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UFC gladiator Mike "Quick" Swick still remembers the fastest somebody ever beat him bloody in "UFC Undisputed 2009" online.
"Some guy from Hawaii knocked me out in seconds with Matt Hughes," Swick told me as we met high above Las Vegas in The Hotel at Mandalay Bay's swank Mix Lounge the night before his real-life brawl against Paulo Thiago. "When I see myself get knocked down in the game, my heart almost skips a beat, it looks so real. It's like watching an old video.
"Hopefully this won't happen to me in 'UFC Undisputed 2010.' Besides, now they have my shaved head in the game. I look more like a fighter."
But "UFC Undisputed 2010" is more than just a cosmetic makeover with an updated roster and a few new shaved heads. In fact, the game has received such a serious upgrade that producer Neven Dravinski says he can't even play the 2009 version anymore.
"We just added so much this year, there's no going back," he told me minutes after my conversation with Swick. "Our team is a bunch of competitive animals — we're not only competitive within our own company and within the industry, but within ourselves. Everything we do is to make the best possible game ever. We put a lot of internal pressure on ourselves, and every year we think about what we can do, what we didn't do, what we can add, and I think the results speak for themselves."
Jon Robinson: "UFC Undisputed 2009" has already sold more than 3.5 million units.
Neven Dravinski: Magic.
Robinson: Did you expect the first game to sell that many?
Dravinski: You like to be positive, and you like to believe in your product, but knowing that many people went out and supported us, that's such a big deal. We couldn't be happier.
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Robinson: That's more than both NBA games combined. More than both MLB games combined. Does that speak to a shift in popularity in the sports world as well?
Dravinski: I certainly think we made the best MMA game ever made, and I don't think anyone can really argue with that, but I think it also really does speak to not only the popularity of MMA but the dominance of UFC as a brand. Guys in the UFC are the best fighters in the world, and that's the real strength of the UFC. Their roster is not just one or two dominant fighters; they have a ton of really, really talented fighters at every weight class, and that makes it exciting to watch. I think that obviously has a lot to do with the success of our game, and I like to think that at the same time, we delivered a quality product. [UFC president] Dana White is very open to letting everyone know what sucks and what doesn't suck, so we knew we had to come up with something cool.
Robinson: One of the coolest features I've seen from "UFC Undisputed 2010" is the addition of signature moves and submissions tied to the superstar fighters. How is that going to work?
Dravinski: That's a huge advent to the series. We're doing away with the archetypes of just saying some guy is a boxer/wrestler. This is going to enable us to bring a much more realistic representation of each fighter. Last year we needed to make some tough calls on guys. They might have been really skilled in BJJ [Brazilian jiu-jitsu], but we couldn't see them doing the rubber guard, so we called them a wrestler. So this year, being able to pick specific moves for fighters, moves that they're known for, really helps clean a lot of that up. Now B.J. Penn will do his arm trap into a rear-naked choke. We even got moves like "The Salaverry" in the game this year.
Robinson: One of my biggest dislikes about the first game is the submission system. How has that changed for "UFC Undisputed 2010?"
Dravinski: Submissions have been changed from multiple perspectives. We have a much more visual representation of the submissions this year. Last year you were in these static states where you went from one state to the other, but this year you actually see visual representation of the submission. You see the win/loss scenario. For example, during a Kimura, the arm is actually moving back in the correct position where you see that's going to hurt. The camera is moving in and out depending on the win/loss, so if the guy is winning the submission battle, the camera is moving closer, but if he's losing, the camera is moving out. So you're finally getting these really cool visual representations of the submissions.
We also did away with the button-mashing submission escape. For submission escape now, we call it "the shine." This is our unofficial term for rotating the right stick. We call it "the shine" because it has that visual aspect to it. But we feel this is an iconic part of our game play, and we've embraced it. I think it's going to be very easy for people to know that this is the only thing you can do to escape. You better shine for your life or you're out.
Robinson: How many more strikes are in the game this year?
Dravinski: We've quadrupled the number of strikes in the game. And I think what's important to note is that we completely redid the combo and targeting system by adding sways. We literally now have this much quicker and more reactive game-play system. Game play is just so much smoother and faster than last year, and the advent of sways really changes the game play. We still have that visceral impact that "Undisputed" is known for, but now, the infighting becomes a lot more important. Last year, the game was all about range. People would stay at a distance and come in with strikes that had a lot of translation. But now, with the advent of sways and leans, you can experiment with the timing, get in there, get underneath, then unleash these counterattacks that have greater damage depending on the risk that you take to execute the sway. It's completely changed the game for the better. It still has that easy, pick-up-and-play aspect, but now you have this improved dynamic with the sways and the counters that just makes it unbelievably fun.
Robinson: Any upgrades to the ground-and-pound?
Dravinski: We have these new sub positions in the game. So now, you can get rocked from any position. You can finish the fight from every position, and that's something new for this year. You can be in these sub positions, you can posture up, then unleash more devastating strikes to finish the fight. And then, within each position, you can do multiple submissions just by altering your posture. This adds a lot of variety to the game. Sure, you can still knock your buddy out and have fun, but if you want to win consistently, you're going to really need to study the game. This will make for a lot more community involvement because now you're going to need to analyze specific fighters and what they're able to do. I think that's really going to bring people deeper into the game.
Robinson: Can you talk at all about the addition of Fight Camps online?
Dravinski: This is something we'll talk about more in depth in the coming weeks, but the advent of Fight Camps is this really cool concept that online you can create these clans or guilds, and you'll be able to fight with your buddies online, you'll be able to fight other camps online, and there are leaderboards associated with that as well. I think this is really going to help expand the community even further. How cool would it be to actually fight against Greg Jackson's camp online? I think there are going to be a lot of really cool things that come out of the Fight Camps system.
Robinson: What do you think the expectations are now for "UFC Undisputed 2010" after finding so much success with the original?
Dravinski: No pressure, right? [laughs] I'm sure expectations are high, but we put a lot of pressure on ourselves. All we could do is do the best that we can do internally. The game will be what it will be, and the public will perceive it how they'll perceive it. That was our motto last year. We can only get it onto the shelf, and after that, it's up to the public. But you know what? We listen to our fans, we listen to the community, and I think you can see that by a lot of the improvements that we've done. It's not secret, we read every board, we read everything, and while you try to take comments with a grain of salt, a lot of it you do take personally because the anonymity of the Internet allows people to say things, but they don't really know what went into certain decisions.
Again, there are a lot of people out there who support us, and we want to make the best experience we can.
Robinson: What was your biggest complaint about the first game that you wanted to address with the sequel?
Dravinski: There are a lot of things that just didn't get in the game because we didn't have time or it would affect too many other aspects. I still think "2009" was a good game. It's hard to bash your child. Certainly, I think the addition of sways and southpaws to stand-up are huge. That's stuff that was actually in the game last year, but it wasn't quite working right and was breaking a lot of things, and from a production perspective, sometimes you need to make those tough calls of what makes it in the final product. But you know what, we've had another year to develop it and tune it, and I think the game is better for it. It's a much more improved system, and I think it's important to note that we didn't just sit back and bask in our success. It would've been really easy to do that, and I would've had a lot less gray hairs than I currently do, but we're so competitive, and we love this game and love what we're doing so much that we're out to make the best game possible.
Jon Robinson is ESPN.com's video game analyst.