Recently I had the chance to chat with Adam Ryland about his forthcoming wrestling sim Total Extreme Wrestling 2005. Bye.
Oh, you wanted to read the interview yourself? All right then, here’s the transcript.
Adam, thanks for your time to do this, I assume the schedule has been pretty full lately?
I've barely left the house in 3 weeks. I vaguely remember something called fresh air.....
You need to relax before you end up suffering from burn out. After we're done, go run a bath and put on some Kenny G.
Me and Kenny are tight, I'll just phone him up.
We could do this all night, but I think people would complain.
“We could do this all night”? I'm glad to see my reputation precedes me.
Charming, but I think we’d better move on. Now, the game itself, Total Extreme Wrestling 2005. There has been a lot of buzz about the game, but there might be people out there who have no idea what the title is all about. Can you sum up briefly what TEW 2005 is?
In short, TEW2005 is a PC-based wrestling promoter sim. Basically it's for anyone who has ever watched a wrestling show and said "What is this crap? I could book a better show than this" - you get to call the shots, choosing who to hire, who to fire, what matches to book, etc.
Well, it's not going to be long until fans have the chance to get their hands on the game. But how does it play? Correct me if I'm wrong, but you said you wanted a game with the depth of TEW 2004, the playability of WreSpi and the fun of EWR. Have you managed it?
Well I'm certain that I've achieved the depth part, there's no question of TEW2005 ever being accused of being shallow. I'm pretty confident we've achieved the playability, as it seems like it's ended up as something you can play over and over again. The fun part I'd like to think we've nailed, although that's such a subjective thing that I think it'll only be really answered when we start hearing customer feedback on it.
How do you feel the process went this time around? Would you say it was a tougher challenge trying to outdo yourself this time around, or did the experience gained from previous projects make things easier on you?
In terms of the actual scheduling and programming of the game, this was the smoothest project yet, as I have learnt from my mistakes with the previous games and been able to use that experience to avoid the same issues. I think the most challenging part was not so much trying to outdo myself, but to not go over-the-top with the features. Thanks to everything I've learnt with TEW04 and WreSpi, it's almost become the case that there's really nothing left, feature-wise, that I can't program. So the problem is working out what makes it into the game, and what doesn't.
Do you actually enjoy the development and programming sides to the game? Were there any particular features you enjoyed implementing more than others? What were some of the hardest areas to deal with?
I enjoy the designing stage more than the actual coding. The design is where you have the freedom to be really creative, and come at problems from a lot of new angles, that's probably my favourite part of the process. Once you get to the actual coding, it becomes "grunt work", just a case of sitting there are writing thousands and thousands of lines of code, so that's pretty dull.
In terms of features, I really enjoyed working with my creative team on the storyline section, as that's a feature that for years people were saying "that can't be done, it's too complex for this sort of game". So to really tackle it head on, come up with a solution - one that I think works really well - and to actually get it programmed, that was a pretty cool moment.
The toughest part to do was really the initial stages of coding, as that was really just two months of sitting down and writing. At that stage you don't even have anything on screen to look at, so you're just seeing pages and pages of code for weeks at a time, with nothing to break up the boredom. It's not complex to do, but mentally it's a very tough part.
This time around, the player won't be given incredibly specific statistics to deal with, as a Letter Grading system has been introduced. Do you think players will be pleased with the change?
I hope so. Personally I think the change to grades was long overdue, and was the missing X factor in taking the game to the next level. I certainly can't imagine ever going back to using plain stats. That said, it's something that hasn't been done before, and experience tells me that some people are very resistant to change, so I expect at least a few people who initially don't like it. I think they'll come around after a while though, as it improves the gaming experience dramatically.
One aspect that has a lot of people interested is the fact that they can start off a game unemployed, and the in game environment will be able to run without any interaction from the player. Was this introduced as TEW 2005's equivalent to Wrestling Spirit's Rookie To Legend Mode, where the user starts off as a nobody and faces the task of making it to the top?
Not really. I think the equivalent of that WreSpi mode would be to start with a backyard fed and have to work your way up, as then you're really going from the ground up. The reason I like to include the ability to start unemployed is because personally my computing background is in Artificial Intelligence, and I find it fascinating to just let the universe run itself, and see what happens. Once you've left it for a few months or years, it's amazing to see how different the landscape can become, and I love tinkering with the in-game AI to try and get it as close to reality as possible.
Just how impressive is the AI? Will people be surprised by how advanced it is, or is there only enough realism to make it playable?
I'd like to think that people will be very surprised at the level of detail is has, it has certainly been one of the areas we've concentrated on. For example, we've got it down to the level that not only are the challengers for belts pretty accurate (i.e. you won't see large psycho brawlers fighting over a Pure championship), but the lengths of reigns also mirror reality to a certain extent. So Sports Entertainment promotions tend to have belts that change hands a lot, whereas your Pure-based Japanese promotions have much longer reigns.
One of the things that disappointed a lot of people who bought TEW 2004 was the amount of bugs, and numerous patches being released. Are you confident you've ironed out all the issues, or is it inevitable that it will require numerous downloads to fix errors?
Well for a game the size of TEW2005, I'd imagine at least 1 or 2 minor errors got through the testing; it's just a fact of life that we can't catch every single one even if we tested it for years. My goal is to match the levels of WreSpi - it took just one patch to fix pretty much every error, a further two smaller patches to get a few minor errors. So we were done by patch 3. A further two patches were released to add requested feature, and that was that it. I'd like to think we won't need any more than that for TEW05. I'd certainly like to think that there won't be any errors that actually stop the player from playing the game when we release, and we're limited to just spelling mistakes and things like that.
Two features I'm particularly interested in are the Create An Angle and Create A Storyline editors. With hundreds of different storyline basics on offer to be tinkered with to create an endless amount of angles, do you think this will really boost the replayability of TEW 2005? Will people still be coming up with new booking ideas in a year from now?
That's the plan! Just on the combinations possible, there shouldn't be any problem with running out of ideas, you should be able to keep coming up with new storyline variations for years and years. I can see people developing their own database of personalized angles to use, I think that will be a pretty popular part of the online community, trading angles.
Talking of which, how important is the internet community's opinions of these sims to you? Obviously these are the people that buy the games, but do you think that word of mouth is enough to turn a title into either a classic or a huge disappointment?
I think word of mouth is important in terms of spreading interest, but I think once the word gets out, it's the quality that will make or break the game. With the demo being free, I would think most people would download it so that they can try it out and form their own opinions, and aren't going to be too influenced by what others think.
Loading times are a lot faster this time around. How could they possibly go from taking so long to progress day to day in TEW 2004 to the lightning quick action in the new game? Was it a simple piece of coding that could have been included in it's predecessor, or did it involve a lot of time and effort to make things run so fast?
You'll see that there's a progression in loading times (and coding quality in general) from TEW04 to WreSpi and then to TEW05. Basically it's just that as I've gone along I've discovered new techniques, and new ways of designing the game to maximise efficiency. I'm sure my next game will be even quicker still.
Was there any particular time in the programming that you felt realism needed to be sacrificed for playability, or did you feel that keeping things as lifelike as possible was always the way to go?
I've always been of the opinion that playability comes first, I wouldn't hesitate to drop make something less realistic if it meant a better gaming experience. That said, there really weren't many times when that was the case. The only feature that really needed tweaking was the finances, as sometimes you have to exaggerate some points to keep the game balanced.
In TEW 2005, the graphics also seem to look a lot flashier which will no doubt impress a lot of people. Do you feel that the visuals genuinely affect people's decision whether to buy a promotion simulator or not, or are they just a nice bonus if the game is good?
I think the majority of my fan base, the people who really love simulators, probably don't care at all how the game looks as long as it plays well, which is the way I see it too. However, that said, a nice interface might be the difference between a casual fan picking up the demo and having a look or not bothering, so in that case it can be quite important. Nice screen shots certainly can't hurt!
There have obviously been changes to the Cornellverse, the fictional universe where the game takes place, since WreSpi's release. What are some of the major changes in the gaming environment that you can share with us?
The fictional universe is six months further forward than the last time it was seen in WreSpi, and as I've tried to keep the level of change consistent with how much would happen in reality, there's not a great deal different in terms of wrestlers being in new promotions, etc. What I have concentrated on is firstly getting more of them a head shot, and secondly fleshing out the biographies of everyone to make them more detailed and realistic.
Where do you pick up ideas for what makes it into the game? I'm assuming the new Momentum Meter, where wrestlers will gain overness quicker if they are on a hot streak, came from the real life situation where Batista rose to the top of WWE in a very short space of time. Was there any more new features in TEW 2005 that came from real life scenarios, or did you have other influences?
Actually very few of the features come from reality, as I don't really follow wrestling that closely any more. The momentum meter, for example, was in the design as early as last summer, so well before Batista. Generally the ideas just come from thinking what would be the coolest thing to add, and from taking notes from what people write on message boards.
Oh well, there goes my career as a psychic. Unlike WreSpi, the game was announced with a lot of time left before release. Did you welcome the pressure, or does it make things a bit harder for you when just about every wrestling or gaming forum has a post dedicated to people anticipating the release?
It didn't really factor into anything to be honest. Although we announced it, we never announced a specific date, so I didn't feel pressured into hitting any particular deadline.
Can you possibly hope to match the popularity of EWR with TEW 2005, even with a price tag on the new game? Will this be the game to finally allow people to let go and move on, or are you not competing with EWR?
I don't think we'll ever match the popularity of EWR, simply because it was free so it didn't require the user to make any investment whatsoever, so that's not really a goal for us. What I hope to do is have it recognised that TEW05 is a far better game, and build on what we achieved with TEW04. That's what our current aims are.
I’m a forgetful guy, Alan Roland, and there's so much ground to cover. Is there anything that we haven't been over regarding TEW 2005 that you'd like to shed some light on?
I think we've covered most of the important parts. There's a lot of minor complaints that people had about TEW04 that have been addressed in this game - unlimited save slots, no more swapping files to change databases, etc - but those are really thing that the player will find out for themselves.
Now, imagine the scene. It's a month or two after release. The game is out; its bug free and people love it. What's next for you?
A holiday, with some of that sweet, sweet fresh air. For about 3 days, then I'll get bored and start on WreSpi2.
Are plans actually underway for a sequel to WreSpi, or is it just swirling around in your mind right now?
I've already said too much, they'll send the bad men in balaclavas to silence me if I talk about it any more.....
That's all the evidence I need. Can I book in some time now for my pre-release WreSpi 2 interview? I promise I'll get your name right this time.
Sure Ross. Er, Russ.
That's a nice way to end things there, with me being the butt of the joke. What a cu...I mean, this has been professional and fun, would you like to plug away to cap things off?
http://www.GreyDogSoftware.com Come view out spiffing new TEW2005 trailer that'll be out by the time you're reading this.
Adam, thanks again for your time, and I hope TEW 2005 is a roaring success.
Me too, thanks for coming up with great questions that didn't involve fictional universe star Rich Money.
Well folks, I can’t compete with puns like that. I’d like to thank Adam for agreeing to take time out to be interviewed. Total Extreme Wrestling 2005 will be available to buy from 6th October, and I urge everyone to check out the free demo of the game when it becomes available from 29th September.