THQ's SmackDown! franchise has always been the company's biggest seller, at least where WWE games are concerned. This year's edition marks a change in direction for the series, starting with a new name: WWE SmackDown! vs. Raw. Of course, the title isn't the only thing that's changed, so we spoke with associate producer Cory Ledesma to find out about such topics as the game's new wrestling mechanics and gameplay modes, and we even posed the big question: Will the game make it online? Read on to see what we discovered.
GameSpot: Though last year's SmackDown! title was easily the most polished product in the series, some have said it was a bit too similar in design to the previous year's game. Will we see a more substantial leap forward for SmackDown! this year?
Cory Ledesma: Consumers will definitely see and feel a substantial leap forward, in every area of the game, over last year's product. Every mode in the game has been improved upon, and a couple of new modes have been added as well, such as create-a-pay-per-view, create-a-championship, and challenge mode.
As far as gameplay goes, we pride ourselves on continuing to add new strategic elements, features, and mechanics to deliver the best and most realistic wrestling-gaming experience money can buy. We strongly feel that fans will be pleasantly surprised with the improvements we have made.
GS: Here Comes The Pain introduced an excellent new grappling system to the series, as well as a new submission system. Have any changes been made to either of these areas? What about additional upgrades to the basic gameplay system?
CL: As a matter of fact, the grappling and submission systems have both been improved upon over last year's game. With the grappling system, we have added some "risk vs. reward" elements to the system. The four grappling types will still be in the game (powerful, submission, signature, and quick), but they are broken down into two groups now: high-damage/high-risk grapples (powerful and submission) and low-damage/low-risk grapples (quick and signature). So now, powerful and submission moves will cause a lot of damage, but they will be harder to execute, because the grapple reach for these grapple types will be slowed down.
Your opponent will now have a greater chance in countering these moves, because he can see the grapple reach coming sooner, and he will have a longer "window of opportunity" to counter it. The opposite goes for the quick and signature grapples. The moves in these categories will cause less damage, but the grapple reaches will be much quicker. This will enable the user to execute grapples in a faster manner, and it will make them harder to counter. This balances out the grapple types and adds a strategic element to the grappling system that has not been seen in previous SmackDown! products.
Another improvement to the grappling system is the addition of a new grappling position: the sitting position. Players will now be able to place an opponent who is lying on the mat into a sitting position so that they can then execute moves while their opponents are in this posture. Certain moves will also cause opponents to be automatically placed into this new position. This game addition gives the grappling system a new look and gives the user a variety of new moves.
In the submission system, we now have two different submission-meter mechanics. One is the same tug-of-war mechanic from last year, which is used only for moves in which the opponent is able to climb to the ropes in hopes of earning a rope break. The other submission meter is a new timing-based mechanic that's used for submission moves that do not involve the user crawling to the ropes, such as the bear hug. In this new mechanic, the user must lock a moving target--who is traveling side to side in the meter--into the "submission break" section of the meter to escape the submission. The user will also have a riskier option of trying to lock the target into a smaller "reverse submission" section of the meter that will allow the opponent to not only break the submission but also apply the submission right back to his opponent. The superstar's submission attribute rating will have an affect on both of the submission meters.
Another improvement to the basic gameplay system is a ramp up in power to the weapon attacks. Weapons will no longer feel like plastic toys that are being swung around in the ring. Weapons will cause a tremendous amount of damage, and they will also have a limited life span. They'll also be heavier and slower to swing.
GS: What can you tell us about these new gameplay elements, like the chop battle and the start-of-match stuff? Also, what's this "diva spanking" thing all about?
CL: We wanted to include the start-of-match minigames for a number of reasons. One of the big reasons was that we felt that the single matches in last year's SmackDown! game didn't feel like how real wrestling matches would start. Normally in the WWE, before a match starts, you always see the wrestlers mouthing off to each other, talking smack. Sometimes they'll get into a shoving contest or take a cheap shot at each other. We really wanted to add that drama and spectacle before the match to let the users begin their own little trash talking before each match starts. Another big reason we wanted to add these minigames is to give the opportunity for one player to get the first advantage in the match. In the start-of-match minigames, if a player wins it, he or she will now have an immediate advantage in the match, because his or her opponent will either be vulnerable or knocked down.
The chop battle mechanic was designed to re-create the classic back-and-forth chop battles seen on WWE programming. This is where one wrestler will use the back of his hand and forearm to deliver a mean slap to his opponent's chest. In the game, this will be a meter-based mechanic that will measure the strength and accuracy of your chop to the opponent. Whichever superstar wins a best-of-three battle will win the chop battle and will deliver a devastating chop that will knock his or her opponent to the mat.
Who doesn't want to spank a diva? Last year we added the bra and panties match, which really got fans excited. This year we wanted to continue to add some hot diva action, so we added a diva-spanking mechanic. This new mechanic will give users the opportunity to spank a diva into submission during a bra and panties match.
GS: Have any new match types made their ways into SmackDown! vs. Raw? What about mechanical changes to the existing match types?
CL: This year we've added a "parking lot brawl" match type. This is a hardcore match that will start off with two superstars in the middle of a parking lot that's surrounded by cars and trucks. All of the vehicles will be interactive, and your goal will be to knock out your opponent by any means necessary. This can include slamming opponents into windshields, doors, car hoods, etc.
We've also made a significant improvement to our royal rumble match type this year. It will now be much more challenging to throw opponents over the top rope and out of the ring. The match type will use a new meter system that will re-create the classic royal rumble struggle of forcing superstars over the top rope while fighting to hold on for dear life. This new system will also allow multiple superstars to gang up on one superstar by having two users join the meter struggle to force the opposing superstar out even faster.
GS: We understand that you've made some changes to heighten the more-personality-based aspects of the wrestlers, such as the differences between good guys and heels. What are they?
CL: We strongly feel that for our game to really represent the WWE, we need to incorporate the "good guy/bad guy" aspect of wrestling. We want players to be able to choose whether they want to fight like a dirty, cheap superstar or a clean-cut, crowd-pleasing fan favorite. So now, users will be able to choose which match tactic they want to use (dirty or clean) after they select their superstar. Then, when in a match, they can fill up their match-tactics meter by playing like a dirty superstar or a clean superstar. There are a list of tactics that each superstar can perform to build up either his dirty or clean match-tactics meter.
For example, dirty superstars will be able to argue with the referee after two counts. They'll also be able to hold onto submissions even after a referee calls for the rope break. Furthermore, they can remove turnbuckle pads and knock out the referee to build up their match-tactics meter. Clean superstars will have to please the crowd by taunting their opponents, performing their signature moves, and performing high-fly and high-risk maneuvers. Once the superstar has filled his meter up, he will then be able to execute his special match-tactics ability. The special match-tactics ability for the dirty superstar comes in the form of a devastating low blow that will completely incapacitate his opponent and give him the chance for a cheap win.
For the clean superstar, he will become completely invincible. He will be able to perform any attack without being countered, and he will also counter any attack someone attempts on him. Additionally, he'll be able to perform double damage on his finishing move. With this new gameplay addition, there comes a whole new strategy to the game and the ability to play like the real WWE Superstars' personas.
GS: What can you tell us about some of the new gameplay modes you're implementing this year, such as create-a-belt and create-a-PPV?
CL: The create-a-pay-per-view mode is something the fans have been asking us to bring back since SmackDown! 2. This mode lets users create their own PPV card so that they can then compete in all of the matches with their friends. Users will be able to customize many aspects of their PPVs, such as the card length, PPV name, which venue it will be held at, which commentators will participate, which brand will be represented, etc. The C-A-PPV will also be a forum for users to hold title shots by using the create-a-championship feature. The create-a-championship mode lets users create their own championship titles using hundreds of parts and customization options.
GS: The story mode has always been one of the most important aspects of wrestling games as a whole. What changes or additions have you made to SmackDown! vs. Raw's story mode?
CL: By far the biggest change to the season mode this year is the addition of superstar voice-over. Players will now feel completely immersed in the experience and will be able to hear their favorite superstars talking trash directly to them. Season mode will also contain all new storylines (never seen in previous wrestling games), heel-and-face story branching, and the ability to capture all the championship titles on the Raw and SmackDown! brands.
GS: How about the wrestler dialogue? Any word on which WWE superstars we should be expecting to hear in the game?
CL: We have recorded voice-over for every WWE Superstar on our roster (with the exception of our legends). Consumers will even get a chance to hear the all-powerful Vincent Kennedy McMahon in the game.
GS: Let's not beat around the bush any longer. Is SmackDown! vs. Raw going to be online? We know Yuke's recently put out Online Pro Wrestling in Japan, and an online ability here is definitely one of the things that wrestling game fans have been dying to see.
CL: No comment.
GS: Fair enough. Thanks for your time, Cory.