Without a doubt, one of my favorite perks of being a columnist for OO is my semi-annual reviews of Adam Ryland’s Total Extreme Wrestling series. With the 2008 version right around the corner, I caught up with Adam to get his thoughts on the new game, the line between fiction and reality in computer simulations, and the process of creating a fictional universe that will appeal to today’s wrestling fans (something I know absolutely nothing about!).
(MH – Matt Hocking, AR – Adam Ryland)
MH: When I talked to you in 2006, TEW 2007 was just about to be released and you and I had kind of come to the consensus that you were running out of new features to add to the game, but going down the features list for ‘08, you’ve added just a ton of new things. What was the inspiration from that point? Did the year off kind of crystallize your view of what could change about the series?
AR: The catalyst was really the time I spent working on World of Mixed Martial Arts (WMMA) last year; that was a new experience for me in that it was both my first game outside of wrestling, and it was the first time in years that I’d done a game all the way from an absolute blank slate to a commercial release. Getting to come at things from an entirely new angle was a refreshing change, and I realised that a lot of the ideas and techniques that I had come up with for that game would work really well if applied to TEW. Once I had a handful of new ideas going the entire process just snow-balled from there, and I think I came up with a bullet pointed list with over two hundreds potential additions and changes for TEW in a three day period.
MH: Any time we talk about wrestling now, the elephant in the room is how badly the industry has been rocked with scandal the past few years. There’s been the multiple steroid reports, painkiller addictions and so on. Obviously, I wouldn’t expect you to want to deal with the somewhat darker implications of all of this (i.e. the Chris Benoit situation), but in a simulator like this, I would think that it kind of has to be addressed. Is it something that you figure into the game?
AR: It’s something that I intentionally don’t spend too much time on. Steroid drug usage and the effects of them are simulated within the game, but it’s on a smaller scale that what happens in reality. I think it’s one area where it’s better to not simulate reality fully – we all know that wrestling is a pretty murky world “behind the scenes”, I think the majority of the players don’t really want to be playing a game where that’s shoved in their faces all the time. Although TEW has heavy simulation aspects, it is also meant to be part escapist fun too, so you don’t want things to get too dark.
MH: I know that one of the shining portions of the game deals with the fictionalized “Cornelleverse,” the created wrestling universe that has been guided creatively by fans of the series from version to version. I know you’ve created this primarily because of the licensing issues involved with the major corporations, but is this something that new fans will be able to get into easily, or is it mostly service to longtime fans of the series who are already involved with these characters?
AR: Oddly enough, as the Cornellverse keeps expanding and getting more detailed, I think it’s also becoming more and more accessible to new players. I think that’s because there’s such a big fan-influenced movement behind it, with loads of related graphics and diaries being produced, and that helps people get immersed in the world. TEW08 features loads of characters alternate versions that were created by fans, it’s really becoming a mass effort now.
MH: One big alteration you’ve made with this version is the promotional battle system. In this system, the best promotions can “damage” the popularity of the promotions below it. Is it a concern that a really big powerhouse in the game would absolutely crush anybody underneath them, or is there some kind of checks and balances to make sure that the lower promotions have a fighting chance?
AR: Finding the right balance was definitely the key point to the battle systems. In the end, we decided on a system whereby the game world can handle two massive promotions per area, and a third can just about survive if it’s clever; once a fourth or fifth enters the fray, that’s when it starts getting really nasty. That seemed to be the fairest way, as it stops one promotion being absolutely untouchable, but at the same time prevents a glut of companies all enjoying a big piece of the pie.
MH: The TEWs have always been a bit daunting in the amount of information they throw at a player at any given time. Have you made any changes to this year’s version to streamline things a bit for new players?
AR: Yeah, we’ve made a big deal out of trying to make it as painless as possible. Mainly it’s little things, like packaging a lot of the information into easy-to-read English paragraphs that quickly summarize what used to be several lines of stats, or having the screens altered so that you have immediate access to the vitals, but can dig a little deeper if you want to get your hands a bit dirty with full-on stats. We’re basically trying to accommodate both the long-term stat junkie and the guy who wants to blast through a couple of hours for fun.
MH: You’ve added “Ring Rust” as a stat within the game, something that real life companies are ever mindful of. However, a lot of times, a worker won’t be hired by a company in one of my games for years at a time, is there a point where a worker will become totally unusable due to the amount of rust he or she has acquired?
AR: Wrestlers recover pretty swiftly from ring rust, we went the concept that it’s like riding a bike – you never forget how to do it, you just might take a few minutes to get back into the swing of things if you haven’t done it for ages. So even if a wrestler has been only working independent shows for a few years, give him a handful of matches to work and he’ll be back up to speed in no time. There’s also the option to send him down to a development territory if you have one with specific instructions for him to work to remove his ring rust ASAP.
MH: One thing I noticed is that you’ve said you can run multiple different types of brand under the umbrella of one company. For example, you can run a Sports Entertainment themed brand alongside a lucha or an all-female brand. How will that work with fanbases? Will the brands have their own distinct fanbases, or will all the fans still be attached to the company as a whole, and only the show content is different?
AR: That was one of the hardest parts to work on, as conceptually it’s such a radical change – the idea that a promotion can have completely separate parts to it, catering to different fans. The way we’ve handled it in TEW08 is that you have you overall promotion style, and that is what you are known for, that’s what the fans are attracted to. Your brands can then have separate identities, but they modify the overall style rather than replacing it; so there’s always an element of the main style that remains. So rather than catering to a completely new set of fans you are addressing a niche part of the audience you already have, with the caveat that you can draw some extra fans in too.
MH: How is the “Force Push” system different than the old method of pushing? In TEW ‘07, if I didn’t like someone, I could just set his push to “Opener” and job him out of the company, or set a guy I liked to Main Eventer and let him dominate the roster. Is “Force Push” just an extension of that old method?
AR: Basically Force Push is to make the user’s life easier. A lot of people like to use the Auto Push feature, which essentially organizes your roster into its “best” status, in other words giving everyone the push the AI thinks is best for them. The one issue with that was that it did the entire roster, so if you had a particular wrestler you were purposely giving a overly-generous push to (or punishing by killing his push) you would have to go back after using the Auto Push and re-do the change. Force Push simply allows you to set certain people to be exempt from the Auto Push.
MH: Now a few quick questions. Do you think the game would be better if I was a main character in everyone’s federations?
AR: I think you should watch out for “Shocking” Matt Hocking’s rise to the top of the Cornellverse…
MH: Now that TEW ‘08 is pretty much in the bag, how long do you enjoy that before the wheels start spinning on the next project?
AR: Probably not long :-p After the release I intend to do some extra database work to both TEW08 and WMMA, mainly for my own amusement, and then I’ll probably get started on a new project sometime in July.
MH: Do you have a favorite “Cornellverse” Character?
AR: I’ve always had a soft spot for Star Wars obsessive Toby Juan Kanobi, because of all the dumb puns I added to the game, that’s the most groan inducing A lot of the luchadores are also growing on me, as some of the weird and wacky mask graphics that we have are very cool to look at.
MH: Is it too late for me to suggest an in-game event where one of your female workers gets indicted in a high-class prostitution scandal?
AR: No……..ah, now it is. The deadline actually passed as I was typing. Bad luck.
MH: What new feature do you think makes the biggest impact on gameplay?
AR: I think the new personality system will have a pretty big impact, as it allows wrestlers to develop different characteristics over time – I can definitely see people living to regret giving their favourite guy a monster push when he develops an ego the size of Texas and demands that you bow to him before he will even consider negotiating a contract extension…
MH: Anything else you’d like to add?
AR: The trial of the game comes out on June 1st, the retail version on June 8th, all at www.greydogsoftware.com. You can also read my developer’s journal there, which explains all the new features that are going to be in. Check it out, you know you want to
My thanks to Adam for the interview. Check back in June to find out whether or not TEW ‘08 lives up to the hype right here at Hock Show Dot Com.