New Interview with ESPN

As someone who has played wrestling games religiously since "Pro Wrestling" on the NES (Star Man forever!), I've seen the genre grow throughout the years adding everything from created superstars to Hell in a Cell. The one thing I've really wanted to play, however, is an online Royal Rumble.

THQ has not only answered my prayers and added the mode to "WWE Smackdown vs. Raw 2011," but from what I've played of it so far, it's one of the most fun additions to the franchise in years.

I recently had the chance to compete in a media-only online Rumble (the mode supports up to 12 players, 6 in the ring at one time), and the gameplay I tested was both smooth and compelling.

Playing as Tyson Kidd, I lasted more than 15 minutes utilizing Kidd's speed and high flying ability to jump opponents when they weren't looking while at the same time double teaming any wrestler struggling to stay inside the squared-circle. When Kidd was finally tossed over the top rope by The Undertaker, I waited my turn, then respawned at number 27 as Kane.

After Kane methodically entered the ring, I immediately started picking on the character with the lowest amount of health, Triple H, and beat him down with chokeslams, clotheslines, and big boots to the point that I built up three finishing moves. In the Royal Rumble, these are vital as you can use the finisher when you are in trouble near the ropes to fight your way back into the ring, or you can use it to pick up your opponent and toss him over the top rope for the instant finisher elimination.

And that's exactly what I did, tossing the three remaining wrestlers over the top to win the Rumble.

It's the most fun I've had playing the series in years and if the online portion stays as lag-free as what we tested (tough to tell since there were only 12 people online playing the game), it's worth buying the game for on its own.

After my win, I cornered the game's designer, Bryan Williams, to get the latest scoop on his game, including his thoughts on the Rumble, the new create-a-match mode, and why Daniel Bryan isn't in the game.

Jon Robinson: The online Royal Rumble features up to 12 humans in a 30 man match. Are there any computer controlled wrestlers in the ring or does everyone playing respawn?

Bryan Williams: The computer will only take control of a wrestler if one of the players drops out. So if you start the match with 12 people, but then someone gets eliminated really quick and just drops out, the computer will recognize that and take their place.

It's funny because we did the Royal Rumble revamp last year and we wanted to include the online component in the same year. We actually had it in the game, but then we made the decision the week before we submitted to take it out. We just couldn't get it to work right and we didn't want it in the game if it wasn't going to be the way we wanted, so it's good to know that we were able to get it in this year.

Jon Robinson: Playing "Smackdown" online hasn't always been the smoothest of experiences and has consistently been one of the main complaints about the series. How much work was put into the game this year to make sure the online element was beefed up?

Bryan Williams: We've put a lot of work into, not only the online Royal Rumble, but online gameplay in general. This is the best "Smackdown" has ever played online. I know our online experience has never been that great because of the lag, and the fans are right to get on us about that. The game did have a lot of lag online and wasn't very good. So this year, we really took it up a whole bunch of notches. That was our mandate. Before we added the online Royal Rumble, before we increased the number of wrestlers in the ring at one time to six, we knew we had to get rid of the lag. If we couldn't do that, we couldn't add the Rumble, let alone add two additional people in the ring. Yukes figured it out and I've been playing our QA guys out in Phoenix from our office (Los Angeles), and the gameplay has been silky smooth. I was so impressed. It feels like an offline game. I was so happy.

Jon Robinson: There are now six people in the ring online for the Royal Rumble, does that also carry over to the other match types?

Bryan Williams: Yeah, so you can have six people in Money in the Bank, the Elimination Chamber, Championship Scrambles ... all the match types that we had offline with six characters, you can do online this year.

Jon Robinson: You guys are introducing a new match creator this year where I can go in and adjust the rules and stipulations to create just about any type of match you can imagine. Can I take my created match-types online?

Bryan Williams: You're the first person to actually ask me this, but unfortunately match creator cannot be used online this year. I know that really, really sucks, but next year we'll be able to get it in there for sure. I was very disappointed about this, and I still am. It eats me up because the mode is so cool. I think people will really love the offline version, though. I play a lot of Japanese wrestling games and the one thing about those games that I love so much is they're like a big buffet. They just give you all the rules, all the wrestlers, all the stipulations and let you do what you want. We have so many rules and stipulations in our game, we figured, why not just let people decide what type of match they want to play. Why are we limiting ourselves with the matches? This is my favorite part of the new game. I use the match creator all the time. I'm a big old-school wrestling fan, and I loved how back in the 70s and 80s they had so many two-out-of-three fall matches. So every time I play, I'm putting on two-out-of-three fall matches.

Or take what they did on Raw the other night. They were talking about how for the first time ever they were going to have a triple threat, submissions count anywhere match. I immediately went to the match creator to see if we could do that and there it was, already in our game. That's exactly what we wanted from this mode. Not only could you have that match, you can use your imagination and come up with whatever stipulations you want.

Jon Robinson: The game's roster has been announced and the Nexus members aren't in the game, but will be offered later on as downloadable content. Why aren't they included on the disc? Did they debut too late?

Bryan Williams: The whole thing with Nexus is that when we saw season one of NXT, we didn't have the ability to put in the entire roster and the guys we could get, they debuted so late that they had to be downloadable content. But we first had to decide who the top guys were so we could include them. So working with the WWE, we figured the top three guys were Wade Barrett, David Otunga, and Daniel Bryan. Daniel Bryan was originally going to be a part of the NXT season one package that we were going to offer online. What's funny is, the day that we mo-capped all of his moves, I was hanging out with the mo-cap guys in the hotel and when I check my phone, I find out that Daniel Bryan was released. I tell the guys, and nobody believed me. But then when we found out that the release was legit, we ended up having to take him out of the game and we replaced him with Justin Gabriel. The Gabriel character is going to be great, though, as he's got some really cool moves. He's a really entertaining wrestler and he's got a good move set. I like strikers and he kicks a lot. So we don't have Daniel Bryan, but we do have Justin Gabriel.

Jon Robinson: But now that Daniel Bryan has been rehired and you already motion-captured his moves, wouldn't it be easy to just add him to the download pack?

Bryan Williams: No, because everything at that point was what we were going to do. The creation hadn't started yet. We were getting the motions ready for the models, but no work had been done on his model at that time. So once we found out about his release and we swapped in Justin Gabriel, then we started creating the models. We have been seeing if it's feasible to include him in some DLC down the line, but if it doesn't work out for this year's title, he'll definitely be in next year's version.

Jon Robinson: Unless he gets released again.

Bryan Williams: [laughs] I was bummed out that we didn't get him in the game because I'm a big fan of his. I was so gassed up to know that he was going to be in the game.

Jon Robinson: Who is your favorite new character in the game?

Bryan Williams: I like Sheamus a lot. He has a really good moveset. The other guy I really like who wasn't in the game before is Yoshi Tatsu. Again, this goes back to the moveset and Yoshi is a striker with a lot of kicks. Anybody who does a lot of kicking is my kind of wrestler.

Jon Robinson: Every year you guys add new characters to the Road to Wrestlemania story mode. Who can we play as this year?

Bryan Williams: Christian, Rey Mysterio, John Cena, Chris Jericho, and a story about The Undertaker, but you don't play as him. In The Undertaker's story, you play as a created character, Kofi Kingston, Dolph Ziggler, or MVP, and the whole point of that story is to take your character and be the one who ends The Undertaker's streak at Wrestlemania. It's a really good story. I played through it as Dolph Ziggler, and when you play The Undertaker at Wrestlemania, we made it like a boss battle, he's so hard. We put his attributes up so high that when you finally beat him, the sense of satisfaction that you get is so great that it really goes along with being the one who finally put an end to the streak. That's my favorite storyline in the game by far. It's really cool.

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