We speak to creative director Cory Ledesma on how WWE '13 is bringing back Attitude and what it means for the game, plus how superstars are never happy with their attributes.
VideoGamer.com: I couldn't help but overhear Mark Henry questioning you about his attributes.
Cory Ledesma: I've never met a superstar that didn't comment on their attributes. And I don't blame them. I think to be an athlete, a competitor, a WWE superstar, you need to have an ego, you need to have a little bit of swagger, you've got to think that you're the best. So I definitely don't blame these guys for coming up to me and fighting for their attributes to be higher. I appreciate that and I respect that.
Like I told Mark Henry, I think we did him justice this year. He's definitely the most powerful character in the game. He's got a full max of attributes on grapple strength and strike strength, which means that if he ever gets a move off on you it's going to do serious damage, just like in a real WWE ring. We spent a lot of time making sure that the attributes reflect the type of superstars and the strategies that they use in the ring, and when you're playing with these characters we want you to feel like your weaknesses and strengths are what the real life superstar's are.
That's really important to us. It's not as simple as saying, 'Hey, Mark Henry, you're going to be a random 88 overall'. We have a very sophisticated formula that takes every single attribute into effect, and we have a lot of modifiers that say this attribute is weighted more than this one, so it helps determine what their overall score is. But he was happy. He just likes giving me a hard time and I don't blame him.
Q: It must be difficult to get that right while ensuring you balance the combat.
CL: The balance of the combat is extremely, extremely difficult. One of the challenges is that a one-on-one match plays completely differently to six people in a ring and a ladder match. You have to tune those to be completely separate because a one-on-one match, you could maybe have a long, drawn-out match that takes a lot of damage to get those guys worn down. But in a six-man match you want the damage to pick up faster because if everyone's lively in that match you're never going to get anything done. So we do a lot of tuning in the game. It takes a long time.
Q: Having the Attitude roster in this year's game brought back memories of the popular N64 games. Was that a deliberate move?
CL: Using the Attitude era in the game was definitely very deliberate. We like to look back at some of those old games because they still remain popular in a lot of fans' minds. They had such a great time playing the games back then. Also that was such a great era in WWE history - the most popular era. We look for all types of inspiration when we're looking back at doing the Attitude era. Those old games, we took a look at those old rosters and moves and really wanted to use as much reference and guidance as possible when making some of the decisions that we had to make.
But you know, the Attitude era, it hasn't been relived in a WWE game or been in the spotlight for the last 15+ years. We felt it was the perfect time to do it and seeing Punk as our cover athlete played into that really nicely. He's been starting his own revolution lately in WWE that I think someone, or maybe he coined it 'the Reality Era', so it's a perfect storm of introducing this mode. Fans love it, Punk's our cover athlete; it just felt right. We're all really excited about bringing that back.
Q: You say the Attitude era was the most popular era. UFC has gained a much larger following recently. Does that pose an additional challenge? Have you seen your audience transition onto a different sport?
CL: When I think of popularity it's so hard to compare the two. It's easy when you look at ratings, right? But it's a difficult thing to just flat-out compare the two. It was a different time back then as far as the variety of entertainment that was available. Right now I think WWE is much more popular internationally than they were back then. Their impact on social media has been amazing. I don't know if you've ever been on Twitter, but if you see their impact on Twitter they have something trending every other day.
Q: Even the game has Twitter hashtags in the corner of the screen.
CL: That's right. So, it's amazing how popular they are. I think, when you compare ratings, yeah, maybe ratings were higher back then, but I don't think it's a fair apple-to-apple comparison. WWE is still insanely popular. We still have such a loyal fan base which we appreciate so much, so it hasn't really been a challenge for us. I think as WWE has evolved from that point, we're trying to do the same thing with gameplay. We're trying to evolve the game and the experience to follow and match that. That's the biggest challenge. How do we continue to change ourselves each year?
'We couldn't be any more excited about the future of WWE games.'
Q: Did losing the UFC license affect morale at the studio? Were there concerns perhaps that the WWE license could be lost, too?
CL: I really don't have any comment on that. I think morale is extremely high on the WWE team. We're so excited about this product that we've created for WWE '13. The WWE team and the previous UFC team were completely separate so there hasn't really been any impact between the two.
But we couldn't be any happier or more excited about the future of WWE games and I think it all starts with WWE '13. I think we have a really special product on our hands and I've never been as excited as I have about a story mode in a game, probably because I'm very partial to the Attitude era but it's just really well put together. When we debut it next month I think fans are going to see that right away. Hopefully there's going to be a nice boost and resurgence with WWE '13 because I think the mode appeals to a lot of different people. Maybe it appeals to people that loved that time but don't follow current WWE. They can still pick up the game and get that nostalgia there, and play those matches that they remember.
And then also, even for the new fans it serves as an educational piece. Consumers that are watching WWE programming now might not know how bad it was back then for the WWE. They were close to bankruptcy. They had their backs against the wall and guys like Stone Cold Steve Austin really helped build the company to what it is today. They might see Stone Cold and think, 'Oh, he's obviously pretty popular because everybody's cheering for him, but why is he so popular?' You get to learn about that. So I think it plays to a bunch of different consumer types, which I think is really interesting and different. I don't think we've ever had an appeal like that.
Q: Has THQ's financial situation and management changes had an impact on the studio?
CL: I haven't seen any impact on my end. I can only speak about myself. For us it's business as usual. It hasn't impacted quality whatsoever, which is a great thing. That's the only thing I care about. I'm a creative guy, right? I'm the creative director for the design team and the only time I'm ever going to complain is if I notice quality has slipped.
That quality has definitely not slipped to any degree, which makes me happy. That's always going to keep me happy if we're putting out high quality products. That's what I think anyone in this industry wants to do, and I think there's a lot more pressure now for companies to put out quality products because there's not as many consumers maybe to go around, there's not as many dollars to go around, so you've got to fight for those dollars. Fans will sniff out a low quality product from a mile away and you can't make a living off that. That's the only thing that we continue to make sure doesn't happen; that we don't slip in quality.
Q: Talking of high-quality products. WWE All Stars was quite well-received by critics, but didn't attract as much of a consumer base as the standard WWE games do. Is the All Stars series finished now, or would you consider something like that again?
CL: There's no official comment on the future of an All Stars sequel. The product itself did very well. It met our expectations on many levels and I think it was a really fun game that the team down in San Diego, the former THQ team, did a phenomenal job on that game. I remember being very impressed by what they were able to put together. It was a different type of game where it was more of an arcade type of experience. It was fantastical in the fact that they were doing flying 360s in the air, so I think that just generally will appeal to a certain consumer base.
Just like any other sports game where you have a simulation sports title and an arcade sports title, in my opinion it seems that the simulation games always tend to do much better than an arcade-style game. If a consumer is faced with a decision between the two, he might learn more about the simulation. So I think in general for all sports games, simulation games seem to do consistently better.
Q: In the UK we have FIFA 12 and FIFA Street. There's a similar scenario there.
Q: Can you tell us more about WWE Live? How does that work?
CL: Conceptually, what we looked at this being was all the great moments and experiences you get from a live show or from a great Pay-Per-View. And what is that? We have a lot of those pieces already in the game as far as the core gameplay and the drama that we're able to create. But there were these really cool, over-the-top moments that were these big game-changers that were really exciting that you couldn't pull off in the WWE game yet.
We felt like we've got to have some of those to really make you have a 'wow' moment while you're playing the game. Moves like having the ring collapse is such a cool wow moment that you can have in the game, and so we felt doing some of those spectacular moments would really push that a whole level up.
The second part of it is the audio overhaul. We've brought in the UFC audio team to work on the WWE audio, and they've completely gutted it out and built it from the ground-up. It's not just the commentary but the sound effects and the crowd audio. The goal is to make it sound like a live event in your living room. We want the crowd to respond to you and we want the sound effects to have some oomph to them, because I think sound is completely underrated in movies and games. You can't really feel the impact of something without audio that backs it up.
So that was really important to us. This year, fans can expect a dynamic crowd that responds to you, that gets really loud and you feel their excitement. I think in past games it might have been a little bit of a lull. The crowd wasn't able to recognise big moments. This year they recognise big moments. And then commentary as well. We want to continue to overhaul the commentary so it sounds just like you hear on broadcasts, and the commentators are funny, witty and they're accurately doing a play-by-play and explaining the story for you. There's a lot of different dynamics to it. WWE Live is all encompassing as far as presentation [and a] spectacular, wow moment type of feature.
Q: So getting the atmosphere right has been the key area you've wanted to push with this year's game?
CL: That was definitely one of the top things. I think we usually put them in a couple of different buckets and there's always a single-player campaign or story mode bucket - that's going to be our main big feature so we want to put a lot of effort towards making it great. Obviously the Attitude era is one of those things. When it comes to gameplay or presentation, WWE Live fits right into that. We take a look at the entire game and see all the areas and we know how important every single one is. The creation suite where you can create all this great content - you never want to ignore that, that's one of our most popular features.
So we look at it bucket by bucket and we say 'what do we want to do in each of these categories to make sure the experience is top notch?' We offer so much that one consumer might only like to play in the creation modes. That's where they get their big kick: they love creating 50 guys, putting them in Royal Rumbles and decking out all their entrances. And other people have zero interest in doing that. So we try to cater to everyone and it's a difficult task, and what it means is that your focus needs to be spread across a couple of different things, but I think we do a good job balancing that.
Q: You've removed The Road To Wrestlemania from this year's game.
CL: We've completely gotten rid of The Road To Wrestlemania, which has been more of a linear approach and was all original fiction. I felt that it was getting a little stale. We've had Road To Wrestlemania for the last 4 or 5 years and I never want us to get stuck in that rut of, 'Oh, another Road To Wrestlemania'. So we took a completely different approach.
The whole experience is different. When you're going match to match to match, it's not all about watching a story unfold. It's really about objectives and reliving history. It's a game within a game. You're playing the game to win, but you're also being asked to recreate some of these historical objectives. Whether you do that or not gives you unlockables, gives you cool bonus cutscenes and story titbits. So I love the aspect of a game within a game that was really missing in past story modes.
Q: Was that inspired by what EA Sports has been doing with their titles? This year's Tiger Woods does a similar thing, looking back at Tiger's history and career.
CL: To be perfectly honest with you I wasn't familiar that Tiger Woods did that. I haven't played that game much. We did take a look at some other games that didn't necessarily spark the idea of doing the Attitude era, but they did something similar as far as looking back at history.
I think some of the NBA games recently have done stuff like that. We looked a little bit at that but that wasn't really our main focus because the games are so different in how we tell our history. A lot of those games don't use historic footage or a lot of cinematics. That's a big part of what our story experience is. We looked at those other games as small reference points, but for the most part we're just heads down, what makes for a great WWE single-player campaign.
Want more on WWE '13? Then be sure to check out VideoGamer.com's exclusive interview with WWE Superstar Mark Henry.
WWE '13 launches on Xbox 360, PlayStation 3 and Wii on November 2.