When THQ releases WWE SmackDown vs. Raw 2009 this fall, it will have many wrestlers facing off inside the ring. But the game will have its own face-off outside the ring thanks to Midway, which will be releasing its own grappler, TNA iMPACT!, the first game based on the relatively newer wrestling league that airs on Spike TV. Set for release this September on the Xbox 360, PlayStation3, PlayStation 2 and Wii, the game may not be as deep as THQ's, but according to Scot Layne, the Studio Head of Midway L.A., and TNA wrestler Jay "Black Machismo" Lethal, TNA still might just put WWE in a headlock.
Crispy Gamer: Let's start at the beginning. What is TNA wrestling and how does it differ from WWE wrestling?
Scot Layne: From my perspective, it's a completely different league. TNA stands for "Total Nonstop Action" which sets the tone for the differences between the leagues. There's a lot more action, it's a lot more acrobatic -- there's a match called Ultimate X where there's an X hanging over the ring, and the wrestlers have to climb up and grab it while other people are trying to knock them down -- and it's a lot faster paced.
Crispy Gamer: So then how will TNA iMPACT! be different from WWE SmackDown vs. Raw 2009?
Layne: WWE SmackDown vs. Raw 2009 is a great game, it's a great franchise. It's part of the reason we're making our game. That said, their game plays like the WWE and we think we're going to bring a different twist to it by going with a faster paced, more responsive game.
Crispy Gamer: How many wrestlers will your game include?
Layne: I don't know if I'm allowed to say, but it's over 20.
Crispy Gamer: Mr. Lethal, what do you think of the way you look in the game?
Jay Lethal: Just the fact that I have a character in a game is why I'm smiling right now. I'm a huge gamer, so even if it didn't look like me, just the fact that I'm in it is awesome. That it has such a close resemblance to me just makes it even better.
Crispy Gamer: When you saw your character in action, were there any moves you do in real life that you were surprised the designers noticed and included?
Lethal: Well, everything our characters do are things that we did at the motion capture sessions. They actually told us that if there was anything we wanted to be able to do in the game, we could -- we just had to do while we had the mo-cap suit on.
Crispy Gamer: Will you also be able to create your own wrestler?
Layne: Absolutely. It's a pretty robust system. We have a couple different categories of wrestlers: brawlers, strikers, grapplers?. And the plan is that you'll be able to bring them into any mode.
Crispy Gamer: What are the different single-player modes in the game?
Layne: Wow, I've got to think about this one, there's a lot. There's Exhibition, Story Mode, Ultimate X, Full Metal Mayhem, which lets you use chairs and stuff?
Crispy Gamer: Can you not normally use them?
Layne: Correct. You know, let's turn on the game and look at them, because there's a lot. There's also Tag Team and Tag Hardcore, which is Tag Team with weapons allowed. Free for All is three wrestlers, but every man for himself.
Crispy Gamer: I see one called The Monsters Ball -- I assume that's based on the movie.
Layne: Ha! Yeah, you wrestle Halle Berry. No, it's Free for All with weapons. Ultimate X FFA is a free-for-all version of the Ultimate X match, which is a blast. Submission is one where you can only win by submission.
Crispy Gamer: In terms of online modes, will it just be one-on-one matches or will you have tag team ones as well?
Layne: We're not sure. Right now we're committing to one-on-one and that's all. But if we can pull it off, we'll do more.
Crispy Gamer: Now I read, albeit on Wikipedia, that there won't be any Six Sides of Steel matches.
Layne: Wow, it says that? Good for them. No, there probably won't. When we started making this game, we knew it wouldn't be as wide as WWE. They're on their 11th version. We decided not to focus on the breadth of features until we absolutely nail the basic combat and the feel in the ring. We'll get there. We're starting a franchise, right? So this first game is all about making the combat as fun as possible.
Crispy Gamer: Does that mean you're already thinking there will be a second game, which will have even more modes and features?
Layne: Exactly. There are a lot of things that won't be in the first one, and if we're fortunate enough to do a sequel, we already have a design in mind.
Crispy Gamer: Are you building something into the system so people who make a wrestler in this game will be able to use them in the next one as well?
Layne: Oh, I can say with almost full certainty that you will, because that's important to us. I love being able to bring my character from one game to the next.
Crispy Gamer: Wikipedia also says that some of the real wrestlers were involved in the game's design. How so?
Layne: Oh, we've had many design meetings in the studio with Samoa Joe and A.J. Styles. These guys play games. Not 15 minutes ago Joe said to me, "In that move, can you move the arm off the shoulder and get it closer to the neck?" In fact, Chris Sabin took his name from Final Fantasy.
Crispy Gamer: Have they suggested anything that made you say, "Dang, why didn't we think of that?"
Layne: I'm positive, but I can't think of anything right now.
Crispy Gamer: Mr. Lethal, was there anything you suggested?
Lethal: Definitely. In WWE Raw for the Xbox you could create a character and, since the Xbox let you store music on it, your character's entrance music could be a song stored on your Xbox. I thought that was one of the greatest features. Unfortunately, they weren't able to do it for this version.
Gamer: Some of the TNA guys used to wrestle for the WWE. Did any of them say anything like, "We didn't like this in the WWE game, can you not do that?"
Layne: Oh, all the time. They made a lot of comments about how the game looks and feels. The game they actually mention a lot is Virtual Pro Wrestling 64.
Crispy Gamer: TNA also has lady wrestlers, which they called TNA Knockouts. Will any of them be in the game?
Layne: No, because there was no ladies' division when we started the game. They just kicked that off five, six months ago, and by then we were already locked into our plan.
Crispy Gamer: Now the game is being made for the 360, PS3, PS2 and Wii. Besides the graphical differences, and the control ones on the Wii, are there any major differences?
Layne: Yeah, the PS2 and Wii won't have the Create-a-Player mode. It just didn't work because of the memory and quality of graphics. So for the Story mode, there will be some pre-made characters they can use. Those versions also won't have the online modes. But all the rest of the game will be there.
Crispy Gamer: TNA iMPACT! will obviously be compared to WWE SmackDown vs. Raw 2009. From a purely gameplay perspective, what do you think TNA Impact! does better than past WWE games?
Layne: I'm a fan of that series, so I don't want this to be an insult to them, but our game is going to feel better, our animations are going to be smoother and cleaner -- that's our specialty at Midway -- and it's going to be more responsive.
Crispy Gamer: Midway has a tradition of having crazy unlockable characters in their sports games. Will TNA iMPACT! have this?
Layne: I hope so. We have some really good ideas.
Crispy Gamer: Since TNA is on Spike TV, does that mean one of the hidden characters might be "Game Trailers TV" host Geoff Keighley?
Layne: No, I never even thought of that! That's a good idea, though.
Crispy Gamer: Mr. Lethal, when you get your copy of this game, what character will you play as?
Lethal: Aside from myself? I'd say Chris Sabin because, in the ring, he does a lot of things I wish I could do, and he comes up with a lot of innovative things I wish I could come up with. And because I know all his moves, it'll be easy for me to play as him.
Crispy Gamer: Now I'm not trying to start anything here, but is there someone you won't play as?
Lethal: Hmmm?. Eric Young. If someone is afraid of their own pyro, they might be afraid of other things as well.
Crispy Gamer: Because this game is being published by Midway, there's been some concern in wrestling circles that TNA iMPACT! was going to be like a cross between WWE and Mortal Kombat. Did you ever consider doing that?
Layne: No, it's not that kind of game. The last thing we want to do is get in the ring with MK. Wrestling is already over the top. We're trying to be relatively realistic. You're not going to be flying through the air while doing a dozen kicks.
Crispy Gamer: If Midway had decided to go that route, what TNA wrestler would've been throwing the fireballs?
Lethal: Either Abyss or A.J. Styles.
Crispy Gamer: But certainly not that Young guy.
Lethal: Definitely not.