Mat@MDickie.com
Wrestling Encore















 


"Wrestling is an art form. I don't worry about those who don't get it;
I worry about satisfying those who do."
- Paul Heyman

As charming as Wrestling MPire was, it's easy to forget that it was the first 3D wrestling simulator that I ever made! It was the Federation Online of the 3D era, and as such suffered from countless novice flaws. Thousands of wrestling fans were forgiving enough to see through to the revolutionary concept underneath, but thousands more were lost to ignorance. 18 months later, having honed my skills on the Tour Of Duty, I'm better qualified than ever to do the franchise justice. As the series returns to the stage for a Wrestling Encore, it's to deliver the most entertaining interpretation of the sport that you could ever hope to play...


No Pain, No Gain

As promised, there's a new and improved training system that revolves around physical sacrifice rather than money. It uses the real-time 3D setting that we saw in Booking MPire (complete with updated animations for each exercise), and adds the option to train at any one of 3 intensity levels. These naturally produce better results the higher you go, but they also determine how tired your wrestler is at the beginning of each week! A casual training regime will leave you running at 75%, while an intense regime will break you all the way down to 25%. It's a very realistic system that does a good job of communicating how hard your character is working. It also adds a little more strategy to the proceedings, as you risk losing matches if you wear your body out in the gym. Along the same lines, we also have the "Sparring Session" option. This is primarily a practice session for you to use your character without worrying about the outcome, but it can produce the odd improvement here and there...


Dye Another Day

As if separated arms and unlimited theme songs didn't give editors enough to celebrate, there's yet another last minute breakthrough. As you can see from the shots, it's now possible to colour specific parts of a costume - leaving the rest of it looking normal! This started out as a way of colouring trousers without ruining the shoes, but I soon adapted it for the hips - so you can have any colour shorts without ruining the legs and pads. I then adapted it for the arms, so that you can have any colour t-shirt, long-sleeve top, and even gloves! This truly does make the costume possibilities endless - and keeps them looking great all the while. Long-time fans may recall that this was technically possible in the older 3D games, which broke characters down into every little limb. The beauty of this system, however, is that it's linked to the texture rather than the model - so you don't have to worry about those limbs! You simply browse through the costumes as normal, and some will use this filtering technique while others remain 100% coloured. Speaking of cosmetics, we've also seen the return of the plastic surgery gimmick from Popscene. That, like many things, may seem old news thanks to those games - but it is the first time that it's appeared in this wrestling series. It's a much more coherent way of changing your character's body structure (assuming your boss has given you control of such things!)...


Model Behaviour

Up until recently, the game had been borrowing Popcorn's models - but it finally has an updated selection of its own. What was "Muscular" in Popcorn has now been relegated to "Normal", as we now have an unmistakably muscular build for characters like Scott Steiner. The setting looks better than it ever did in Wrestling MPire too (much more proportionate), so you'll find plenty of use for it. There are also plenty of new and improved character postures to match those models. In addition to the normal stance, there's a tough looking "Pensive" stance, a squatting "Technical" stance, an arrogant "Relaxed" stance, a great "Strong" stance, and a hilariously camp "Feminine" stance! Not to mention the boxing and martial arts stances from Popcorn. We've also got appropriate movements for those stances too, so the transition is complete. Thankfully, they look as good as any other animation - so you'll be using them without concern (whereas they were practically useless in the first game!)...


Familiar Faces

With the editing options laid out, the characterization has finally been taking shape. The very best costumes from Popscene and Popcorn have been joined by re-mastered versions of all the old favourites from the wrestling games. New faces include the best Hulk Hogan yet, a fantastic Undertaker (which looks even better thanks to the headband option), a decent Steve Austin (at last), an improved Scott Steiner, the furrowed brows of Curt Hennig, a craggy old Bret Hart, and some much improved oriental faces. Not to mention some re-mastered masks and face paints - ranging from a great new Ultimate Warrior to those Japanese legends. And even those from last time look better than ever thanks to the massively improved hair and headwear options. The costumes themselves are still a bit of a sore point (since there's very little room for those that are especially made), but they're still a distinct improvement on last time...


Musicology

The characterization has also been assisted by the return of the full selection of entrance themes (which, in case you haven't heard, is now expandable). Not only do we have some new tunes thanks to the Tour Of Duty games, but many of the existing ones have been re-mastered and provided at a better quality. As with the new and improved sound effects, there's even a slight hall effect to make them sound like they're booming out of the arena sound system! It doesn't work for all songs (burying the beat more often than not), but it's great when it does. Speaking of sound, another little touch is that characters have different voice tones depending on their size as well as their gender. It's much more convincing when you knock a giant out of the ring and here that masculine roar!


Wrestler's Story

The career mode continues to make great progress - with all manner of news events and meetings pouring into the game each day (I won't ruin the surprise by talking about them too much). What's more important to me, however, is that the surrounding processes have been finalized - such as initiation and retirement. As you can see, the retirement process now owes more to Popcorn than the original Wrestling MPire. It's the old newspaper clipping this time, instead of a pseudo-3D breakdown (which was always more trouble than it was worth). You get all the same information though - from your weeks in business and fortune amassed, to the percentage of wins and title reigns...


Best Of The Best

As ever, those career-defining stats are passed on to a "Hall Of Fame" record where you can compare them to previous efforts. The "World Leaders" database has also returned to this game as standard (it was only a last minute addition last time). Although it's the same old story, where you see where you stand in the best of each possible category, it does look and work better than ever thanks to Popcorn and co. The promotion references are even colour-coded this time, so you can see which organizations are dominating things at a glance...


War Of The Worlds

The best thing about this remake is that it can look back to the complete first series and combine the best of both worlds. The federation statistics, which were insignificant in the first career sim, actually owe more to Booking MPire in this game. All the details are present and correct, and  displayed more neatly than ever. They can even change in the news reports complete with the same highlighting process that characters enjoy! The result is that you're more aware of the status of each company, and you can see them rising and falling more convincingly than ever before. You'll need to because the limitations of each company are more harshly felt in this instalment. Once you meet the popularity of your company, your progress slows down to a crawl - and it stops completely once you exceed it by too much! As in real life, if you want to slum it at a small-time outfit you have to accept the commercial limitations...


Glass Jaw

I had stopped adding items some time ago as other matters took priority, but I recently found time to throw in the last few. Fortunately, they include the most painfully entertaining of them all - the panes of glass! It's the same old story; except they look a little better under the new shiny effect (complete with improved texturing). In fact, it's so good to have them back that I went to the trouble of making them part of the career mode. In the same way that you can be assigned "Steel Cage" and "Exploding" match gimmicks, you can now find "Hall Of Mirrors" - which basically fills the ring with these life-threatening sheets of glass! Likewise, blast matches are now accompanied by TNT inside the ring - so they're guaranteed to go off with a bang from the opening bell...


Spitting Image

If you're bored of using glass in matches, you may be more interested to hear that it's now possible to spit out liquids during a match! Fans of the Great Muta will be well aware of the infamous "Green Mist" gimmick, and now it's present in this game as a strong attack that can be launched at any time. As you'd expect, it blinds the opponent for a short amount of time - allowing you to crush them with a barrage of legitimate attacks. No screenshot can do it justice, but the new particle effects are making it look great. So good, in fact, that I ran away with the concept and implemented an even better flaming variation! Not only does that blind, but it hurts a lot too. And fans of my subtle details will be thrilled to hear that it's possible to sip from a water bottle and spit that out too - even if the mist attack isn't in your repertoire!


Deep Impact

Even the regular attacking gameplay has managed to slip in a few last minute improvements. Not only do opponents reel back according to how closely they were hit, but it's also possible to connect at different points in an attack. For instance, a Dropkick will now hit as soon as the legs touch an opponent - whether that's at the bent stage or when fully extended! It basically means that attacks look as good at close range as they do at any other time. Hard to explain, but you'll appreciate it when you see it. As for new additions, the latest weak attack is a great "Body Blow" punch that hits low and the latest ground attack is a superb "Elbow Drop" - which looks good whether standing, running, or flying...


New Moves

All that remains is to leave you with a round-up of the latest grappling moves to be added. Since the last preview we've seen a slightly smoother "Choke Slam", a good "Throat Toss", a decent "Reverse DDT", the "Pedigree", a shaky "Jackhammer", a dubious "Atomic Drop", and a superior "Inverted Atomic Drop". Meanwhile, some of the more dramatic moves have benefited from animations that return to the feet (instead lying down when it's not appropriate). Those being a "Suplex Drop", a fantastic "German Suplex", an equally good "Back Suplex", a smooth "Sitting Powerbomb", a good "Piledriver", a disappointing "Rock Bottom", and my own variation of the Stunner called the "MDKO". As for ground moves, there's only been one addition in recent weeks - but a "Crossface Clutch" at the head is by far the best so far! It's applied very smoothly, and wrenches back in satisfying fashion...


Tabloid Junkie

The career gameplay has finally started to take shape, and looks set to deliver as many break-throughs as the in-ring action! Following in the footsteps of Popscene and Popcorn, this game delivers a great little magazine mock-up in the aftermath of each match. The imaginatively titled "Wrestling Review" summarizes a little about the match and context before reporting all the usual developments that we've come to expect from previous games. One welcome difference is that this game now offers a little more information where the old games simply said "Nothing to report". These include describing exactly how a performance affected a wrestler's profile - such as winning/losing at a high profile event or in exceptional circumstances. That should help novices make sense of the wrestling politics, and promises to be especially handy for the booking game. However, the best addition of them all is that these articles use an actual photo of the match that you just played! It's often quite amusing to see what the cameras picked up while you were busy...


All About The Benjamins

Following on from the magazine mock-up, there's a similar screen for your weekly financial report. An actual notebook details all of your business - from your name and place of employment to a breakdown of the income, expenses, and subsequent profit. It's a much more convincing way of delivering the information. From there, you also proceed to the newspaper reports that we've seen in Popscene and Popcorn. That may sound like old news after those games, but remember that the last wrestling games had no such thing - and had to struggle with a pseudo-3D office setup! Now the world's events are much more enjoyable to sit through. Not least because there promises to be significantly more of them to look out for...


Late Negotiation

The return of the contract negotiation system has really made the career gameplay feel at home. As you can see, the feature has more in common with Popscene and co than the previous wrestling games. It makes use of the same boardroom setting, and has even inherited the more sophisticated negotiation logic. As in Popcorn, master negotiators can now strike a balance between pay-off's and weekly salaries. By lowering one, the other is free to go up - so you can technically decide whether you want your money upfront or drip fed. You can also work it into your contract clauses, since taking a pay-cut gives you more leverage on other demands. And as ever, each promotion has its own unique benefits to entice employees - so working for each one should feel significantly different...


Tale Of The Tape

Speaking of the small print, one other key difference is that the "Training Policy" is no more. The link between training and money always felt a little awkward in the old game, but now the plan is for it to be more about physical sacrifices. As in real life, your level of training will simply dictate how tired you are - not how empty your pocket is! You'll also be pleased to hear that your career stats are better presented throughout the game itself. Not only does that side of the profile look better (and tidier thanks to the removal of the training line), but the "Age" line is now more like "Experience" - as it shows your match count in brackets! Another little touch is that these stats exist for every other wrestler as well as yours, so you no longer feel like the world revolves around you - which keeps the game more in tune with Booking MPire...


Locker Room Stories
The real-time 3D meetings have also joined the negotiations. Although it's a similar story to last time, the scenery has changed in several areas - with formal discussions taking place in the boardroom, while casual meetings are more at home in the locker room. At this early stage, the content is nothing new (just a few discussions about your allegiances) - but the scripts themselves have been re-written from scratch, so the wording is noticeably better. The consequences look set to be more significant too thanks to a system that's closely tied to your "Attitude" level. Every little positive decision boosts it, while every negative response knocks it down - so over time your true attitude should become clear (and the game will punish you accordingly!)...


Matches Made In Heaven

Behind the scenes, the career gameplay is also benefiting from the fact that the match possibilities have been blown wide open. In the old game, novelties like hardcore and cages were rigid gimmicks that attached themselves to the occasional one-on-one match. Now, however, the game cleverly cross-references any match with any gimmick - so you can find yourself fighting hardcore "Ironman" matches or "Triple Threat" matches in a steel cage! That goes for tag matches too, so your team careers promise to be just as interesting as your solo exploits...


Lord Of The Rings
Not all improvements are consigned to the office though. The arenas continue to improve yet further with all-new apron designs - which feature sharper images painted onto a more convincing black material. The aprons are also joined by new and improved canvases - the textures for which are now twice as big (and therefore twice as detailed). Plus they boast new and improved designs, such as a subtle US flag for All American Wrestling and a Union Jack for the British organization. The old rope colour variations have also made their return, and are helping to give each promotion its own visual style...


The Encore Collection

The character possibilities also continue to improve over time. Following on from separate arm designs, editors now have even more to celebrate thanks to the arrival of a great new "Headband" option. Squeezing a headband in and around the various hairstyles was an infuriating exercise, but I managed to pull it off to the extent that it now matches ANY hairstyle - from tucking under thick hair to stretching all the way round a shaved head! You can even colour it like any other hat to match the rest of the outfit. We've also seen the return of "Horns", which look even better thanks to a slightly improved texture. The best news of all is that the Popcorn costumes have been weeded out once and for all in favour of dedicated wrestling outfits. Although many players will still criticize what isn't there, the fact is that the selection has DOUBLED since the last game - so there should be enough to keep you busy! They're mostly re-mastered versions of what we saw before, but even their layout's have improved (ranging from shorts to long pants, vests to shirts, etc.) - so everything should feel more advanced...


New Attacks

These newly dressed characters can be seen delivering plenty of new attacks too. Fans of the martial arts style will be especially pleased to hear that a much improved "Shuffle Kick" (Sweet Chin Music) has made it into the game. It's a accompanied by a clumsier "Flying Kick" variation too - both of which can be administered from either a standing or running position. As can a new and improved "Diving Clothesline" and an even smoother "Spinning Heel Kick" - both of which enjoy dedicated animations from the top rope. A "Missile Dropkick" has received similar treatment, and looks much better than the speeded up standard dropkick that plagued the original game! Meanwhile, down on the ground, a fantastic new "Leg Drop" is becoming a firm favourite. Not only is it better animated on impact, but it works better too as the perpetrator clambers back up to his feet immediately (in true Hogan style). And that goes for any instance of the attack - whether standing, running, or even flying! It's not all hard-hitting with the attacks though. A quick little "Side Kick" is the latest weak attack to hit low, while a smooth Ric Flair style "Chop" is a brand new upper attack...


New Moves
The grappling moves are also constantly improving in quality. Some recent power moves include a decent "Shoulder Breaker", a good "Tombstone Piledriver", and a much improved "Powerbomb". Meanwhile, technical wrestlers can enjoy an energetic "DDT", a smooth "Hurricanranna", and a great variation of it that turns into a standing "Plancha" (which Rey Mysterio normally executes from the top rope). And if you thought high-flying action was reserved for the canvas, you'll be pleased to know that there's even a version of the Hurricanranna that's delivered from the top rope!


New Holds

And finally, I'll leave you with a round-up of the latest ground moves. The most innovative is a fantastically smooth "Slingshot" - which now triggers directly from the legs instead of from a standing grapple! But if you must keep things grounded down there, there's a full-blown "Boston Crab" and a "Half Crab" variation - both of which are looking better than ever. Meanwhile, moves at the head continue to be a little more problematic. A series of "Head Smashes" and a "Choke Hold" are good to have, but have barely improved since last time...


The Wonder Of Creation

Following the character selection screen, editing is the latest feature to return. Although it's pleasantly familiar to what we've seen before, there are several modifications to report. The most significant being that the left and right arms are now dressed separately! That should give perfectionists the chance to have just one armband, one glove, or any other odd arrangement that you may have in mind. It couldn't be easier to apply either. Changing the left arm affects both simultaneously, leaving you to proceed to the right arm to make any individual changes - so it's no more time-consuming than before. You'll also be pleased to find that the range of attacks and the range of moves now have separate pages. The addition of turnbuckle moves, and now 3 ground holds per body part instead of 2, was always going to be a step too far for the old display - but the options can now be found thriving in their own space. I can also reveal that I've made it possible to have a "Tweener" allegiance instead of the basics of "Face" and "Heel". Quite how that will affect the gameplay remains to be seen. In the meantime, another exciting development for music fans is that there's a modified system that accepts MP3's (and even lets you add files to the collection as in Popscene). That's not a green light to pile in loads of huge files though, because they can be extremely demanding. Indeed, the music is the one area of the game that hasn't enjoyed improved sound quality. I should also mention that the CD feature won't make a return. I felt the system didn't work too smoothly last time (and not at all on some computers!), so you're now encouraged to create offline files of any songs you want to use...


Plan Of Attack

Now that the editor has arrived, it's finally possible for the characters to have different stances, taunts, and attacks of all kinds. The gameplay had felt a little stale previously, but now each match is bursting with unique fighting styles! There are one or two things that we didn't even see in the first game - such as high kicks as an "Upper Attack", which are great for martial artists. Speaking of kicks, the latest strong attack is a decent looking "Dropkick" (which also has a running variation). New attacks are even raining from above in the form of a smooth little "Senton Bomb". Dozens more promise to follow as surely as any other move...


Locked Up

The gameplay may be drawing to a conclusion, but it's still managed to squeeze out one last breakthrough! The latest being the addition of standing submission holds. I never really considered those in the previous game - and didn't expect them in this version either - but it occurred to me that they might just be worth a try. I dived in, and it turns out they weren't too much harder than the ground versions. The hold that got us started is a simple "Side Headlock" - but it paves the way for bear hugs, sleeper holds, and all manner of other standing submissions. That should effectively double the amount of grappling gameplay, since you no longer have to wait for an opponent to be grounded. The range of other moves has been slowly expanding too. An actual "Gorilla Press Slam" (that drops behind the head) is the latest overhead throw, and it's joined by a similarly powerful "Shoulder Powerslam". The possibilities in the corner continue to increase too, as a series of head smashes can now give your opponent a headache - especially when performed on exposed steel!


Metal Work
Speaking of steel, the latest items to join the selection are the standing chair and the stepladder (which also comes in wooden form). Neither of them look drastically different since last time, but they do enjoy much improved breaking animations (as do most items). They don't work much differently either, so don't expect real climbing on the ladder - and definitely not a ladder match stipulation! One thing that has moved is the layout options, which are now separate for items and weapons. So you can scatter the handheld weapons all over the arena, whilst keeping the larger items in their correct position...


Take Your Seat

With the matches complete and items drawing to a conclusion, I've finally been able to return my attention to the arena itself. It's only been as complete as it needed to be for the past couple of months, but I've finally started polishing it up for the main event! As far as big venues go, the most noticeable improvement is that the background texture that's been floating around the fan community has been adopted and re-mastered as an official alternative. As you can see, it looks superb alongside the other graphical improvements. Unfortunately, I'm still have great difficulty with the seated crowd. The empty seats look fine, but once filled it's the same old mess of humanity. One saving grace is that there's a new "half filled" setting for that part of the crowd. I think we saw it in Popscene, but it's even more at home here as your audiences get progressively bigger...


Hall Of Fame

The most exciting development is that the vast stadiums are now accompanied by smaller halls - which closely surround the ring instead of being some distant wall. They're brought to life by some great new textures too - ranging from all manner of bricks to wooden panels. All in all, there are some 20 different venues - plus the opportunity to generate them randomly! That should give the game a much better look while you're slaving away on the small-time circuit. Not least because they're accompanied by the best atmosphere and lightings options yet...


Backstage Pass

There's also more detail in the backstage areas. Their materials change as surely as the main halls do; giving you the impression that you're in a different location. They're looking better structurally too, because those bare walls are now decorated by various pictures! There's even a TV monitor hanging over the locker area, which is yet another chance to see your exploits on screen...


Blank Canvas

These arena variations are also accompanied by variations of the ring itself - ranging from the ropes and aprons through to the canvas and surrounding mat. All the usual selections are there for each promotion, and you can mix & match the settings you want in exhibition bouts courtesy of a simple setup screen...


Handy Cam

Some great new camera work is on hand to help you make the most of these improved venues. A personal favourite of mine, the "Spontaneous" camera setting, is now back to throw out unusual camera angles without you worrying about the controls! It was only a last-minute addition in the last game, and left a lot to be desired, but now it's much smoother and selects its positions wisely. There's even a variation of it that kicks in during CPU entrances, so you can see them strut to the ring from different angles instead of watching the same old headshot...


Blind Date

With the ringside action wrapped up and working well, I've finally made a start on the career mode! It's barely playable at the moment, but we do have a schedule full of events - complete with a few randomly generated match-up's. It's too early to tell, but there are one or two tiny improvements in the presentation. The graphical style of Popscene has been borrowed for this game and built upon to produce some improved icons and layouts. Speaking of layouts, a great piece of news is that the resolution options now extend to the menus as well as the game itself. That means you can play in your preferred setting without having to load it up before and after each bout! I need the option myself now that I'm running on a more powerful system...


Break Out

The cage gameplay that had only just emerged at the last preview is now 100% complete and better than ever! It's no longer an inanimate object that you crawl around, as it now shakes and incurs bonus damage when touched by any means. It even shakes as you're climbing up - complete with a more stilted movement animation than before, which makes it feel satisfyingly difficult. Speaking of shaking, a new touch for this game is that each of the 4 walls move independently - so there's no doubt as to where and when you've made contact. One of the most exciting developments, however, is that the new climbing system can indeed be used for climb-out victories! You simply specify the "Ring Out" condition that you would for Royal Rumbles, and the game turns things around to reward the first person out. I've even worked the logic into the AI, so CPU players can give you a run for your money...


Rearranging The Furniture

If a cage is a little extreme for you, there are plenty of other structures to climb on. Many of the items from the old game have been seeping in slowly but surely. An announcer's desk, a crate, a trashcan and a TV monitor are the latest additions - and they're all looking better than ever. Some have bolder texturing, some have been rebuilt more convincingly, and they all break a little better. Primitives like the table and the crate have all their variations too - such as metal instead of wood, and even cardboard for the box! Rather amusingly, that actually does no damage - so you can roll around in it all day without losing a finger. Speaking of items, a nice new touch on the carrying system is that the character turns into a climb when entering or leaving the ring (whereas he suddenly shifted 180 degrees before). This effect isn't quite so jarring. Personally, I'm also pleased to have reintroduced the layout system. You can set it to "Standard" to have all the items and weapons in their most logical place, which makes things feel a little more realistic...


Weapon Of Choice

While the items are still a work-in-progress, the weapon selection has been finalized at a staggering 27 different varieties. They're mostly old favourites from the first game, but they've been re-textured and touched up in certain areas to look as good as possible. The more metallic ones have even been made to shine in the light, which is an especially satisfying touch. Meanwhile, the new weight system is making the items feel as good as they look. The new flaming gameplay continues to open up new possibilities too. You can set fire to the TNT, for instance, to either enhance its effect or make an explosion more likely. Plus, it can detonate at random when burning on the ground - so there are all kinds of "mine" possibilities now! However, the most exciting development is the addition of broad items - such as steel chairs and wooden boards. These ones are so large that they demand animations all of their own, which are already in full effect and looking better than ever - from holding and running to swinging high or low. The latter are particularly well animated, and connect more satisfyingly under the new attacking system...


Rope Burn

The hardcore possibilities have reached their zenith with the return of barbed wire, electrified, and even "flaming" ropes! They're all looking and working better than ever before - with improved texturing and new particle effects. Real flaming ropes had been out of the question, but this version is simply a variation of the electrified wires - relying on a red hot texture flowing around the ring. Electricity is still the most entertaining though, as it now produces those realistic explosions when hit at certain times! Speaking of gimmicks (and explosions), we've also seen the return of the "blast" option - which turns the arena into a war zone after a specified amount of time...


Sexy Moves

The ever-growing move selection is what's really bringing the game to life though. They're a nightmare to animate (stealing an entire morning each day), but the results are right there to be enjoyed on screen. Finishers have finally been represented by a smooth looking "Stunner"; although purists will be displeased to hear that you don't kick into this one (you simply drag the head down straight out of a grapple). Meanwhile, a decent "Snapmare", a beautiful "Powerslam", and an improved "Backbreaker" can't be argued with. There's already a side variation of the backbreaker too, which also led the way for a dubious "Side Slam". Speaking of doubling up on moves, a great new "Headlock Punch" helped to make am equally good "Bulldog" variation. And the very latest additions are variations of the "Press Slam" - ranging from a struggling attempt to a powerful "pumping" version...


Ground Control

Moves have been showing up in all other areas too - such as a variation of the "Mounted Punches" in the corner. As in real life, the latter ends with the perpetrator dragging his victim down to the ground afterwards - which is actually available as a move in its own right (and looks quite good too!) Meanwhile, down on the ground, a decent "Camel Clutch" is the latest move at the head - while a "Spinning Toe Hold" is keeping the legs under control. The legs also have their first attacking move so far, which is the classic kick to the groin! The teasing delay and the impact are both much better animated than before, so it should be a joy to use


Smooth Talker

All of this action has been topped and tailed by the return of promos too. They're rather self-explanatory though. The only change here is that characters have a separate animation for speaking without a microphone (thanks to Popcorn) instead of simply standing still. In case you're wondering, I'm planning to import many of the old promos directly to save me hours of pointless typing. They'll obviously be spruced up here and there - and accompanied by new ones - but expect many similarities...


The 1-2-3 Kid

Speaking of the written word, fans of the automated referee will be pleased to know that there's now an in-game display of his count. Like any other message over the head of a wrestler, it's a nice graphical version of the sequence. It's a godsend for keeping track of the action in busy matches, and it allows you to play with the sound down too...


Slot Machine

Speaking of presentation, the biggest development in recent days is that attention is drawing away from the ring and heading behind-the-scenes to keep the menus in check. There haven't been too many revelations thus far, with a similar looking options screen already in place. However, the character selection screen is yearning to evolve. Inspired by Popscene and co, the name slots are now spread out at the more relaxed pace of 4 per line. That may seem a little counter-productive when you consider that it REDUCES the number of characters in each pool, but it's actually the most sensible option. It can't have escaped your attention that most pools were left half-empty by the ambitious scale of the first series, so it's good to see the space being better used now. The reduced number of spots should also make it more challenging to handle your business in each of the games. It's already looking good for the wrestler names anyway, which can be as long as you like without ever spilling over the sides! At this stage, I can also confirm the range of attributes. This time, they're designed to be backwards compatible with the inevitable booking version - so things like "Happiness" and "Attitude" are already present (despite being somewhat irrelevant to the player)...


The Name Game

A project isn't official until it has it's own logo, and I'm pleased to say that Wrestling Encore has finally achieved that status! Not least because it's been a contentious issue in recent weeks. I had originally (and rather lazily) tried to recreate the old logo with "Encore" in place of "MPire" - but it looked pathetic for some reason, and left me contemplating a whole new logo. By way of a compromise, I recreated the logo from scratch with a more regal design - which features shinier graphics and more exotic text. And to complete the effect (and set it apart from the original), it even boasts a golden MDickie logo. All in all, I'm very pleased with the outcome - and even more pleased that the game can proceed under its own identity...


Weapon Of Choice

Handheld weapons are amongst the easiest things to add, so they've been pouring in over recent weeks. Fans of Popcorn will be pleased to know that the Samurai sword and photo-realistic handgun have joined the selection (although the gun is only used for pistol-whipping). Old favourites such as the baseball bat have even received a touch-up. Not only does it boast a more polished texture, but it also has a more realistic shape. Speaking of classics, the most entertaining additions are the water and beer bottles - which can still explode on impact! All in all, the combined selection of new and old weapons should amount to a staggering 30 - so even the most hardcore of players should have his hands full...


Great Balls Of Fire!

These screenshots should speak for themselves. Yes, those real-time flames from Wrecked have spread to the wrestling game - and show no sign of cooling down! Although far from perfect, this particle effect is a million times better than the dubious texturing that we saw in the old game. The only drawback is that it's significantly more demanding too. Used sensibly, it's fine - but you won't want to set fire to everything in the arena! Even on this small scale, it's still a very cool feature. The smoke and fumes that emanate from a burning weapon are especially satisfying, as they leave a trail when flying through the air, etc.. The aftermath of this burning has also improved, as the item in question is charred only very slightly (so you can actually see what it is underneath). Other than that, it's the same old system - whereby you can light a flammable weapon at any time, and then use that torch to light larger items. You can even do it accidentally by throwing a flaming weapon into some wooden debris! All of which gives you the chance to score some major damage bonuses...


The Big Bang Theory

These realistic flames are also accompanied by realistic explosions. The effect looks a little weak in these stray screenshots, but I can assure you that it billows quite nicely in action. It's certainly better than the polygonal "star" effect that we had to endure in previous versions! The smoke that rises from the aftermath makes it look more convincing too. We've also got watery explosions for things like bottles and fire extinguishers - which look just as good, and even produce puddles again. In fact, a new touch there is that you can set fire to bottles for a petrol bomb effect. These flaming vessels are then more likely to explode on impact (and will inflict more damage when doing so!). The effects of these explosions are as entertaining as ever. They blind players on the edge of a blaze, before catapulting those unfortunate enough to be in the middle! Most satisfyingly, the blasts once again destroy items and set them on fire (or, in the case of liquids, extinguish existing flames)...


Rope Burn

The pyrotechnics culminate with the return of flaming ropes! The good news is the effect looks great. The bad news is that it's as demanding as I feared. One rope at a time is no worse than a flaming item, but you certainly won't be seeing all 4 sides engulfed for "inferno" matches. You'll have to resort to barbed wire and electrified ropes for those thrills. As for these flaming ropes, they're a great little novelty that occurs when playing with explosives or burning weapons. They're not just there to look at though. As before, any aggressive contact with such ropes will score a significant damage bonus (and leave the scars to prove it!)...


Buckle Up

If the ropes are helping you get the job done, you can now take the action to the buckles to score even more damage! Yes, those keeping a wishlist can finally tick off "turnbuckle moves". When you throw an opponent into the corners, they now slump into the turnbuckles with a satisfying thud. From this dazed position you can then administer further punishment, or trigger a dedicated turnbuckle move! At the moment, a Superplex is the only such move - but there should be a nice variety that even extends to attacking combinations. The whipping alone is already looking perfectly smooth though, and has made a great addition to the gameplay...


Buckle Off

And if the turnbuckles aren't painful enough by default, you can now unfasten the safety pads to expose the steel support undeneath! I've been designing the pads to be removed ever since the first Wrestling MPire, but the addition of turnbuckle moves has only just made it worthwhile. If you simply press the "Taunt" command while alone in a corner, your character will fiddle with the top pad until it reveals a shiny buckle. You can then score bonus damage from that when whipping enemies into the corner. Some moves should incorporate it too - like a head-bashing combination. Not a major gameplay feature, but a nice little detail for wrestling fans...


Heavy Metal

As if recent developments weren't hardcore enough, the latest addition is the return of the steel cage option! Although the structure has been built from scratch, it still looks very similar to the untrained eye - and even features the same variations such as steel bars and wire netting. However, one thing that's refreshingly different is the climbing gameplay. Not only is climbing on and off the walls smoother than ever thanks to dedicated animations for each, but I'm pleased to say that it's also possible to climb OVER the top! In fact, that's how you get into the damn thing. The dubious climbing "through" the cage from last time is history, as wrestlers now make their entrance (and exit) by climbing up and over the outside walls. It's a very smooth system that makes it a joy to interact with the cage. Unfortunately, that's where the "interaction" ends at the moment because the feature is still in its infancy. Although smashing into the sides is a given, it remains to be seen whether this new over-the-top gameplay will give rise to "climb-out" victories. It's my belief that such gimmick matches don't work in real life (I.e. in a game), so I'm not sure I'd appreciate having to waste time rectifying the situation...


Video Killed The Wrestling Star

As surely as you can climb the cage walls, you can also climb the video screen again! The jumping off hasn't been implemented yet though, so it's a rather fruitless exercise. The biggest news about the video screen is that it has finally been plugged in! It once again records footage of the action and feeds it to the display at random intervals - along with all manner of other images such as the game's new logo...


Enter The Dragon

Underneath the video screen, we've also got the return of wrestler entrances. It's the same old story with real-time entrances for CPU's and controllable ones for humans, but everything's looking much better under the new regime. Largely because an entrant now strolls to the ring by default (rather than staggering around as if the match had already begun!). Speaking of grand entrances, the "Royal Rumble" option is already in place too - whereby the wrestlers remain backstage and enter each minute. There are even late entries from intruders! As before, a preset number of characters are milling around backstage and can be spurred into action if the match requires. Rather more importantly, a start has also been made on the ending of matches - as a slew of possible outcomes are monitored by the game and then declared accordingly. In addition to the usual pins and submissions, we've also got novelty stipulations such as knock-out's, "first blood", and even "over-the-top" for Battle Royals. Those criteria can then be cross-matched with rules such as "First Fall Wins" or "Last Man Standing" to create practically any contest you can think of...


It Takes Two To Tango

The match possibilities are stretched even further by the addition of tag-team gameplay! I had been dreading that because it's a programming nightmare, but I've managed to recreate the same intuitive system from the previous game. The CPU's successfully negotiate their way to any one of 4 team-mates or tag positions - and you can even call for the tag by taunting again! Some good AI keeps them playing well too; always making logical decisions that keep the match in their grasp. Most noticeably, these matches once again make use of overhead labels - but (like everything else) they've been re-mastered for this game. Not only do they look sharper, but they're also programmed to face the camera at all times (which means they remain visible no matter what angle you use). My ambitions of having 3D health meters, on the other hand, seem to have come to nothing. There's simply not enough room up there for all of that information (plus heat), so I've resorted to the 2D profiles from the previous game...


Front Row Seat

Whatever's happening in the ring, you can enjoy it from any angle with the introduction of a whole range of classic cameras. Actually, the selection has been trimmed since the last game - featuring 15 good angles instead of dozens of questionable ones. There're not all designed to be playable though. Novelty angles such as the perspective of the announcer, audience, or referee, can be disorientating to the controls - but they're great to watch! The king of unplayable angles is the "first person" perspective - which now literally emanates from the head as in Wrecked. That means it shakes around with every bump and fall as it would in real life! More sensible angles are better than ever though - such as the bird's eye view, which looks especially smooth now. Not least because the breakthroughs from Wrecked allow the camera to glide from one position to another...


Work The Crowd

In addition to a choice of camera angles, the atmosphere is complimented by the return of crowd noise! It's largely the same selection from previous games, but they've been re-mastered like many of the other sound effects. Not only do they sound more spectacular, but they're also linked to the action better than ever before too. Once again, there are positive and negative spins on each reaction depending on whether the recipient is good or bad. Speaking of sound effects, another little development is that the characters now have different voice tones depending on their gender! Men emit the usual grunts, but for women the effects are sped up to sound higher and more feminine. It's more convincing that it sounds, and makes a welcome addition to the proceedings...


From The Top
Throughout all of the above developments, work has gone into the move selection to make it all worthwhile. The suplex family seems to have dominated my output in recent weeks. Both a standard and stalling suplex have been added, along with "Brainbuster" variations for each - all of which are looking better than ever before. A rather dubious "Snap Suplex" has also joined the selection. A little variety comes in the form of a beautiful "Belly-To-Belly Suplex" - complete with an equally nice slam variation. All of the above can once again turn in mid-air, mess up or be reversed halfway through, and even catapult an opponent over the ropes where applicable! Critics of my clumsy gameplay will be pleased to know that the mess-up's are twice as rare as they used to be. Largely because reversals help to carry some of the tide-turning load...


Attack Of The Clones

There's yet more move news down on the ground. The latest head hold is the "Mounted Punch" combination - which, I regret to say, isn't actually as good as before. The punches look awfully stilted and unconvincing (but I guess that's realistic for wrestling!). I wish I could say it'll be fixed in due time, but it took me some 2 hours to make the existing animation. There's better news down at the legs as a new and improved "Figure 4 Leglock" joins the "Sharpshooter". It's locked on with a nice little animation that wraps the legs up properly, and the wrenching looks perfectly painful. As for spontaneous attacks, the rising punch has been added to the arsenal. As in the old game, you can fend off opponents from the safety of the get-up position - which is yet another feature that helps to turn the tide and keeps the matches panning out properly...


Destruction Derby

The addition of fully interactive items has made the gameplay as destructive as ever! A new and improved wooden table has got us started, and it can already be carried, climbed on, and smashed. Although the system is very much similar to that of the previous game, there are a few tiny advances to report in each area. Most satisfying is that the breaking process now works on two levels - depending on whether the item is sturdy or broken. A move (or fall) can connect high on a standing item before scoring again on the ground. This basically means the effect looks better because an impact occurs as soon as the body touches something. Unfortunately, the breaking animation itself doesn't look an awful lot better. I had ambitions of making them more spectacular, but they happen so quickly that it's a waste of time! Improved animations can be enjoyed when it comes to climbing on the items though (or indeed the railings, which is once again possible). They scurry up and down with some slightly better physics. As for moving the items themselves, that hasn't improved much since last time. They still drift into the player's hands with very little flair, and suffer from some severe clipping on the surrounding scenery. Unfortunately, it's an incredibly difficult system to deal with - especially since each item is structurally different. One saving grace is that they now rattle on the ground when dropped (much like a smaller weapon), which makes the process feel a little more realistic...


Clobbering Time

Following the items of previous updates, we now have handheld weapons to enjoy - and they're as interactive as ever! You can pick them up and drop them from any position, attack with them using any move, slam people onto them by any means, throw them around the arena at any speed - and pretty soon you'll even be able to set fire to them. Of course, that's nothing new to fans of the existing games. However, even this most familiar system has evolved in certain areas. Most noticeably the physics of handling them, which has more in common with Wrecked than the previous games. The items have different weight values, which ensure that they feel different when dropped or thrown. Speaking of throwing weapons, a noticeable change there is that they now spin slightly in mid-air - which makes them look as though they've actually been slung (rather than firing straight like some sort of missile!). The biggest improvement of all is that the superior texturing has even extended to these little items. A wooden plank has got us started, and even that is enjoying a more realistic look. It sits well in those realistic hands too...


Battle Scars

The arrival of items and weapons has unlocked a whole series of developments that are bringing the gameplay closer to completion. The latest being the gore and scarring that they're responsible for! Fans of my blood-stained gameplay will be pleased to know that it's back and better than ever. It borrows the real-time healing from Wrecked, which ensures that scars slowly tone down over time. That may sound conservative, but it's actually an effective way of seeing which scars are fresh, etc.. The improved system even extends to the items and weapons - which build up mess with each impact and then fade it away over time. Perfectionists will also be pleased to hear that the weapon stains are more consistent. However messy a weapon is on the floor, that's how it'll look in your hand too. In fact, you can even see a slight trail of blood when you throw them through the air!


Blood Transfusion

The pools of blood on the ground have also enjoyed similar improvements. Not only do they boast slightly better texturing, but there's also more of them for the new "splattering" system. Instead of one huge puddle, the mess is made up of several smaller pools - which look much more realistic in their staggered formation. Not least because they sit beneath the exact limb that was bleeding! That goes for the scars too, which (as in Wrecked) are produced in the area of an impact. The culmination of all this violence has also started to appear. When any one limb is torn to pieces, it might just come off completely! And that gimmick is cooler than ever before thanks to the new super-realistic hands. With all those fingers waiting to be hacked up, there's no end to the disfigured possibilities. Even the texturing on missing limbs has improved! When one limb is hacked off, it's parent is splattered in even more blood than usual - so you can clearly see where a separation has occurred...


Dazed And Confused

As before, the bloodshed is also accompanied by injuries of varying severity - ranging from being a little tired to being positively crippled! The agony is accompanied by an improved hurting stance too, which makes the wrestlers look more pathetic than ever. As if that wasn't embarrassing enough, they're also suffering from the return of blindness! A stray shot to the face can leave a player dead on his feet, staggering around the ring before inevitably falling over. The new hands make that look better too - with individual fingers reaching all over the face...


Tied Down

In addition to that clumsy stuff, I've also made a start on the important business of pinning. I had forgotten how hard that was to implement, but I've managed to restore the "real-time" system from before. A pin is acknowledged whenever one body happens to be on top of another, and it can also be broken just as easily if the victim happens to get off his shoulders by any means. Of course, there are also plenty of official pins to employ too. As before, there are 5 in total - ranging from lying flat over the head or sides to hooking the leg in various ways. A personal favourite of mine has also returned when kick-out's occur. If it's a particularly close fall, the wrestler looks exasperated and questions how it could have possibly happened!


Don't Cross The Boss

Of course, you can't pin anybody if there's nobody there to acknowledge it! Fortunately, we've also got the refereeing system in place to keep things in order. It's the same old story - with the designated character following the action, and getting down for those pinfalls and submissions. He has got some improved animations though. The new hands are making those slaps to the canvas look better than ever, and upon declaring a fall he actually points to the spot with a lone finger. Naturally, this process is all about artificial intelligence - so that's what I've also had to make a conscious start on. It's in its early stages, but we seem to have the CPU characters playing quite sensibly. I'm hoping to make several distinct improvements with this game though. In Wrestling MPire and co, they had an infuriating knack of avoiding the action - but I'm hoping to make their game a little more intense and enjoyable here. I may even put it down to wrestler "personalities" - with some characters deliberately playing a cowardly game rather than that of a warrior...


Read My Lips

The icing on the cake of all recent updates is that we've got new and improved facial expressions to go with them. In the previous series, we only saw a few mild grimaces during submission holds - but here you can see furrowed brows and open mouths on everything from attacks to falls. It succeeds in making them look more determined when in pain or executing moves, before returning to a comfortable expression when inactive. Quite what that default expression is promises to change a notch for this game too. As in Popscene and Popcorn, there are 3 types of demeanour rather than 2 - so we could be seeing "tweeners" with those neutral eyes. Either that, or a character will be able to decide how he looks within his chosen allegiance - such as a good Steve Austin that still retains a slightly menacing look...


Running The Ropes

Following on from the offensive moves of previous updates, we now have various options for throwing your opponent around the ring. Quite literally when it comes to the Irish Whip! This new and improved animation of the move is much smoother than before - blending seamlessly into the run that follows. It feels good against those improved ropes too. Speaking of running the ropes, it's now possible to topple over on the turn! As in real life, it normally happens when slinging opponents - but you can also slip up when running manually (albeit very rarely). Fans of my unpredictable gameplay will enjoy seeing that one. It looks like you're hitting some sort of "Cactus Attack" when you bump heads with an opponent and both spill over at the same time...


Over The Top

In addition to whipping your opponent, you can also use the command to shove them in and out of via the ropes. It's just about the cleanest way of taking control of the ring. However, where this new game differs is that you can also do it from the apron! Whether you're on the apron or you're trying to drag somebody off it, there's now a manoeuvre that throws your opponent to the other side. In addition to the attacking and falling that already takes place on the apron, that makes the new feature firmly at home...


Role Reversal

These moves don't also go according to plan though. As in previous games, it's once again possible for moves to mess up halfway through - leaving both parties on the floor! The process isn't too smooth at this early stage, but it should be tidied up over time. One thing that is smooth is the brand new reversal feature. The only thing worse than messing up a move is being a victim of it yourself! A little breakthrough in animation has allowed the victim to quickly rewind to a grappling position and take control with a move of his own. It works a lot better than it sounds, and makes matches even more interesting than they were before. Calling on the "Skill" attribute, it should bring the emphasis back to talented wrestling too...


Pulling Your Leg

In addition to the standing grapples, we finally have ground grappling too. As before, you can reach down to grab an opponent by either the head or the legs - and then proceed to drag them around the arena! For some reason, it's been a nightmare to implement this time around (and still doesn't sit well with items) - but the improved animation is keeping everything feeling good. As with the standing holds, these ground grapples can already be broken out of too (or simply released). Reversals, on the other hand, seem to be out of the question from that position...


Man Of 1'000 Holds

Of course, the number one reason to grab a man when he's down is to increase the misery with a submission hold! They're already implemented too, and seem to be working great. We're working with a basic Headlock for the upper body and a Sharpshooter for the legs. The animations for applying and executing these holds are noticeably better than before - especially the Sharpshooter which cinches back in painful fashion! Those detailed hands are making things look better too. Who knows, we might even have some "finger holds" for fans of the Japanese brand of torture...


Behind The Scenes

Outside of the squared circle, the arena is fast approaching completion now as we see the beginnings of a new backstage area! Rather curiously, it's actually smaller and less detailed than the original - with the separate rooms giving way to one huge area. However, it is much preferable because it makes things easier on everybody - from the players and CPU's to the camera itself. Instead of getting caught up backstage, it's now just one huge playground that you can have fun with. You can't really tell from this shot, but it's looking better too. A couple of scenic doorways adorn the walls - which look as good as the new stuff from Popcorn, and perpetuate the feeling that you're inside a real building. A distinct lack of items leaves it looking painfully sparse, but thankfully they're on the way too! Work has already begun on a new and improved wooden table, and many following developments should see that being put to use...


Way With Words

Behind the scenes, one of the most interesting developments is that I've uncovered a way of feeding text documents into the game. Technically, this could make it possible for players to write their promos! Unfortunately, however, there's obviously no way to acknowledge things like names and gender in an external script - so it could prove to be a rather pointless exercise. Other effects like crowd reactions and relationship changes don't look too promising either. It's definitely worth looking into though...


Attack Of The Clones
Following on from the fisticuffs of the last preview, we now have attacks against grounded opponents - ranging from stomps to big knee drops. All of which are better animated than before - as are the writhing reactions of your victims! Not least because Wrecked has given us impact spurts that emanate from exactly where the attack landed. When the time comes, it'll probably even scar in that particular area too. In fact, the attacking gameplay is practically complete now - as running attacks and power attacks join the selection. There's a great new running clothesline (which looks and feels more forceful than before), and a powerful standing double-axe handle for when those jabs just won't do...


Fear Of Flying

The attacks from the top turnbuckles have even been implemented too! There's an adequate axe handle versus standing opponents, while grounded enemies can be crushed under a splash. The flying system hasn't improved as much as other features, but it's still noticeably smoother and better animated. One thing that has definitely improved is your options. As promised, you can launch aerial attacks from the apron as if it was a turnbuckle! In addition to the items and railings that you'll eventually be able to leap off, that makes for more possibilities than ever before...


Head Over Heels

You may not always be in control of the flying though. As before, it's also possible to be knocked off platforms and out of the ring itself! Again, all of these sequences are better animated than ever before - and more importantly, they're smoothly tracked by the camera too. Fans of realistic rumbles will also be pleased to hear that it's possible to land on the apron during fall-out's! A second animation fails to reach the floor and allows the character to clamber back up to an apron position (and hopefully back into the ring). It's one of many new features that should make the action even more unpredictable than it is already...


Opposites Attract

With the basic fighting gameplay intact, I've finally been able to turn my attention to the all-important grappling system. Those realistic hands are looking great on a new grabbing lunge, and the consequent tussle is also looking a little better. Still not perfect though, because it's impossible to get these different sized wrestlers gripping each other in the right places. As you can see from the shot, I inadvertently made it possible to grapple across the ropes too! That was just a by-product of the system, but I may keep it in for some exclusive apron moves. However, due to time restrictions, that may only amount to dragging opponents in and out of the ring...


Man Of 1'000 Holds

One move that's guaranteed is the introductory "Bodyslam" that's been testing the system! After so many months away from wrestling, it was incredibly hard work animating moves again - but the results are better than ever and are there to be enjoyed on screen. In fact, you can get a sneak preview now with a 3D Studio MAX extract here! If this first sequence looks better, then we can expect even bigger improvements in the many moves that follow. In the meantime, there's still plenty of fun to be had with this one. You can already use it to throw people out of the ring! It's the same old system (with opponents suddenly being catapulted over the ropes), but it's better than nothing. One significant improvement is the way these moves grind against solid structures. You may have noticed that the last game had the wrestlers losing grip of each other, but this game keeps them both in synch at all times - forcing the perpetrator back as surely as the victim. It may look a little ropey on some moves, but it's much better 90% of the time...


Sonic Boom!

Having borrowed from Wrecked for most developments, this game finally has a breakthrough of its own! And for the first time in the history of my games, it's the sound that's getting some much-needed attention. Actually there are 2 breakthroughs - the first being that I've finally used my musical skills to engineer some great new sound effects and/or enhance the old ones. The weak and scratchy effects from the old game are now history thanks to some re-mastered versions that feel much stronger and clearer. I'm bringing them to you at a better quality too, so all of these enhancements should remain noticeable in the game. Let's just say they'll have you reaching to turn the volume UP rather than down (which is usually the case with my games!). As if that's not enough, these new effects are also benefiting from the bigger and better breakthrough of "3D sound". That simply means that sounds are emitted from characters and objects as they would be in real life - fading into the distance the further they are away from you and the camera. Everything that happens around you is as clear as you'd like it to be, while action in the distance sounds as far away as it is. That's obviously a godsend for big matches where you used to hear everything going on at once! Now you can concentrate on your own small corner of the arena...


Behind The Curtain

In the background of these screenshots you may have noticed the beginnings of a new video screen. I say "new", but (despite being rebuilt from scratch) it hasn't actually changed an awful lot! I had ambitions of making an elaborate new structure, but I backed out due to performance concerns. After all, nothing about the arena is worth ruining the gameplay for. That said, it does boast a new rounded top to the curtain - which is also significantly bigger and easier to pass through. What lies behind the curtain is the real story. Over the following weeks I'll be getting to work on a whole new backstage area, which should be just as pleasing to eye as the improved arena!


Diamond Ring
The production began, rather appropriately, with a brand new arena. I say "brand new", but structurally it looks set to be very similar. The revolution is in the texturing, which has given everything a polished new look. Practically everything in the scene - from the ring buckles to the concrete floor - has received a 100% improved image. It's hard to tell from this shot, but the ring itself has even been re-modelled. Some aspects of it hadn't changed since 2002's boxing game, so I endeavoured to rebuild it from scratch. The results include more solid-looking ring posts that extend right down to the floor, and give the whole thing a much more realistic structure. Then some nice new chains link to a whole new set of buckle pads. Not only do these have a better shape, but they're also carefully textured to wrap around the back and feed into the ropes! Beyond these cosmetic changes, the gameplay also benefits from the ring being 10% bigger - which not only looks more realistic but also gives wrestlers more room to manoeuvre...


Booking MPalace

Speaking of room to manoeuvre, practically everything else about the arena has been enlarged - such as the widened aisle way that makes outside brawling a more viable option! If you then hop over the perfectly textured new railings, you'll come up against the brand new seating layout. Unlike the mass of humanity from previous games, here we have an official structure that shows empty seats when there's no crowd. Thankfully, it also stands separate to the cardboard cut-out crowd - who have their own little moat from which to watch the action. And the damn thing isn't even finished yet! All of the existing changes can expect to be tidied up as the game progresses, and plenty of new ones are waiting in the wings - such as the video structure that looms over the entrance way. We can also expect an improved backstage area once we step through those curtains. I can't add as much detail as I'd like though, because it could take a terrible toll on the game's performance - and neither of us want that...


The Way You Move

Once the new arena had taken shape, I soon had the characters pacing around and interacting with the ring. Even this most basic of starting points has produced a breakthrough! Control freaks will be pleased to know that you can now step out onto the apron before proceeding to the concrete floor. You can even run up and down, and re-enter wherever you wish. Naturally, we also have the same process for climbing into the ring - you hop up to the apron first and then proceed as you wish. All of which benefits from some new and improved animations - as does everything else! I've been working hard on some nice stances and movements for your standard wrestling. That system has evolved slightly too, with the characters breaking out into a strolling animation when they're not focused on an enemy (I.e. when making entrances). Even when you are focusing on an opponent, the process of turning to face them is smoother than ever thanks to some improved programming...


From The Top

The ring interaction even extends to the turnbuckles. And thanks to the new apron system, you can mount them from outside at either side (as well as heading for them directly from inside the ring). All together, that gives you unparalleled control of the arena and cements the feeling that anything is possible. However, the system was far more difficult to implement than you might imagine. I had to produce several variations of what is essentially the same animation, which is far from ideal when there are thousands of others to be getting on with! A little breakthrough in animation programming was even required to help the game understand what was going on during these sequences...


Rope Burn

In addition to climbing all over the ring and up the turnbuckles, we're also running the ropes. Again, even this most standard of features has yielded an improvement. Not only do the ropes now boast 4 segments instead of 3 (making animations much smoother), but they also use this extra detail to detect exactly where a bounce took place and then animate in that particular area. It may not sound like much, but bear in mind that Wrestling MPire simply bounced in the middle at all times! This new system makes the process feel just that little bit more realistic and satisfying. The animation is even accompanied by a brand new rope sound effect. The old one was so poor that it might as well not even exist, but this one is considerably better. In fact, a lot of effort has gone into improving the sound effects in all areas - from the crowd to all manner of movement noises. They're more closely linked to the animations too, so they feel more appropriate...


Camera Shy

Thanks to Wrecked, the camera that follows these movements is smoother than ever. The pin-point accuracy from that game is here to make sure that the camera always tracks players properly - even when dealing with unconventional animations (which wasn't the case in Wrestling MPire). A sister breakthrough is that the character is noticeably separate from the gaze of the camera. It's hard to explain, but this basically makes everything feel more fluid as the camera catches up with your movements. It may be a little jarring to fans of the old game, but it is worth getting used to - not least because it's responsible for the smooth transitions. It also opens up a few other camera possibilities - such as the new turnbuckle view. As implied in the above shot, the camera can now take its eyes off the character and look towards the nearby canvas - giving you a better view of your target. High-flying fans of Wrestling MPire will know that could be quite a problem in the old games (requiring you to quickly change the camera angle manually). In this version, every single detail has been examined to ensure an airtight gaming experience...


On The Attack

The most exciting news is that we're already into the fighting gameplay! The punching and hurting animations from Popcorn have allowed us to dive right in there. The process also benefits from another recent game, Wrecked - which gave us some depth-based collision detection. The closer you were to an enemy on contact, the further they reeled back (and vice versa). Here, we enjoy the very same system - which makes impacts more satisfying (and keeps clipping to a minimum). The great new particle effects have also been lifted from Wrecked. These translucent spurts accompany your impacts and make them feel even more satisfying. The only drawback is that some computers have been having trouble with these effects (to the extent of not showing them at all!), so some awkward decisions are going to have to be made. They were going to be responsible for the realistic flames that were promised for this game, so they can't be sacrificed easily...


Head Over Heels

The aftermath of these attacks has also been implemented. We've got brand new falling, lying, and getting up animations (for both on the back and the front). Some of which demonstrate an improvement, while others are scarcely better than before. The God of animation deserted me there! We do have a nice crawling animation though. As ever, it's a great little touch that allows you to squirm around while you regain your composure. All in all, that's a formidable first week in production. Some important foundations have been laid, and we can already see the new and improved gameplay shining through. If the game continues to proceed at this speed then it should take shape very soon...

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