Wrestling is still popular, but it's not nearly the cultural phenomenon it was in its late-'90s/early-'00s heyday — the Attitude Era. THQ and developer Yuke's know that, and in an effort to broaden the audience for WWE '13, the next installment in their long-running wrestling series, they're building a nostalgia trip for fans.
"Everyone [has] been watching forever, and [the Attitude Era] was the time frame that everyone really enjoyed," said Bryce Yang, senior global brand manager for the WWE franchise, during a recent demo of WWE '13. "It was the peak of mainstream popularity, so it's very well-remembered."
To that end, Yuke's made the Attitude Era the focus in WWE '13. It was a period of outsize personalities, racy storylines, and a PG-13 product that fans loved, but parental watchdog groups loved to demonize. (Since then, the WWE transitioned into more family-friendly entertainment.) WWE '13 offers dozens of current WWE Superstars, such as Sheamus and cover athlete CM Punk, but also includes Attitude Era big names like Stone Cold Steve Austin and The Undertaker.
Yuke's is replacing the franchise's Road to WrestleMania mode — which Yang admitted "was getting a little long in the tooth" — with a single-player campaign mode offering a number of Attitude Era storylines that take you through two years of wrestling history. (The career mode, WWE Universe, is still available.) Yang told me that "the key storylines from that time are all in the game," so D-Generation X and Stone Cold fans are sure to be pleased. While the currently announced Attitude roster comprises Stone Cold, Mankind, The Undertaker, "Sexual Chocolate" Mark Henry and Mike Tyson, Yang promised that "basically, any key talent from that era is in there."
As in any story mode, you simply have to win your match in order to move forward. But fans who know their history will appreciate the opportunity to complete bonus objectives based on the way those classic matches actually went down. For example, King of the Ring in 1998 saw perhaps the greatest Hell in a Cell match in WWE history, with Taker defeating Mankind after throwing him off the Cell through a table and then Chokeslamming him through the Cell's ceiling. Recreating feats like that will unlock special content, such as classic outfits and ring setups.
The developers have also ensured that Attitude Era matches look and sound like their original television broadcasts. They've recreated the graphical overlays from that period, as well as the arenas — according to Yang, WWE '13 offers double the number of arenas in previous WWE games, the most ever in the franchise. "There's a lot of work involved in going back through the tapes to make sure that everything's as accurate as possible," he said. And longtime fans will be overjoyed to learn that Attitude Era matches feature a different commentary team: Yuke's brought back Jim "JR" Ross and Jerry "The King" Lawler for those bouts, while Lawler and Michael Cole handle the duties for modern matches.
Yang acknowledged the lackluster audio in past WWE games, and explained a new feature that hopes to address that: WWE Live. It's the developer's name for a suite of presentation improvements designed to capture the feel of a live wrestling event. Yuke's dramatically improved the crowd, whether it's their general excitement level or the way they react to a match. As Yang played, it was clear that the fans in attendance were responding to the action in the ring, chanting one wrestler's name and booing when a heel gained the upper hand.
In addition, Yuke's tried to make the in-game camera angles and cuts closely resemble a broadcast. "We worked directly with the WWE television team to make sure our camera angles are as accurate as possible, so it replicates TV as best as possible," Yang told me. Camera cuts make the action look more realistic, and because they're designed to occur only after an animation has already begun, they don't impede your view.
WWE '13 also provides plenty of gameplay improvements that should go a long way toward making matches feel more like real wrestling. "Back in the day, SmackDown vs. Raw was clunky," Yang admitted. "Like, there was so much content, but it was not polished." Yuke's implemented a new game engine in WWE '12, Predator Technology, and with the help of more than 1,000 additional animations this year, matches look more fluid than ever before. Many of the new animations are in the area of reversals — successfully complete a split-second button prompt, and your Superstar will smoothly transition into a counter-attack. If you have a finishing move stored, you can take advantage of new mid-air reversals to catch an opponent leaping toward you and immediately put the hurt on him.
Reversals are key to wrestling because they help dictate the pace of a match. Yang pointed out that as "sports-entertainment," as opposed to pure fighting, wrestling is unique in that matches tell stories. "In a fighting game — like UFC, let's say — your goal is just to win however you can win, as fast as possible," he began. "With ours, it's kinda like... our fans put together wrestling matches."
Yuke's realized that while you've always been able to do something amazing — like throwing a guy off the top of the Cell — "it didn't feel like you'd accomplished anything by doing it," Yang acknowledged. It didn't wow the crowd, and the game didn't highlight it. The crowd should rise and fall with the ebb and flow of a match, peaking at appropriately exciting points. That's why Yuke's added something it calls "Spectacular Moments" to WWE '13.
When you have the opportunity to do something special, like break the ring with a strong move or put your opponent through a table, an "OMG" prompt pops up. Whatever you do next, the game singles out the event by replaying it from various angles with motion blur. The commentators express their excitement, too; expect to hear shouts of "oh mah gawd" from JR. "We wanted to make it feel as epic as it does when you see it on TV," Yang explained, saying that WWE '13 is "trying to recreate the drama of a big wrestling match."
"We wanted to make it feel as epic as it does when you see it on TV"
The UFC eclipsed the WWE in recent years, so it's natural for THQ to return to wrestling's most recent peak. "It's an opportunity to not only hit our current fans, but also fans of the past," said Yang, comparing the Attitude Era focus in WWE '13 to the Jordan Challenge that turned 2K Sports' NBA 2K11 into a pop-culture phenomenon on the level of EA Sports' Madden series. Banking on that nostalgia, THQ and Yuke's are hoping that longtime fans will relive classic WWE moments in this game, and that younger ones will create a few of their own.
WWE '13 is due out for Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, and Wii on October 30th.