CAWs stands for Create a Wrestler, a form of Character Customization that was popularized in games based on Professional Wrestling. The first instance of this trope occurred in the Acclaim game WWF Warzone which gave fans the opportunity to customize a wrestler's appearance and moves. It was very popular and would continue on to their Attitude and ECW games.
The difference between CAWs and other Character Customization at the time? The Professional Wrestling games were very detailed compared to something like EA Sports and provided a lot of creative freedom. The WWF Attitude game could be used to create conceivably anyone, and critics and fans alike were impressed that you could have Colonel Sanders vs. Ronald McDonald, for example. Add in the ability to customize moves, music and entrances, and Acclaim began a tradition that would take the wrestling and video game world by storm.
Rivals THQ stepped up their game when it gained the WWF license and greatly expanded the CAW options in Wrestlemania 2000 and WWF No Mercy, as well as its spiritual successors Raw and WrestleMania for the XBOX and GameCube. The jewel in the crown in wrestler customization however was the Smackdown! series, which grew into SmackDown vs. Raw and the WWE yearly series. Fans and reviewers were blown away by the level of detail that could be achieved. With the expanded options virtually anyone could be accurately created with loving detail. Animations to create your own taunts, moves and entrances were brought in. People using this mode would spend hours creating everyone from Final Fantasy to WCW wrestlers and place guides for others to do so.
The eighth generation of gaming allowed for face and logo templates to be imported into the game for download and upload, thus instead of whiling away the time trying to create, say, Tracer's face and outfit you can use her real face, her real logos and emblems, her real eyes and eyebrows, then use the in game hair and clothe options to match up. Then with the day of better Internet share your creation, or get the other works fans had done, or Game of Thrones characters, or maybe that actor or actress or singer you thought would be a good idea but couldn't get right.
Such was the detail and success of these modes that other genres began to step up their efforts to improve their own customization options. Games such as Perfect World, The Sims, Saints Row and others began allowing not just different body parts, but the length of the nose, size of the arms and ability to get just the right shade and color of the hair and clothes. In many respects the games that have this option are worlds from what they were like back when CAWs gained popularity, and we can thank Acclaim and THQ for the effort that many developers put into their customization options.
Examples of wrestling titles that allow CAWs include:
- The first wrestling game to allow the ability to play as yourself was WWF Wrestlemania Challenge; however, you could only play as a generic white guy with no customization options whatsoever.
- Fire Pro Wrestling lives and breathes this trope by having only Expies of wrestlers rather than the real deal. Fans are impressed with the level of customization in a game that uses sprites that is much harder than polygons.
- CAWs came into the limelight with Acclaim's WWF War Zone and WWF Attitude games, and THQ's WCW Revenge. THQ would greatly improve this move in Wrestlemania 2000 and WWF No Mercy, allowing even the genuine roster to be modified, to the extent that it's still used in efeds and fans creating and using current rosters even today.
- Acclaim would expand the CAW feature when it took on the ECW license and included new moves and changed the finishers of WWF wrestlers to fit those who used the same move in ECW.
- Electronic Arts allowed a fairly impressive CAW mode in WCW Mayhem and WCW Backstage Assault.
- The Smackdown! series; later SmackDown vs. Raw and simply WWE is perhaps the Most Triumphant Example of this trope. Each year the options would be changed around drastically and improved upon, until the series began to fall into Capcom Sequel Stagnation. Options such as clothing, animating taunts, and first person entrances were added and removed over the years, with create a finisher, create an entrance, create a story and the ability to import your own music becoming mainstays. For the past several years fans have been able to download and upload their works rather than follow a guide, and the same is true for move sets, videos and logos.
- Legends Of Wrestling followed a similar but cut down path for its CAW system, adding and removing options over its trilogy of games.
- The Raw games for XBOX, and Wrestlemania and Day of Reckoning series for GameCube, developed a trend for THQ where the first game would severely diminish customization options in the first game in comparison to other titles the same year while they got to grips with the technology, before having the system vastly improve the next year. The same happened when the SmackDown vs. Raw series went to next gen systems, with 2007 a pale imitation of what could be achieved in 2006.
- The Day Of Reckoning games are remembered for the fact that there is no one player storymode for anything but created wrestlers.
- Similarly, the Def Jam series one-player mode centers almost exclusively on CAW, even after it started to move a little further away from wrestling.
- Rumble Roses XX had a very basic version of this, curious as it was the same model as the Smackdown! games, but they were to the same standard as the in built wrestlers rather than looking like a custom fighter.
- WWE Superstars used much the same setup as SmackDown vs. Raw to create exaggerated, cartoonish CAWs in the game.