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EA Sports takes on THQ in MMA gaming arena

THQ already has a hit video game on the market in "UFC Undisputed" and has partnered with mixed martial arts' biggest brand.

THQ already has a hit video game on the market in "UFC Undisputed" and has partnered with mixed martial arts' biggest brand.

But Electronic Arts says despite coming second to the MMA gaming party, it will showcase a global version of the sport when its "EA Sports MMA" is released for PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 on Oct. 19.

Fans can test-drive the EA game via a demo available on Xbox Live and the PlayStation network Tuesday.

The UFC and its brash president Dana White have thrown their considerable weight behind THQ since it debuted with "Undisputed 2009." White has also made a point of saying EA wasn't interested in the sport originally.

EA soldiered on, attracting the cream of the non-UFC fight world and pointing to its expertise in sports and boxing (think "Fight Night") games.

Jason Barnes, creative director of the EA MMA title, takes the high road towards the UFC.

"They helped sell the world on the sport of MMA. They've done a tremendous job with that so we've got great respect for them," he said.

"For us, we've been working on the game for over two years and our goal early on was to really capture everything that is the world of MMA."

Essentially EA has made the best of a bad situation, partnering with Strikeforce and veteran fighters such as Fedor Emelianenko, Nick Diaz, Josh Barnett, Dan Henderson, Cung Le and Andrei Arlovski.

UFC Hall of Famer Randy (The Natural) Couture is in the EA game, having apparently managed to negotiate his own video game route.

EA has also signed up legendary Dream and Pride ring announcer Lenne Hardt, as well as TV talent such as Canadian Mauro Ranallo and fighter-turned-broadcaster Frank Shamrock.

"Love that guy," Barnes said of Ranallo, known for his Pride and Strikeforce announcing. "He is a character. . . . His wealth of knowledge is absolutely incredible."

Venues range from a Japanese ring to cages in Brazil, England and other locales.

"We want to show that mixed martial arts is a worldwide sport," said Barnes. "It's not one league. It's popular in Japan, Brazil, England, obviously Canada, you guys have a great champion up there (in UFC welterweight title-holder Georges St-Pierre.)"

While EA may be denied access to UFC talent other than Couture, it is not about to play second fiddle.

It comes out swinging in a promotional video called "Really" which starts with a negative statement about the EA game from the UFC-THQ camp.

The video then showcases the EA game, from head stomps to soccer kicks (illegal under the UFC's unified MMA rules) to "legendary trainers" such as Bas Rutten, Pat Miletich, Rickson Gracie, and Couture.

It also plays up fan hype videos. Make a killer video and EA might choose you for a "Live Broadcast" fight, shown online with live commentary.

Barnes also points to the realism of other EA Sports titles.

The EA Tiburon team behind the MMA game, based in the Orlando, Fla., area, worked closely with the "Fight Night: Round 4" development team at EA Canada in Burnaby, B.C. Barnes' designers also worked with EA-owned Bioware to take advantage of the Edmonton's studio's skills in creating cutscenes.

The career mode plays up the global theme of the game, allowing fighters to take different paths through a variety of circuits with different rules.

Barnes says his game's controller setup is simple, especially to gamers who have played the "Fight Night" boxing game.

Their philosophy towards the complex ground portion of MMA has been designed to be accessible "so if you're trying to do an action, you're going to have success — unless the person you're fighting defends you."

That means timing is all important, a lesson Barnes says developers worked from such classic fighting games as "Street Fighter" and "Tekken."

The game's learning curve is gradual, so newbies aren't overwhelmed. But it ramps up as you progress.

And for those who like to use buttons rather than analog sticks to punch, the EA game offers both.

The game also offers an online matchmaking system, and allows you and seven friends to compete online together on the same fight card with room for two other friends to commentate.

"Online's been a big focus for us," said the 36-year-old Barnes, who previously worked on "Madden NFL," "NFL Tour," "NFL Street" and "NCAA Football."

The "EA MMA Sports" demo features Strikeforce heavyweight champion Alistair Overeem and former pro Bobby Lashley, as well as middleweights Jake Shields and Jason (Mayhem) Miller.

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