Joe Rogan is trying to rip my arm off.
One second I'm talking to the UFC color commentator/comedian/actor/jiu-jitsu badass; the next thing I know I'm on my back as Rogan attempts to demonstrate the correct way to apply the Americana arm lock to the "UFC Undisputed 2010" producers who have started to surround us like a playground brawl.
"It looks a little wrong in the game right now," Rogan explains. "When you pull the elbow towards the body, it's significantly more painful."
As Rogan yanks, the pain rips through my arm and I immediately start tapping.
Who knew covering MMA video games would be so painful ... especially when interviewing the announcing team inside a swank Hollywood sound studio?
But that's just one of the advantages of having guys like Rogan and his announcing partner Mike Goldberg see the game so early. Not only are they calling the fights, but they're working with the THQ team to ensure the game's authenticity.
And for THQ, ensuring the UFC level of authenticity means not only getting every punch, kick and submission move looking and feeling just right, but also having the game sound like an actual broadcast. And to do that, THQ bucks the trend of simply having announcers sit in a booth and read a static script. "We're trying to get their natural reactions on tape, and to do that, we have them watch a match on the big screen in front of them and call the action just like they would any fight," explains producer Neven Dravinski. "We show them footage of the game and let them have at it."
That's when Rogan watches Kimbo Slice get knocked out by a combination that transitions from an uppercut to a Superman punch. "Bam!" Rogan shouts. "It's nighty-night time."
After the replay is called, Rogan and Goldberg move effortlessly to the next clip. "It's so much easier to do when we have something to look at," explains Goldberg. "When we see the fight take place on the screen, we treat the call just like we would any real fight. And I think you can really hear that in our voices when you play the game. You can tell that we're not just sitting here reading a few lines we were given. We're really calling these fights."
And while that's when Rogan and Goldberg's work ends, that's when things get hectic for the THQ producers. "Once we get an entire take, we cut out the audio and send it to a producer who transcribes everything they say in the file," says audio director Antoine Peltier. "Then he'll send me that transcription and I'll put start and end points -- cut it here, cut it here -- because we need to show everything from the submission attempt to the tap out to the replay.
"This isn't basketball where all they're saying is, 'He shoots, he scores.' This is crazy intricate with the amount of paths each fight can take, so we just grind our announcers to dust with day after day of calling these fights. Our job is to deliver a ton of lines so that there's no repetition. It takes a lot longer than anyone would imagine, but it's worth it when the game finally comes out and it sounds like you're playing a pay-per-view."
Says Rogan: "It's very time-consuming, probably a lot more so than anyone would imagine, but it's definitely worth it. All this time spent in the booth and the dedication these producers have for the game, that's what makes the game so good. It's so comprehensive. I don't think there's any other game, any other sports game that has so much dialogue. There are just so many variations of moves, and it takes hour after hour for us to call.
"It's amazing how much work goes on behind the scenes of making of a video game."
Jon Robinson: Were you skeptical at all about trying to call a video game while it plays out in front of you and about how natural or unnatural that may sound?
Mike Goldberg: Not at all because we would've just told them that we weren't going to do it. It was only on tape. But I liked it because it was unique, and the thing about it is, Joe and I are best friends, so if you just put us in an environment and let us be us, we'll make it work. And that's the thing Joe and I talked about coming into this. The game isn't about us. We just wanted THQ to tell us what they needed us to do in order to help make this the best game possible because we take pride in this as well.
Joe Rogan: Yeah, the nice thing about working for UFC is that we're friends, and I think that comes across in the broadcast and it comes across in the game, too. It makes a big difference. You can't fake real, on-air chemistry. You can't fake really liking each other and I think that makes it more comfortable to listen to.
Mike Goldberg: Joe is my soul mate. [laughs]
Jon Robinson: Do you have to prepare any differently from when you're going in to call a real fight than when you're calling video game fights off the big screen?
Mike Goldberg: The way that we do it is exactly like we do it on show night. It's the same vernacular, the same call. But when you're calling a real fight, you're really going into the unknown as you never really know what can happen. And if you mess up a call on a pay-per-view, you've messed up the call for life, whereas if you mess up in the video game, we just go in and do it again.
Joe Rogan: All we really have to do is bring the same level of enthusiasm and energy that we bring to the live broadcast. We're so used to doing that for the live shows, it's pretty easy.
Jon Robinson: I never thought of the "mess up" from the announcer's perspective. With YouTube, every mistake you make really does live on forever.
Joe Rogan: Sometimes a word comes out of your mouth and you have absolutely no idea what the next word should be. You're like "Awwawaawa," and there's nothing you can do about it. You just keep talking and sometimes it comes out a goofy mess. The synapses just didn't fire correctly. But that's one of the things about doing four hours of live sports on a regular basis. There's going to be a lot of times where you're going to say some stupid s---. There's no way of avoiding it.
You do four hours of live fights, and there's chaos going on. Dudes are smashing each other and there's elbows flying and chokes and blood ... there's a lot that can go wrong.
Mike Goldberg: I bet Joe and I have called over a thousand fights and when I make a mistake, they love it on YouTube. Goldberg [messed] up again! They'll talk about my lack of boxing knowledge because during a fight I said "George Frazier." No s--- I meant to say George Foreman and Joe Frazier. Duh, I think I know that. But people always like to bring that up, or when I said "Watt Miman" instead of Matt Wiman. When I said Watt Miman, I was cracking my ass up. Now I'm a YouTube superstar. It is funny because nobody ever wants to talk about the millions of words we got right. [laughs] They want to talk about the four we've gotten wrong. That's what's so nice about making the video game. Our boys are here to edit the [mistakes] all out ... not that they happen. [laughs] The video game is our first perfect broadcast.
Jon Robinson: How important is this game in terms of helping the UFC's brand and getting the UFC's name out there to a potentially new audience?
Mike Goldberg: I think it's really important for us to keep our name fresh, to get new fans, and to entertain our very loyal fans. I also think that this video game says a lot in terms of how far the UFC has come, and I think it's a partnership in that regards. If the UFC weren't what it is today, then THQ certainly wouldn't have been interested in doing a video game. I think it comes at a perfect time when the sport is on that meteoric rise, and to get the younger kids, that next generation of gamers like yourself playing the game and to see someone like Chuck Liddell in the game and think he's cool, then maybe you see him fight in a pay-per-view and you're hooked. Well, then we just made another loyal fan. So I think the video game helps us get our name out there, but the fact that we've been able to have the type of success that we've had has also really helped the video game.
Joe Rogan: Yeah, it's great for everybody. It's great for the fans and it's great for the UFC as a company. The fans want to be able to play the game as their favorite fighters and it's such a cool game. I know so many people who barely even watched UFC but now they're addicted to the game just because it's so exciting.
Jon Robinson: Do you guys play the game at all?
Mike Goldberg: I play against my son, but he beats me all the time so I end up throwing my controller like a big baby. [laughs] No, that's not true, although my boy, he was 8 at the time the game came out, and he did beat me the first three times we played. I finally figured out how to do some new moves and I beat him. He kept begging me to tell him how to do the different moves, but I wouldn't tell him my secrets. But to have him invite some friends over and play the game and to hear his dad's voice in the game, that's a really cool feeling. We still play the game and we're about 50/50 right now. I do guarantee you one thing: If I find myself a new move, I will not tell him how I did it.
Joe Rogan: I can't play video games anymore. I have a real problem. I get addicted to video games and get absolutely nothing done. I have to limit my exposure to things I get addicted to, and video games is one of them. I used to play "Quake" eight hours a day. I had a T1 line installed in my house so that I could play "Quake" and get faster bandwidth. I'm not joking. I was a mess. I can't play video games anymore. I have things to do.
Mike Goldberg: You need to join Gamers Anonymous or something. [laughs]
Jon Robinson: Have you guys heard about Dana White's war on EA Sports over its development of a new MMA game?
Joe Rogan: Dana declares war on everybody. That's Dana White. That's part of his style.
Mike Goldberg: Dana White is our king and we are his soldiers. If he goes to war, we're going with him. We're at war right now.
Joe Rogan: We're at war with EA Sports. EA sports can suck it. [laughs] But seriously, I think the competition is good, and competition in all things, whether it's in sports or video games or whatever is good because it pushes people. That said, their game is going to suck, plain and simple. It doesn't have the best fighters in the world. It's not UFC guys; they're a bunch of dudes who wished they were fighting in the UFC. But they didn't get the contract and now they're with EA Sports and now they're [screwed] because now they probably won't be fighting in the UFC anytime soon.
Mike Goldberg: And Dana has always said that, how competition is good, how competition makes us work harder and makes us better. EA Sports has had a lot of success in this business for a long time, but I'm sure when the guys from THQ heard about their game they said, "There's no way we're going to let those guys be better than us." It motivates us as a staff; it even motivates us as announcers. Dana has always said, "I love the competition, and the more MMA is out there, the better it is for the sport." That being said, though, you bring all the talent you want, but when we meet in the middle of the Octagon, we want to kick your ass, but in a business sense. And that's all that Dana has ever said. Dana welcomes the competition. He knows it sharpens us as fighters, as broadcasters, as video game partners. He just doesn't want to lose to any of that competition.