the fighters. We are about the fighters.  We got a lot of guys that train, I train.  We feel a certain kinship with the guys.  If they thought we were going to put anything in jeopardy, no problem, you got to take care of yourself and we just want to be as supportive as possible to the sport as a whole.
Were there any fighters who didn’t approach who you now wish were in the game?
Boy, right now I’m just working trying to get the game done.  But, nothing really comes to mind.  If anybody’s interested our phones are always open bout right now we have some of the best guys in the industry.  We got your Fedors and Randys, we’re glad to have the guys we have and let’s go ahead and make October 19th the best day we can.
With the possible addition to fighters would that be in DLC?  Are you already thinking about DLC?
Sure. There are DLC and some unlockable characters for promotions happening all over.
Back in November 2009 we chatted to you guys about the game then and you said EA were thinking about female fighters in the game.  How come that didn’t come to fruition?
Yeah that was me (laughs).  Really, what it comes down to is making sure we got this one right.  The addition of female fighters kind of sounds trivial but they’re different, trust me, and what we want to do is just make sure that the one we got right now is right.
Could we possibly see them in future games?  Is it down to physics?
I think our physics could handle female fighters.  Are you really interested in girl fighting?
A little bit.
Alright, just checking.  We are big fans of Cyborg. I hope that Carano comes back and fights again. I’m really excited about the next Strikeforce event but right now I definitely don’t have announcements for the next game but I hope to have announcements later.
The title belts, are they going to be based on real life promotions or are they going to be created by yourselves?
Some of our promotions are, our B & C league promotions, those are created by EA and they’ve got their own belts and stuff like that, in the game. So if you’ve got some Weapons of Destruction Championship you’ll wear it when you walk out for your title defense.  The Strikeforece is the licensed league that we have but something that is a cool, a little bit off topic is that if, at the end of your career, if you have proven yourself worthy in such a way you can have a title unification belt between the Japanese AAA promotion and the North American AAA promotion which is Strikeforce and Mystic.  That’s a pretty big event in your single player career to be at the top of the heap.
These titles that you earn in career mode, will we be able to defend them in exhibition matches, like 1 on 1, and will you be able to put the title on the line straight away?
Yes, absolutely, like Fight Now. Right off the main menu you can pick Fight Now and whether you have the belt or whether I have the belt and then it becomes all the pomp and circumstance of a championship match.
In Career Mode are we starting from the bottom and working our way up or can you pick any fighter and then go straight into a weight division and then work your way through that division?
Are you starting from the bottom?  Definitely not. We want you to get into the game as a professional Mixed Martial Artist. You are not world class. When you start the game you are about 70% of a real fighter but at that point you start off with who you are at your heart of hearts.  Are you a boxer, are you a wrestler.  You have room to grow but you have a way to finish a fight.  That’s available to you through learning about MMA, learning about the sport, building and traveling around the world and then ultimately becoming world championship material.
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In Create a Fighter will we see your face in the game feature which has been in a lot of the other EA Sports games?
It’s absolutely in there. One of my favourite things is to see your face in there in a long drawn-out three round affair where some guy has just camped out on top of you throwing elbows in the Japanese league when ground elbows are legal.  You get up for the end of the fight and your nose is broken and your eye is swollen and you got blood all over you and blood all over him.  One of those ground wars that happen once in a blue moon but it’s your face.  It’s different.
You can see what it’s like out on a night out in London.
Exactly.  I’ve heard. I wouldn’t know, I’m married.
It’s also interesting in the live broadcast.  You have the live broadcast which is broadcast for thousands of spectators, live commentary and your face. I’ve said to a couple of guys here, and I don’t think anyone’s going to believe me until they try it out, you fight different when there’s a thousand people watching you.  I see you guys playing down stairs and you’re just swinging for the fences and looking for that first round knockout but when its people watching you (laughs), you want to win so you will play defense.
James gets some MMA training.

Say you’re a 250lb fighter can you work your way up and try to work your way into the heavier divisions.
We don’t have any divisions heavier than 250lbs but at this point, you’re talking about catch weights and stuff like that, we don’t support that. We want you to start at the beginning, learn about the sport, travel the world and reach the pinnacle of that weight class.  You can start another career in a different weight class if you want to.
How many different fighting styles are there?  You’ve mentioned boxing and wrestling.  Can you have hybrid ones, have the Mai Tai kick boxer?
Absolutely.  We start with some basic styles. I’m not going to go over all of them but there’s brawler, wrestler, kick boxer, submission fighter and generalist.  Generalist happens to be the kind of guy that’s pretty good at everything has lots of room to grow. The hybrid comes after you meet Boss and you are allowed to start to change the way your character fights. So if you start the game as a boxer you can finish fights as a boxer right there that day but what you want to do is to cross-train and turn yourself into a boxer/jiu-jitsu specialist then you train all the Boss has to offer and then take the offer and go train with Gracie in Brazil. Then you become this double-threat, triple-threat fighter.
So in Career Mode you are going to be able to create numerous characters, play through career mode at different times and playing as different fighting styles so one minute you can be a submission wrestler and next boxer jiu-jitsu.
Yes, that’s a big thing. Every fighter is different and you have the world open to you with what type of character you’re playing, what kind of character you’re playing next time and then if you fight the same guy with two different fighters you’re going to have a different fight every time.  Even if your character grows from a boxer, turns into a stronger jiu-jitsu specialist and you fight this guy again in a rematch the game will know and the fight will be different this time.
How many transitions are we going to see in the game?  How easy is it to move from your head down to the bottom, is it a quick flick of the stick or you have to master the movement?
Everybody’s got the ability to change transitions and there’s no way that I could count them all for you but more well versed guys, better trained guys have the ability to jump around a bit more.  The catch there is going to be what kind of offering you are going to give your opponent for a transition move.  If you’re a wrestling specialist it’s going to be easier for you to move around on a boxer than it is for a boxer to move around on a wrestler. 
Given the training that a wrestler has he’ll be a lot more sensitive to what you are trying to do, in a way that we call ‘feel the fight’.  In real life when you’re wrestling with somebody, you become very attuned with how he’s shifting his weight, how far away from your body he is and whether he’s tensing up muscles and, if you’ve trained your whole life on how to control a guy like this, gives you cues on when to defend and where to defend. So we do the same thing with the rumble control here.  A wrestler is going to feel more rumble in the control than a boxer so a wrestler is going to be more easily defending transitions and submissions.
Are we going to be able to backup against the cage walls or the ring ropes?  Are referees going to step in and break up the fight?
Yes. Just like real life if there’s nothing happening in a fight on the ground or up against the cage the ref will separate you.  You’re on the ground for a while, nothing’s happening, no one’s throwing any punches the ref will stand you up.
Will we see some licensed referees in the game?
Sure. We’ve got Big John, obviously in the game; he’s been a big fan and Boo out of Japan.  It’s great fun having him in the game.  Funny story about Big John, he’s been to the studio a number of times, he helped out an awful lot, a lot of people don’t realise that he was one of the original draughtsman for the unified rules that we use in North America and UK for MMA events. He was at UFC1 as a referee but it was pretty much a coin toss at the time whether he was going to be a fighter or a referee. He was a referee and he’s never looked back but a respectable jiu-jitsu black belt as well as I can attest to and during a conversation about what somebody should have done to defend a knee bar, he knee barred me and in doing so won the argument.
How responsive is the Fatigue system?
I would reference real life again. Punches and bunches right?  You throw a lot of punches you can exhaust yourself but you are going to recover from that pretty quickly.  It’s also one of the reasons it’s important to know your range in a fight. If you start throwing punches and nobody sees anything and nothing connects then you’re going to be exhausted. The really difficult part, where fighting gets really exhausting, is on the ground when you’re grappling and you’re rolling somebody over all your muscles are constantly in work and your stamina goes down quite a bit.
Do you hope that the Live Broadcast system is going to revolutionise online play for sport titles.
Yeah, we are really excited about this.  I’ve said it before but when a thousand people are watching you fight different.  It’s the next natural evolution in an EA sports video game. We’ve got the broadcast look, we’ve got the simulation now we’ve got people watching you and we’ve got live people commentating on you doing fight breakdowns, talking about your statistics. It’ll be a very big deal, especially when the community gets hold of it and they’re putting their own hype videos together, they’re breaking down fights themselves doing analysis.  It also covers that one last base that sports games need to. In FIFA I think we’ve done a really good job of capturing the emotion of sport. There’s that emotion, there’s that passion but there’s something else about professional sport that I don’t think they’ve hit on and that’s fame. You know what, if I’m fighting in front of a thousand people, there’s a little taste of fame there.
Do you hope that maybe they are going to take this live broadcast and implement it straight into FIFA, NBA and other big EA Sports titles?
I get that question a lot. Right now, I hope that it works really well for MMA and the community loves it.  After that, I mean, we’re EA Sports we’re lucky enough to share a lot of foundation, a lot of features like that, so I wouldn’t be surprised to see it somewhere else if the fans love it.
Who is your favourite fighter in the game?
I can’t answer.  Why is everyone asking me…..they come to my work…
You’ve got to have your favourite fighter.
My favourite fighter has got to be Chuck Norris.  184 wins and something like a handful of losses, full contact fighter, spinning back kick that nobody could fight off.
Okay. We look forward to seeing him in the game.

Paul Younger
Founder and Editor of PC Invasion. Founder of the world's first gaming cafe and Veteran PC gamer of over 22 years.

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