Recently, Mat Dickie boarded a train from London and found a child, face down in a smartphone game, sitting in Dickie’s seat with a ticket. As the furious tapping played out in front of him, Dickie considered whether to harass this transit gamer or just find an empty spot somewhere else. The solution finally revealed itself when the developer got close enough to glimpse the boy’s screen: Wrestling revolution 3D.
By now, the sports simulator gaming genre is as tried and true as the sport itself. The Football Manager franchise has been delighting international audiences for over 25 years, and has even provoked developers in the state for the past decade to take note (how else do you explain madden spin off, NFL head coach, sneak into a release cycle full of familiar 2K titles?). But Wrestling Revolution 3D occupies an unusual position within this landscape – it is the genre’s most unexpected yet successful mobile title.
2017, Wrestling Revolution 3D became the first sports SIM card to surpass 50 million downloads. Today, the Google Play Store lists it in the download category “50,000,000 to 100,000,000”. Officially licensed games from the UFC and WWE, by comparison, are stuck at around 10 million downloads. Dickie knows all this because not only is he a fan, he’s also been an independent developer for a long time, better known as MDickie. Wrestling Revolution 3D is his most successful game to date.
“I didn’t know whether to throw him off the train or pat him on the back,” Dickie jokes.
Watch Wrestling Revolution 3D, you would never guess the historical level of success or ubiquity. The graphics are blocky and dated compared to modern sports simulators. It doesn’t enjoy a professional league licensing deal, so the characters are all weird knockoffs (“Nightshift” and not The Undertaker; “Jimi Sierra” and not John Cena; “Hank Slogan” and…you get the idea) . And the gameplay, well… it can enjoy a certain amount of fandom because of how objective poor it is.
For many, maybe MDickie is for video games what? The rooms Tommy Wiseau is going to film. Allow an August 2017 playthrough from gaming site Giant Bomb — in which players refer to the experience as “hell on earth” — to explain in part.
“This game is 39 megs and I feel like… [Dickie] is there – I think he knows these games are kind of bad,” host Dan Ryckert said in the introduction.
“I’ve been hearing about the MDickie stuff for years… what people always talk about is the customization elements,” said co-host Alex Navarro. (To be fair, the duo soon scrolls through a seemingly endless amount of character selections and match customization options.) “But it’s the part where you play them that people seem a little less excited about.”
Ryckert goes on to call the game “goofy as shit” and “janky and broken, but in a way I think it’s really funny. I can enjoy this more than the 2K games.”
Navarro likens the experience of playing with ’90s action figures: “The way you wrestle with them is to make all the moves at 2/3 speed and you would have to turn them laboriously to get the wrestlers to do the moves.” , he says. “Here’s what this looks like: It looks like someone is playing with action figures that are as stiff as action figures from the early 90s. There’s no reason they should move at this speed, but they do.”
So to carry on the Wiseau analogy, by some accounts, Dickie single-handedly created some of the best worst video games in history. But unlike Wiseau—who made an extremely bad movie and only later built something out of it that resembled a side gig—Dickie has had a career spanning nearly 20 years, independent of creating a series of surprisingly deep, accomplished, and janky video games by himself.
Wrestling Revolution 3D may represent a commercial and statistical breakthrough, it is only the final chapter in Dickie’s tale of persistence and idiosyncrasy. And through it all, the developer has stayed true to itself, while the whole industry next door changed.
Born in the early ’80s, Dickie grew up in the height of the console era. Therefore, from childhood he wanted to become a game developer, sketch ideas for games with their own internal logic. And this seemed like a pretty realistic goal for a young boy at the time. The history of video games before the mega boom of the late 1990s/early 2000s is marked by dedicated amateurs and lone enthusiasts making games in their bedrooms. Even video games like PONG were actually small productions coded by a single person or a handful of employees. Many of the console games in the early ’80s gaming boom were produced by hobbyist gamers who simply managed to sell their work to a distributor.
In 2000, when he was just a teenager, Dickie released his first game publicly. It was a 450-pound .zip file called stunt.zip; the game itself was called Hardy Boyz Stunt Challenge. It allowed players to take on the role of one of two Hardy Boyz, professional wrestlers for the then WWF who had a penchant for jumping from high places, such as the tops of ladders or bleachers in sports arenas. Players essentially earned points for the complexity of the stunts they performed.
It took Dickie two weeks to make the game after walking through his local Woolworths branch and seeing a package on the software shelves called Div Games Studios. Created by a Spanish company, Div was a programming language, sort of C that was born during the days of MS-DOS gaming.
“It promised to make game development easy,” Dickie tells Ars. “I picked it up, took it home and spent the summer of 2000 teaching myself how to use it from the samples.”
The 17-year-old was studying computer science at the university at the time. So after just a few weeks, he managed to build up the basic mechanics of the game: jump from as high a point as possible, do crazy things, earn points. He was more or less satisfied with his job, so he contacted a wrestling website called Tha Warzone that he frequented. “I said, ‘I made a game about wrestling; it’s pretty current. Why not put it on your website and let people download it?’”
The site owner agreed and about 15,000 people downloaded the game. “The feedback has been very positive,” says Dickie. “I got fan mail saying, ‘Can we have more of this?’ That gave me the impetus to make more.”
Dickie soon wrote down a confirmation he’d received from his childhood hero, Bruce Lee (words from the martial arts legend still greet visitors to Dickie’s website). From an early age, Lee had written down that in ten years he would be the highest paid movie star in Hong Kong – and lo and behold, he eventually did. Dickie’s confirmation was a little different and versatile.
“I want to make games for a living. I want to run my own wrestling business,” Dickie recalls. “Be rich. Travel the world.”