Playing UFC Undisputed w/ Houston Alexander

This is the result of my playthrough of UFC 2009 Undisputed with Houston Alexander, last week’s cover story in the Omaha City Weekly. Here’s a link to the review at OCW’s Web site. The previous post has a good image of the cover.

“UFC 2009 Undisputed”
Publisher: THQ
Developer: Yuke’s Osaka
System: Xbox 360, PS3
ESRB Rating: T (Teen)
Released: May 19, 2009

Despite being prominently featured in the game, Omaha’s own mixed martial arts fighter Houston Alexander hadn’t played “UFC 2009 Undisputed” until we invited him to the City Weekly offices to check it out a couple weekends ago.

“It freaked me out when I saw my brother playing it,” Alexander said. “Wouldn’t it freak you out if you saw yourself up there?”

Houston Alexander playing UFC 2009 Undisputed

Houston Alexander playing UFC 2009 Undisputed

It probably would. Hell, I was a little unnerved just watching digital Houston on his back taking blows to the face.

“They’ve got everything pretty accurate,” Alexander said. “This game is pretty damn accurate.”

That accuracy extends to the last detail. After winning a match Alexander celebrates by “throwing the bones” by crossing his wrists above his head like the Blackshirts after sacking a puny Missouri quarterback. A puff of pride wells in Alexander’s massive chest when he hears UFC announcer Bruce Buffer call out his name and hometown: Omaha, Nebraska. The honor of representing our city and state as a fighter and in the video game is one Alexander holds dear.

“When you throw up the bones, what do you think about? You think about Nebraska and the Blackshirts,” Alexander said.

This type of reaction is possible through a massive attention to detail. Neven Dravinski, producer of “UFC 2009 Undisputed,” said the team worked closely with UFC officials to make every detail perfect. The UFC’s tagline, “As real as it gets” was a sort of motto for the development team, Dravinski said.

“When you’re playing, we want to make you feel like you’re watching the event,” he said.

Digital Houston Alexander on the cover of the Omaha City Weekly

Digital Houston Alexander on the cover of the Omaha City Weekly

There was a lot of internal pressure to represent the sport as accurately as possible, he said. Some of the game’s designers spent time in the octagon training with real UFC trainers to get a better understanding of the intricacies of the sport, he said. Those same trainers would make visits to the studio to check out gameplay and make suggestions to add to the realism.

The No. 1 question in my mind when approaching this game was simple: How will you be able to control all of the nuanced moves used in the octagon with a simple gamepad? Too complicated and the game is frustrating, too simple and it becomes a button-masher.

Happily “UFC Undisputed” strikes as fair a balance as possible without sacrificing the complexity of the sport.

It does take time to learn the nuance of controlling your fighter, but at the same time the basic moves are simple enough for you to jump right in. The four buttons control strikes and kicks. The resulting action is a consequence of the context. If you are in close, you will throw a knee or an elbow.

The ground game is a little trickier, mostly controlled through movements on the right analogue stick to gain superior positions over your opponent.

“We really endeavor to follow the mantra: easy to pick up, difficult to master,” Dravinski said.

Although the controls are fairly intuitive, there is no getting around their complexity. That may turn some people off, but it also leaves a door wide open for deep strategic decisions. Some fighters do better on the mat, while others have powerful standing attacks.

Watching two people who have mastered the controls play the game results in a match that is very indicative of a real-life UFC matchup with a lot of tension, Dravinski said.

In addition to using the likeness of more than 80 UFC fighters, Octagon Girls and referees, the team at THQ used many of the same graphics and animations the UFC uses in its broadcasts to increase immersion.

Broadcasters Joe Rogan and Mike Goldberg recorded dozens of hours of commentary for the game. The commentary is some of the best featured in a game, with Rogan referring to the fighters and their past fights with intimate detail. The commentary is seamless and relevant to the onscreen action.
You may be surprised to find out how vain some of the fighters were. Some would want assurances, saying, “make sure I have a six-pack, I haven’t started cutting yet,” Dravinski said.

“They definitely want to make sure they look good.”

Fun aside, working with more than 80 fighters was a neat experience, he said.

“I was not prepared for how relaxed and down-to-earth these guys were,” Dravinski said.

Each of the UFC personalities in the game came into THQ headquarters for photographs and 3-D scans, Dravinski said. The scan builds a three-dimensional image of the fighter’s body, which is overlaid with the photographs to produce beautiful and accurate character models.

Alexander said he had to make dozens of facial expressions while the 3-D camera swirled around him recording every angle of his face. But the best part about visiting the studio was seeing some of their neat toys, such as a life-size model of Han Solo frozen in carbonite and Jabba the Hutt from “Star Wars,” he said.

Translating each fighter’s distinctive style to the game was a challenge, Dravinski said. The fighters were assigned one of three common striking styles (boxing, kickboxing or Muay Thai) and grappling techniques (wrestling, judo or Brazilian jujitsu).

The development team worked with the UFC to delegate skill points, which affect their proficiency in several areas, such as standing strikes or submissions. However, some considerations had to be taken into account for balance.

“You still have to make a video game, it still has to be fun,” Dravinski said.

These combinations results in realistic situations and force the player to adapt to their strengths and their opponent’s weaknesses.
Alexander’s reactions to the game are shared by many of his colleagues, Dravinski said. Many UFC fighters are gamers, and their feedback has been overwhelmingly positive, he said.

“There are a lot of fighters who play a lot of games,” Dravinski said. “They come in and say, ‘I eat, I sleep, I train and I play games.’”
Alexander is among the gaming UFC fighters, saying he likes to play “Scarface” and “Godfather 2” on his PS3 in his down time. But his favorite games are from gaming’s golden age, the pre-NES days of arcades and the Atari, he said. He still likes to play “Pacman” and “Galaga,” but his favorite game of all time has to be “Moon Patrol” on the Atari 5200, he said.

But while being a video game character is a fun novelty, Alexander’s eyes are firmly on the prize.

“The video game is cool, the accolades are cool, but it means nothing if you’re not winning,” Alexander said. “You’ve got to win!”


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One Response to “Playing UFC Undisputed w/ Houston Alexander”

  1. houston alexander | sodini video Says:

    […] MMA Connected …MMA Hits – Mixed Martial Arts Blog –|||Playing UFC Undisputed w/ Houston Alexander « Cornfed GamerThis is the result of my playthrough of UFC 2009 Undisputed with Houston Alexander, last week's […]

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