Can you remember? The digital chirpy tones serenading you as the iconic image of a pixilated Hulk Hogan, tearing off his yellow tank top, appeared on-screen? The crappy digital music -- the quality you only hear now on old cell phones -- kept blaring, till the screen turned black? Then suddenly the words appear:
BIGGER BETTER BADDER
Hoping to re-live some of that excitement, I recently interviewed Adam Ryland, the mastermind behind a number of text-based wrestling (and not MMA) simulations for Grey Dog Software.
Oh, the days of days imprinting circle-shaped indents into my right thumb, wasting away hours on the NES playing Wrestlemania. Who cares if the moves were as complicated as Rock ‘Em, Sock ‘Em Robots, or if you spent more time spinning in circles than clotheslining opponents? I was a kid.
And as my wrestling gaming continued throughout the platforms, Super Wrestlemania on the SNES, WWF No Mercy on the N64, WWF Smackdown! on the PlayStation, up to Legends of Wrestling on the PS2, the experience and premise remained exactly the same: mash some buttons, throw myself off the ropes, and find a few chairs to occasionally crumple on opposing wrestler’s heads.
So it came as a bit of surprise, when my sports gaming alter ego -- the non-impulsive, intellectual, Baseball Mogul-craving side -- went scanning the message boards of Grey Dog Software, the makers of both an excellent college football text sim (Bowl Bound College Football) and a professional basketball one (Total Pro Basketball), only to find the Web site’s message boards infested with posts about a text sim for…wrestling. And there wasn’t just one game, but rather three others as well.
In addition, the Web site had splattered across its front page news announcing a Dec. 8 publication of a text sim focusing on mixed martial arts, or Ultimate Fighting. Huh, I thought to myself, the irony of an Ultimate Fighting text sim. But there it was, titled “World of Mixed Martial Arts” (WMMA, retail: $34.95).
When it comes to wrestling games, I think pure testosterone, whether it's body slamming friends in swimming pools or backyards, or finger-pumping plastic game controllers, amid a Mountain Dew-induced bout of teenage fury. And yet, I became very curious as to the premise, and more importantly, the market for this series of wrestling games that asked fans to, essentially, remove their dunce caps for their thinking ones.
After a few e-mails, I was connected with Adam Ryland, a resident of Birmingham, England, who is not only producing WMMA, but is indeed the mastermind behind Greyhound’s four other wrestling titles: Total Extreme Wrestling 2005 and 2007, and Wrestling Spirit 1 and 2.
Over interviews via e-mail and instant messaging, Mr. Ryland shows himself to be a long-time wrestling fan, as well as a person who is leading the charge to, well, sorry for the pun, turn the wrestling genre up on its head.
His goal, and to a certain extent, he’s already accomplishing it, is to tap into (sorry!) the “intellectual” side of wrestling gamers. Now, with the release of his first mixed martial arts game on the horizon, Mr. Ryland believes he has a largely untapped market for fans of Ultimate Fighting, who have just a limited amount of gaming -- arcade or sim -- options available.
Here are excerpts of my interviews with Mr. Ryland, who has been developing games since the mid-1990s, when he took the basis of a self-created, wrestling card game and adapted it for the computer. Look for a more detailed analysis of WMMA in my review when it’s released in early December.
For the layman, what are your wrestling games all about?
Essentially, my wrestling management simulators (EWR and TEW) allow you to control a company; you're the decision maker, and so you're in charge of everything from hiring the wrestlers, to making the matches, to balancing the financial books. It's made explicit that wrestling is fake and everything is pre-determined. This is in contrast to the console wrestling games that you see, where wrestling is portrayed as being real, and the player is (usually) cast in the role of an actual wrestler.
In a single line, it's a backstage-view of the industry.
Who plays these games?
I think the amount of people who appreciate good strategy games is very underestimated, the stereotype that the majority of people can't enjoy a game unless it's graphically fantastic and full of action is really misleading. Plus, with wrestling fans, there is probably a greater proportion of truly hardcore "will try anything with wrestling involved" gamers than any other sport.
Wrestling has one of the biggest scopes of any sport when it comes to writing simulators, simply because of the sheer diversity that it encompasses. Because of that, there's never a shortage of new ideas of features that can be added, so my wrestling games tend to be an annual event, with each one getting progressively bigger and better.
I think there was an element of unexpected gamers, but it was more in the sheer amount rather than attracting people from entirely different areas. The "hardcore fan base" tended to grow by word of mouth, and that sucked in casual fans too.
There is really no mystery about how it's expanded; 10 years of making (good quality) free games will inevitably lead to a huge fan base, because they're getting a good product for absolutely nothing. When you have tens of thousands of people who play the free games, realistically you only need - for example - 10% to be willing to pay for it in order to make it successful.
It wouldn't have worked if I'd made the commercial games from the start, the fan base needed to be built.
How much research have you done for WMMA?
I did two weeks of intensive research where I watched and analysed somewhere in the region of 250 different matches, and on top of that I also try to watch all the UFC shows as they happen. I am a fan of the sport, but I would classify myself more as "knowledgeable casual" than a hardcore.
Most of the research went into getting the match output simulated correctly; observing the flow of fights, the different strategies and counter-strategies that are employed, and the different ways in which fighters both prepare for a contest and react to victory and defeat. The Ultimate Fighter was particularly helpful in that regard, due to the "backstage" look at fighters that you wouldn't normally see.
What game features are you most excited for in WMMA?
On the most basic level, I'm very pleased with how the game looks; my products are normally all about the depth of detail, with presentation being functional rather than spectacular.
WMMA is the first of my games that really has a visual appeal to it. In terms of actual features, I think the in-game web site (a generated "fake" web site that packages everything that happens in the game world into stories so that the user can read about them as he would in real life, rather than just a series of flat statements) has come out particularly well, I think that will be very popular.