AGOURA HILLS, Calif. –During a recent WWE Games community event at THQ’s offices in sunny Agoura Hills, WWE.com got its hands on an early build of WWE ’12, the publisher’s groundbreaking new video game set for release on Nov. 22 for Xbox 360, PlayStation 3 and Nintendo Wii consoles.
In between battling it out with some of the most elite gamers the WWE Universe has to offer, we spoke with veteran WWE Games designer Bryan Williams to talk about WWE ‘12’s new features, the demise of the SmackDown vs. Raw series and how The Rock helped him determine his future career path.
WWE.COM: You’ve worked on THQ’s SmackDown vs. Raw series for the past five years, but WWE ’12 is a new beginning for the franchise. What should the WWE Universe look forward to in the new game?
BRYAN WILLIAMS: I like that. “New beginning.” That’s what the game is this year. The name SmackDown vs. Raw, as cool as it was, just didn’t really resonate with the product anymore, both for WWE and for our games. Our game is just a snapshot of the entire WWE for that year, and the name change is more appropriate for what we’re offering players.
As far as what fans can expect, it’s a smoother gameplay experience. A lot of work has gone into improving the technology behind the game as far as better animation blending and a much more authentic presentation than we’ve had in the past. What we’re striving to get is to is when players play the game, they feel like they’re watching an episode of Raw or SmackDown, or a pay-per-view. So that’s really important to what we’re trying to accomplish this year.
WWE.COM: WWE ’12 is a game where, if you’re a longtime fan of the series, you’ll jump right into it and appreciate the changes, but for someone that’s new to the series, it’s easy to get into.
WILLIAMS: That’s great to hear. In addition to all of the new technical things we’re doing, we also have a control scheme which is different from what we’ve had for, I’ll say, the past five iterations. We still have the same depth within our core combat; we just moved all of the most-used and important functionalities onto the face buttons. Because when you put someone in front of the game for the first time, the first thing they do is start pressing those face buttons to see what they do.
WWE.COM: For example, the A button on the Xbox 360 controller.
WILLIAMS: It’s the central button. In most games, it’s the “Accept” button, it’s the main attack or main action button. Putting grapple attacks on that button just makes the game – hopefully – a lot easier for people to pick up and play.
WWE.COM: What a lot of our fans will really appreciate about WWE ’12 is its renewed emphasis on submissions with the “Breaking Point” system. How is this different from what we’ve seen in the past?
WILLIAMS: Our submission system in the past few games utilized the analog stick. The first year we had it, players would essentially move the stick in the direction where they wanted to apply pressure. And then it kind of morphed from there to rotating the stick to wrench the opponent. Thinking back, it sounded better on paper than it actually was in the execution, especially that first year.
In WWE ‘12, “Breaking Point” moves submissions back to the face buttons, and is basically your tried-and- true button mashing mini-game. However, now you have a greater sense of that struggle between the attacker and the defender. As the attacker, you’re trying to get that submission, and as the defender you’re trying to stop that meter from getting to the end and getting to your “breaking point.” It better represents the submission aspect of in-ring action.
WWE.COM: And all the while, the defender is also trying to crawl to the ropes …
WILLIAMS: Yeah, you can crawl to the ropes now, which is something we’ve been trying to do for years. It just adds another layer of strategy, because it requires more thought of “when and where” on the attacker’s side in terms of when to initiate a submission.
WWE.COM: You’ve also refined how players can escape being pinned. Tell us a little about that.
WILLIAMS: If you were being pinned in last year’s game, you had two options. We had the mini-game that was controlled by rapidly pressing buttons to fill the meter or holding one button. This year, we wanted to streamline that whole process. It made no sense to have two ways to kick out. We got rid of the button mashing and have players holding the button to fill the meter and reach that target zone.
Now, it better represents WWE. The WWE franchise has never been like typical fighting games where you wear a guy down, get his health down to nothing and you win. Obviously, you want to damage him to make it that much more challenging for him to kick out. But even at your most damaged, there’s still that slight hope you can stage that last kick-out before the ref counts to three. It’s those moments that I geek out for and say, “That’s WWE.” It’s the drama of the fight.
WWE.COM: You said “geek out.” Were you a WWE fan before you started working on this franchise?
WILLIAMS: I sure was. Here’s a little history of my relationship with WWE. I love it right now, but growing up as a kid, I never really got into it. For whatever reason, Hulk Hogan didn’t do it for me. Of course, I knew who he was, and I knew WWE. I mean, how could you not? But I was more interested in Transformers and G.I. Joe.
It wasn’t until my first year in college, 1997, during the height of the Atittude Era and the “Monday Night Wars” [between WWE and WCW], my roommate in college – who is now my best friend – got me involved in WWE. Every Monday night, he’d invite all of his boys over and we’d watch Raw, and then he’d turn it over to Monday Nitro. But the first time I watched The Rock cut a promo, I was hooked. I’ve been a fan ever since. I just love the drama and the artistry of it.
WWE.COM: Who’s your favorite Superstar on the roster right now?
WILLIAMS: I love Dolph Ziggler. He’s done a lot of work with us on the motion capture side, and I think he’s an amazing athlete. I’m also partial to Daniel Bryan. I was at the STAPLES Center when he returned to WWE at SummerSlam 2010.
WWE.COM: Alberto Del Rio makes his WWE video game debut in WWE ’12. What’s your take on The Mexican Aristocrat?
WILLIAMS: I’m a big fan of Del Rio. When you think of WWE Superstars, he’s one of those guys who’s got “it.” He’s a beast in the ring and entertaining on the microphone. He’s just so entertaining to watch and always elicits a reaction. And Ricardo [Rodriguez] adds so much to what he brings to the table. The first time I saw them on SmackDown, I thought, “Okay, not only is this cool, but I can’t wait to get this into [WWE ‘12].”
WWE.COM: The tagline for WWE ’12 is “Bigger. Badder. Better.” How does the game live up to those claims?
WILLIAMS: Well, our games have always been big, going back to the SmackDown vs. Raw series. I don’t know of any game that comes out yearly and offers the breadth of content that our games do, from create modes to all of the match types that we offer. And you can’t forget online play! WWE ’12 is almost like three games in one.
“Badder”? I will say that WWE ’12 provides a much more refined gameplay experience. The bouts are much more intense and impactful. With our new animation system, the maneuvers and how the characters navigate the ring are just much more fluid and more of a reflection of what you see on WWE programming.
As far as “Better” goes, from the original SmackDown series to SmackDown vs. Raw to WWE ‘12, we get better with each iteration, and this year is no exception. With WWE ’12, we’re making bigger strides than we have in the past, in terms of one year’s game to the next. I really do think that this is going to be the best WWE game we’ve ever put out. I just can’t wait for the game to be released and for the WWE Universe to get their hands on it.
WWE.COM: Speaking of fans getting their hands on WWE ’12, we’re guessing you’re pretty good at it …
WILLIAMS: [Laughs] I’m pretty good.
WWE.COM: If you could challenge one WWE Superstar to a match in WWE ’12, who would it be?
WILLIAMS: I hear Kofi Kingston is a really big gamer, he’s fared well in a lot of our Superstar Challenge events. I would love to go up against Kofi.
The gauntlet has been thrown! The Dreadlocked Dynamo and the entire WWE Universe will be able to hone their digital in-ring skills when WWE ’12 arrives this fall.