Two for the Road
As with every sports game, the makers of WWE SmackDown! vs. Raw 2009 could probably just update the stats of the previous year's model and hear no complaints. Rather than rest on their laurels, the developers on THQ's upcoming wrestling game -- which will be out on the Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, PlayStation 2, PSP, Wii, DS and even cell phones this fall -- are revamping many of the game's underlying systems. According to Creative Manager Bryan Williams, the changes that will most excite longtime fans of the fighting series are all the new and improved modes, including a revamped tag team that will have players happy to wait their turn.
Crispy Gamer: So besides changing the 8 into a 9, how is this game different from WWE SmackDown! vs. Raw 2008?
Bryan Williams: We have, every year, our major five features, which this year includes our improved tag team matches, adding the Create-A-Finisher mode and the new Road to WrestleMania, which is our single-player story mode, but we're fixing everything under the hood as well, from the artificial intelligence and the loading times to the commentary system. For example, we routinely get called up on our AI, for it being rather ... dumb, for lack of a better word, so we're not going to tune our AI, we're completely redoing it from scratch.
Crispy Gamer: I want to talk a bit about the revamped tag team matches. First, will this be in both single- and multiplayer, and if so, how will it work?
Williams: It's both single- and multiplayer. Multiplayer is actually one of the most popular features in our game, so the tag teams can be two human players on the same team against the computer, or a human player with an AI companion against another human player with an AI companion, or four human players. The thing is, in past years, if you had two human players on the same team, one guy would do all the fighting, while the other guy would just stand there. One of our big improvements this year is beefing up what that other player can do. They can grab the opponent, they can distract the referee, they can taunt, they can do all kinds of shenanigans to help their partner.
Crispy Gamer: Will all those multiplayer options be online as well as off?
Williams: We are not discussing our online feature set as of yet, but we've been online for four, five games now, so it's a safe bet.
Crispy Gamer: Now the game's story-driven mode this time, as you said, is called the Road to WrestleMania. How do you guys figure out what the story will actually be, and what matches will be included?
Williams: This year we're doing something a little different. This time, you'll be able to choose one of the top superstars, such as John Cena, and we've written stories specifically for those guys that will span the three months between Royal Rumble and WrestleMania. They'll have branching paths, and there will be a specific tag team storyline that can be played alone or co-op with a friend.
Crispy Gamer: Is the story for tag teams totally different from the single-player one, or is it an adapted one?
Williams: Adapted. It's basically one of the stories from Road to WrestleMania that's been adapted for tag teams.
Crispy Gamer: Now, the game also lets you make your own wrestler...
Williams: Of course, Create-A-Superstar is one of our most popular modes. We're not getting rid of that, ever.
Crispy Gamer: Will you be able to play as them in Road to WrestleMania?
Crispy Gamer: Let's talk a bit about the Create-A-Finisher mode. How deep will that mode be?
Williams: It's actually the best of both worlds, because it's really robust, but it's also intuitive and easy to use. You could make a move in five minutes if you wanted, but you could also spend more time and perfectly recreate a move you saw someone do on TV.
Crispy Gamer: How many different moves will you get to choose from, and how many of them can you string together into a single finishing move?
Williams: There are over 500 individual moves, and you can string together up to 10 of them into a single finisher -- though you can also modify the speed of each one, and your move will be usable online, in quick matches, and in Road to WrestleMania.
Crispy Gamer: Can you only use these moves with a character you create?
Williams: No. Each superstar in the game has two finishing moves, but if you want, you can take out one of their signature moves, or both of them, and replace them with one you've made, and you can assign them to more than one character. You'll be able to store, I believe, around 30 finishing moves on your hard drive.
Crispy Gamer: Will the game also feature some hot Diva-on-Diva action?
Williams: Oh, this being the WWE, we'll always support hot Diva-on-Diva action. In fact, the roster in this game -- and this includes the Divas -- is actually 30 to 40 percent larger than it was last year. I can't give a total figure yet, but there ares more than 60 wrestlers in the game.
Crispy Gamer: There have been a lot of famous people showing up in the ring lately, including Kevin Federline and that boxer --
Williams: Floyd Mayweather.
Crispy Gamer: Right. Will you have any famous people in this game?
Williams: I can't say as of yet, but we will definitely be having some unlockable characters in the game. Whether they'll be anyone you just mentioned is yet to be seen.
Crispy Gamer: Might there be some other wrestlers made available later via download?
Williams: We are supporting downloadable content this year. I can't say what right now, but it's a wrestling game, and I think it's pretty easy to figure out what kind of stuff we'd make available for download.
Crispy Gamer: The last couple of WWE games have funny mini-games, like one where wrestlers played cards. Will this one?
Williams: We will have some mini-games. In the DS version, for example, there will actually be some mini-games throughout the season mode that use the stylus. There might be some in Road to WrestleMania as well.