Wrestledelphia Interview


~ January 2015 ~
In the aftermath of the Royal Rumble in Philadelphia,
I spoke to
Jack of Wrestledelphia about my work with wrestling:

Growing up, what sparked your interest in the professional wrestling genre?
Wrestling became the talk of my school in the UK around 1990, and even though I couldnít watch it myself I remember kids showing me pictures of guys like the Ultimate Warrior and Machoman who looked like real-life superheroes. When I finally sat down to watch it, I was sold on the curious mix of real athleticism and theatrical storytelling. Itís the best of both worlds. Hitchcock said that a movie is real life with all the boring bits cut out, and I felt wrestling was a real sport with all the boring bits cut out! When I returned to wrestling as an adult, it was more for the behind-the-scenes politics. That can be even more dramatic than what happens in the ring, and obviously influenced the direction I would take my games.

What about the art of video game programming? Was there a moment that set you down that path?
That was more of a gradual thing, because I was making games long before I even owned a computer. I would make my own card games, dice games, board games Ė and videogames simply became a natural extension of that creativity. Although I played a lot of console games, I didnít actually own a PC until I was 16 and didnít learn programming until I was 18. That was when it stopped being a hobby and I got serious about it. I tell kids that itís important to have those years where all you do is have fun with games. Thatís where you develop a sense of what is or isnít entertaining.

Your games were originally made for PC. On your site, you're quoted as saying, "I was now making the biggest and best games that one man could possibly hope to deliver. Upon discovering that even that wasn't good enough, there was nothing left to do but draw a line under my gaming exploits." Why did you feel this?
There was a lot of frustration during the PC era, where I felt I wasnít getting out what I put in. For 10 years, that was my life. I spent every waking hour producing the best work I possibly could under the circumstances. When the audiences werenít there or the recognition wasnít there, it felt like a waste of time. There were plenty of good times, I hasten to add, and I remain thankful for the support of my core following Ė many of whom are still playing today. But sometimes you can work so hard that NOTHING is worth it! So I was at fault in that respect. Now my philosophy is to work smarter instead of harder. I work to live instead of living to work.

Why do you think mobile gaming resurrected your career?
Mobile gaming made sense of it all, because my games are a better fit for that platform. The exact same work that was considered BELOW average on PC is considered ABOVE average on mobiles! I was able to go over there with the biggest 2D wrestling game on mobiles, and then turn around and also offer the biggest 3D sim on mobiles. With over 5 million people playing each app, I finally feel Iím getting out what I put in. Looking back, everything I did was building up to that transition. I felt like Noah being ridiculed for working on his boat, but when the flood came I was perfectly positioned to ride those waves.

In all of your games, you use fictional wrestling companies based on region, but also include a Federation Online promotion which features fictional characters that have withstood the test of time. Where do you get the inspirations for these characters? Who are your favorites?
I think itís nostalgia more than anything else. Iíve been shoving these characters in peopleís faces for so long that theyíd feel strange if they WERENíT there! Still, itís interesting to see how these fictitious wrestlers can ďget overĒ with people as though they were real. They even go up and down in my own estimation with each release. ďWhack AxĒ was a happy accident I had in 3D Studio MAX when I painted somebodyís entire torso pink and decided to keep it! Now heís the face of the company. Others began as a parody of a real star who evolved into their own identity. ďDriver 88Ē, for instance, was supposed to be Steve Austin with a ponytail. A new guy Iím high on is ďScore BenzĒ in developmental, whoís like our Seth Rollins. The names are the funniest thing. I wake up every morning muttering random words to myself to see what combinations I like the sound of. I imagine thatís how George Lucas came up with the Star Wars names!

Give us the general gist of what your career mode is like, both as the wrestler and booker. And in playing your game, what was the strangest backstage happening you've come to see?
In either playing mode, my wrestling games have a formula of newspaper reports, contract negotiations, backstage meetings, and finances. Most of which youíll never see in a mainstream wrestling game because they have neither the freedom nor the desire to pull the curtain back that far, whereas an independent like me does. I simply pursue anything that I would personally like to see in a game. As the saying goes, ďIf it happens in Wrestling, it happens in RevolutionĒ! I like to leave no stone unturned to create a complete experience for wrestling fans. At the same time, the game is so open that itís even possible to see things that WOULDNíT happen in real life! Dusty Rhodes once asked me to marry him in an awkward backstage segment. And this was before gay marriage was legalized, so he was really taking a chance on that one.

Many have compared your games to that of the Japanese Fire Pro series. Why do you think those games were such a good foundation for the Wrestling MPire series?
Japanese wrestling is the foundation in more ways than one, because Fire Pro on the SNES was one of the first wrestling games my brother and I sank our teeth into. And then in later years it would be AKIís games on the N64, which had Japanese roots. What I took from that was a large roster of characters with expansive move sets, and the feeling that anything could happen at any moment. WWF games were glorified pieces of merchandise by comparison. Like Japanese wrestling itself, Japanese games took the sport seriously Ė and thatís all any serious fan wants.

Did you watch Wrestle Kingdom 9? What were your thoughts?
Yes, Iíve always admired NJPW from afar Ė but this was the first time I got to hear western commentary attached to it. And Jim Ross, no less, who added a lot to the broadcast. I got to imagine what WWE would be like if they had these guys on their roster and used them properly. I genuinely believe that Nakamura could be the first Japanese star to get legitimately over in the west. We need more wrestlers who happen to be Japanese, whereas WWE turns them into Japanese foreigners who happen to be wrestlers. I like that wrestling is portrayed as more of a sport there. It helps with the suspension of disbelief.

You had a ton of success in developing Wrestling and Booking Revolution in 2D. What made you want to make a 3D version of the game for mobile platforms?
When I first started making games for mobiles, I assumed 2D was as good as it was going to get for me. Even the pros like TNA could only muster a low-poly 1-on-1 match in 3D. As soon as I discovered that I was capable of making 3D apps, and that the latest devices could handle up to 10 of my characters in the ring, that was all I needed to make the leap. I knew I had everything I needed to bring the biggest 3D wrestling game to mobiles, and it hasnít left the Top 15 sports apps since. People are quick to criticize my graphics, but the truth is that theyíre fit for purpose. It takes a lot of compromises to squeeze 300 characters into a 30mb download and have it run smoothly on the average device! Better looking games will come along, but I donít think anybody will ever make a bigger mountain out of a smaller molehill.

I remember shortly after Wrestling Revolution 2D came out, WWE personally had your game removed from Google Play reportedly for stealing the thunder of their own mobile app. Though it would return soon after, how did that make you feel?
Surprisingly enough, that spat with WWE had nothing to do with the gameís content. It was more about search results, which have become the new battleground of mobile marketing. Every time Michael Cole was telling people to download the WWE app (which is a lot!), mine was showing up there tight next to it and they took exception to that. I awoke on Christmas morning 2012 to find that my game had been wiped off the store at their request, with no regard for the 300,000 people who had downloaded it at that point (including paying customers). I looked up the lawyer responsible on LinkedIn, and he was bragging about how ďaggressivelyĒ he defends WWEís interests. My only complaint is that they were heavy-handed. They put their foot on my neck and wouldnít take it off, whereas I had a similar issue with UFC and it was resolved by exchanging a few polite e-mails. Of course, when the game returned it was even more popular than it was before and quickly surpassed 1 million downloads. Meanwhile, the ďWrestleFestĒ remake they were trying to make way for bombed and no longer exists. Now both Wrestling Revolution 2D and Wrestling Revolution 3D are the top search results for ďwrestlingĒ, and they canít stop that any more than they can stop people chanting for Daniel Bryan!

Your Facebook page has rapidly climbed to nearly 50,000 followers. Do you enjoy the fan interaction that you weren't afforded in your earlier years? Do you think its benefited you not only as a programmer but as a creative mind?
Well, corresponding with the players has always been part of my daily routine. I set aside a couple of hours every morning to read and reply to e-mails Ė even if it means I have to break out Google Translate! I know what itís like to be ignored, so I donít intentionally treat anybody that way. If I didnít respond to a polite, well-written message, itís almost certainly because I didnít see it. Which, admittedly, is becoming more common in the mobile era Ė where millions of people are playing the apps, 50k are active on my Facebook page, and 15k are following on Twitter. Itís easier than ever to get drowned out by the noise now, so I canít say itís necessarily better than it was when I had a more intimate audience. The feedback is more instantaneous at least. I can post a screenshot on Facebook or Twitter and within a matter of minutes Iíll have a sense of whether people are excited about it or not. In the old days, I just posted things on my website and the response was a mystery. I certainly prefer social media to maintaining my own site. Iíve barely updated that in the past 6 years!

Philadelphia wrestling fans et all were up in arms this week over the outcome of the Royal Rumble. Who would you have booked to win the Rumble?
I think the problem with the Royal Rumble is that the winner is locked into that Wrestlemania main event. If it was more of a seal of approval like winning King Of The Ring, that would take the pressure off and they could have more fun with it. It should be the kind of event a mid-carder can win to elevate himself. Maybe that manifests itself in a title shot and maybe it doesnít. Creativity could always use more options instead of fewer. I must say I donít particularly have a problem with Roman Reigns. I donít even agree that his promos are weak. In my experience, most people donít really know what they want anyway. I shudder to think where I would be if I listened to the people who said they didnít want mobile, didnít want touch-screen, didnít want 2D, didnít want 3D. Henry Ford famously said that if he asked people what they want, they would have asked for a faster horse instead of inventing the motor car! Sometimes people donít know what they want until you show them, and thatís the job of a visionary.

If 2K Sports ever called you up and said, "Mat, we love your work. Please come work for us on the next WWE2K installment/mobile game," would you do it?
A lot of people assume that being independent is a warm-up to working in the mainstream, but it has been the other way around for a long time now. I know more employees who want to be independent than independents who want to be employed. Once youíre single-handedly responsible for games that are already played by millions of people, thereís very little motivation to go and be a cog in somebody elseís machine. Iíd be lying if I said I didnít want to be part of the WWE family on some level, as every fan wants to peek behind that curtain, but sentimentality wouldnít be a good enough reason for me to sign my life away. In any case, I can assure you that WWE doesnít see me as anything more than a cockroach - so itís not a decision Iíll have to make any time soon! Nobody in the entire games industry knows my value except the fans, and theyíre the only bosses Iíll ever work for.

Speaking of WWE, what are your thoughts on their latest mobile effort "Immortals?"
I honestly havenít played it yet because I canít justify that 1.3gb download! Call me old-fashioned, but I donít even mess around with movies that big. The visuals are admittedly impressive for a mobile app, and it seems like a creative combination of the 2 franchises, but nothing can justify that file size to me. I squeezed 300 characters and 2 career modes into a 30mb file, which just goes to show how much resource management goes into my projects. Iím so old school that I still imagine Iím trying to squeeze the best game possible onto an N64 cartridge! On another level, these gimmicks also suggest that WWE still isnít taking mobile gaming seriously. I donít think fans will be seeing a serious sim from them for some considerable time, which is a shame because weíve established that thereís an audience for one.

When Wrestling Revolution 3D is complete with all the necessary updates, what do you hope that fans of the genre will be able to take away from the experience? Care to drop any hints on things to look for in future WR3D updates?
Iím burnt out on wrestling after working on this 3D project for a solid year, so all I see in my immediate future is a LONG break! Iíve already achieved more than anybody thought was possible this time last year. Iíve practically ported Wrestling MPire to mobiles and recreated Wrestling Revolution in 3D, so anything that happens next is a bonus. The universe will max out at 300 characters in the next update, with dozens of new moves, and Iím not sure mobile devices could handle much more than that. I may be experimenting with virtual reality later in the year, in which case WR3D would be the guinea pig. But other than that, I need a break from this genre to give other concepts a chance to shine. As much as I love wrestling, itís the most time-consuming and difficult genre I can imagine working on Ė and I think youíll see CM Punk return to it before I do!

Anything else you'd like to say to your fans, or even those who haven't tried your games yet?
Whenever WWE drops the ball, wrestling fans start talking about ďalternativesĒ. I want people to know that goes for the games as well, so when you get bored of WWE 2K15 donít get bored of the entire genre! Consider looking up my ďWrestling RevolutionĒ series on mobiles (in either 2D or 3D) or the old ďWrestling MPireĒ series on PC. Independent games are like independent wrestling Ė not so pretty to look at, but we have the best moves! And just like Daniel Bryan, the little guys are finally gravitating towards that top spot. To all the fans that were with me from the beginning, thanks for having the foresight to see what everybody else couldnít. Independent games wouldnít be anything without independent thinkers to play them.

Copyright © MDickie 2000 - 2015