411 Game Features 4.23.09: Build Your Own: Wrestling Game
Posted by Jonny Richardson on 04.23.2009
It’s a dream many wrestling and gaming fans have had. If you had the chance to create the ultimate wrestling game from scratch, what would you do? Refraining from using phrases akin to "Like a cross between ‘No Mercy’ and ‘Fire Pro Wrestling’", 411’s Jonny Richardson answers the question to the best of his meager ability. Check out the full column for all the details!
Before we knuckle down to the grind and make like a monkey on a typewriter, I’d like to apologise. The preliminary apology is becoming an unnervingly frequent addition to the introductions of most of my recent writings for 411mania.com, the result of which probably makes me seem a little bit of a sissy. Still, manners are manners, and brushing aside fears for my reputation being tarnished: sorry for taking so long to get back to writing.
It’s been quite a while since my last article and I’ve been a rather busy fellow recently. These two facts are probably connected, but instead of boring you with the details of my mildly bewildering life that you neither care about nor wanted to hear in the first place, just hear me out when I say that I’m back; meeting the anticipation, quiet excitement and joy of nobody in particular.
If you’re thinking “Who the hell are you?” and are beginning to get irate that I haven’t yet once mentioned wrestling, worry not. This introduction is now over.
The Great Automatic Wrestlingtizator
Flack. That’s what I predict I’m going to get from this feature. As such, I’m writing this in a small protective trench at the bottom of my garden. You see, dear reader, I’ve been appointed the precarious task of discussing which features I’d implement in a wrestling game. It sounds a doddle, yet in the past I’ve deliberately tried to strafe as far away from this topic as possible, owing to the fact that 411mania.com is a highly wrestling orientated website. I don’t like upsetting people, and I’m worried my opinions will do just that. Upset people are angry people. Angry people are violent people. Violent people throw things at you . Hence the protective trench.
All hail the King of Kings! (No Mercy - N64)
After some careful consideration and a few too many cups of strong coffee (I like my coffee how I like my women:…Instantaneous and freeze dried? *uncertain cough*), I’ve selected what I believe it would take to make myself, and hopefully many others rediscover the joys of wrestling games. The plan: To create a thigh-slappingly good wrestling game that could compete against the legends of the genre, and stand toe to toe with the elite titles in gaming. If we had a machine which could create a wrestling game in under a minute, what designs and features would we instruct it to use? What form would an ultimate ‘fantasy’ wrestling game take? Before we waddle over to the design board and start to outline our future classic, we’ve got a question to answer.
There are a select few wrestling titles from that past which are spoken about in the soft, reverent tones usually reserved for discussion of the attitude era, or for celebrating certain performers careers. Just to name drop a few; Wrestlemania 2000 (N64, 1999), No Mercy (N64, 2000), SmackDown! Here Comes the Pain (PS2, 2003) and Fire Pro Wrestling Returns (PS2, 2007) . If you haven’t tried any of them, please do. They’re all aging at an alarming rate now, but are still brilliant games in their own right which don’t require any prior love of wrestling in order to enjoy them.
Why is it that the gaming industry hasn’t been able to improve upon or even replicate these titles for a modern audience, despite the vast technological upgrades we’ve undergone since the time of their development?
I believe the answer to this is that developers are trying too hard with an old formula. They’re beating a dead horse. They’re whipping an injured ferret. They’re prodding a lethargic donkey. You see, there’s a problem with wrestling games which has come, especially over recent years, to bother me greatly.
By the end of this article, you’ll hopefully understand what this problem is, and get a sense of why I think it needs attention.
Make Believe is Fun!
We all play. At every age, at every social level, play is an essential part of our development and social interaction. I read it in a book once, so it must be true. As we get older, our play becomes more sophisticated and changes. I’m fascinated by the entire concept of play, and think it’s one of the most brilliant and charming aspects of human behaviour.
If you’ll cast your mind back about 2 paragraphs, you’ll recall that I briefly touched upon a problem which I accused modern wrestling games of having - they use an old formula. I come from a generation which grew up with wrestling throughout the 80’s and 90’s. As I’ve matured, so too has the wrestling I’ve watched. Wrestling games on the other hand, have stayed rooted to the same spot they were occupying a decade ago.
I’d like to illustrate this with an "anecdote" (translation: a pompous, intellectual word for story wot I done recently learned):
Give any six year old a cardboard box and a sheet of aluminium foil, and within seconds they’ll be flying into battle in the midst of a bombastical fantastical galactic space war. Of course, in reality they’ll be sitting in the box with the sheet of foil balancing on their head belting out sound effects quick than the funny man from Police Academy - but the point remains. When we’re young, we use our imagination to effectively ‘fill in the blanks’ in our games.
Staggeringly, this picture is almost relevant. Okay - nearly almost.
As we grow up, our games and play changes. So too does the amount we’re willing to use our imagination to fill in the blanks. We cease to operate in the same way. Our imagination stagnates, and the most inventive thing we can do when put upon the spot is to smile nervously and give jazz hands. How this comes about nobody really knows (the stagnating imagination - not the jazz hands). There are two rival theories which attempt to explain it, which I’ll quickly lay down for you: The first theory states that we lose our imaginative capacity; with our ability to connect 'shiny cardboard box' and 'bombastical fantastical galactic space war' together being lost forever in the mists of time. Somewhat reassuringly, the second theory argues that we simply grow out of imaginative play. It no longer serves to entertainment, and we decide it’s no longer ‘cool’.
Whatever the reason, it’s clear that we begin to start craving more. Flying away to imaginary places paves the way for journeys to real places, going around the block on a tricycle or bicycle for example. This eventually gives way to longer trips; mopeds, motorcycles and cars. We require more substance to amuse ourselves. Our boxes evolve. The cardboard box is substituted for a Lego box which is, in turn, substituted for an Xbox.
At this point you’re probably wandering if this feature is ever going to get to the point or not, and to this I refuse to apologise (a swerve!). Instead, I’ve merrily talked my way into illustrating what I’d primarily change about wrestling games. We’ll return to this train of thought later, though.
All The World’s a Stage
You’re reading 411mania.com (Shameless Plug #3! - Remember to bookmark us, folks!), a website synonymous with wrestling (among other pop-culture-tastic flavoured things) and reputable among the internet wrestling community. As such it’s likely that you’ve a keen appreciation for wrestling and the art it entails. Whether you’re a die-hard fan who knows the names of all of the moves, or you’re just a guy who enjoys wolfing down nachos while angrily shouting at the nearest heel, you’ll understand that wrestling is an art form. It isn’t two individuals entering a ring and running through a choreographed string of moves, pre-prepared and memorised. It’s about emotion. It’s about storytelling. It’s about drama.
If this is the key ingredient in good wrestling, then why the heck do most video games degenerate our beautifully violent and competitive soap operas into move-fests? Some games are more guilty than others –particularly the WWE licensed wrestling games from Yuke’s, which provide gameplay little more advanced than that found in 2D fighting games, albeit with 3D wrestling themed wallpaper hastily pasted over the top. The goal is always to beat the smithereens out of your opponent until his health lowers to the point where he lies down long enough for you to lie on top of him for three seconds. (It sounds a tad silly like this, doesn’t it?)
Er...Ahmed?(WWF In Your House)
I’ll put it to you like this – in the match between Shawn Micheals and The Undertaker at WMXXV, did ‘Taker try to land the Chokeslam or Tombstone Piledriver every other move? Nope! Even though if he had, HBK’s health would have been depleted at a much quicker rate. Of course, to an enlightened and intelligent person such as yourself, you’ll know that talking about wrestling in this respect is rather silly, and will rightly point out that I probably need to bathe myself in thrice filtered pure mineral water for raising such a blatantly obvious and tedious point.
The problem is that it’s bloody hard to transfer the subtlety of a story being told in ring between two seasoned professionals over to the computerised in ring action with the same two pro’s. In defence of the aforementioned WWE style arcade wrestling games, they do use a tiered damage system. The AI won’t throw out a character who immediately attempts to use its most powerful attacks on you, in much the same respect as you won’t try to piledriver them with every move. Yet the reason for this isn’t due to an appreciation of psychology and of telling a story, but because of intuitive reversal systems which frequent all modern grappling games. These titles are still guided by the invisible mantra of ‘do as much damage as quickly as possible’.
Good night. (Undertaker vs. HBK, WMXXV)
Some games have, pretty successfully I’ll add, taken steps in order to prevent this. Games such as the critically acclaimed and much loved Fire Pro Wrestling series have a much more natural grappling aspect to the games. You’re encouraged to build up offense – starting small with chops and snap mares, and working your way gradually up toward the high impact, cringe-inducing manoeuvres. This gives the feel of a well worked match, but something is still missing.
Returning quickly to the little tale of the cardboard box, before a drunken hobo finds it and claims it as his own - I believe wrestling video games are the equivalent to the cardboard box: they give us a platform from which we can use our imagination to launch ourselves somewhere special.
As we grow older, games which in younger years may have satisfied us where our imagination could fill in the blanks, now presented with rather bland, uninspiring arcade fighting. No story, no drama, no conflict beyond trying to do as much damage as quickly as possible to your opponent(s). Occasionally, the God’s will feel generous and bestow unto us a digitized match after which you’ll shakily sit back, a film of sweat blanketing your palms and think, ‘Christ - that was EPIC!’ Unfortunately, the game responds to these ‘accidental classics’ in much the same way it would react to a 4 minute squash match where the only thing you did was hit the poor bastard in the ring with you over the noggin with an industrial strength metal foldy chair.
This problem arises from the fact that in wrestling games, unlike in real life wrestling, the most important feature taken into consideration is the end result. Who gets the all important 1-2-3, tap-out, vertically suspended belt, 10 count, first blood etc.
In real wrestling, it’s not about who wins, but how they win. You can probably tell where I’m going with this. I’ve decided upon a solution. I believe it to be the next evolutionary step in the genre. If wrestling game developers want to modernise this stagnating genre, they need to make it about not winning a match, but creating a match in real time, in the ring. As a result, if I were to create a wrestling game, I’d try to tackle this problem head on. It calls for a drastic solution:
What I want is a wrestling game which breaks kayfabe.
SCANDALOUS! I know – you can tell he means business because it’s bold and in the centre! Before we get to grips with this development which is, by all accounts, so shocking that you'll likely walk with a limp for the rest of your life, please take a moment to enjoy the following segment.
Because it's a long feature, I thought you'd appreciate a breather here. Have a nice, sunny, happy tune. If you're impatient, things really kick off at around the 35 second mark.
Lemon Jelly are a wonderful band. If you want to hear more and have a few spare pennies lying about, head on over to your local record boutique and track down the album entitled 'Lost Horizons'. In a stunning twist of logic, the above song isn't actually on it, but it's a lovely album that even your Grandmother would like.
Now take a deep breath, and let's tippy toe back into the discussion.
Reworking a Genre
Earlier on I alluded to the fact that my generation has grown up with wrestling games. When we were younger, and before we knew wrestling wasn’t real (in the sense that the programming makes you believe. I have tremendous respect for the athletes) , playing a game where the aim was to go out there to destroy your opponent was acceptable. As far as we were aware, that’s exactly what the wrestlers did on a weekly basis on TV. Nobody had ever heard of a ‘5 star match’ or a ‘dud’. It’s easy to see where the expression “ignorance is bliss” comes from, because back then I could genuinely enjoy every match I saw. If, what I now know as a jobber, got squashed by a hulking giant, I wouldn’t snidely remark – “Oh look – the management are trying to push that guy as a monster” - I’d jump furiously up and down on the spot yelling: “HOLY MOLEY! HE KILLED HIM!” before trying to execute the finishing move I’d just witnessed on the nearest cushion.
As we’ve grown, we now know that wrestling is a work. But our appreciation for it, like our play, has developed and been refined over the years. The matches we saw when we were younger, we now appreciate on a completely different level. We’re connoisseurs; picky – yes; we take ourselves too seriously – yes; but we do have an immense appreciation for good wrestling.
Wrestling games are lagging behind our experiences and opinions of wrestling. They’re still operating in the kayfabe generation. That’s why I believe that unless something changes, wrestling games will never be as popular as they used to be, at least for people my age. Our priorities have changed – why can’t theirs?
If you're a wrestling fan, you owe it to yourself to try this game.
Breaking kayfabe, and approaching games from this ‘backstage’ role is a path seldom trod by games. Yet some games have braved this angle. Titles such as text based simulator Extreme Warfare Revenge and the Total Extreme Wrestling series, both crafted by the immensely talented designer Adam Ryland (his most recent effort, World of Mixed Martial Arts 2 was recently reviewed by 411’s Armando Rodriguez ), aim to do just this. Yet for all of their depth and addictive fun, they only allow you to perform booking and managerial duties. You decide and organised the storylines, but you never get to see a morsel of in ring action – let alone play through that experience.
The tag-line for this feature article stated that it would avoid the tired, decrepit clichés of “The ultimate wrestling game: It’s like No Mercy….bit mixed with Fire Pro Wrestling!” Call me a liar, because I’m going to use one of those clichés now.
I challenge you, reader, at this very moment in time, to close your eyes and imagine a game which presents itself in the same style as No Mercy or SmackDown vs. RAW. With this picture firmly and clearly set in your mind, I want you to imagine what it would be like if instead of the goal being to cause grievous bodily harm to your opponent, the aim was to work with him, to put on the best, most exciting match possible. A game which would allow you to experience the craft of the wrestler first hand.
Now comes the tricky part...
How To Make and Do
So we’ve got our idea – a wrestling video game where the goal is to perform in front of an audience and steal the show. Being involved in a classic match is the dream of any budding wrestler. As a fan, surely we also dream of having the opportunity to shine on the same stage as the icons we watch and cheer for, week in, week out. A game such as this would realise that dream. In order do this - as I've tried (my bestest!) to explain - we’d be forced to charge through the kayfabe barrier like a bull on roller-skates. The type of game we’d be left with, I imagine, is one delightfully self aware and respectful toward the art it tried to represent.
Believe it or not, that’s the easy bit out of the way. I’m sure plenty of you have had the idea I’ve laboured to present to you with before, and I’ve no reason to suspect that developers haven’t toyed with it. What’s undoubtedly stopped a game like this ever going into production (assuming one already hasn’t and I just don’t know about it; a scenario that’d be a tad embarrassing for this writer) is that it’s bloody difficult to work out how a game like this would actually work.
Here are some problems off the top of my head, all of which need serious attention:
- How do you judge what a good match is, and what a bad match is? Wrestling is subjective. There’s no secret recipe of add X to Y, flambé it in Z and hey presto -- 5 Star classic!
- Not every match is about producing a classic; matches are simply a vehicle for developing a story. You’d have a sound argument by saying that good matches are a by-product of a well worked feud.
- How could you program a game to have a system where the player and computer work together in real time to build a match?
- How could you design a control pad which would house the immense number of options spontaneously available to the player in a match situation?
- How much control would the player have over matches? What about pre-match planning, and storylines? Promos?
- Would it have Randy Savage as a playable character?
The only thing more terrifying than his elbow is his wardrobe.
I’m sure you can come up with at least 10 ideas of your own as to why a game like this is unfeasible, and why I should be locked away in a loony bin for having the audacity to suggest it in the first place. I’d be the first person to admit that I don’t know much about the inner workings of the wrestling industry, a fact I’d put down to never actually having worked in it. As such, I might be completely off in my guesses as to how matches are built. Still, that’s the risk you take when writing about a topic such as this. If I’m wrong, and you’re reading this, laughing mirthlessly at my ineptitude, please feel free to post a comment showing me the error of my ways. Cripes, that was a bit of a self centred paragraph, wasn't it?
Despite the pessimism, I still feel the idea is strong enough to at least attempt to salvage it from the depths of doom riddled despair. We’ve now reached the part where it’s impossible for me to objectively try to present my ideas to you, so from now on you’re going to be subject to my personal thoughts on what should be done!
I feel the game would work best as a RPG. Yep! A role playing game. I imagine this game to be about your career, and the where it takes you. You create a character, name them, gender them, mould how they look and lay out some of their mental and athletic attributes. Are they intelligent? Do they have natural creativity? Are they afraid of heights? Does their body naturally carry a frame which can support highly developed muscles?
Imagine taking this character on a journey – starting in local training camps or wrestling schools where your skills are honed and developed. A place where moves and styles are learnt from study and from interaction and discussions with fellow wrestlers on the roster. It’s a role playing game alright, but fret not – there’s not a goblin, hobgoblin or ginger dwarf in sight....providing you don't join a very strange federation.
Yet talk of all this is arbitrary, defiantly second to the experience which needs to occur in the ring. Imagine you’re in a federation and scheduled to fight a short match with a local indy wrestler that night in a Bingo hall. Before the match, you and the indy wrestler, let’s call him Heidenreich (oooh! Snap!) get together with an agent to plan out your match. You’re given a three to four minute animated discussion where the agent lays out how the match is going to finish, who the victor will be, and what the creative team want the match to achieve. Depending on which wrestler is more experienced (in this case, Heidey), they lay out three to four spots that he wants to execute before the match goes “home”. As you improve in experience and skills, your ability to speak up and suggest spots will increase. Before you head out for the match, the game challenges you to remember the finish, and the spots which have been layed out. If you get everything correct, then mayhap you’ll receive a bonus to your confidence.
Now comes the really important bit. How is the match executed?
..........this, I think, is a question that should be saved until next time.
Cheers for taking the time to read this (assuming you have, and haven't skipped to the bottom). If you have an opinion on anything discussed within this illconcieved and flabby peice of writing, then comment away on it! If you have no opinion/ ceased to care around the 1,500 word mark, then I hope you enjoyed the pretty and carefully selected pictures.
To keep you occupied till next week, why not follow the 411mania Games team on Twitter? Although you’ll need a crap load of imagination if that’s the only thing that’s going to occupy you till then…