You now know the big news. We're starting a new era in sports entertainment video game history. SmackDown vs Raw is no more, and in it's place; WWE '12. We're sure that you have about a million questions at this point, so we wanted to go behind the scenes and ask Cory Ledesma, our Creative Director about the announcement.
Q: Take me through your thoughts on how SvR '11 was received, and what you could/wish your team could have done better?
Cory: We have a lot of pride in the work we put out there, so the team felt very good about WWE SmackDown vs. Raw 2011 being a solid product that fans were going to thoroughly enjoy. We were able to introduce a new mode, called WWE Universe, that we think was a very solid foundation for the future and got a lot of people excited to play the game. Adding dynamic object physics to gameplay was also another major addition that we felt changed the way the game looked and played for the better. All in all, we were generally pleased with how the game was received. With that being said, there were some game areas we were not completely satisfied with and feel need significant improvement. Our fans are intelligent, recognize a lot of those shortcomings as well and let us know about them.
Unfortunately, some of the game areas or improvements we want to make can’t happen overnight and take a lot of planning, research and development and other resources to see to fruition. In those cases, we often create multi-year plans where those improvements are rolled out in phases so we can realistically achieve the quality we want each year while also rolling out new features and updates, updating the roster and balancing our development costs. To give you a little insight to our future planning, these are some of the key areas we are going to continue focusing on from a technical standpoint:
2.) Online Lag and Cheating
3.) Animation Quality
6.) Graphical Quality
These are the game areas where we can continue pushing the envelope and step our game up to the next level from a technical standpoint. You’ll start to see a significant amount of those improvements listed above in this year’s game. We are investing heavily in the future of this franchise.
On the design side, we weren’t happy with the execution of Road to WrestleMania. We liked the concept, but we just didn’t do a good job making that backstage area fun, keeping it populated, entertaining and engaging. We went back to the drawing board a bit on that one. We also had some disappointing bugs in gameplay that our creative team was a little disheartened by, but we’ll get a lot of those things cleaned up. Online also had several issues we are working hard to address. I want the fans to know that we are very aware of their criticisms and we are working as hard as we can to address them. Just know that in some cases the reason you might not see changes happen as quickly as you like because there are some difficult development challenges or hurdles we are trying to overcome just like any other developer, but we’re committed and we’ll get there!
Q: As the creative director of the team, what's your opinion on the name change?
Cory: I absolutely love it, and I’ve been a key proponent of the change.
I’ve just felt for a couple of years now that the franchise has been getting stale and in need of a reboot. Not just with the name but also with the game experience. The name of the franchise evolved a couple of times over the years, and it has gotten to the point where the name doesn’t really mean anything. WWE currently doesn’t have brand wars, and the shows themselves are rarely competing against each other, so SmackDown vs. Raw as a name doesn’t really have a meaning. We started out as just being called SmackDown when that show made its debut for WWE back in 1999. Back then, we were releasing WWE products exclusively for specific platforms – SmackDown for Sony, Raw for Microsoft and Day of Reckoning for Nintendo. We then made the decision in 2004 to pool all of our resources together and make one great game, which is how SmackDown vs. Raw came together. Now, we are just WWE ’12, which is great because we just want to be known as the official, authentic WWE simulation product ... period. All that encompasses what’s great about WWE live events and television is encapsulated and recreated in WWE ’12. It’s simple and to the point. I’m pumped about it because I’ve always wanted to re-launch this franchise the right way, and we are finally getting the opportunity to do it this year.
Q: The feedback from the community has been loud and vocal concerning the gameplay portion of the game. Do you have a message for those vocal fans?
Cory: We read you loud and clear! We’ve been quietly investing in and eagerly waiting for the right opportunity to introduce this new animation technology into the franchise. It’s actually something we’ve been working on for two years now. Being the annual franchise that we are, it’s difficult to bring in new, significant technology without halting the project entirely. I compare it to trying to change the tire of a car driving 80 mph: not easy to do! The technology group at Yuke’s Yokhama has been secretly working on the technology and its implementation while we’ve been working on the game the last two years. We are now at the point where we can integrate it into the game. The new animation technology and tools have allowed us to do things in gameplay that were not possible with the previous technology. We hit a ceiling on the old tech, and now with our new tech, we have plenty of more years to build it out and deliver a fun, responsive and visually impressive game. It will be exciting the next few years as we see what our new technology is fully capable of delivering.
Q: Without giving any information, what area of the game are you most excited about in WWE '12?
Cory: Gameplay, gameplay and more gameplay. Now, we aren’t changing the game entirely or completely ripping everything out to start over. That wasn’t the goal. What we are doing is taking the basic essence of what is good in the past games and making a new experience that feels fresh, fun, responsive, faster, smoother and is of higher quality. If you’re played the SmackDown vs. Raw games in the past, I have zero doubt you will notice the difference as soon as you pick up this year’s game. We are adding new gameplay systems, completely overhauling gameplay systems and improving current gameplay systems. The new animation system is giving us new capabilities as well. One quick is example is that you now have the ability to interrupt animations. For example, if John Cena is doing a five-knuckle shuffle in the game, you can knock him right on his butt in the middle of the move (something you’ve never been able to do in our game because the animation had to completely play out – and that goes for every single move in the game). We have several new capabilities like the one just mentioned that will change the dynamic of how the game is played. We didn’t want to completely throw everything out and build something from scratch. That would force us to take a major step back, probably cut out 80 percent of our moves/match types and also put us at risk to disappoint fans who love the current game. We wanted to find the balance between fixing what is broken and also delivering a brand new, high quality experience. I believe we are accomplishing that now, and fans are going to love this new WWE ’12 gameplay experience. We will be unveiling more about the changes to gameplay as time moves on.
Q: To prove to the community that feedback is always heard and sometimes implemented, can you give us a small example of something in WWE '12?
Cory: This is a tough question because we have addressed so much fan feedback already, but a lot of it I can’t talk about just yet. So, I will give you just two quick examples. The rest we will announce when the time is right.
1) The fans have been asking for a new submission system. I’m happy to report there is a new submission system. It’s called the Breaking Point Submission system. It has a new mini-game, and also, for the first time, submissions where you can climb to the rope for a rope break.
2) The fans have been asking for wake-up taunts. I’m happy to report there are now wake-up taunts. Do you love those dramatic moments where Randy Orton slams his fists to the ground, daring his opponent to stand up and then unleashing his RKO when the opponent stumbles right into his clutches? Well then, you’re going to be one happy camper.
Q: With the success of WWE All Stars, did your WWE '12 team learn anything from the fan reaction? What kinds of things are applicable to WWE '12 that was also in All Stars?
Cory: I’ve been pushing for this type of product ever since I’ve started at THQ, and the team at THQ San Diego did a fantastic job executing on this. I worked on creating the original pitch for this game, and we set out to create a game where the experience would be something along the lines of WWE meets NBA Jam: a fun, accessible, over the top WWE game that complimented the simulation franchise we already had with SmackDown vs. Raw. I wasn’t surprised to see that fans took so well to the product. However, WWE ’12 and WWE All Stars are two completely different products. There are some elements that can be compared, while others we feel only belong in an over the top experience. We took notice of a lot of the core gameplay elements that made WWE All Stars so successful, such as their fast-paced match flow, simple controls, quality motions, quick response time and mid-move reversals. There is a lot to like in All Stars, and I think a lot of things that can translate well into WWE ’12. We looked at it like any other competitive product and tried to identify the elements that can help make WWE ’12 the best game possible.
Q: There has been a ton of game franchises that have taken on a new name. Is WWE '12 just a name change? How will we know? What is your favorite (other) franchise re-invention?
Cory: WWE ’12 is far from just a name change. Our goal has been to create a brand new experience with a new, high quality animation system, a new renderer and a new strategic gameplay experience that will look, feel and play substantially better than its predecessors. When you play the game, you’ll notice right away that you’re spending less time on the mat mashing buttons and more time enjoying the action with a faster paced gameplay flow, simpler game controls and the most fluid and realistic animations the game has ever seen. This is a true franchise reboot and not just a name change. It’s also an investment toward the future of the franchise, giving us the opportunity to use our new technology to push the game to new heights never seen before.
Q: How far along in development are you on WWE '12?
Cory: We started around the end of May 2010, so we are currently at the one year mark. We still have more months ahead for gameplay tuning and bug fixing, and then we are done. It feels like we never stop. One year bleeds into the next. With the multi-year plans, we are already planning for projects in the distant future.
Q: What can we expect to see at E3? (expecting him to say "can't tell")
Cory: We will be showing off a one on one match so that people can come by and take an early look on how the new and improved gameplay experience is looking. We will have four playable Superstars available, including one Superstar making his WWE game debut! The rest I can’t reveal just yet. You will have to play the game at E3 to find out what we’re up to!
Q: What is the one thing you want in the WWE series that is not yet possible?
Cory: Almost anything is possible. It just comes down to how much you have to sacrifice in order to get it. I know a lot of people have asked us to have eight, 10, 12 and even 20 Superstars in the ring at once. Although we could completely reconfigure the game to support this, a ton of effort would go into this rather than on developing other features. The game would also take significant hits to model and animation quality to make this happen; at the end of the day, it’s just not worth it. Although I agree it would be cool to have this for particular match types, it currently is just not worth the risk and work associated with the task.