"I think everybody can agree the visuals are very pretty," says Hedrick "Rocky" Rivero, one of the designers on MMA, as he presents the game. Are they? You think? Flowers are pretty. The Chrysler Building is pretty. Unicorns and waterfalls and that Florence lady out of Florence + the Machine is pretty (just me?). MMA, chock full of sweaty biffers with stubbly faces and tight pants, simultaneously giving each other a lamping and a shoeing - these are the official terms - isn't really pretty is it?
What it is, though, is staggeringly convincing. EA's yet to let anyone outside of the development team pick up a pad for themselves, but to see Fedor Emelianenko and Brett Rogers zip about the ring with a faultless frame-rate, pin-sharp textural details and unnervingly realistic animation provides another one of those rare moments in games where you almost can't believe your eyes.
Compared to the lean forms of boxers like Muhammad Ali and Sugar Ray Leonard, MMA fighters often look like a couple of tanked-up builders laying into each other after a few beers at that pub on Coronation Street, but the work EA has put into making the characters duck and weave and step in and out with that unlikely swiftness the best in the business seem to possess, bodes well for the rest of the game. The actual modelling isn't bad either - when Rogers went to the studio recently for character creation, his new tattoos were still a little puffy, and you can genuinely see that in-game.
Each fighter, we're promised, will behave convincingly throughout. EA is focusing on the personalities and characteristic quirks and flourishes, so Fedor nimbly moves into position with his fists up and a nervy spring in his step as he bounces back and forth on the balls of his feet, while Rogers is more flat-footed and likes to keep his arms relaxed, but unleashes heavy strikes to the centre rather than trading in Fedor's looping punches.
It's hard to tell just how those blows will really feel when you're playing - the animation seems good, and the collision detection is perfect, as it has to be, but the visual feedback and blood is missing from this build - but already the fighters are reacting to each other based on where they currently are in the ring, raising their fists automatically, and moving more precisely as they get in close.
MMA builds on the physics platform of Fight Night Round 4: pre-canned animations are out, and punches and kicks - and the damage they inflict - are calculated on the fly. On top of that, EA's been extensively mo-capping the game's stars to make sure everything is as authentic as possible.
"The fighters would come in for mo-cap, and we wouldn't just capture them," says Rivero. "We'd sit down, talk to them, take notes, find out what they were really all about. And we take feedback. Jason Mayhem Miller said, 'Oh, when you go in for the catch-kick, you've got to still be able to deliver a punch,' so boom! It's in there, it's in the game." (Does anyone know if the producers get tipped for using EA's catchphrase?)