Thursday, June 12, 2014

Trey Plays Promotion Wars, Part 1: Background

I think my allegiance to professional wrestling started with video games. It's a pretty well-worn story for a lot of gaming obsessives. Their sibling or cousin buys a game console, a Nintendo 64 in this instance, and picks up a wrestling game along with the system. That game was WCW vs. nWo - World Tour, a game that began a four game lifespan as deserving of its reputation as the best run of professional wrestling games in history. This led me to pro wrestling's altar of which I can safely say I am a devoted fan in that community. But it took a bit more to keep me there.

Around 11 years ago, I began to realize my fandom to professional wrestling wasn't going away and decided to go into pure nerddom about the thing. Of course, the WWE product has always been a mixed bag, which actually helped in this instance. The PC wares scene was starting to really take off at the start of the 2000s since internet downloads were far more convenient ways to access a game than a mail-in order to receive the full copy of a game. They also enhanced creativity, as young coders released wonderful text simulations for free of charge. And while the general crack about text sims is the correct realization that they are basically playable spreadsheets, the idea of booking a professional wrestling promotion seemed electric to me.

At that time, there were two rather popular freeware text sims around the subject of booking a pro wrestling promotion. The first was Extreme Warfare Revenge, a game we'll talk about in the future as the franchise has expanded to be the Football Manager type of the genre in that it is undisputedly the gold standard in simulating pro wrestling and its booking. The second, and the subject of today's piece, was a bit more forgotten and left in the dust as a sort of artifact of 2002 pro wrestling simulation. That game is Promotion Wars.

According to the creator's Geocities page (yes, I know how hilarious this is to use as a source), Promotion Wars began development as Wrestling Federation Manager in late 1999. As expected, the actual Promotion Wars concept was inspired by EWR's predecessor Extreme Warfare Deluxe, a game which asserted the idea of a battleground between two promotions instead of a more deep experience like Championship Manager. The most popular of these particular installments was PW 1.2e, which could then be updated and modded with current rosters. I used PWAdditions for the purpose of playing through this, as it still hosts the files for 1.0 and 1.2e as well as a pretty insane modding community for the time. Ah, 12 years ago.

Promotion Wars' charm comes from how archaic it is. This is a genuine sample of internet opinion around 2002 in game form. Admittedly, it's not particularly realistic. The earlier builds of the game (I played 1.2e to more accurately recollect the game that I played around 02/03) centered around choosing one promotion or the other. In this case, it was WWF vs. WCW, albeit the WCW that was sputtering towards the end of its life. However, by 2001, the purchase of WCW and ECW left the game with a massive hole. My file chose the #2 promotion as the porn producer-owned XPW, which just feels very icky. However, I remember files that had the #2 promotion be as diverse as the Jimmy Hart owned XWF to the early days of TNA. The game never really had a proper answer to simulate the independent wrestling world, but it was never about that. Promotion Wars ran on a Monday Night Wars model of success. Get better ratings than your competition at all costs. Do you give away a big main event? Yeah, probably. For a long time, sims never really reprimanded you for giving away a big match.

Anyways, this is a bizarre little wrestling world inside Promotion Wars. The two elements that are most important to building your promotion are the stats of "drawing power" and "entertainment." Go figure, when you boot up the game, Steve Austin and The Rock (both still in WWF/E at the time) have 99 ratings in that drawing power stat. But in a bit of a commentary, Austin has a 73 and Rock has a 74 in general entertainment. Entertainment encompasses ringwork, essentially. Rob Van Dam has a 96 in entertainment and so does the wrestler Blitzkrieg. Anybody who was a big man would get a lower mark. Speaking of Marks, Mark Henry is more entertaining than The Rock, which I don't think was true until about 2008 or so, and even then, that is a tough argument to make.

Naturally, Promotion Wars is a bit wonky in that extent. Marko Sparko 69 (the roster creator as according to the title screen) seems to like a lot of stuff that smarks would like circa 2002. I did download an update that gives me a little more of what I want to do. I am playing as the XWF starting in May 2002. In the next update, I'll show you what I've been up to with some familiar names attached. I'll give you a hint, one of them might be attached above.