Justin Leeper – the writer behind WWE SmackDown Vs. RAW’s widely beloved Road To WrestleMania – has revealed the origins of the mode and what his thought process was when he came up with the concept!
Speaking to Inside The Ropes‘ own Innes McVey, Leeper was asked how he transitioned from being a pro wrestler to developing Road To WrestleMania as well as how he came up with the mode in the first place. The writer, designer and director of Road To WrestleMania in SmackDown Vs. RAW 2009, ’10 and ’11 responded by first detailing his journey to joining THQ as a developer!
“THQ used to send a bunch of journalists to every WrestleMania to see the new game and you know ‘Here’s what real wrestling looks like’. So I would obviously be the one to go for Game Informer – and then later as a freelancer, various companies would send me – so I got to know Bryan Williams and Corey Ledesma, kind of the two keys of the THQ design group for the WWE games.
I forget who reached out to who but I had been trying to get into game development, but I got kinda sick of reviewing games and I wanted to make stuff. They reached out to me I think for a normal design job and I started… I wanna say like September of 2007 so they were just wrapping up on SmackDown Vs. RAW 2008. I did a little bit of scriptwriting: Just like emails and story mode or whatever, the basic stuff, and looked over the commentary lines and whatever.”
Leeper would go on to discuss how he and Ledesma started brainstorming for a new story mode after the previous one proved too generic.
“Then Corey and I started talking and because I was a wrestler and a writer and had some acting experience in storytelling, we decided to go forward with a new story mode because they weren’t super happy with the way that the previous one was going and it was nice to have somebody in-house. So he and I talked about it and our idea…
I’m not sure if it was just my idea or he echoed that but it’s cool that you could pick anybody and go through the previous story mode but concessions need to be made. You have to have very generic dialogue like ‘Oh, The Superstar’ or, recently we’ve seen in 2K’s games, giving them fake names because you have to adjust for whatever superstar is made.”
The two eventually decided on a mode which would focus on a select few Superstars in various stories, taking the player from the weeks leading up to Royal Rumble all the way to WrestleMania – hence creating the Road To WrestleMania concept!
“I wanted to highlight the personalities of existing superstars and really expand on that, really pay homage to those characters. I thought the Road To WrestleMania was a good way to take a bunch of well-known characters and then give them well-known foils and go through three months from pre-Royal Rumble to WrestleMania and have that be the culmination of each story.”
Road To WrestleMania would feature across four WWE games between 2008 and 2011, allowing players to experience ‘what if’ scenarios like the reunion of Edge & Christian and Rey Mysterio turning heel! The mode would eventually be replaced by Attitude Era mode in WWE ’13 which recreated the biggest moments of the Monday Night Wars in video game form.