Xbox Tavern Interviews: Action Arcade Wrestling’s Dave Horn

We recently got the chance to talk to Dave Horn, executive producer on the upcoming Action Arcade Wrestling. Unlike some of the more sim-style games of late, this looks to bring back simple, arcade fun to the world of Sports Entertainment! Already riding high on Steam, the Xbox version is due to release this Spring. We wanted to check in and get more of an idea of what’s in store, from the types of matches we can look forward to, to the clever way of handling customisation, and more:

  • Firstly, thanks for taking the time to speak to us today. I’ve personally grown up being a big fan of Wrestling and playing a large number of games based on it over the years. Can you give us a quick history of how Action Arcade Wrestling came to be? Have you taken much inspiration from particular titles at all?

I’ll try to give the quick version of the history. Because I could start all the way back when I was like 13 years old making little wrestling games from a QuickBASIC book I got! I had always been interested in making my own games, but when the Xbox 360 came out with their “Indies” program, it was my opportunity to actually release something I made. So I developed and released the first Action Arcade Wrestling (AAW) completely myself. The only thing I did was hire a pixel artist to do the background arena and crowd.

Then when I wanted to make a sequel, I had much less time on my hands after my kids were born. So I searched for some programming help and found Eugene Tchoukhrov – an amazingly talented programmer – to help me. I was also able to find some freelancers to do some of the additional work… like the awesome animations in the game. After the release of AAW2, Eugene and I decided to create another one, but this time, Unreal Engine became an option. So that led us to do a full release on both PC and consoles.

The inspiration comes from all of the wrestling games in the 90’s that I loved as a kid. WrestleFest, Saturday Night Slam Masters, the LJN games on SNES and Genesis, etc. Some of those games won’t ever make the top 10 best wrestling games lists with No Mercy and Fire Pro, but I just had so much fun with them.

  • AAW looks like it’s a lot of fun; can you explain how the control system will work for us on console? The Steam page description mentions a two button input scheme – how does this translate into the variety of moves seen in the trailer?

Yes, it’s two action buttons… Strike and Grapple. There are a few others just for things like changing focus, but the way we were able to fit in a lot of variety was to take advantage of the fact that it’s played as though it’s 2D (i.e. wrestlers only ever face left or right). So to block, for example, I didn’t need a dedicated block or defend button. You can just hold away from the opponent much like in Street Fighter. Pressing Strike and Grapple at the same time does something different if you additionally press “up” or “down” – much like a Super Smash Bros. control scheme. So while the basic scheme is easy and similar to No Mercy style grapple mechanics (tap a button for quick grapples / hold a button for strong grapples), we are able to offer a decent variety with only 2 action buttons.

  • It also looks like there’s the ability to do team manoeuvres – are these set piece moments, or do they rely on players working together in terms of placement/button inputs?

There are two types of double-team moves. One version can be done as one wrestler has successfully grappled an opponent and another partner presses grapple near that same wrestler. The other version is when you drag your opponent over to your tag team partner – very similar to how it’s done in WWF WrestleFest.

  • There is a good selection of match types included here it seems; are players able to customise rulesets for each, for example, changing the win conditions, or adding in extra stipulations?

Yes, we have specific options for each match type. For instance, in the Battle Rumble, you can decide if you want wrestlers entering the ring every 30, 60 or 90 seconds. You can also decide to turn on/off submissions, set the number of power-ups, choose specific weapons, etc. In our new mode (yet to be announced) you’ll have even greater access to really mess around with matches like deciding starting energy levels and nerfing/buffing attack damage.

  • A big part of other wrestling titles fun is creating your own wrestler, be it a sensible representation of the player, or an outlandish mess! What kind of options are open for players to create characters here?

Our creation tool is something we are really proud of. One search through our user creations and you can see how truly powerful it is. We’ve seen things folks have already created from ghosts flying around to No. 2 Pencils fighting vending machines. The power lies in the decision we made to keep all creation on the PC. Even though the creation tools in current wrestling game area really great, there were always 2 things that bugged me. One was that you had to use a PC anyway (usually) for uploading graphics and logos.  Two was that anything made on a console was only for that console. So if there was a great creation on the PS4, you couldn’t access it on an Xbox. So we decided to make our creation tool, The Wrestle Lab, completely free on PC. That way you can use custom graphics, mouse/keyboard for fine tuning morphing and color shades, and even photo editing software to texture your wrestlers and arenas. Additionally, once you upload a creation, that item is available to download on whatever system you want.

  • AAW isn’t based on a real world property, but have you managed to squeeze in a few Easter eggs or references for fans to look out for?

We definitely have some moves in there that most folks will recognize that were inspired by both real-life wrestlers as well as fictional characters. We also have some animations that are inspired by other wrestling games – such as the grapple punches inspired by WrestleFest, and even the pin animations which I wanted to look similar to WWF Wrestlemania Arcade.

  • Will the Xbox release feature online play at all? And what would be the local player limit otherwise?

We’re not going to have online play at the time of release. It’s just too much for us to handle at one time. Especially since we’re currently releasing the game on more consoles than the number of people we have working on the game! Ha! But it will have online components like creations, leader boards, etc.

Depending on the match type, up to 4 players can play locally.

  • Finally, who’s your personal favourite wrestler, and separately what’s a match you’d recommend for people to check out? (Mine would be Kane, and the Hardy’s vs Edge and Christian Ladder match at No Mercy ’99).

My personal favourite has always been a tie – between Jake “The Snake” Roberts and The Undertaker. For matches… I mean other than going cliché like Savage/Steamboat, Taker/Mankind, Rock/Hogan, etc. I think I’d choose one that’s a guilty pleasure that many folks might not have on their radar. It was the time Diesel wrestled Shawn Michaels before leaving to WCW. I think the event was called In Your House 7: Good Friends, Better Enemies – probably 1996 or so. They both told such a cool story, so many elements like broken tables, fire extinguishers… heck, even Diesel pulled the artificial leg off of Mad Dog Vachon who was sitting front row and used it in the match. Probably tame now, but in 1996, it was just really fun storytelling.

  • Thank you again for taking the time to speak to us, and good luck with the launch later this year!

Thank YOU! Being little guys in a big pond, we’re always so appreciative of the opportunities folks like yourself and Xbox Tavern give. We hope everyone has some fun with the game this year and thanks again for the interview.

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Written by
I've been gaming since Spy vs Spy on the Master System, growing up as a Sega kid before realising the joy of multi-platform gaming. These days I can mostly be found on smaller indie titles, the occasional big RPG and doing poorly at Rainbow Six: Siege. Gamertag: Enaksan

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