tl;dr in bold.
I don’t remember what started it, but I’ve been thinking about wrestling games a lot lately. It started before I even saw the highly entertaining video from Max Landis, rebutting the bewilderment of people who don’t enjoy wrestling, citing wrestling isn’t real. I haven’t watched wrestling in over a decade. But wresting video games? From Nintendo Pro Wrestling, to WWF No Mercy for the Nintendo 64, they were fun, especially with friends. And especially in later games when you could team up with your favorite wrestlers to wreak havoc on other players. But after a few duds, I stopped playing them. From the reviews I’ve found of recent wrestling games they haven’t progressed as I would’ve imagined.
It’s important to note that wrestling games have one are in which they’e always reigned supreme – character creation. From early N64 games allowing combining of different wrestler’s body parts and palette-swapping, to more modern wrestling games giving in-depth cutomization and flair other games only dream of. Many of them even allow general move sets and highly specialized moves (akin to Mortal Kombat’s finishing moves.) But the fighting isn’t the most important part. The character drama and plots, the key parts Max Landis touched on, have not been made more interactive. From the reviews I see of recent wrestling games their “career campaigns” have become heavily scripted, giving a near-linear story experience, scaled back from previous games.
We’re in the time of Shadow of Mordor; games should at least have a fraction of the procedural storytelling found in an Elder Scrolls games. What, you want to complain about dealing with data? Crusader Kings 2 has a huge amount of data. Thousands of NPCs have constantly evolving opinions on each other and the player based on several metrics and attributes. That game is often played at several-updates per second, with major changes happening in any update. And the players are rarely of any of those opinions, much less the changes that result in them. But a wrestling game? In this proposed kind of game whose primary draw is drama is predicated upon character attributes that are changed once every ten minutes or so isn’t heavily mapping that data in a way to facilitate more dramatic and interesting gameplay is a crime.
Players (as a new character or an established wrestler) should go through a couple of events (broadcasted shows) a week, each one offering the player an established fight schedule, and the opportunity to interact with other wrestlers. In interacting with other wrestlers, the player’s actions should generate friends and nemeses which leads to plots for the night and generally larger character arcs for them.
Like Crusader Kings II, give each wrestler a data table that indicates how they currently feel about other wrestlers. Add in a popularity meter with the faux audience, and how good/bad the audience views them, and this provides a lot of options for procedural storytelling. Add in the physical traits, and even personality traits to tag the player with that only matter behind the scenes, and things could get even more interesting. If you create a quick, small, luchadore-style wrestler with a zen attitude, the game can trend toward different angles of other wrestlers that you fight against.
The player can be given easy onscreen cues about these things. Presented as a TV show, you can have announcers say another wrestler’s name, talk about their character, standing (good/bad) and have the audience sheer/boo to show his popularity (100/-100). Players should be able to attack, insult, honor (press X to pay respect), challenge, offer to help, or ask for help. But to make it less of a random jump by button pressing every chance you get? Only let a wrestler initiate with another wrestler if their target is 10 or fewer points above the initiator, or 30 points or fewer below the initiator. You could expand this range by raising your popularity, and accomplishments like winning the title. A champ might get a larger group of on-comers and a wider berth to mess with others.
Help a bad guy? You trend from good (face) to bad (heel). Become a champ and help a good guy with low popularity? You could lose some poplarity, but the neophyte gains more and that person starts to like you. If you’re in good standing with someone, offer to create a team or stable of wrestlers who often work together! Or for no reason than to cause drama and maybe raise your notoriety? Stab them in the back!
And if you liked wrestling games in the past, or can just imagine fun fighting? Imagine being able to do that with four players, or even online. I can easily imagine a pay-it-forward style of gameplay in which playing A finishes their match, then player B, then player C, etc. for a large number of players. Even let them schedule it at a certain day/time like a real wrestling event, so they could all interfere with each other. There’s no reason you couldn’t run an entire federation full of players if you want to go turn-based (except for matches between players) with a few slots for spectators.
The big secret to this? In TV, when someone makes a big deal about airing something completely unrelated to the Super Bowl during the same timeslot, and makes a big deal about it? It’s called “counter-programming”. You don’t compete; you go completely against the people your opponents are going for. I think WWE has made such a big deal out of their roster (whom I respect) that this game doesn’t have to be about the roster. This doesn’t have to be a WWE game. Honestly, if a new Tecmo World Wrestling* was released with a bunch of fun characters, customization tools, fun wrestling, and a robust career mode? I genuinely think they could run a good “counter-programming” campaign, and rake in some cash.
*Also acceptable: Nintendo Pro Wrestling, Saturday Night Slam Masters, or entirely new IP. Imagine a Capcom or Square-Enix wrestling game. I can.