Lessons from the Game Industry: Legends of Wrestling II

Human Head
07 / 05 / 17
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When the marketing department here at Human Head Studios asked for volunteers to write up blogs for the website, I signed up. Surely, after 15 years of game development I would have some sort of useful insight I could share.

Right?

Okay, this is harder than I thought. But I can do this. I just need to break the problem down into smaller pieces until logic and reason miraculously emerge. So let’s start at the beginning.

Project 01

Title: Legends of Wrestling 2

Role: Embedded QA Tester

Role Playing System of Choice at the Time:Buffy the Vampire Slayer by Eden Studios (I channeled my inner Cordelia Chase and played our group’s Cheerleader.)

(Don’t judge me.)

I started working at Acclaim’s Salt Lake City studio in Summer of 2002 when the QA Director recognized my name in a pile of resumes as an old friend from our high school website club (oh, yes, the nerd roots run deep). But 15 years is a long time, and my memories are a bit foggy, so I decided to play Legends of Wrestling 2 once more to try to shake loose the cobwebs and allow the repressed memories to surface.

That would, of course, require that I have a copy of the game. So a trip to the used game store was in order.

Success!

And already it was working. Driving home I began to get a sense of Deja-vu, like I had done this before.

Crap

(Yes, that is the overlooked South Korean classic Magna Carta: Crimson Stigmata. The graphics were ahead of its time and its depiction of women shaped me for years to come.)

(Don’t judge me.)

Okay, I can fix this…

See, now it’s a collector’s item signed by a member of the game dev team. I’ll give it to Marketing and they can hand it out to the 15th caller or something. Problem solving, it’s why I get paid the big bucks.

Now on to the actual game. Let’s go straight to the good stuff… Belle Jackson (I may have ended that project with an “enhanced” save game file with every wrestler unlocked and 999 of each of the coins used to unlock bonus content), standing in a stance that would look more natural if she was riding a horse, versus Abdullah the Butcher, a delightful combination of 80’s racism and fat shaming (his real name is Lawrence and he’s from Canada). Hilarity should definitely ensue.

(Yes, that is a Wii sensor on top of the TV. You can judge me. There’s no excuse for that in this day and age.)

<10 minutes later>

Okay… well… that was a thing I just did to myself. It’s always the music that hits you first. Whether it’s bad or not, you hear it so much that it’s hard to not associate it with a sense of… never ending fatigue. Still, I might have been able to put it out of mind had the game been interesting in some way, but I forgot just how… bland this thing was. The controls are sloppy, the counter system requires that you stare at your wrestler’s health bar and not the wrestlers, and the matches go on for way too long.

I think I’ve had enough of that. Perhaps the 15th caller will get more enjoyment from it than I did.

So, after that unfortunate trip down memory lane, what did I learn after 5 months of listening to Saliva’s Superstar on endless repeat?

Opportunity in the game industry is as much about who you know as what your skills are.

I got this particular job because the guy doing the hiring was an old friend and I had a college degree (any college degree would have been fine). Fifteen years later, who you know can still open doors far more effectively than talent and a “passion” for video games. That’s not to say skill doesn’t matter, but often getting that chance to prove yourself is maddenly arbitrary.

Being the best at something doesn’t necessarily mean you will get that promotion.

If bug count was any indication (pro-tip, it’s not) I was very good at my job. So good that when one of the QA Leads had to leave the project I was offered a promotion… then immediately asked to turn it down. The thing was, I was more valuable to the project finding bugs than tracking bugs. It was my first gig, and I wanted to be a team player, so I agreed to pass on it. In hindsight, that was a mistake.

Andre the Giant sh*t all over Bad News Al in the ring once.

Working on a wrestling entertainment game (the distinction is important), there were a great many things I learned about wrestling entertainment. The one that has still stuck with me was a story about how Andre the Giant, after binging on booze and Clamato juice the night before, sat on and sh*t on Bad News Al during a match.

The Military Police do not screw around.

This didn’t happen while I was in the studio, so take the details here as little more than hearsay, but the story goes that, after hours, one of the late shift testers noticed a pair of people hanging around outside the front door. Once they saw her they insisted that she open the door, and when she didn’t they insisted that they speak with her supervisor. As it turned out, they were MPs and were there to take into custody one of the other night shift testers that had apparently deserted from his post a few months before. Oh, and they were armed. The supervisor opened the door.

Game dev is tough, and then your studio closes.

After the long days as a superstar (Yeah!) and the nights grinding away on a game design doc to prove I could do something more constructive than cover the entire wrestling ring in blood particles to look for memory leaks, I finally made the move from tester on Legends of Wrestling 2 to designer on Legends of Wrestling 3. Two weeks later the studio closed. To this day I still wonder if it was a pity promotion so that I could put designer on my resume.

And that is what I learned from my first job in the game industry. That might have been a bit of a downer, but maybe I’ll learn something career affirming during my next project… Young Olympians!

…assuming Marketing doesn’t shut this nonsense down after just one post.