WP: Who has the honor to speak with us? State your name, rank and occupation!
I'm Bryan Williams, and I'm a game designer for Smackdown vs. Raw 2010.
WP: How long have you been working on the Smackdown vs. Raw series?
BW: I've been working on Smackdown vs. Raw for five years now, and two years before that, I was working as a tester here at THQ.
WP: You're pretty familiar with the way the series has evolved. One of the more popular features has been Create-a-Superstar. For this year, you guys went ahead and revamped the Create-a-Superstar mode. Can you tell us a little bit about why you did that and what prompted the changes?
BW: There were a couple of reasons for wanting to update or improve Create-a-Superstar mode. From year to year, outside of whatever big new features that we tout to the media, to a large contingent of our fans, their only concern is Create-a-Superstar. It's probably the most popular mode outside of just the wrestling itself. It's probably the most popular mode in the game and has been since day one. We really wanted to just give extra attention to Create-a-Superstar this year; mostly, we wanted to increase and update the quality of the finished product, the finished superstar. In years past, whatever you created, it really stood out when standing next to John Cena or Triple H. The quality between the default WWE superstar and a character that was created through our creation system was kind of worlds apart, and we really wanted to lessen that gap for Smackdown vs. Raw 2010 and make whatever it is you create look as close to John Cena, Triple H, and Mickie James so that we could get rid of that separation in quality.
WP: Your artists are sitting there working with professional design tools and high-end 3-D software, and you're trying to deliver a good experience to the end user, but how difficult is it to provide that same sort of power in a very limited interface on a console? Obviously you're not giving out 3D Studio Max with each copy of the game, so what kind of challenge was it to give that power to the editor?
BW: Honestly, for me, being on the design side, I don't have to deal with the actual programming of all this. I just have the luxury of being creative and coming up with all these cool things that I'd like to see come to fruition in the game and have our wonderful developers in Japan, Yuke's, figure out the ways in which to accomplish the things that are in our heads. That's one of the luxuries that I have working on this title, but with that being said, this is the 11th game in the Smackdown franchise, so Yuke's has definitely cut their teeth on not only making really great wrestling games, but they understand the fundamentals and what's important in the creation system. They've mastered it, and across the industry, I think that we definitely have the most robust and deep character creation mode in all of gaming.
WP: From a design perspective, when you're sitting down there year to year, having yourself worked on the series for five years, how do you sit down and escape the yearly trap of a sports game so that it's not the same game only with different rosters? When you were looking at each year's iteration of the game, how do you identify which parts should be improved upon and which parts should remain the same? What goes into that thought process?
BW: That's a very good question. Where to begin? Well, I play the game. If you talk to my co-workers, they'll say that I play Smackdown vs. Raw to an unhealthy degree. I'm constantly playing Smackdown vs. Raw. A lot of times, I'll come up with ideas, features or improvements at the house because that's really where I get a sense of how things have shaped up in the end product. When I'm playing at the house and the game's done, I really have a better sense of, "This feels really good. This works," or "This really isn't fun," or "We could do a much better job of doing this or that." A lot of that happens at the house, away from my cubicle, when I'm just playing the game like a consumer or fan — because I am a fan — and seeing what works and what didn't.
Working on a wrestling game, we're not held to that same kind of standard as a basketball, football or baseball game where there are a strict set of rules. With wrestling, it's always changing. The WWE is an ever-evolving and changing entity, so for us, we're not tied into any kind of strict confines of rules or how things are supposed to be. They introduce new match types, new wrestlers are introduced, the superstars, so that really helps as well as far as trying to think of new features and improving what we have in the game. The game is really big when you look at all the different match types. A lot of the match types in our game are really fun. And there are some that, like the Royal Rumble has been, which is something that we improved for 2010, was in need of a redesign because it had been stagnant and stale for the last couple of games. I mean, our game is pretty big, and there are always things that are in need of an improvement and a redesign.
WP: What about the story mode? Have you guys done anything with Story Designer for this year?
BW: Yeah, Story Designer is a brand-new feature for the game this year. It's the perfect companion piece to Road to Wrestlemania mode, which we debuted in last year's title, Smackdown vs. Raw 2009. In Road to Wrestlemania, we offered six stories — and we will again in 2010 — and these stories are all scripted and built around individual superstars in the WWE, so you've got voiceover, cut scenes, pretty much everything that you see watching Raw, Smackdown, ECW, you'll get to experience in this mode. It's very, very close to programming.
The Story Designer mode has all of the same attributes, but we don't have superstar voiceover, but we give players an insane amount of tools and options to create and customize their very own stories. Story Designer features over 100 cut scenes that players can insert into their stories, change up the cast, input text — in lieu of voiceover, you can use text — to tell your story. All the match types are at the player's disposal to insert into the story as well. It's really giving players, once they're done with Road to Wrestlemania and played the stories that we've written out for them, they can then go into this mode and create wholly original stories straight out of their own imagination, and then the really cool thing is that once they're done with creating the story, they can then upload that online into our new WWE community creations and have people download those stories and play them.
WP: If I create a story, I could share it with my friends on Xbox Live or PSN, and they could play it like a full level or full story in the game?
WP: What other multiplayer features do you have this year? Obviously you can share the stories, and I'm assuming you can go online and compete with each other, but how many different modes of play do you have for players going online with PSN and XBLA?
BW: Just like offline, our online feature set for PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 features roughly 80 percent of all the match types that are found offline. The only exceptions, I believe — we have a lot of matches so I hope I get this right — are that the Royal Rumble and Elimination Chamber match are not available online, but all the other match types are. Of course, that's over 70 match types that you can play online with up to four people on PSN and Xbox Live. Our offline multiplayer feature set is just as robust and fully featured as ever. Multiplayer is a very big part of our game. A lot of my friends, and I hear from fans that when the game comes out, they get their friends together, and they'll just have marathon sessions playing Smackdown vs. Raw with some beer and pizzas or something.
WP: What about balancing that out with the Create-a-Superstar mode? When I'm sitting down with a friend and we want to compete, how does the game make sure that I haven't just totally overpowered my Create-a-Superstar and given myself an unfair advantage when I'm playing against someone using a stock character?
BW: Create-a-Superstars are all similar to the actual WWE characters. Anytime you create a superstar from the Create-a-Superstar mode, they start out at a certain base attribute level, and whether or not you've created a light heavyweight, a cruiserweight, a heavyweight or a super heavyweight, there are certain parameters. As you win matches, you earn attributes to then build up your character's stats, such as their grapple strength, strike strength, speed attribute, technical, and ability to counter and reverse proficiently. We have limiting caps on these, so depending on the type of character you've made, you can't create a super heavyweight that's as fast as Rey Mysterio, for example, who's a light cruiserweight type of superstar. We have these balances in place so that we create an even playing field for the Create-a-Superstars and the WWE Superstars.
WP: Of the superstars, who do you have as the new superstar in this edition of the game, and do you have any classic superstars available for play, or is Smackdown vs. Raw 2010 strictly limited to the current rosters?
BW: We have a lot of new superstars in this year's game, which is really exciting. With us coming out every year, it's always cool when we can deliver a game that has a really fresh roster of superstars and divas. Off the top of my head, Jack Swagger is a new superstar, making his Smackdown vs. Raw debut this year; Primo Colón, the brother of Carlito Colón; and Gail Kim, who recently left TNA to join WWE, and we were fortunate to have her back in the Smackdown vs. Raw series. There are quite a bit. Compared to 2009, in 2010, roughly about 30-40 percent of the roster is comprised of new talent that's new to the WWE.
As far as the classic superstars and legends, we do have a couple, but I can't really mention them because they're unlockable characters and I don't want to spoil anything. It's already been mentioned that both The Rock and Stone Cold Steve Austin are two legends that will be featured in this year's Smackdown vs. Raw 2010. In addition to them, we have a couple of other cool surprises for the players out there.
WP: If you had to sum it up in two to three sentences, what really makes Smackdown vs. Raw 2010 a game that's worth playing?
BW: Smackdown vs. Raw 2010 is, without a doubt, the most authentic representation of sports entertainment that we've made thus far. That, coupled with the insane amount of creation tools and customization, really sets this game apart not only from the Smackdown games, but also from any other wrestling title. We're very proud of it, and if you are a fan of the WWE, if you're a fan of professional wrestling, or if you're a gamer, it would be in your best interest to pick up Smackdown vs. Raw 2010. You will not be disappointed.
WP: Is there anything about the game that we haven't talked about that you wanted to add?BW: Well, we have a new match type. I mentioned that we redesigned the Royal Rumble match, but we also have a new match type in the Championship Scramble match, which is a new match type that WWE debuted late in 2008. It's a 20-minute timed match with five competitors. The match starts out with two superstars in the ring competing for one of the many championships in the WWE, and a new superstar enters the match every two minutes. The last superstar to score a pinfall or a submission on the opponent walks out as the new champion. It's a really fun match type. A lot of excitement goes on in that 20 minutes. It's pretty fun.
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