Whenever the Wrestling with Pixels project was originally announced through Kickstarter, Bad Grandpa was the number one movie in America. The Playstation 4 hadn’t been released yet, and we were biding our time for the next generation of gaming by playing through the above average titles like Batman: Arkham Origins and Sonic: Lost World (or at least I was). Right now in 2019, we are looking at a full six years and some change passing by with this book still not being made available. The original team listed on the initial Kickstarter haven’t had much of a public profile since the announcement and the development updates have gone dark. The main person behind it all even abandoned his public Twitter back in 2015. Even though this project had seemingly gone into that crowdfunding graveyard forever ago, there were slight signs of life continuously released online, if you knew where to look.
As we are about to enter into 2020, it looks like Wrestling with Pixels might actually see print and a full release thanks to the fine people over at Hardcore Gaming 101. Before we get there though, I think people might need a reminder of what Wrestling with Pixels is or for some, an introduction to this doomed book for the first time.
Looking back, the original pitch for Wrestling with Pixels: The World Tour of Wrestling Games seems too good to be true. Botched Productions created the Kickstarter on October 29th, 2013 and named both Audun Sorlie (Destructoid) and Matthew “Maffew” Gregg (Botchamania) as the main creators behind it. The project was mostly focused on a book that was supposed to tackle the history of every wrestling video game ever released. Audun was described as someone who already had an extensive career within the world of gaming journalism and had already been compiling stories and research for a couple of years beforehand. Maffew was an already well-known entity within the world of wrestling due to his beloved ongoing Botchamania video compilation series showcasing slips, missteps, and human errors inside the squared circle. The Wrestling with Pixels pitch video explained everything that the project was set to cover along with a plea to potential supporters for their help:
“Botchamania is making a book!
Yeah, really! A book about wrestling games! Wrestling with Pixels: The World Tour of Wrestling Games!
Audun Sorlie and Maffew will document the entire history of wrestling game development, interviewing game developers and wrestlers including stories from within Technos, THQ, Human, Sega and AKI! And in addition, the book features a complete catalog of every wrestling game ever made! Every wrestling game ever made for every console will be featured and the interviews will be filmed and shown to the supporters!
Junkboy, the graphic designer for Minecraft, is doing the artwork! This project will involve a lot of hard work, research, interviews and print costs. Over 2 years of hard work has already been done for this book, so now we are asking for the support of all of you to realize our dream! The book will be available in digital, paperback, and hardcover. A DVD will also be offered with pictures and videos from the production. Pick the pledge level that you find most interesting and help us out! Our ability to interview and create content increases with the size of our budget! Thanks for watching!”
Over the years, I had completely forgotten some of these additional promises and Kickstarter rewards that were named in the original pitch. The DVD mentioned above would’ve had footage from all the interviews, but there was also a coffee table art book that would’ve shipped alongside Pixels to those who pledged $65 or more. Posters, guest spots on podcasts, autographed items were also made available at various levels with the highest reward offered being a unique black book that would’ve been passed around everyone touching this project. Anything could’ve been written or drawn in this by various wrestlers and video game personalities and at $1,500, one backer took Audun and Maffew up on this reward. The original goal of $18,000 was set and after thirty days (and 542 backers later), Wrestling with Pixels ended its campaign with $26,278 raised for the project.
From that, everything was a go.
The update page from the Kickstater gives a pretty good insight into how things progressed during the initial stages with the posts coming in from either Audun or Vivianne D., the project’s original designer. Progress was moving along save for some family and life issues occurring here and there (I can relate), and a couple of episodes of a Wrestling with Pixels podcast were released to the backers. People like AJ Styles (TNA, NJPW, WWE), Justin Leeper (Game Informer), Richard Reegan (Acclaim) and Mark Turmell (Midway) were unveiled as participators/contributors for the book and according to the ongoing posts, spirits were flying at an all time high within the team. Audun and Maffew were hard at work with traveling to the United States and Canada to conduct interviews. Things were progressing fine, but the project’s scope admittedly had expanded a bit.
Audun Sorlie: “The book has just grown into what I would say is about three times the size of what I ever imagined it to be. We were faced with the issue here of figuring out should this book then be cut into two volumes, and [if] we should run a different Kickstarter for a different volume. I was kind of adamant that we don’t do that, [instead] we just make a huge fucking book…” – Wrestling with Pixels Podcast #1 [September 20th, 2014]
A year in, a post about getting a translator to help with foreign wrestling games hinted at an even longer delay than originally planned. By April 2015, more apologies are made to the backers with Audun trying to keep people from pestering Maffew about this book’s release since he had nothing to do with the “production delay”. By April 2016 though, the dreaded word “refund” starts showing up in these updates with still no real ETA given.
On July 13th, 2016, I’m sure backers’ expectations came to a grinding halt as Maffew spoke out on the project through the Botchamania Facebook page with a fiery, public rebuking of Wrestling with Pixels. Maffew explained his original involvement with Audun Sorlie but claimed that he really had nothing to do with the title in years. What sparked his decision to set the record straight openly was when someone from the Pixels Kickstarter group allegedly told a backer to go to Maffew regarding a refund. Given how he was listed as a main author and that the Kickstarter was created by an entity whose name was an obvious play on Gregg’s Botchamania videos, you would think that Maffew would of had some sort of ownership in all of this.
Apparently, that never was the case as he bluntly spelled it out to everyone in his Facebook post that he “[HAD] NOTHING TO DO WITH THE PROJECT” save for what he did during the initial stages. Maffew claims that he had only submitted a few entries for Pro Wrestling (NES) and Tecmo World Wrestling (NES) for Wrestling with Pixels. Any interviews he was supposedly set to conduct with various wrestlers never occurred despite the Kickstarter updates letting people know how everything was going smoothly. Most importantly, there was still over $26,000 pledged and unaccounted for that he never had access to.
Maffew had this to say about the ordeal whenever I reached out to him:
Matthew “Maffew” Gregg: “It’s been one of the biggest fuckups I’ve been involved in.
I have made many mistakes over the years but I count ‘Wrestling with Pixels’ as my biggest. I put my trust in someone who I trusted as a friend and as a professional, and all he did was use my fanbase as an ATM and me as a riot shield when the criticism came.”
A week later, the Wrestling with Pixels Kickstarter addressed the controversy by clarifying Maffew’s role as just a contributor and that the money raised was set aside for expenses related to the project only that Audun controlled. Refunds would be made available to anyone who requested but a reassurance was made that the book was still alive and near completion.
Audun Sorlie: “[O]ne thing that I think is very hard to understand with Kickstarter is that this isn’t the only thing in our lives. This is just something that we got funded, thankfully from our fans and their belief in our product. That’s wonderful and great, but we can’t give up our lives for it either. We have to earn our money, we have to earn our rent, [and] we have to pay for the food on our table.
I understand that just for some fans, it’s sometimes hard to just get that. With Kickstarter, as wonderful as it is and has been, it does not pay for our daily lives. Everything in my Kickstarter and the budget goes only to the book. Everything is just sitting there. I don’t touch that. So, I can’t just sit there and say, ‘Well… at least I have the money to live on because of this Kickstarter’, that’s not how it works.
I have to work for my daily bread and sometimes that throws curveballs.” – Wrestling with Pixels Podcast #4 [May 22nd, 2015]
Still though, the damage was done as backers would start to request/receive their refunds for a project that was looking to be nothing more than Vaporware as opposed to valid undertaking that just gotten out of hand. Promises and apologies were plentiful in the Kickstarter updates but the only real look at what the team was working on this whole time materialized right before everything imploded with Maffew. In an April 27th update, more pictures of what were described as the “catalog design” were released with quick bites of text surrounding a handful of titles. Audun explained his reluctance to showcase more of work over the years as a matter of pride for him as he was opposed to showing something that was only halfway complete. Instead of the Kickstarter backers breathing a sigh of relief over the potential proof-of-life, there was only one comment left for Audun. It was a backer asking for him to respond to a refund request.
Soon after, Audun announced that Wrestling with Pixels was moving into a new direction.
On August 2nd, 2019, Audun Sorlie explained that he was handing over Wrestling with Pixels to the team over at Hardcore Gaming 101. With Kurt Kalata at the helm, the book took a major leap towards completion as the HG 101 group had already independently published several video game related books. Something like this was definitely in their wheelhouse with comprehensive looks at game series like Castlevania being sold through their site. Funnily enough, Audun himself had mentioned on the very first Pixels podcast back in 2014 that he would’ve gone to Hardcore Gaming 101 for help if the Kickstarter had fallen through.
Audun explained how Kurt and his team would be contributing and taking care of things from that point going forward but what ended up as the finalized version of Wrestling with Pixels is mostly written by Audun Sorlie. Kalata explained how he got involved with this project via email:
Kurt Kalata (Hardcore Gaming 101): “In summer 2016, [Audun] approached me to see if I’d help put [‘Wrestling with Pixels’] together. I’ve produced many books and there’s a lot more to it than just writing, so I figured I’d help out with the layouts, gathering screenshots, and such. Unfortunately, I know almost nothing about wrestling and even less about wrestling games. In most other topics I’d pitch in and write it myself, but I’m just totally unqualified for it. Luckily, Audun has a huge knowledge of both (and it shows in the text, it’s why he Kickstarted this in the first place) but it also proved to be the bottleneck to get this project completed. Like, there are some games I was able to find freelance writers for, but there’s so much Japan-only stuff and so much of it is incredibly obscure that basically there was no one else that could write these pieces.”
Kurt was gracious enough to share with me what he considers to be a “pretty close to complete” version of Wrestling with Pixels save for some polish and quality checks. Over two hundred pages are included with an intro written by John Linneman (Digital Foundry, Eurogamer). Also there is the promised interview with Suda51 (No More Heroes, Fire Pro Wrestling), where he discusses his time in HUMAN and when he was first introduced to pro wrestling. Other interviews and contributions that were mentioned throughout the Kickstarter updates are nowhere to be found, though. The game titles included span from 1979 with the LCD game Big Wrestler/Super Catch all up to 2017’s Fire Pro Wrestling World. The table of contents actually list the year 2018, so newer releases like the recently discovered UWC (NES) and the garbage fire that is WWE 2K20 could make their way into the final version of this book, but don’t hold your breath for it.
Everything from wrestling related pinball games and pachinko machines are in this guide and strangely, games like King of the Monsters (SNES, Genesis) and Power Ball (Genesis) also made the cut. The highlight of the book are all the photos included with every title, which help give more of an idea of game along with personal thoughts, trivia and opinions that my brain sometimes yelled out CITATION NEEDED while reading (really, who amongst us save for me is clamoring for a follow up to WWF Betrayal?). I was hoping to see whether or not the canceled Games.com WCW title would be mentioned along with any details of the proposed XFL game, but sadly there’s nothing there regarding either. Not a real knock against Pixels, mind you, just something I was personally hoping to see if Audun could’ve dug anything up on them.
Audun Sorlie: “Everyone’s been very helpful with the exception of a huge wrestling company in the U.S. that should be unnamed but most of you will probably know from a weekly television series that is ongoing on the USA Network. [They] have not been very helpful. We tried to be very open with them and maybe have some access to talk to some people; in return it was more like, “What’s this project about? I think we need to take a deeper look into this with our lawyers.” – Wrestling with Pixels Podcast #1 [September 20th, 2014]
There is an abundance of content here in Wrestling with Pixels, but is it enough for those who have waited this whole time for it? As we approach the six year anniversary of the end of the Kickstarter campaign, I’m sure Audun will finally have some peace of mind knowing that this albatross around his neck will finally be lifted. Still, I couldn’t get much of a direct answer from him as Kurt Kalata acted as our go between through emails. The only real questions that are left unanswered here are how he feels to see an actual print date ahead, what about all the promised Kickstarter rewards and frankly, what happened?
Listening to the four posted Wrestling with Pixels podcasts gives an impression that Audun obviously knew what he was talking about when going through retro wrestling video games. There is also a feeling of slight anxiety that comes out whenever he apologizes for the numerous delays and personal tragedies that have befallen him. There is sympathy for an occurrence like this where it’s easy to see how he completely overreached in all of this, creating a burden that ended his friendship with Maffew and hurt his own professional credibility. Even at my own level running a nostalgia blog on WCW, the impostor syndrome can set in whenever I feel like I’m not holding up my end of the bargain with routine updates or posts. I can’t imagine though what I’d feel like if I had the weight of $26,000 from my supporters also on my back while trying to run things.
On the other hand, when you go through all the promises and names listed as contributors/interviewees only to see that none of it ever materialized in the final product, there’s no real defense there. I sent messages out to all of the people listed as the original members of the Pixels team and my texts were either ignored, the recipients had just become unreachable or in one case, felt like their role was greatly overstated as they also had nothing to do with the book.
Congrats to Hardcore Gaming 101 and Audun Sorlie for finally getting Wrestling with Pixels out the door for everyone as the current plan is to publish in early 2020. It’s been a long time coming, but it’s actually happening this time.
You can all stop hounding Maffew for refunds.
UPDATE #1: The same day this post went live, Maffew went public again regarding Wrestling with Pixels and posted a two-hour-long podcast about his perspective of everything. There are Fyre Festival jokes and on-air venting of his frustrations as he and co-host Martin McHendry cover every publicly available Kickstarter update. In a message to him last week, Maffew was surprised with me poking around this old project as he already had it in mind to revisit it as well. I’m not sure if even he was aware of how close to completion the book really was until I started DM’ing him. You can listen to the podcast down below: