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A Community of Mega Fans Won't Let This Decade-Old Pro Wrestling Game Die

The people of Fire Pro Wrestling Arena bring a whole new meaning to the word "dedication."

by Bryan Rose
Mar 17 2017, 4:00pm

So frighteningly loud was his screaming earlier this month that Michael Payne's roommates thought something terrible had happened to him. Turn out he was just excited that a sequel to one of his favorite obscure Japanese wrestling video games had been announced.

"I yelled audibly when I [saw] the teaser," Payne, a member of the online community Fire Pro Wrestling Arena, told Motherboard. "My roommates still aren't sure what that was about. And I'm not ashamed to admit I got tears in my eyes when I [saw] we were actually getting a new game, we just never really thought we would get another one after [ Returns], so this is a big deal."

Payne is just one of many longtime fans of the Fire Pro Wrestling series who reacted with utter amazement to the March 3 announcement of Fire Pro Wrestling World (due later this year for the PC and PS4) at the Game Developers Conference in San Francisco. After all, there hasn't been a proper title in the series since 2005's Fire Pro Wrestling Returns for the PS2 (seen above) , so Payne and his fellow fans at Fire Pro Wrestling Arena were beyond stoked upon hearing the news. Most of the community—Fire Pro Wrestling Arena has been around since 2010—thought that developer Spike Chunsoft had long since moved on from the series.

I'm not ashamed to admit I got tears in my eyes.

You may be wondering why people like Payne would get so emotional over a Japanese professional wrestling video game. But for the 1,800 members of Fire Pro Wrestling Arena, the obscure wrestling game series represents the pinnacle of virtual customization, letting players channel their inner Vince McMahon to devise zany, off-the-wall characters from scratch. Some look to real life for inspiration, while others turn to comic books and even other video games for their creative spark.

"It just isn't a matter of having the latest and most updated rosters in the game, it's about having the creative freedom to be able to customize and design something completely unique to your vision," Fire Pro Wrestling Arena member Nth told Motherboard, explaining why his loyalties lie with Fire Pro and not, say, 2K Games' massively popular WWE 2K series. (Sorry, Vince.)

     Read more: For wrestling fans, podcasts are like group therapy sessions. 

Customization goes beyond merely creating excruciatingly detailed wrestlers, impressive though that may be. Players can also tweak the game's artificial intelligence, altering how their wrestlers act during a match—are they super aggressive or do they lie back and wait for the perfect opportunity to strike? Tweaking how a wrestler wrestles, beyond just the moves they can perform, offers far deeper flexibility than just editing and sharing create-a-wrestlers or creating custom graphics.

"In the WWE games I played, every wrestler always had certain moves or counters that you would see time and time again, even if they made no sense for the wrestler, or in the flow of the match," community member unimportant guy told Motherboard. "With the programmable logic of the Fire Pro games, wrestlers could be made to act in ways that were natural, exciting, and fun to watch."

"For the [AI], it was jaw-dropping to be able to alter literally every aspect of my custom wrestler—from his finishing sequence to the amount of damage he was willing to take to preserve energy for a longer match," thechon adds.

A screenshot of the upcoming 'Fire Pro Wrestling World.'

And while that tradition of deep customization continues in the recently announced Fire Pro Wrestling World (this time adding the ability to easily share created wrestlers online with other players), the members of Fire Pro Wrestling Arena have one larger desire: for this newest entry to find a wider audience, thereby growing the ranks of their community.

"My biggest hope, I think, is that this new game opens up the series to a new generation of fans," unimportantguy adds. "Older communities like this can get frustratingly insular, and it's always great to spread the joy of something you love to new people."

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