Sal DiVita talks WWE All Stars

June, 14, 2010
By Jon Robinson
WWE All-StarsTHQJohn Cena smells what The Rock is cooking.

You might not know the name Sal DiVita, but you know his games.

The video game veteran has helped create some of the classics throughout the years, working on franchises from "NBA Jam" to "NFL Blitz," not to mention playing the roles of Nightwolf, Cyrax, Smoke, and Sektor in the "Mortal Kombat" series.

But it was his work on fan favorite "WWF Wrestlemania: The Arcade Game" that provided one of his most memorable moments in the industry.

"That's when I asked Yokozuna to do a backflip," DiVita says with a laugh.

That's right, while doing video-capture for the game (these were the days before motion-capture), DiVita asked the 500-pound wrestler if he could perform a backflip.

"Shawn Michaels was just in a couple of days earlier, and he had done a backflip for us, so I was laughing and I asked Yoko if he could do one," DiVita explains. "So Yoko said, 'You do one first, then I will do one.' Then he asked me if I could do it, and I was like, 'Yeah, yeah, of course.' But I had never done one before in my life."

But DiVita, summoning his old Nightwolf courage, didn't let that stop him from trying.

"Shawn made it look so easy, so I decided to do it. Then I almost broke my neck, and of course, we have it all on video.

"But I was totally stunned," DiVita continues. "So then Mr. Fuji grabs me and starts stretching my neck out and decompressing my spine with this towel while Yoko was pulling my feet. This turned into like a half hour ordeal, but to make it up to me, they tell me that they're going to take me to dinner. So I go out to dinner with them, then Yoko challenged me to a drinking contest with tequila.

"Needless to say, that didn't go too well."

Turns out, as the tequila flowed, DiVita continued to take shots while unbeknownst to him, Yokozuna was dumping his tequila out behind him.

"I ended up waking up next to a dumpster in an alley, facedown in a puddle of my own vomit," DiVita says. "It was all part of the initiation process, and I understand that, but it was still a lot of fun."

These days, DiVita is back making wrestling games, working at THQ's San Diego studio where he is heading up the team behind a new title, WWE All Stars. Think legends versus current superstars in a fast-paced, finger-blitzing brawl and you get the concept as the E3 demo is set to showcase matches between "The People's Champ," The Rock, and current poster boy for the promotion, John Cena.

After reminiscing about his days with Yokozuna, DiVita took time out of his crazy schedule to give me the rundown on his new game, set to hit stores in early 2011.

WWE All-StarsTHQCena gets some serious height on his suplex.

Jon Robinson: Can you break down what "WWE All Stars" is all about?

Sal DiVita: "WWE All Stars" is a new brand in THQ's lineup of WWE video games. We're making a game that is very different than "Smackdown" which is our sim juggernaut. WWE All-Stars is trying to achieve a different type of gameplay. We're not taking the characters as seriously as the program does currently. Instead, we're taking the characterizations of the guys. We're taking who those characters are and we're taking it more to a video game level. For example, if you have Undertaker, he'll be doing things that are very Undertakerish as a character, but beyond what you'd see on the show. We'll be taking his moves and his personality to a level that is beyond larger than life. We're not going for cartoony, we're shooting for larger than larger than life. This is not a game that completely throws out the rules of reality-- we're not fantasy based -- but we have gone beyond what realism is.

"WWE All Stars" is a fast-paced, highly responsive, very entertaining game. It's all about the show, it's all about the presentation, and it's all about going beyond what you can do in real life to give you more behind the personality of these characters. We're more in the fighting realm than the wrestling realm, but I think it's a good blend of both wrestling and fighting. The combat style is more like a fighting game, but it's all based in a wrestling environment. That's what this game is all about.

Jon Robinson: Since "WWE All Stars" is more of a fighting game than a pure wrestling game, will it include things like combos and juggles?

Sal DiVita: Instead of a fighting game where you juggle a guy strictly with punches, with this game, we incorporate wrestling into it. So if you pick up a guy and slam him into the mat, that slam will then juggle him into the air where you can then follow up with a couple of punches that will juggle him up higher, then you can grab him again to perform another wrestling move that might even juggle him one more time. So you're chaining all of these things together, and it is about combinations of moves and tying things together and seeing a sequence of moves that you wouldn't normally see in a fighting game because those games are based off of striking. This game is based off of throws and holds and slams, and as you know, wrestling moves are very creative. They're very entertaining, and there's a lot of twirling, slamming, and flipping. You could be jumping from a turnbuckle onto an outside guy, you could be diving out of the ring, there could be a guy jumping at you from the turnbuckles, so we have all these different states to play with on what wrestlers do, and we can incorporate these styles into our gameplay. We will have a lot more acrobatic style of wrestling gameplay, and that's something I can't remember from a game in recent times.

WWE All-StarsTHQNobody can fill the shoes of The People's Champ.

Jon Robinson: Can you describe a chain by John Cena that somebody could pull off?

Sal DiVita: I'd like to first say that John Cena is a brawler in the game, as we have four different classes, and that gives us four different layers of fighting styles. So we have base moves that everybody does, then we have a class of moves that different characters fit into, and then they have that individuality as well to go beyond that class. So a brawler class is going to be more of a striker, more of a hard-hitter, and he's going to do less acrobatic moves.

In this case, John Cena might grab you, do a combination of punches, flip around behind you, pick you up for an atomic drop, then turn around behind you, grab your head, and pull his knees up to your back for a lung blower and knock you into the air. After that, if you don't counter his next coming attack, he can pick you up from there, pick you up for a power bomb, slam you into the mat, hit you a couple of more times, then as you bounce back into the air, he can front flip you over and put you in a neck breaker. And this isn't a combo that we as game designers are making you do, this is something that you the gamer will figure out as you figure out the timing to grab people at the right time, to strike them, and to know what to do to keep opponents up in the air in order to chain your moves together.

Jon Robinson: Do you perform your finishing moves out of the combos as well?

Sal DiVita: The reason you're doing all of these attacks is to build up crowd points. So when you do great moves, you get rewarded by a bonus that fills up your energy meter. When you fill up this meter, you have the energy to perform special moves, and these special moves are the signature moves of the characters, but taken to a different level. We take them to an extreme level. So John Cena might do a suplex where he picks his opponent up and does a "You Can't See Me" type thing before slamming him to the ground. In our game, after he does the "You Can't See Me" he might jump with you into the air 10-15 feet, spin you around as you get camera flashes and trails, then when he slams you into the ground, shock waves come out from the mat, and then that move helps fill up a different meter, which is your finishing meter. So the crowd points that you get fill up your energy meter, then the damage points you earn fill up your finishing meter and these special moves help fill up that meter faster.

Then once your finishing meter is filled, you can attempt to perform your finishing move and this will do an immense amount of damage, so you can then try to pin your opponent. But this is a wrestling game, so you can try to pin him at any point during the match when he's on the ground, but in this game, we have very little ground time. In this game, you're quick to get up. We don't want to keep people on the mat for a long time because that is frustrating as a player. So you have to do something specific as a player to try and keep somebody on the ground. It takes skill to keep somebody on the ground. It's possible, but it does take some skill. This is more of a rock-paper-scissors type game where you try to anticipate what your opponent is going to do, then you either try to counter it or circumvent it somehow. If you pick right, you'll be rewarded for it. If you pick wrong, you're going to get hit, but you still have the chance to reward the particular move if you hit the right timing window. So there's a lot of skill and anticipation and strategy involved and we're loving where the game is headed.

WWE All-StarsTHQTell me how my boot tastes, Rock.

Jon Robinson: How are the ring entrances going to differ from the "Smackdown" series?

Sal DiVita: We are definitely having ring entrances, but they'll be significantly shorter than what you see in "Smackdown." "Smackdown" is trying to get you as close as you can to what the television production does. We're a much quicker-paced game, so while we have ring entrances and victories, they're significantly shorter than what you'd see in "Smackdown."

Jon Robinson: Is the concept of legends versus current superstars inspired by all the second and third generation wrestlers on the roster?

Sal DiVita: This is a concept that THQ has had in their heads for a while as they've been trying to build up their WWE franchise. But it's not just going to be a legends versus current superstars thing. You can play legends versus legends, you can play superstars versus superstars, or you can match the old timers up against the more recent superstars. We're going to have a good cross-section of legends, a good cross-section of superstars, and we'll have some match types that will cater to the best at something from the past against the best at something from the current day. I think that's about all I can say about that right now.

Jon Robinson: The look of the characters show muscles on top of muscles. Is John Cena going to see his character and want to go workout for the next ten years straight?

Sal DiVita: As a video game, if you're trying to be realistic, then you want to make the characters looks as realistic and lifelike as you can. But because of the type of game that we're doing, we're exaggerating reality. Because we're going beyond the limits of what a human being can do, we decided to bring the characters to a different look, a different style as well because it helps sell what we're doing with the moves. If we had super realistic-looking characters doing these larger than larger than life moves, it wouldn't sell as well. But once you break that reality a little bit, it's almost like a comic book character where you buy that the character can do these things because of the way they look. If they didn't look the part, then you wouldn't believe that they could do what they do. So we're making the characters more stylized. John Cena and The Rock are more muscle-bound than they really are, but those are two muscular characters. But those aren't the only two wrestlers in the game, obviously, and we're going to have stylized versions of different body types depending on who the wrestler is.

WWE All-StarsTHQThese are some serious muscles.

Jon Robinson: You're showing the game for the first time this week at the big E3 video game convention. What are your hopes for when people finally get a chance to play?

Sal DiVita: Seeing that this game is something very different than "Smackdown vs. Raw." "Smackdown" is the juggernaut of sims, but we want to be seen as a different type of game. We're not competing with that game as we have our own unique style. I want people to pick up the controls and feel the gameplay ... that's what we're all about. We're focusing on the combat elements of the game, we're focusing on the entertainment value of the game, and bringing the characters to a level that people haven't seen yet. We're taking the characters beyond the legends of who they are and we're making the characters and their moves bigger and hopefully better than anything you've seen before.


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