It’s been a while since I last sat down and just wrote about what’s on my mind, so here’s something about the wrestling booking simulators I’ve been thinking about recently.
To preface, I became a wrestling fan at a young age in the early Nineties. Within that time my interest in the World Wrestling Federation (now World Wrestling Entertainment) ebbed and flowed, and I stopped watching it for a period of fifteen years before coming back to experience a long-awaited alternative in All Elite Wrestling.
Things escalated since then. I listen to wrestling podcasts, continue to read wrestling books, and of course revisit video games like the execrable WWE Raw. I even visited Los Angeles last month to see WrestleMania 39 in person, so my renewed interest is definitely holding for now!
My appreciation of wrestling has increased massively since my teenage years, and I think that’s one of the nice things about the sport in general; it’s something viewers can understand on a deeper level over time, or at least in different ways as their tastes mature. For me, the storytelling aspect of wrestling appeals more than just the athletic component does on its own. This led to me rekindling my past interest in wrestling booking simulators.
For anyone not acquainted with this incredibly niche genre, professional wrestling booking simulators are to wrestling what the Football Manager series is to soccer. These are essentially spreadsheet games where players take control of a promotion; booking the matches and writing storylines, signing talent contracts and inking broadcasting deals, and everything else in between.
Adam Ryland’s Total Extreme Wrestling is the most advanced simulator of this kind. I played its freeware precursor called Extreme Warfare Revenge when I was at university in 2004, at a time when these games were breaking through a little bit.
Promotion Wars by Adam Jennings was another old favourite thanks to its text-based simplicity. Using Promotion Wars to fantasy book wrestling events and feuds was good fun, but I also enjoyed browsing the database by itself and reading the hundreds of worker bios contained within. As an aside, Jennings recently returned to the development scene with a welcome upgrade titled Promotion Wars: 21st Anniversary Edition.
If I was going to play a booking simulator in 2023 though, I knew it had to be Total Extreme Wrestling. Developer Adam Ryland has released many year-stamped editions of TEW since 2004, with the concepts becoming steadily more complex and feature-rich. I started with TEW2005, not just because it’s the earliest title available, but also because it’s now officially free!
Playing TEW2005 for any reasonable length of time was a big win for me just because of how intimidating it is. Players have much to learn before they can even think about booking a show, as they need to understand what type of product their chosen company presents, and how that influences the televised broadcasts. Players need to know the strengths and weaknesses of every worker on their roster, ensuring there is sufficient personnel to keep shows running smoothly, and that every worker gets used lest their morale plummets and causes problems backstage.
A chunky HTML manual explains the most important concepts, and players should really devour this before navigating the maze of nested menus and dropdown buttons that comprise the clunky interface. For instance, you might be able to load up a worker’s profile easily enough, but do you know where to edit their gimmick? How to negotiate their contract? Or how to push them? Do you even know what a push is??
TEW is unapologetically hardcore, and it works because of how laser-focused the game is on sandbox elements. Whilst there are achievements for dedicated players to acquire over time, TEW has no end point. These games provide a living world for players to create their own stories. Workers may flake out and leave town; relationships and chemistry flares where you’d least expect; companies go bust and new stars emerge as the in-game calendar advances. Your employees can even die or go into politics! No two saves are ever the same.
Players book matches and create televised storylines advanced by angles. For me though, the angles are the biggest weakness of TEW2005 out of the box. Storylines are advanced by segments such as backstage interviews and post-match beatdowns, but despite having a giant list of different types, I found the diversity here was surprisingly low. You can’t show a wrestler warming up backstage, for example, nor are there many decent ways for workers to switch alignment on camera. Storylines are also very rigid. Unchained stories allow more control, but sometimes it’s nice to have a structure in place for those inevitable times when your ideas dry up.
TEW2005 is very of its time. It’s dismissive of female wrestlers, often describing their unique segments as “pointless” and treating female performers like American wrestling was treating them at the time; either as an afterthought, or to be used in segments exclusively highlighting their sex appeal. The way wrestlers are pushed also marginalises female divisions which struggle to rise above the midcard, and even then, assigning pushes creates considerable upkeep. It’s no wonder the game offers a button to automatically assign that stuff for you.
It’s worth mentioning how robust TEW is with regards to modding. A big plus here is how players can create their own databases spanning the entire set of promotions, workers, events, and more that will be used to define the simulation. Using a popular 2006 mod called Fall of the One Ring Circus, I booked an entire month of WWE programming in July 2006 featuring the real life workers who were employed there at the time.
My reimagined card for the July pay-per-view (Vengeance 2006) had Rob Van Dam vs Shawn Michaels for the WWE Championship, Triple H vs Rey Mysterio in a bitter grudge match, Booker T and Ric Flair forming a zany tag team called The Nature Boys, and a rocket-strapped Gregory Helms beating Carlito with the help of his hot new manager, Francine.
The dynamic quality of TEW demands extreme patience to learn, but it also lends a deeper sense of immersion to the simulation. In my 2006 game for example, Triple H enacted his creative control clause to avoid losing to Rey Mysterio on an episode of SmackDown. Wrinkles like these will force your storylines in new directions. In my case, I had dissolved D-Generation X and assigned Triple H a lone wolf persona, with a loss against Mysterio intended to be the catalyst for their upcoming feud. When Triple H refused to lose, I made him win by countout, with Mysterio booked to look dominant and forwarding the story that way instead. Triple H’s heel turn was now prompted by Mysterio being the better man on that night, such that a cheap win was the only way for Triple H to save himself. (Thankfully, he did play ball in the end and lost to Mysterio in the big return match at Vengeance!)
Wrestling booking simulators seem to have done well on streaming channels thanks to their reliance on personal storytelling. You’ll find playlists on YouTube dedicated to TEW (WrestleBlake has a very good one), as content creators share their own stories for real world mods like the one I mentioned, as well as Adam Ryland’s fictional “CornellVerse” that fans swear by to this day.
Elsewhere, the WWE 2K series introduced simulation elements in its General Manager mode, Fire Pro Wrestling World got involved with the Fire Promoter DLC, and an entirely new game called Pro Wrestling Sim entered early access on Steam as well. The genre certainly isn’t fading away, so it’s exciting to think what modern development tools like Unity could offer. We’re long overdue a mobile-friendly sim at some point. Time will tell if the appetite is there or not.
I intended this blog post to be a “dive” back into the world of wrestling booking simulators, when it’s only been a shallow dip at best. The next step is for me to get more comfortable with TEW and play a demo of the latest edition, TEW2020. If it goes well, you may be seeing a new series from CelJaded soon.
Update (30/10/23): CelJaded plays TEW2020 on YouTube has arrived!