These days, Def Jam Vendetta – which launched in North America 20 years ago this weekend – is remembered as one of the more interesting takes on the wrestling game genre.
The game, which was an international collaboration between the Japanese developer AKI Corp and EA Canada, played similarly to previous AKI-engine titles like No Mercy and WCW/nWo Revenge, but combined this established formula with the Def Jam license and a dramatic story mode that had you competing in an urban fighting league.
We spoke to two former EA developers who worked on Def Jam Vendetta for another article, and while chatting to them, they told us an interesting tidbit about the game's development which we felt was worth sharing.
Shortly before Def Jam Vendetta was ready to go to manufacture, EA Canada executive Don Mattrick put pressure on the team to alter the game's ending due to a scene involving villain D Mob (voiced by Christopher Judge) shooting another character. This led to a tense standoff between the development team at EA and the senior figure over the game's creative vision.
Def Jam Vendetta art director Daryl Anselmo tells us:
"We were less than a week from manufacture and it went through this executive review and we showed our trailer. There was a scene in it where D Mob, the final character, pulls a gun out and threatens Manny with it, like ‘I’m going to shoot you’, and for a set of 20-something guys who grew up on hip hop, it was not that big of a deal.
It was just that guns were a thing in hip hop culture and we had a scene with a character who pulls a gun and it added a lot of drama [...]. But Don said, ‘Thank you so much for putting a gun in my f*****g game.’ I was like ‘Uhhhh, they don’t pay me enough to battle with Don’, so I’m going to back into the corner now and listen to him and Josh go at it."
And go at it they did. As EA producer and designer Josh Holmes recalls,
"Don was adamant that there could be no gun in the game and wanted us to replace it with a knife or a lead pipe or a baseball bat. I was on the verge of losing my sh*t because we were under deadline and none of those ideas made any sense.
Stan[ley Chow] was the reasonable one (he was my boss at the time) and was trying to be diplomatic but then Don said, 'There are no guns in hip hop' and I absolutely lost it."
According to Anselmo, the next few days were stressful for the team, but eventually, Def Jam Vendetta ended up going to manufacture. And as you may know from playing the game today, the ending survived without any alterations – thanks in part to Stanley Chow, who helped smooth things over between the two parties.
Funnily enough, when Def Jam Vendetta was eventually released, there was also almost no controversy surrounding this particular scene, with most people agreeing with the developers that it was meant to villainize D Mob, not glamorize gun violence.
We reached out to Don Mattrick for this article to try and find out more about what his objections actually were, but we sadly never heard back.
Did you play Def Jam Vendetta back in the day? What are your favourite memories of the game?