We recently had the privilege of chatting with Serious Parody’s Daniel Hinkles about the company’s upcoming PSN-exclusive wrestling game 5 Star Wrestling. Digital downloadable wrestling games have become a big more popular on consoles with the release of the Action Arcade Wrestling series on the Xbox 360, and the release of the in name-only Fire Pro Wrestling, but now a new challenger is set to emerge and sit atop the downloadable wrestling throne.
[Hardcore Gamer] What led to the creation of 5 Star Wrestling?
[Daniel Hinkles] I’ve always been a huge fan of wrestling and all I ever wanted to do was either work for the WWE creatively or at THQ on their wrestling games. I’ve always had a real passion for the games and the more I played, the more I became obsessed with them. I applied at THQ, but they weren’t accepting Brits to the American team. They told my choice was learn Japanese so I could apply at Yukes… or go work at the UK THQ on a racing game. Neither of those sounded like great options, so I started my own company and here we are today.
How long have you wanted to make a wrestling game?
I tried to make my first wrestling game when I was around 11/12 years old, using Microsoft Excel… needless to say, that was the wrong tool for the job.
Wow — I bet it helped for budgeting a game, though!
I didn’t get too serious about it until I reached my early 20s. Turns out, most of Wrestling Manager was built using Excel and most of 5 Star has been designed using spreadsheets too. So I wasn’t too far off back then.
You were able to take an experience that went in the wrong direction at one time, but turned out to be the right one in the long run
Yeah. Well the way I see it. Even if I had been lucky enough to work at THQ I wouldn’t have had the creative control that I have today at Serious Parody. So that’s worked out quite well.
That creativity seemingly led to some innovation for wrestling games with realistic limb damage in 5SW. How hard was it to turn that idea from a theory into a game mechanic?
I’m really lucky in that respect because I’m surrounded by really talented people who have worked hard to make that feature a reality. It seems like a pretty straightforward feature at first – injure your opponents leg and then they will struggle to pick you up, but it’s more complex than that because wrestling isn’t as straightforward as that. If you look at Brock Lesnar vs HHH in their cage match, Brock struggled to hit the F5 because he had an injured leg. But eventually, he powered through and managed to get the move. We needed a way to stop wrestlers from doing big lift up moves but then give them a chance to still be able to pull it off providing they recovered a little and regained some stamina, etc.
So like real life, if you just rest an injury for a bit, it will heal up a bit.
Absolutely. It won’t heal fully…There’s 5 tiers of damage, and you can only regenerate health back to the last tier.
So it heals to a bare minimum since there’s existing damage. It wouldn’t make sense to heal 100% after a little bit, and in theory, it’s a bit like Fire Pro’s stamina system
3.6 will go to 3 but it won’t go to 2.
Does the limb damage extend to the arms or is it limited to the legs?
Yes you can hurt arms, legs, head and body. They all have different effects though.
How is each set of limbs affected?
For example, if you want to keep a guy down for a long time, you need to work his head. After all, a man with injured arms isn’t going to struggle getting back to his feet. Working a guy’s arms will reduce his ability to reverse moves and make it harder for him to win with submission moves. Working the body will reduce a wrestlers stamina, which will eventually stop him from being able to run and could result in tired moves being triggered. For example, if he’s exhausted but he tries his finishing move, the animation will look tired, the move won’t be as powerful and he will stay down after the move too because he’s too tired to get up and capitalise on it. Wrestlers with badly hurt legs risk blowing out their knee if they try to do powerful lift up moves. So there are different strategies to try depending on what you want to achieve and who you’re wrestling against.
If you had to compare 5 Star Wrestling’s gameplay as a whole, which games come to mind?
Tough one right there. 5 Star Wrestling is very unique and in a lot of ways like no other wrestling game you’ve ever played. If I had to choose one though… I’d probably say it’s like a cross between Here Comes The Pain and WCW vs NWO: World Tour.
How so? Which elements of each remind you of 5 Star Wrestling?
Well, in Here Comes The Pain, most wrestlers felt unique. The Rock felt like The Rock. If he had a DDT, it was The Rock’s DDT not just a standard DDT. In 5 Star Wrestling, every character has a very unique move set.
Are the animations unique for each character for the same kind of move?
More often than not. To put this into perspective, we have around 600 moves, and there are only 8 guys. No Mercy had around 450 moves across 60 guys. There’s some sharing but it’s typically for positions where you don’t have many moves to choose from, like being stood on the apron while your opponent is below on the floor. Most guys have a back kick in that position. But when it comes to Front Grapples, Back Grapples, Corner Grapples, Rebound Grapples, etc. Nearly every move is unique to that character – strikes too. HarVee Dee doesn’t have a single strike that Dynamite Pegasus has.
It was really important to us that they all felt very different to each other. Then on the other hand, it’s a lot like WCW vs NWO: World Tour. We’ve got move positions galore, there’s a ton of solid mechanics in like our Momentum System and Raging Andy Organ can do lots of RAOs like how DDP could do lots of Diamond Cutters, etc.
That was definitely a highlight of the Aki engine – they really nailed DDP – his Revenge incarnation is the best one to date. The best part is that they all looked organic.
Yeah, I think if you have a character that can do that move. It’s important for him to be able to hit it from as many places as possible. I had a chance to sit with DDP for an hour last year and he stressed just how important that move was to his career because he could hit it at any time on anyone from any position.
His slogan at the time was that you never saw it coming, and he would bust it out from a variety of positions weekly. He’d do a cutter off the top one week, and thena cutter out of a powerbomb setup on Saturday Night.
And it’s the same with Raging Andy Organ. He has nearly 30 variations of that move in 5 Star Wrestling. He can do it from so many positions. If you’re running, if he’s running, if your on the top rope, if you’re doing your finishing move, etc. It’s all there.
How hard was it to pare the roster down to eight guys?
Harder than you’d think. We started with gameplay first – what do we want to see and what’s never been done. I wanted strategy to mean something in 5 Star. So I started with “Brute vs Tactician”
You can’t have a wrestling game without high flying moves, so “Risk Takers” came next. And what’s pro wrestling without the Showmen? So once I’d decided on the types of characters we were going to have, I looked at what sequences would be great. Ankle Lock To Crossface came to mind. I don’t remember playing a game where finisher-to-finisher reversals were possible so I knew we were being pretty innovative with that but at the same time, I also don’t remember ever seeing submission moves being reversed fully into completely different submission moves.
The best you’d get is a Fire Pro game where you could go from a pinning powerbomb counter into a triangle choke or something like that.
Yeah and that’s a fantastic sequence.
Did keeping the roster lean allow for such in-depth countering? It seems like it would be nearly impossible to get this kind of depth with a large roster.
Keeping the roster small was key to having unique feeling wrestlers, and finisher-to-finisher reversals is a big part of that. I think if we had opted for a larger roster we probably would have had to cut things like our injured leg selling system, which would have been a real shame gameplay-wise.
How many moves are available for each wrestler to use?
There’s between 160-185 depending on the wrestler. Heels have more because they get dirty moves, then some guys have more finishers than others. To put that into perspective. Most of the SmackDown games had around 80 per wrestler, No Mercy had around 150. I don’t know the number for 2K14 but I know that we had more than WWE 13.
Why did you choose to make this a PSN release, and are there plans to eventually put it on the Xbox Live Arcade, Wii U eShop, or Steam marketplaces?
The PS3 is a fantastic platform and it has support right around the world. In Japan, where Wrestling is going through a major boom period, there are 10x more PS3s than Xbox 360s. We also knew that the game would release towards the tail end of the generation and Sony have a great history of supporting their consoles after the launch of a new generation. Some of the best PS2 games came out after the PS3. Around 50m PS2s were sold after the PS3 came out where as Microsoft killed the Xbox off soon after releasing the 360. A multi-platform release really depends on sales. We’re a small company and as much as I’d love to put 5 Star on every platform so that wrestling fans all over could give it a try, it’s not easy to support so many platforms and make tons of DLC with such a small team. If wrestling fans really get behind it and we can sell enough copies to grow, that means more people to work on new DLC and then eventually more people to make different versions.
The countering animations are so smooth, were those motion captured or hand-drawn?
They’re all hand-animated, with several passes.
Will there be more than one attire for the roster?
Every character will have two attires.
What’s the set release date period for this?
When the game’s finished.
As you can see, Serious Parody doesn’t want to release the game before its ready. We’ll be keeping in touch with them to find out the latest on the game, as the wrestling game community is still clamoring for something that does things differently than the current Yuke’s-led WWE games put out by 2K each year. Stagnation has been a serious problem for the franchise, and independent games like 5 Star Wrestling and the Action Arcade Wrestling series help remind players that there are folks out there seeking to improve the genre since Aki (now Syn Sophia) stopped developing any wrestling-game games about a decade ago.