Ever since watching Mr. Wrestling II and The Conquistadors as a kid, I've had a strange fascination with masked wrestlers. My obsession hit a new high when one of my friends told me how in Mexico, you'll see wrestlers walk into a restaurant and actually eat dinner with their masks on. I'd just sit there and imagine some crazy place where every table had some dude in a mask trying to stuff whatever food he could fit through the mouth hole (and actually, I still think that would be an awesome place).
So when I recently got a copy of "Lucha Libre AAA: Heroes del Ring" for the Xbox 360, before I even stepped foot in the squared circle as one of the wrestlers in the game like La Parka or Electroshock, I actually spent more than two hours with my son creating our own masked superstars (what can I say, my love of masks has been passed down to the next generation).
The game's producer, Julian Castillo, says his favorite mask is one he created called "Perro Viejo" (Spanish for old dog). "It was brown and silver," he explains, "a little more synthetic than plastic, with top accessories that resembled ears, pointed eyes (completed with some pure white contact lenses for the luchador), a classic triangular nose, and a large dragon-type mouth with big silver teeth and fangs."
Sounds like just the type of wrestler I'd cheer for (or smack in the head with a chair in "Lucha Libre").
Here's what else Castillo has to say about his new game, the differences between AAA and WWE wrestling, and the importance of the mask in wrestling culture.
Jon Robinson: How do you see the "Lucha Libre" video game differentiating itself from the WWE-branded video games?
Julian Castillo: To begin with, I'd like to briefly talk about the difference between AAA and WWE. Lucha Libre has been a part of Mexico for a really long time, and since then, it has evolved into a tradition and national pastime. It is the second most popular sport behind football [soccer]. Many of the luchadores have become national icons. You could say that Mexican Lucha Libre is renowned all around the globe. Lucha Libre is a combination of show, tradition, and most of all, human effort. The show incorporates the crowd. The crowd is an active participant in each match and can help determine the results of a match. Tradition is also a really important part of the sport. There are families and entire dynasties that have dedicated their lives to the sport. Let's not forget the masked luchadores themselves. The mask is a treasured and iconic article of clothing. In the famous Hair versus Mask matches, luchadores wager their mask or hair and their pride. "Lucha Libre AAA: Heroes del Ring's" Hair versus Mask wager is so interesting because the stakes are very high. Winner takes all. Loser will have his mask ripped from his head or his head shaved. To lose your mask is the equivalent to losing your pride. In real life, a luchador who has his mask ripped off loses his career. He must wait seven years before he can compete again as that character. Usually it signals the end of a career. Another difference is human effort: As said before, the luchadores in this sport have to earn the attention of the crowd in order to win, and for that, they push themselves to the limit, always performing outstanding moves and trying not to leave one second of time without an outstanding action.
That's a long way to get to your question. "Lucha Libre AAA: Heroes del Ring" is a fast-paced game with many aerial moves. The matches are not only based on execution of moves and the ability to counter effectively, they are based on popularity. In the game, the more popular you are, the more moves you unlock during a match. We concentrated on giving the player the experience of being a luchador by allowing him to choose between a wide array of Lucha Libre styles. You can choose a big, slow but strong guy who uses blunt force trauma or a super-fast aerial luchador who uses his agility and a combination of styles. There are a lot of possibilities based on resistance, strength, agility, popularity and others, which open the spectrum of Lucha Libre styles and add a wide gamma of characteristics to the luchadores in the game. We also offer an extensive character and sign editor. The character editor allows you to build from the ground up. Within the character editor you will find the mask editor which gives you thousands of options to create a completely original mask. As you know, masks in Lucha Libre are sacred items. Mask versus hair matches allow fans to wager their created mask. Winner takes all. The loser has his or her mask ripped from their head. Then, the person who lost must win three matches in order to earn the honor of creating a new mask or trying to recreate your previous mask. But, you will never get your original mask back.
Jon Robinson: What else can you tell us about the mask versus hair mode?
Julian Castillo: The bets on Lucha Libre have always been high stakes, as mentioned above, and in accordance with the tradition, so they will also have a place in the game. When a mask versus hair match is set, what's at risk of being lost is not only the luchador's mask or the hair, but also his pride, his career, his character and, most of all, his honor. As in real life, a luchador that loses his mask or hair cannot wrestle with it again for seven years! Don't worry though, although we developed in the game a system that make players think carefully about putting their character's mask or hair in risk, to regain it will be a lot easier than waiting seven years. I almost forgot, also, although as we cannot unmask real luchadores from the roster of the game, expect great mask versus hair matches with custom challengers, and some bets even in the story mode.
Jon Robinson: Why is the mask so important in Lucha Libre? How do you make it an important part of the video game with the mask creator?
Julian Castillo: The mask is what most people associate with Lucha Libre. It has become a cultural icon as well. In Mexico, it is not unusual to be in a restaurant eating and see your favorite masked warrior walk into the restaurant dressed in normal clothes but still wearing his mask. One of the most famous luchadores of all time, El Santo, was buried wearing his mask. The mask becomes the true identity of the luchador. It represents his career, his honor, and the beliefs and techniques he uses. The importance of the mask, and the identity it gives to the luchador, is what gives birth to the pride battles known as mask versus hair matches, where a luchador puts it all on the line, his identity and his career.
So yes, since the mask is so important to a luchador (and so attractive to the people as well), we needed to build a robust luchadores editor with one massive mask editor. Of the many things we are most proud of, we are really jazzed about the mask editor in "Lucha Libre AAA: Heroes del Ring." I can assure you, there will be not two identical masks on the online matches.
Jon Robinson: For gamers who don't know the wrestlers, describe the crazy style and look of a couple of the bigger names in the game and why they make perfect video game characters.
Julian Castillo: One of the most attractive things Lucha Libre has is the variety of luchadores, not only visually, but also in fighting styles. Usually, you identify the luchadores as light, masked people who fly around the ring making stunning aerial moves. That's right, there are a lot of those, and they are pretty amazing doing their aerial stuff, but there are also luchadores who rely on their raw force, some that respect the basis of the Greek-Roman wrestle, and even some that are much more into making the crowd have a lot of fun than focusing on the Lucha. In the game, you will see figures like the traditionally Mexican Dr. Wagner Jr. and his brother, Silver King (both hulkish figures), aerial stars like Superfly, some old-school legends like the Apache and the late Abismo Negro. We included some icons like La Parka, and many more, not only Mexicans, but international luchadores like the Vampiro Canadiense, Jack Evans, El Mesías and many more.
Jon Robinson: How does the popularity system work in the game? Is this something drawn from real-life Lucha Libre?
Julian Castillo: Crowd is everything in a Lucha Libre match. Trying to ensure that this game is not an exception, we have developed a popularity system that focuses on showing players the importance of the crowd in the luchas. Those who play Lucha Libre will have to be constantly in action in order not to lose the crowd's attention either by developing moves or making taunts to the crowd. The more popular you are in the middle of a fight, the more movements you will unlock, and the easier it will be for you to win. Be aware that, just like in high school, if you're not popular in the Lucha Libre, you will fail.
Jon Robinson: How do the styles differ between a Tecnico and a Rudo? What dirty tricks can we expect from the Rudos in the game?
Julian Castillo: There are plenty of differences between the alignments in Lucha Libre, and since we wanted to create a real Lucha Libre experience, we could not afford to leave that aspect out of the game. As you battle you will have to create different strategies when playing fair as a tecnico, or playing dirty (like often using weapons or trying to bring your rival outside the ring) as a rudos. There are alignment differences in both plots of the story mode (you have one plot for the tecnicos and one from the rudos). Even the referees have alignments in the game as in real life.
Jon Robinson: What authentic venues are featured in the game?
Julian Castillo: For the arenas, we wanted to focus on creating (or re-creating some from real places) unusual, but strongly Mexican places. There is an arena based on the famous and magical Aztec pyramids, one based on the caravan that travels around Mexico to bring the AAA show, some more colorful environments, and even a real gym that we visited when assisting a Lucha Libre practice directed by the renowned luchadores trainer, El Apache.
Jon Robinson: What's the one thing wrestling fans should know about your game before they get the chance to play?
Julian Castillo: There are many things that can be said at this point. First of all, we focused all the time on developing a game that was not wrestling, but Lucha Libre instead. There, with a lot of passion and fun, we tried to put together a lot of elements from the Latin culture. What we really hope now is that players enjoy the game as much as we enjoy developing it. Let the luchas begin, or, as said in the real Mexican struggles, "Lucharaaaaaaan!"