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OO INTERVIEW    
Total Extreme Wrestling Creator
Adam Ryland 

June 30, 2005

by Matt Hocking    
Exclusive to OnlineOnslaught.com

 

Last year, I had the distinct pleasure of interviewing game developer Adam Ryland, the brain trust behind the successful and wildly popular Total Extreme Wrestling (formerly Extreme Warfare) series.  Now, hes released another hit with Wrestling Spirit, and gotten himself a new home at Greydog Software.  Hes started from scratch yet again to make TEW 2005 a completely new and

different experience, while maintaining the homey charm that has wasted away many afternoons for armchair bookers like myself.  Will he be able to live up to expectations again and deliver another stellar booking experience?  Well know for sure later this summer, but until then, I had a chance to sit down with Mr. Ryland and get him to answer a few questions about what we can expect from the new game.

MH:  Matt Hocking
AR:  Adam Ryland

MH:  Since the last time we talked, you've programmed two new games, Wrestling Spirit and Total Extreme Wrestling 2005, the newest in a line of games which dates back to the Extreme Warfare Series.  What is it that continues to motivate you to re-envision these projects, and specifically the world of wrestling?  It seems to me that since you've been at this for ten years now, you would think, "All right, I've been everywhere and done everything in this arena."  Yet, you're constantly re-inventing the home booking processes with every release, first of the Extreme Warfare and nowof the Total Extreme Wrestling and Wrestling Spirit programs.  Is it a passion and desire to tweak and tweak until you've perfected the wrestling experience for the end user?  Or is it just a matter of personal passion for understanding the often forgotten bits of the wrestling industry?  Or something else entirely?

AR:  What keeps me going is a desire to always see if I can take it to the "next level". I believe that pro wrestling is a very good environment for a simulation game, as there's so many different aspects to it (far more than most pro sports), and I almost see it as a personal challenge to see how accurate I can get. So each time I finish one game, I'm always looking for new ways to look at things, new ways to tackle certain problems, to see if I can improve them just that little bit more.

MH:  Is there one addition to this year's TEW that you're particularly proud of?  Something that you came up with and implemented and said to yourself, "Now that's really cool."

AR:  I'm quite pleased with the new Momentum meter, which is used to show how hot (or not) a wrestler is at the current time. Like most good features it's a very simple concept - the rating rises with good performances and lower with poor ones - but adds quite a lot to the game. Rather than just putting together random pairings each night, you have to plan ahead, and try and work in the momentum so that when your main stars finally clash, they're both riding a wave of momentum, meaning that the fans are going to be into the match a lot more than if the wrestlers are coming into it "cold".

MH:  That's an interesting concept as it forces your hand in terms of making sure the guys you want to get over are pushed at the right speed in the right way. But how effective is it, if I say, decide to pluck a guy off my B show "El Pollo Fantastico", who's slowly built up reverse momentum losing lots of matches not doing much, when suddenly one of my big stars is injured.  "El Pollo" is marked for a push to fill the midcard void  left when one of those guys jumps up the card.  Can momentum turnaround be  quick, or is it best that  "El Pollo Fantastico" slowly beat other jobbers, biding his time until he claws  and scratches (and probably pecks) his way out of the muck?

AR:  The speed that you can gain or lose momentum depends on lots of factors,  from who the worker is facing, to how much momentum he started with, to what sort of promotion he is in, etc. Although there is a set formula being used,  there's so many factors that it should be difficult to work out, so it should keep the player on his or her toes.

MH:  One new feature I'm very interested in is the option to advertise your  cards ahead of time, as it's something I think a lot of players (myself  included) have been doing anyway, and now it seems to be finally getting its due.  How heavily is this implemented in TEW2005?  I mean, I know you can book your PPVs in advance to draw early buys and interest, but are we also  talking television main events, larger non-televised shows or house shows  as well?

AR:  The advance booking option allows you to book matches ahead of time for TV shows or larger events. Basically the concept is that you have to draw the fans to the arena on the promise of big names, whereas in the previous games you wrestled the show first, and then the interest level \ attendance was  worked out by how good the event was. Again, it allows for the player to put together longer term plans rather than doing everything at the last minute.

MH:  Could you go into a bit more detail about how a player would create his/her own angles or storylines in the game?  What exactly is the process?

AR:  The angle editor and storyline editor are separate. You can make pretty much any angle you can think of in TEW2005 - you fill in the amount of workers you want to use, what each person's role is, various factors like risk and length, and then fill in the commentary you want to use. These can then be used throughout the game. The storyline section is basically an extension of  that - you put together a "script", which is a collection of angles and matches in a certain order, with the ability to define what happens in each  "step". This storyline can then be accessed in the game, and you can work through it, step-by-step.

MH:  There has been some controversy over the removal of an "owner" mode from TEW 2005, relegating the player character to status of "Head Booker." Is there any specific reason you made this decision, and have you been  surprised at the outcry when it was announced?

AR:  The owner mode hasn't really been removed, it was just the people misunderstood a comment I made in a post. TEW2005 is basically split into two game modes; in "Free Style" mode you play as you did in the previous games, where you can start as the owner of a promotion if you wish, or apply for the position during the game. What's changed in 2005 is that there is now also "Straight Edge" mode, where you can only become an owner by building up your reputation as you go through the game until you reach the point where you've got enough that you can attract investors and start your own company. So the difference is that in Straight Edge mode, you have to earn the right to become an owner, which is where the confusion originally came from.

MH:  In TEW 2004, your promotion would travel from state to state or city to city gaining or losing overness, drawing in fans based on the make-up of that local, and so on.  Eventually, a smallish promotion could rise up out of its state go to all the states in that region, then nationally and eventually internationally.  It all made sense, but everything is always in motion with you.  What kind of changes have you made to locality for TEW 2005?

AR:  We've kept pretty much the same system for 2005, as it worked pretty well before (if it's ain't broke, don't fix it!). The main change to the system is that expanding into overseas market is a lot more realistic, as rather than having to go over and slowly build up your fan base through shows, you can get yourself a TV deal to show your product over there, and use that to build up your popularity before heading over there for a proper tour. So it's like how the WWE has Raw and Smackdown shown in the UK so that their fan base is kept happy, and then they can come over for a lucrative tour before heading back. You couldn't really do that in 2004.

MH:  Was the decision to get rid of "percentages" in the viewable in-game skills list in favor of Letter Grades a cosmetic decision, or is there something far more insidious at play?

AR:  It was to do with bringing some more realism to the table. With the percentage method there were many unrealistic "drawbacks". For example, the player could compare two workers and work out exactly how much better one was than the other, so there was never any danger of making a bad signing, and also you could see exactly how well (or poorly) a worker was improving or declining in terms of skill levels and overness. By introducing the grade system, you add more realism. For example, a worker may be slowly declining with age, but it may take six months to a year before the decline becomes apparent, just as it would do in real life. Also, if you were comparing two workers who were around the same level, you don't have exact measurements of  their talent, so you may end up hiring the worse one, something that again could (and does) happen in reality. That said, there is also a cosmetic advantage in that you can get an instant "feel" for a person by the use of coloured grades far quicker than you could with percentages.

MH:  What is the commentary like in this version?  Is it more zesty than in 2004?

AR:  Commentary has been scaled back, on the grounds that for the most part, it's pretty useless. Knowing exactly what moves happened during the match doesn't really tell you anything, what's important to you as a booker is how good the match was overall, what the finish was, and any "backstage" points like people working stiff. As the aim with 2005 was to get rid of the stuff that was just "fluff", the commentary therefore has been scaled back to just give you what you need to know, and not make you read through 40 lines of irrelevant material to get what you want.

MH:  It's interesting that you say that, because, while I wholeheartedly agree that I never really needed to know move for move what was happening in any given match, I'd always considered commentary to be an important part of the game, because it often gives me, the player, a sense of having created an actual card.  The greatest example of this was the use of "The Dames" in the final iteration of EWR, which would provide a summery of why the match was occurring, briefly what happened, and give it a star rating, which was like, "Ok, I actually made a match there.  There's stars rating the performances, and the history section makes it feel like it actually means something."  I actually understand making the backstage implications of the match more important in the commentary because this IS a promotion simulator, not a match writer, but do you think there's any way, if not in this version then in the future that match commentary can feel both comprehensive in that you feel the "meat" of the match and the card that you booked, while still conveying "here's what the crowd thought, the workers, how they worked together, what effect it's had on storylines, etc."?  Or is it too difficult to bridge the gap of "boring, but functional match writer" to "Just the Information You Need, Thanks"?

AR:  In future games I'm sure we'll go back and have a look at once again integrating a proper deep commentary feature into the game, but for TEW2005, it just wasn't appropriate. More than anything, the key word with the new game is "streamline"; the whole concept behind it was to give the user the sleekest, easiest-to-use game possible (without sacrificing the depth of detail that people associate with the series), something that really allows you to target all your strategy on booking and running a promotion. So streamlining the commentary to be "here is what you need to know" is really part of a larger design decision. That's probably the biggest risk that we've taken with TEW2005, more so than the addition \ removal of any one feature, as I'm sure there's plenty of people who love to get "down and dirty" tweaking every single aspect of every single feature. To me, that level of detail actually harms a game though - the thought process seems to be more "look at how much detail I can cram into this game, aren't I great?" rather than "does this level of detail actually help the user in any way?".  My view, and the view that has most informed the design of TEW2005, is that the latter question is the most critical of all - hopefully by focusing on that throughout, the product has improved as a result.

MH:  Why do I get the impression that all my wrestlers are laughing at me?

AR:  They're not laughing, they're giggling. There is a subtle, yet telling, difference.

MH:  I loved last year's deep, impressive and daunting, yet somehow fan-friendly editor, and I suspect that we'll be seeing more of the same in this year's version.  How much of the world outside of the wrestling promotions will be editable?  Can us armchair TV execs book 24 hour ALF marathons to counter our wrestling shows?

AR:  Well, the TV section has been expanded so that you now can add non-wrestling content, so you can have things like Monday night football games being shown, which of course has an effect on the ratings of any other shows being aired at the same time. You could put an ALF marathon if you wanted, but it's probably best not to, as you want to give the player at least a little bit of a chance of getting people to watch his show.

MH:  Backstage interactions and relationships often played a very big part in Wrestling Spirit's game play, however, of course, in TEW, you're playing the part of a promotion not an individual.  However, I imagine that personal and professional relationships on the roster as well as between two promotions will play a big part in this game as well?

AR:  Yes, they do. Personal relationships mainly affect two things, which is hirings (as clearly a worker will not be hired to a promotion if the owner hates him) and the worker's reaction to matches (for example, a worker may be more willing to lose to a friend). Promotional relationships are a new feature of TEW2005, and basically allow companies to have set behaviors to each other, ranging from non-aggression pacts ("I won't steal your workers if you don't steal mine.") to working agreements ("Let's share some of the same talent, on the understanding that neither of us will try and sign any of them to an exclusive contract.")

MH:  You seem to have taken steps in "personalizing" wrestlers in the TEW world much like you did in Wrestling Spirit.  Giving them acting skills for performance within skits (and possibly outside the ring), giving them vices and lives outside the promotion.  How will this affect the end user gameplay?

AR:  Well, the aim is to make each wrestler more and more unique, so that you do get a sense that each person is more than just a lot of statistics, and actually has a real personality and way of acting. The new stats like Acting and Injury Proneness help in giving each wrestler a more unique skill set, but probably the most effective new stat is the hidden Destiny statistic.  This is randomly set for each worker at the start of each new game (to keep every game unique and challenging), and essentially gives an added layer to the person. What it does is give some unique "personality quirks", which have a very wide range of effects, going from making certain people more likely to choke when given the responsibility of being given a main event role all the way to giving certain wrestlers amazing natural chemistry that results in great matches. There are literally hundreds of these little quirks - some will become obvious immediately, some may lie dormant and never be found, but the point is that these little quirks give you an extra feel for the person in question.

MH:  Can I run a proper women's division?  More to the point, can anyone?

AR:  You can run a women's division, but more importantly in 2005, there's more types of promotion, including three new female-oriented types, so there's plenty of places for female workers to go out and really show what they can do.

MH:  One constant in wresting has always been the classic "jobber squash."  Promotions have often used it to put heat on an up-and-comer without sacrificing big names, or to just get a guy with nothing better to do some face time.  However, previous iterations of EWR and TEW have always left this somewhat periphery.  The match almost always got a poor score because the crowd reacted negatively to either the shortness of the match or the presence of the lowly jobber.  Have you been able to do anything to fix this?

AR:  This has been addressed by making the "jobber" push separate from the regular pushses ("Main Eventer" down to "Opener"). Essentially, when you stick someone against a jobber, the game will recognize that it's not a competitive match, and so the fans won't be expecting it to be much of a match anyway. So as long as the booking isn't insane - obviously you wouldn't let a jobber match go more than five minutes - you wouldn't get a particularly low rating. Although, you will of course get a relatively low rating, but that is to be expected, as jobber matches are pretty dull by their very nature.

MH:  You say the moral system has "been improved".  How so?  Does this mean that my big star won't be constantly pissed off if I ask him to drop a title or can't find a spot for him on one of my shows?

AR:  The change is very simple: in the old games, morale was always a single number which increased when something good happened, and went down when something bad happened. That's a very simplistic approach, as it doesn't take into account the cause of the change. In 2005, there are several meters, each taking into account a different aspect of morale, from being annoyed at losing lots of matches to feeling blue because the worker is being underpaid. Morale then becomes more of a summary of all of these meters, so the worker might feel like he is losing a lot, but won't be too bummed because he's getting a nice fat salary. In other words they can see the whole picture, not just part of it.

MH:  Do you have any advice for anyone out there who enjoys the occasional "drunk booking"?

AR:   Don't drink and book, I have it on good authority that "it kills almost one Americans every year."

MH:  You're English, so I've just got to ask while I have you here, what the hell is with all the tea anyway?

AR:  I'd answer, but my crumpet needs buttering, so I don't have time.

MH:  Now that you've finished another TEW, what's next?  Have you considered branching out into other genres or is wrestling the place for you?

AR:  The next step will almost certainly be a sequel to Wrestling Spirit, as I have a ton of ideas that I'm really looking forward to trying out, and I think that series could eventually end up being even more popular than TEW. I also have lots of non-wrestling ideas that I'm hoping to get a chance to work with in 2006.

MH:  Thank you, Mr. Ryland for your time.

Total Extreme Wrestling 2005 will be available for download later this summer.  Keep checking OO in the weeks ahead for my comprehensive review.  To learn more about TEW 2005, check out www.greydogsoftware.com.
 
E-MAIL MATT
   
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