Wrestledelphia’s Jack Goodwillie spoke with video game developer Mat Dickie. Once based out of the United Kingdom and now residing in China, Dickie has been the creative force behind the Wrestling MPire series; a unique game in the wrestling genre that puts the user either in control of a wrestler looking to make his or her way up the ranks, or a booker looking to lock down the top spot in the television ratings.
Today, his latest effort, Wrestling Revolution 3D, is top-grossing mobile wrestling game on the Google Play store. The game currently holds a steady with a 4.0 rating.
Follow Mat on Twitter @MDickieDotcom or contact him at email@example.com
Jack Goodwillie: Growing up, what sparked your interest in the professional wrestling genre?
Mat Dickie: Wrestling became the talk of my school in the UK around 1990, and even though I couldn’t watch it myself, I remember kids showing me pictures of guys like the Ultimate Warrior and Machoman (Randy Savage) 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. It’s 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.
JG: What about the art of video game programming? Was there a moment that sent you down that path?
MD: 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, and board games. Video games simply became a natural extension of that creativity. Although I played a lot of console games, I didn’t actually own a PC until I was 16 years old and didn’t learn programming until I was 18. That was when it stopped being a hobby and I got serious about it. I tell kids that it’s important to have those years where all you do is have fun with games. That’s where you develop a sense of what is or isn’t entertaining.
JG: Your games were originally made for PC.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?
MD: There was a lot of frustration during the PC era, where I felt I wasn’t 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 weren’t there, or the recognition wasn’t 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—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.
JG: Why do you think mobile gaming helped resurrect your career?
MD: 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 I’m 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.
JG: 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 gain the inspiration for these characters? Who are your favorites?
MD: I think it’s nostalgia more than anything else. I’ve been shoving these characters in people’s faces for so long, that they’d feel strange if they weren’t there! Still, it’s interesting to see how these fictitious wrestlers can “get over” with people as though they were real. They even go up and down in my own estimation with each release.
“Whack Ax” was a happy accident I had in 3D Studio MAX, when I painted somebody’s entire torso pink and decided to keep it. Now he’s the face of the company. Others began as a parody of a real star who evolved into their own identity. “Driver 88”, for instance, was supposed to be Steve Austin with a ponytail.
A new guy I’m high on is “Score Benz” in developmental, who’s 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 that’s how George Lucas came up with the Star Wars names.
JG: Give us the general jist of what your career mode is like, both as the wrestler and booker. In playing your game, what was the strangest backstage happening you’ve come to see?
MD: In either playing mode, my wrestling games have a formula of newspaper reports, contract negotiations, backstage meetings, and finances, most of which you’ll 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 developer like me does. I simply pursue anything that I would personally like to see in a game. As the saying goes, “If it happens in wrestling, it happens in Revolution!” 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 it’s even possible to see things that wouldn’t 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.
JG: Many people 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?
MD: 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. In later years it would be AKI’s games on the Nintendo 64, 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—and that’s all any serious fan wants.
JG: Did you watch Wrestle Kingdom 9? What were your thoughts?
MD: Yes, I’ve always admired NJPW from afar, but this was the first time I got to hear western commentary attached to it, and Jim Ross 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 (Shinsuke) 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.
Wrestledelphia.com staff writer Jack Goodwillie can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at @jackgoodwillie.