Saturday, February 25, 2012

... And how to make it Better.

When last I left off, I was trying to used car salesman Adam Ryland's Wrestling Spirit 2 as a viable entry to any gaming library. But like all used car salesmen, I wasn't entirely up front concerning the less than shinier bits.

While there are several tournament-type modes in Wrestling Spirit, the drawing card of the game is in its Career Mode. It is there that you have the option of either starting your own wrestler from scratch, or taking on an existing wrestler and guiding their career. Promotional inner workings (card lineups, title matches, hirings and firings, etc.) was largely built off the core of Ryland's Total Extreme Wrestling 2004.

Frankly, it never really worked for me. Besides the actual 'fight engine', for lack of a better phrase, the single most important aspect to a wrestling game needs to be a logical method of match-making.

Mr. Ryland's booking engine works... for Total Extreme Wrestling. After all, the player is doing the booking of their own promotion in that series. What the AI-controlled promotions do is always on the peripheral - and even when studied, makes enough sense.

In Wrestling Spirit, the AI controls all promotions; your character takes the bookings assigned to them. Sometimes those bookings make sense. Sometimes not so much.

The game, like all of Mr. Ryland's games, comes with an in-game editor. This allows the player to go in and tweak Ryland's default data (called the CornellVerse). Or, if they wish, to create their own game world of wrestlers, promotions... and promotion settings.

Being such a fan of the territorial era of wrestling (70s-80s), the first thing I did was create a data set that paid homage. The Death of the Territories, as it was called, grew to be quite the project. With over 1,000 workers, 38 promotions (including those from England, Mexico, and Japan), close to 800 unique move sets, and over 2,000 era-specific moves, I think I succeeded in my goal.

One of the things I was most proud of was my expansion of Ryland's taunt moves in the game to a full-blown role-playing experience appropriate for the era; the Sheik might bust out in his awesome camel walk, Abdullah the Butcher might stop his fork attack due to 'Receiving Messages from Allah!', Hulk Hogan might start wagging his finger, or Jake 'the Snake' Roberts might threaten his opponent with his snake Damien.

In ways beyond the attention to territorial detail, the heightening of the role-playing element that I achieved made the game fundamentally better.

The default data, while good, was simply a tad too wooden when it came to the fights themselves. Moves that I added such as the 'Heel Exaggerated Loading Of...' {In broad and exaggerated motions, the attacker begins attempting to Load his... (fill in the blank; glove, boot, mask, forearm pad, etc.)} or the 'Heel Beg Off' {A trademark move of many old school heels: the attacker reverts to a state of cowardice by falling to his knees and begging for mercy. Failure results in the hero punching the villain. Success results in the hero momentarily unsure of himself} simply enhanced what Mr. Ryland had intended all along.

But even that wasn't enough.

As I mentioned in a previous post, one of the games I grew up on was a wrestling game I created as a young teen. One of the better aspects of that game was that I could play match-maker for my very own promotion and then run the (dream) matches myself.

While Wrestling Spirit features the best representation of kayfabe era wrestling I have come across, computer controlled booking can only get you so far - no matter the coding or data settings that drive it.

So what do you do? Set up match-ups in Wrestling Spirit's Exhibition Mode and track results in a well-worn notebook? Nope. You find someone with talents and pester them to do it for you.

Troy Perry, a talented programmer out of England, was just the cat. Mr. Perry had previously created an Excel application that acted as a match maker for a user controlled promotion using the Retro Wrestling Game core mechanics as means of resolving fights. Like just about every wrestling-related project Perry worked on, it was snazzy.

Enter Keyfabe, an Excel sheet* that acts as Match-Maker mode for Wrestling Spirit 2. I threw just about every aspect of territorial-era professional wrestling I could at Mr. Perry, and he obliged all of them. The end result is a true piece of art.

"After enabling sheet macros, select your promotional roster from a choice of close to 600 D.O.T.T. era wrestlers and managers - many with their own special match bonuses, tag team partners, and finishers (for AI generated results). Or even let Keyfabe recommend roster additions for you!

After selecting your World and Regional Champions, fire up the Launch Promotion button. Keyfabe will then formulate and dynamically track your title challengers, title defenses, promotional rankings, monthly feuds, and suggested bookings for each of your shows; including your weekly television and house shows, plus the end-of-the-month spectaculars.

'Booked' matches are either played out using Wrestling Spirit 2's Exhibition Mode - with the player manually entering the results to the excel sheet, or by the spreadsheet itself determining the winner through a variable method.

Noted Features:

* National (40 man) or Regional (22) roster packages.

* User defined Company Titles (Singles, Tag Team, and Television).
* Possible 'End of Month Spectacular' World Singles and/or World Tag Team Title bookings against your promotional stars (
to replicate outside/traveling champions) - as well as Special Attraction bookings, such as Andre the Giant, Haystacks Calhoun, Giant Baba and Ted the Wrestling Bear.
* Dynamic Title (and promotional) Rankings based upon monthly wins, losses, and managerial influence.
* An automated Championship tracking sheet for Regional Title Histories.
* Suggested Bookings (for house shows, television shows, and end-of-month super cards).
* Text-based Outputs of show results, promotion rankings, and roster listings for record keeping.
* Suggested Monthly Feuds (blow offs booked on end-of-month cards).
* Touring Schedule Generators (rather than sticking to Virtual Arena or specific geographic locations in Exhibition Mode play).
* Injury and Suspension Checks.
* Break My Hold Challenges and Unmasking Attempts.
* Promos.
* End-of-Month User Roster Manipulations (to spice up your promotion).
* Worker Progression Tracking.
* And much more...

'Keyfabe: Unlocking Progress to the Past'"

- Cheesy testament to the heathens at Grey Dog Software's Fan Forums

In all, the Death of the Territories modification for Wrestling Spirit 2 had around 4,000 downloads in its lifespan; the last update alone had 513**. Many of them were people downloading the various updates I released. Not to mention those that un-and-then-reinstalled the game from their machines. But the numbers are accurate.

Keyfabe has had 45 people download it since being released in December of 2010.

Hobby in the form of a niche cubed: Kayfabe era Professional Wrestling Video Game... Text-based at that... with an excel sheet add-on to a game over five years old.

I think there is a lesson to be learned somewhere in there.

But that's for the game designers to figure out.

* Made with Excel 97

** Besides correcting various errors in my final update to D.O.T.T. in 2009, I introduced Legends (such as Lou Thesz and Verne Gagne in their primes) and... a Bear and Midget promotion. Hah! If you're going out, go out with a slam.


  1. This post really piqued my interest in the game. I truly think your expansion adds a lot to the game; especially the moves you added. Some of that stuff is sorely missing from modern pro wrestling. I remember people loading the boot or their glove up to win the match! One time in Mid-South Wrestling (iirc, of course) there was a match between Kamala and Dr. Death Steve Williams. It had appeared that Ted Dibiase had sold his soul to Skandar Akbar and started working for him. Keep in mind that Dibiase and Williams were tag team partners at the time. The match reached a point where both Kamala and Dr. Death were struggling to get to their feet and the ref was down. Out comes Dibiase & takes money from Akbar. He slides into the ring and puts on his trusty loaded glove. He looks at Dr. Death, looks at Kamala, the crowd starts to boo and Dibiase knocks out Kamala. Akbar is pissed, the crowd erupts, and Williams gets the pin! Oh man do I miss the awesomeness of late 70's to mid 80's pro wrestling. :-(

  2. I just downloaded Keyfabe. Awesome tool! Just brilliant. Seems like it could be adapted to the concept I began discussing with you. Did you get me e-mail? Haven't been able to follow up. We just took in a 3 month old foster child on Tuesday. Busy!

  3. Great wrestling memory there, Mr. Warren. Thanks for sharing it.

    In an alternate universe, DiBiase took the Flair role as the greatest NWA World Heavyweight Champion in the history of that title. I am sure of it.

    My money will always be on Nick Bockwinkel as the greatest 'World Champ' I have ever seen. He is the guy I would base everything around; he was charismatic, he could talk on the microphone, and he could wrestle anyone to a good match. And unlike Flair, Bockwinkel didn't have routines that needed to be pulled off every single match he wrestled.

    DiBiase is in the step below club, in my opinion; right up there with Flair and Murdoch.

  4. Egads... 3 month olds do tend to take up a lot of time.

    "What the heck?! I just fed this kid 4 hours ago and he wants more? Pfft!"

    Best of luck there, Mr. Rankin! I admire those willing to take in foster children and provide them safe and happy homes. Bravo to you guys.


    Got your email and replied.

    The Keyfabe package is really darned cool. It still amazes me how much can be done with it.

    And you are right: You could use this package for just about anything. Perry covered so many bases, the package got to a point where it is a stand alone deal.

    You could literally run your own fantasy promotions just using Keyfabe.

    What I do is control a couple of guys in a promotion. I play out their Keyfabe bookings in Wrestling Spirit's Exhibition mode, then manually enter the results to the sheet. It works really well.

    The biggest thing for me is the logic of Keyfabe bookings. Mr. Perry created an excellent formula based on rankings, which is how I always figured it should be.

    The result is something special.

  5. THAT - Dibiase replacing Flair as the greatest NWA champion - is something I can get behind!!!! No disrespect to Flair, but I believe Dibiase was the overall better wrestler.

    Unfortunately, I can not recall Nick Bockwinkel at all. I believe I came into wrestling just a tad late to see him OR he was in a competing territory that did not air in my viewing area. Regardless, I have no knowledge of ever seeing him wrestle. I do remember reading articles about him in old wrestling magazines.

    I will have to increase my pro wrestling "education" by seeking out some DVD releases from his time. I recently watched the AWA retrospective and learned about Verne Gagne - good stuff. I also watched THE ROAD WARRIORS retrospective DVD on netflix. Hmmm...I'm starting to get the itch for some more wrestling now!


    Bockwinkel was a quasi-deity.

  7. Ugh - I'm a dummy - YouTube is your I totally didn't either think to look there. I like the video! That's pro wrestling how it SHOULD be and it includes Jerry THE KING Lawler!

    1. After Jarrett and Lawler severed ties with the NWA, they arranged a deal with Gagne's AWA in the early eighties. It worked well for that promotion, as the best Lawler matches I have ever seen were the ones against Bockwinkel.

    2. That's awesome! The early eighties wrestling scene is so much better than what is out there now. I am usually the one schooling my buddies when it comes to the sport, but you got your crap together - thanks for the history lesson!

  8. I also see on youtube that Bockwinkel wrestling Rhodes in Mid-South. I am sure that I saw him in my youth or just missed him. Unfortunate really.

    1. Bockwinkel had a close relationship with Paul Boesch out of Houston, which is probably how he came to work with Watts.

      At one time or another Verne Gagne and his AWA had agreements with Calgary, Houston, Joe Blanchard's Southwest Championship out of San Antonio, I believe Tunney's Maple Leaf shows, and All Japan. Bockwinkel made appearances in each of them as 'traveling World Champion', much like Flair, Race, and the Funks did for the NWA umbrella organizations.

      Being from Cleveland, Ohio - an area burnt to the ground in the 70s, wrestling wise, we didn't have many options. Pre-cable (late 70s, very early 80s), if we were lucky and fiddled with the television antennae we could get Detroit Championship from across Lake Erie. For awhile there that was it.

      As weird as it sounds today, the only way to get information was to buy the highly kayfabed wrestling magazines.

    2. That is an interesting piece of wrestling history. It is truly unfortunate that cable did not explode in popularity much sooner - like 10 or 15 years earlier - then many of the territories could have had television exposure. It could have been a wrestling paradise with WCCW on one channel, Mid-South on another channel, the AWA on another, and so on.

      I would love to have a stack of those old wrestling magazines around to look at.

  9. Dallas in the mid-80s was a pretty cool place to be as a fan of televised wrestling. In addition to the homegrown World Class Championship Wrestling, there was also Championship Sports, WCCW's secondary show, which ran Saturday nights on KTVT channel 11. On the UHF, you could also find AWA's All-Star Wrestling, Mid-South's Power Pro Wrestling, two weekly offerings from WWF, plus Southwest Championship and Poffo's ICW both popped up for a little while.

    Of course, if you had cable, there were all the offerings from Crockett as well...

    1. Even in hindsight, I am jealous.

      Johnny Powers had his own promotion here in Cleveland (Parma, actually) which ran until the early to mid 70s. After that folded, the Sheik booked the suburbs west of here out of Detroit, but did not air a television show in our local market.

      Other than that, we had to wait for cable.

      And even then, early cable in our neck of the woods was limited to Georgia Championship on WTBS and Southwest Championship on the USA network (before McMahon and the WWF took that slot over).

      It's funny, because when we would visit our cousins outside of Pittsburgh, they had WWF and Crockett broadcast to them. We had nothing.

      I blame Johnny Powers for destroying Cleveland. That darned Ox Baker riot seemed to turn the entire city (and outlaying suburbs) against wrestling.

  10. Hmm...the Ox Baker riot? I think I remember hearing something about that. Care to give details?

    I remember Championship Sports! IIRC, there was a wrestler on there that was losing week after week. He got up to 0-100 I seem to recall. I am not sure if he ever did win as part of that story.

    1. Video Footage

      Johnny Powers turned heel against Ernie 'the Cat' Ladd. During one of their bouts in downtown Cleveland, Ox Baker ran out and gave Ladd something like ten heart punches. Ladd played it like he had been murdered, and the fans went nuts.

      The city fathers were none too pleased.

    2. That is both awesome and hilarious! I miss the days when pro wrestling was "real" and the "f word" (fake) might get you slapped across the mouth.

  11. Yeah, make no mistake, in Texas we knew the truth:

    That stuff outta New York was phoney, but Von Erichs vs Freebirds, that was REAL!

    When Maniac Mark Lewin put on a sleeper, Gary Hart had to come in after the match and revive the victim, otherwise he woulda been dead!

    Seriously, World Class had an intense, loyal fan base, a tremendous roster and state-of-the-art production values. Fritz couldn't get his head around the fact that TELEVISION, especially cable and satalite technology, was the future of the business, and it cost him his company. Even worse, Frtiz couldn't face up to the rampany abuse of recreational and perscription drugs by so many in that organization, and it cost his sons David & Kerry their lives and contributed to the deaths of Mike & Chris.

    An outright tragedy.

    The biggest problem for all of us is that the place we want to return to so desperately never really existed in the first place.

    And that, my friends, is the biggest Kayfabe of all.

    1. That's a great piece, Mr. Rankin; thanks!

      Have you ever read the Penthouse article from 1988 on the Von Erichs by Irv Muchnick? Really scary stuff.

    2. Throughout work I kept thinking back at this comment. The sentiment expressed deserves an entire article, Mr. Rankin; it was that good.

      Mr. Warren and yourself have a first hand, fan's eye view on one of the most depressing (and most blatant) examples of the vicious nature of the wrestling industry in the 1980s.

      Someone once posted a list of the premature deaths of professional wrestlers of the 80s, and it was disturbing.

      A bunch of those named wrestled in World Class; 4 Von Erichs, Gino Hernandez, Terry Gordy, Buzz Sawyer, Bruiser Brody, Billy Joe Travis, Chris Adams, Rick Rude, Ray Candy, Scott Irwin... on and on.

      I haven't watched a wrestling program in almost twenty years now, but I loved it as a kid. When I began researching the subject for the D.O.T.T. mods, I realized just how seedy the entire profession is and always has been.

      You guys, though ... you guys got to see that crap first hand. I can not imagine what the fans of World Class must have thought; one after another, they were dropping like flies.

    3. @Rodney Rankin: That is some awesome reminiscing about World Class. I judge all the wrestling I have ever watched by those years of World class early in my life. You are 100% correct about the quality of the roster, production values, etc. of World Class. I still think Gary Hart is the greatest manager of all time. I loved Mid-South BUT World Class and the Sportatorium were like a religious experience for me. It captivated me and held my attention span. It is a damn shame that all that tragedy happened in World Class. The fans were probably emotionally drained after all of the deaths. If Fritz would have been receptive to the actual television future of wrestling I believe that World Class would still be one of the major regional territories; probably absorbing several smaller ones along the way. Maybe not a national organization but a rather large chunk of the States. Most important, I believe if Fritz would have recognized the importance of television AND got the locker room drug use eliminated, World Class would still be going today. I never thought about it before but your "most kayfabe" remark hit the nail on the head.

      @Baker: I absolutely agree about the necessity of an entire article about the tragic times of World Class. I did see it first hand but I was very young. It really did not don on me the great tragedy that was taking place at the time. I truly loved World Class. Chris Adams was and still is my all time favorite wrestler. I was lucky enough to see him in a live match against Kevin Von Erich in Enid, Oklahoma. I remember seeing him years later on WCW for a brief bit. I believe he had a hand in training Stone Cold Steve Austin if I remember correctly. Suddenly, I read that he had been stabbed (?) to death.

      Fast forward a couple more years and I run across the TRIUMPH AND TRAGEDY OF WORLD CLASS CHAMPIONSHIP WRESTLING on DVD at Wal-Mart. I took it home and watched it immediately. It was great to see all of those guys again. Then they start talking about all of the deaths in WCCW. It hit me pretty hard to see Gary Hart so upset on that DVD talking about Gino Hernandez. The thing that really got me was hearing Kevin talk about the deaths of his brothers; especially, the one that he couldn't keep his mother away from. It really got me to hear him say "I've been a big brother my whole life....I'm not even a brother now". WOW! I know it sounds corny and all but I actually wiped my eyes a few times during the tragic parts of this DVD. I used to watch these guys on TV and was just taken aback at the fact that a very large portion of them are no longer with us. Tragic, indeed.

  12. The irony, for me as a teen in Dallas at that time, is that my own parents were battling severe addiction issues that resulted in my mom being jailed, my father fleeing to California and my being placed into foster care.

    At the time, I wasn't "smart" enough to connect the dots. I was just a fan who wanted to believe and to escape the hell of my own life. I really thought, despite the mounting evidence, that the wrestlers I saw on Saturdays and Sundays were actually better people than my addicited parents.

  13. Sorry about the typos above. I'm doing this while watching 2 small children.

  14. Mr Baker, I just recently bought WS2 and am interested in downloading the 3.25 update to your D.O.T.T. mod. However, the link on greydogsoftware doesn't seem to be valid anymore. This is the page with the link that I'm referring to. Would you please direct me to another way of receiving the update? Great work on the mod, btw. :)

    1. Surely - and thanks for the kind words.

      3.5 Update - the Data
      New People Link - worker/bear profile pics

      I am using mediafire for these. If you have problems with that site, let me know and I'll figure something else out.

    2. Hey, Boon! Ryland just announced Wrestling Spirit 3 !!!

    3. Hey, Boon! Ryland just announced Wrestling Spirit 3!!!

  15. Wow! Thanks for that heads up, Rodney. Without it, I would have had no clue.

    It looks as if D.O.T.T., like Scarlet O'Hara, will rise from the ashes.

    "As God as my witness, I shall never eat turnips again!"