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Interview: WWE ’13 designer Bryan Williams

WWE 13 - Stone Cold
Stone Cold Steve Austin is one of the featured playable characters in WWE ’13’s Attitude Era roster. (credit: thq.com)

The yearly installments of the WWE video game franchise are a mainstay for THQ and this year is no different. What makes WWE ’13 different is a new emphasis on the Attitude Era.

For longtime fans of professional wrestling, the first association with World Wrestling Entertainment/Federation is a bald, pissed off Stone Cold Steve Austin stomping a mudhole into his overbearing corporate boss, Mr. Vince McMahon, in the late 1990s. The Attitude Era was one of excess, oddities, and degenerates. It was the most controversial – and profitable – time for pro wrestling and the most fondly remembered, for better and worse.

Nearly a third of the game’s roster features wrestlers and characters presented as they were in the roaring late ‘90s, including The Undertaker when he was the goth leader of the Ministry of Darkness, and Shawn Michaels with his rebellious, often vulgar entourage known as D-Generation X. The pre-order bonus is none other than boxer Mike Tyson, who accompanied Michaels in a D-X shirt at 1998’s Wrestlemania 14.

At Fan Expo last week, Dork Shelf spoke to Bryan Williams, WWE ‘13’s senior game designer in charge of gameplay. Williams, a self-proclaimed wrestling fan who’s been with THQ since 2003, has been working on the franchise since 2006’s Smackdown vs Raw 2007.

Dork Shelf: You’ve seen the series change over the years. For someone who’s played the WWE games for a while, what’s the most notable change for ’13?

Bryan Williams: We’re showing a little taste of our brand new single player campaign [at Fan Expo], called the Attitude Era mode. In the past [the campaign] was the Road to Wrestlemania, where we basically came up with our own stories and mimicked WWE programming. We had stories that involved the Superstars. We’ve done that for a lot of years now, and quite frankly the story mode in WWE ’12 wasn’t met with a lot of favour.

So we thought long and hard about it, and thought, “Let’s look back at a time period in wrestling when most people looked back on it as the golden age of professional wrestling: the Attitude Era.” You had D-Generation X running wild and Stone Cold Steve Austin broke through that glass ceiling and became The Man of the WWE. You also had The Rock’s ascension, Kane’s debut and The Undertaker’s involvement. This is going to be the single player campaign this year. You’ll go through key moments of the Attitude Era.

You’ll bounce through it as several different Superstars. It starts with the formation of D-Generation X and you’ll be playing as Shawn Michaels. During matches you’ll have certain objectives to complete in order to advance through the mode. Some will be basic – win by pinfall, win by submission – but there’s also gonna be some bonus objectives.

WWE '13 Mankind v. Undertaker
One of the chapters in the Attitude Era campaign will surely feature the Hell in a Cell ’98 match between Mankind and the Undertaker. (credit: thq.com)

DS: Those bonus objectives will mimic what actually happened in the Attitude Era?

BW: Exactly. You’ll want to get [them] because they’ll unlock a whole lot of cool content. Unlockable Superstars, unlockable championships, new arenas, and by doing those you will basically be mimicking the matches as they happened on [original] programming.

DS: How long is the Attitude Era campaign in terms of episodes or matches?

BW: There are six chapters in [this] mode. They consist of 60 matches, plus bonus matches that you can unlock by doing the bonus objectives during regular matches. The gameplay in its entirety will run you about eight or nine hours, so it’s a pretty meaty campaign.

DS: When you talk about unlockable championships, are we talking about maybe the European Title, the Hardcore Title?

BW: We’re keeping the titles under wraps. I will say that there are titles that can be unlocked.

DS: So maybe the European title.

BW: Maybe the European title. But if it was involved in the Attitude Era, there’s a good chance it’ll be in the game.

DS: As far as the modern roster, we’ve got CM Punk on the cover. Who are some of the newcomers this year that you’re most excited about?

BW: Jinder Mahal is new to the game. He’s not the biggest WWE Superstar, but he’s a new face and I love new faces. When I watch new programming, I like to see the new guys making a name for themselves, whether on WWE Superstars (the television program) or on RAW or Smackdown.*

*Several characters that were DLC in WWE ’12, including The Bella Twins and Brodus Clay, will be included in the retail version of the game. New characters also include Primo, Epico, Hunico and former Raw general manager John Laurinitis.

DS: How many are going to be on the disc and how many are DLC?

BW: Well over 60 will be on the disc, but I can’t give away specifics other than to say that there will be some available as DLC. We’ve only announced A.J. Lee and Damien Sandow so far. As we get closer to release, we’ll release more information about the DLC package.

DS: Do you have any of the more unusual matches from the Attitude Era, like maybe the Lion’s Den or one of those Diva…er, gravy pool matches? I think it was a Thanksgiving gravy boat/pool match. I’m dating myself and I feel horrible for remembering that.

BW: No, that’s a very memorable moment! You will not be able to experience that moment in WWE ’13. But we’ve got a lot of cool surprises in store, for sure.

WWE Attitude Era - D-Generation X
All members of D-Generation X will be playable in their incarnations from the late 1990s to 2000s. (credit: wwe.com)

DS: I’m okay with that. Are there any notable changes or tweaks to the in-the-ring gameplay?

BW: One of the big new features is what we call Spectacular Moments. These are situations that happen outside the norm in a WWE ring – those moments where when they occur, your jaw just literally hits the floor. Being able to destroy the ring, for example, is something you’ll be able to do in WWE ’13 for the first time. It’s based on Brock Lesnar and Big Show performing it back in the day, and more recently Big Show and Mark Henry, they collapsed the ring.

We have a ton of other cool Spectacular Moments, or OMG Moments, such as my favourite: the catch finishers. Some Superstars are able to intercept an airborne opponent with their finishers: performing an RKO on a mid-air opponent, catching an opponent then hitting the Attitude Adjustment, or Superkicking an opponent out of the air.

Outside of that we’ve just been fine-tuning the engine. The gameplay is a lot smoother and the animations blend together more seamlessly. It’s just an overall tighter package this year.

DS: You have some past versions of the Superstars on the roster: Undertaker from ’97 or Mark Henry from the Nation of Domination. What makes those characters different from their modern incarnations other than their attire?

BW: It depends on the character. They have their differences for sure, whether in attributes or their move set. If they used a move back then that they don’t currently, we made those changes. It’s not just an attire change. Hunter Hearst Helmsley versus modern Triple H is a completely different character altogether, from top to bottom. You will get that uniqueness with each character.

DS: What was your role, exactly, in making the game?

BW: All of us on the design team at THQ wear many hats. I’m in charge of the create (create-a-wrestler) modes and how the game functions: how the grapple systems work, the reversals, the nuts and bolts of the gameplay experience. Outside of that, I direct motion capture shoots for in-game motions. I’ve met a lot of wrestlers during mo-cap.

DS: Who were you most excited to meet for the first time during motion capture?

BW: I’m a huge fan of Matt Sydal, [known as] Evan Bourne in the WWE. When he signed with the WWE, I was ecstatic. I was so happy and I was hoping we could use him for mo-cap, and we did. When he came in, I was totally star-struck. I followed his career on the independent scene for a long time, and being able to meet him and befriend him was definitely really cool. The same for Nattie Neidhart. She’s a really good friend and is just a total sweetheart. And Tyson Kidd. I met all of them through mo-cap.

DS: Are there any gameplay tweaks that you felt was most important to overhaul?

BW: Improving the hit detection. When looking at WWE ’12, compared to what we’ve done in WWE ’13, it’s night and day. We got a lot of complaints about WWE ’12 with not connecting with a lot of moves, so we actively tried to fix those bugs so when you perform an action, whether it’s a top-rope dive or a springboard attack, it actually hits. They were kind of ineffectual in ’12, because of the poor rate at which you would actually connect with them.

DS: As of now, how many people appear in the game who are no longer working for WWE?

BW: The Bella Twins. They left and didn’t re-sign, but they’re still in the game. And Kharma.

DS: Is Tyler Reks in the game?

BW: Tyler Reks is not in the game this year. I know he just recently asked for his release. So he’s not on the roster, which is unfortunate because I was always a fan. I thought he had some potential.

DS: Can I play as the commentators? Can I beat up Michael Cole?

BW: You can’t play as the commentators this year. You’ll have to dig out WWE ’12 for that.

WWE ’13 launches October 30 on the Xbox 360, PlayStation 3 and Nintendo Wii.

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