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The “reality” of professional wrestling is as shunned as it is guarded. Adam Ryland, Grey Dog Software designer, however, cracks this world open with a new update to his deep simulation, Total Extreme Wrestling, where fans are given the chance to tinker, crafting the industry into their own vision.

And they do it for hours; Ryland’s product’s addictive nature means many players have amassed days of gameplay, perhaps weeks, in the year-and-a-bit stretch since the last entry in the series.

It’s not surprising, then, that fans erupted with the announcement of TEW 2008.

The game’s community, which the designer keeps so close to, wants to know more. People are desperate to hear any information about the anticipated next instalment in the series.

Well, Ripten’s got it. We sat down with Adam to discuss his latest launch, and the game behind it.

Adam Montgomery: Total Extreme Wrestling 2008 was announced at the end of a series of cryptic videos on Youtube. They were reminiscent of Chris Jericho’s return videos, rife with suggestion and ambiguity. Were you involved in this?

Adam Ryland: Yes, it was my idea to experiment with viral marketing. About 50% of the clues left in the videos were created by me. The rest, and the actual video production, was handled by the game’s lead artist Steve Smith.

Adam M: Many wanted a new TEW, which was finally revealed on January 1st. What were the hints pointing to this in the video?

Adam R: There were many. The “product ID” that flash across the screen was actually “TEW08” in base-8 format.

Some of the references and phrases were taken from the game’s design document. “Neural Networks” is mentioned – the basis for one of the suggested features.

Adam M: How much work have you put into designing this sequel?

Adam R: I read through every thread in the suggestions forum, as well as going through my own notes. Then, as ideas have been expanded upon, it’ll be continuously updated until the game is completed.

Adam M: How many new ideas for the game have a base in a suggestion you read?

Adam R: That’s pretty tricky to answer. My own notes had numerous duplicates in the forum. Probably about 60-70% I read in the suggestions forum, whether I had also thought of them or not, and about a quarter were “originals.”

Adam M: Many developers don’t have such a direct relationship with their audience as you have. Do you appreciate this link?

Adam R: Well I won’t be initiating a group hug any time soon – not least because I suspect a great deal of my audience is still in school, and I think the authorities would frown upon that, but, in all seriousness, yes, I do. A fan base that doesn’t talk wouldn’t be much fun.

Adam M: Onto your MMA foray, then. It seems to have gone down well. Despite being centred on a legitimate competition, will World of Mixed Martial Arts have an impact on your new wrestling game?

Adam R: The two worlds are so deceptively far apart there are very few features that are appropriate to bring across, but there are definitely still a number of new WMMA features that can be taken to the TEW party. I think the feedback is that the speed, simplicity, and streamlining that WMMA has are a step forward.

Adam M: When factoring that this is the first of these games to be designed with Vista in mind, do you believe you can manage to improve on 2007’s performance?

Adam R: There’s a two-step answers to that.

In terms of writing specifically for Vista, there’s a limit as to how much can be done – many issues are down to things like motherboards and chipsets, which can’t be beat by code techniques. That said, WMMA is very stable on Vista, so some techniques clearly do help, and they will be ported to TEW. So, in that respect, performance will be improved.

Secondly, in terms of loading times, that’s guaranteed. That work has already been done; the times measured in this early stage are considerably fast and smoother then the last installment.

Adam M: You pre-empted queries with a “frequently asked questions” post. Inside that, you mentioned that one of your objectives was to refine. What will you be refining?

Adam R: The interface. A lot of people have mentioned that there is too much clicking. It’s not a coding task, more of a redesigning one. We’ll be relocating things and ensuring everything’s easier accessed.

Adam M: Do you feel challenged by the charge to improve upon TEW 2007?

Adam R: No: I’ve never felt challenged with coming up with new stuff for any of my projects – computer gaming or otherwise. I just seem to have one of those mindsets where I’m constantly spitting out new ideas and concepts. The only difficulty is in self-editing (separating the good ideas from the bad) and choosing what fits into each project, and choosing what needs to be left out.

Probably the hardest part of my job is knowing when to stop. When I finish a project, I already have a fair idea of what’s going to be the major features in the next one. There’s many new features I’ve added that I knew would be since prior to the last game’s release.

Adam M: Now, the Cornellverse. When we begin a new game, are we going to see something, some happening, that will shock us?

Adam R: Well, I keep things realistic in terms of time frame, as there’s only so much that can happen in a year. There’s plenty of smaller changes as characters have changed.

But, in one area, there’s a big change to the landscape.

Adam M: I’m sure people are looking forward to finding out what that is. Something people are discussing now is “auto-booking,” delegating control over shows to the computer. What’s your take on this issue?

Adam R: I’m not a big fan. Players would have to put so many restrictions on it, such as “don’t use this guy because he’s resting” or “no, he’s in a feud”.

I think a lot of people remember auto-booking with rose tinted glasses. In the past, it wasn’t detailed. In TEW, it would have to be something much more then that skeletal system, which would be a big problem to add.

Adam M: Do you plan changes to the contract system?

Adam R: The whole negotiation system is going to be re-written, so contracts will likely change as a result of that. We haven’t got far into the specifics of it yet.

Adam M: As a matter of your own opinion, what new planned feature do you believe fans will be particularly happy with?

Adam R: I’ve mentioned that not many features of WMMA are applicable to wrestling. I know one that is: the Hall of Fame. The concept will be making its TEW debut in 2008. The difference will be that it’s name “The Hall of Immortals,” and will be reserved for the very best of the best – only the legendary will get in.

Adam M: A lot of people are calling for a promotions “back catalogue” to be a feature of the game. Suggestions include the ability to pick a “Best Of…” collection or air highlight shows. Do you plan to include this?

Adam R: At the moment, no. With my Designer Hat on, while I can see why people are suggesting it, I don’t think it’s really been thought through very well – I can see it being cool the first couple of times you put together a Best Of… video, but I can also see it getting really boring, really quickly. I see it as more of a novelty item, and given how much information would need to be added to have it working correctly, I don’t see the rewards being worth the effort.

It’s a lot like the often-suggested feature of being able to pick what songs your wrestlers come out to – it’d be fun the first few times as you get a killer song for your fastest-rising star, but six months into the game are you still going to be that excited about picking songs from a list, songs you can’t even hear? A year into the game? Two years….?

Adam M: Finally, developmental. Will this change? Specifically, will you have more control over child promotions? Will you be able to birth a child promotion, or send a worker to development without requiring them to sign to a new contract?

Adam R: “Re-design it” constitutes my entire entry for it in the design document. I like how it works in 2007 – it does the job – but I don’t think the majority “got” the feature. The team will discuss it and we will come up with something more detailed in the future.

Adam M: Thank you, Adam.

Total Extreme Wrestling 2008 is set to launch June 1st 2008.