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WWE 12: 'We know fans love No Mercy, but we've made a different game'

The man in charge of THQ's annual WWE franchise talks blood and magic cars...

WWE 12, THQ's series reboot, is on sale in the UK today.

You can read our WWE 12 review to see exactly what we think of this year's wrestling contender, but to delve deeper into the thoughts behind the franchise reset Matthew Pellett caught up with WWE 12 creative director Cory Ledesma.

How do you decide what to improve every year?

We know all the things we want to fix and we know what the community says and we know the problems of the game... it's just there's only so much you can do every year with an annual title. We've always had this big long wishlist of what we wanted to add to the game each year and there is only so much we can accomplish. So we prioritise each year, and we're getting better and better...

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How long is your wishlist?

It's very, very long! It's actually something that can be a little depressing because it starts out so glorious and then by the time we whittle down what we can actually accomplish in one year with our budget and with the developer, it becomes a smaller list. Which is still a great list, but there's always stuff that falls onto the cutting room floor that we wish we could have got [in]. But what's great about working on an annual franchise is next year you get to build on what you did the year before.

What was the motivation behind dropping the SmackDown vs Raw brand and renaming the series WWE "xx"?

It's a lot of different reasons. It was long overdue for a big reboot. The franchise has been around for several years and it had gotten a little stale - whether it was the name or the game itself, it's gotten real stale - so we thought this would be the perfect time to reboot the franchise entirely.

We had this opportunity to bring in new technology that makes the game look great, feel great, play great, but also we had this opportunity to start with a brand new name to give the franchise a true reboot. Like you said: SmackDown vs Raw... what does that even mean?

The reason that name came about was the game used to be called SmackDown, and then there was another game that used to be called Raw, and we decided to make one game only and so we decided to call it SmackDown vs Raw. That's the only reason that name used to exist; there's no other purpose behind it and it's not like the WWE has any brand wars going on.

And it was a mouthful too, right? So it just made sense to do something simple like WWE 12, and to make it clear to consumers that we're the WWE simulation experience.

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When people normally say reboots normally that insinuates a new game engine. We've not got that this year - we've got a new animation system, but not a new game engine. Why isn't there a new engine, and why should we not be concerned?

With an annual franchise you have to be very careful with how you approach introducing new technology. If we just flat out throw out everything and bring in a new engine we'd be starting from scratch, and you can definitely alienate a ton of fans who love the series for what it is: all the content, all the features, all the modes that are in there...

That's a very difficult, and maybe not even that smart, thing to do as we've worked so hard [to get here].
But what we wanted to do is see what was working and what wasn't, and fix the eyesores and problems and highlight the things that are great about the game. And that's exactly the approach we took.

We knew animation-wise we weren't happy with the quality we were getting. Both in the look and the playability of it, and so with this new animation engine that we have - and if you think about an animation engine in a combat game, that's really the engine and the core of it - we were able to still reuse a lot of our assets and make it so that they blend well together and that you can break out of motions easier.

A lot of the things that are pretty standard in fighting games are in there and are working well, so I think ours is the right approach to take: to build upon what we had and not throw out all the stuff that was working.

Blading was stamped out by the WWE long ago, and we're in a PG-era in which matches are halted and trainers are used to patch up wounds if a superstar is cut. So let's talk blood and WWE 12, because we've seen plenty of bleeding in the game...

Blood is in WWE 12. We have it as an option that you can turn on in the menu. It's defaulted as off because it's not really a big part of WWE programming right now. But we understand the importance of it: blood's good for consumers who might want to relive past moments of WWE history that contained it. And it's something that's a big part of fighting games in general in.

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There are few fighting games without blood, so we felt it was important to keep that aspect and the WWE is fine with us having that as an option. They understand it's important to have a lot of different options and for you to customise your own experience. So they understand the value of that and the fans have been very vocal about keeping it in. It's one of those concessions you make to satisfy the consumers and still make it an authentic experience.

The new Create-An-Arena option lets us change many things, but not the staging area by the entrances or indeed the style of the Titantron itself. If that something you can add in next year?

The focus is on the ring and the surrounding areas of the ring, but we blew that out 100%. We realise other areas of the arena aren't customisable yet, but that's something we can roll out in the future. We wanted to make sure that if we do anything we'd do it to the fullest extent, because we don't like doing stuff half-done. We don't want to half-implement something or disappoint people.

What's great is that we can really build on that mode. It's not something we just introduce one year and doesn't see improvements. It's got plenty of room for growth...

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