Fun. This is something some would say the WWE 2K series has been lacking as of late. While it did provide a semi-authentic portrayal of the WWE product, the game lost its fun along the way. It seems that the developers at Visual Concepts have been listening to your queries and WWE 2K19 aims to be the first step in making the series fun again.
We spoke with the game’s Creative Director Lynell Jinks to discuss the new modes, their mindset while developing the new entry, and some odd absences from WWE 2K19.
Michael Ruiz: As you were developing WWE 2K19, what were some of the improvements you wanted to see implemented?
Lynell Jinks: I mean, you’ll see across the board. A lot of the improvements range from gameplay, with the payback and overcharges, to what we did with Hell in a Cell and steel cage matches, speeding up the animations, new strike animations — which there are over 200 new strike animations and reactions — what you can do with the creation suite and seeing block body, the atmosphere that we’ve added to the arenas while creating an arena, the cell-shaded feature in Create-A-Show, the Towers, and all the improvements we’ve made to Road to Glory with the skill trees.
And it’s just every aspect of the game. We really try to improve on and take people’s feedback. But also, I keep saying our motto this year is “make the game fun again,” and not take ourselves so seriously. In years past, we’ve nailed the simulation part of the game but where I felt like we failed was making the game fun. This is a video game, it should be fun. At the end of the day, it needs to be fun and that was one thing we kept coming back to. Every feature that we looked at, it’s like, “Is this something that the fans want, and is this fun?” We tried to make sure that that was the case.
M: Since you’re saying you want to “make the game fun again,” what was the one feature that you thought, “Man, this isn’t fun,” from last year’s game?
LJ: I think a lot of it. The regular gameplay felt kind of sluggish. Not having a showcase, which people found really fun; to bring that back, that was kind of the motivation there. For My Career, not having voiceovers for superstars felt really dated and not fun. Again, it was the driving force behind everything that we looked at for our game. Universe mode, you’re not able to really recreate the WWE experience without Money in the Banks, managers and the number of championships that you had. So we addressed all of those things.
We just looked at everything across the board and made sure that we had that mantra. Is this going to make the game more fun? Yes. Okay, then we’re going to do it, we’re going to focus on it.
M: So, where did that process begin? What was the one portion of the game where you were like, “If there’s one thing we need to get right, this is the one thing?”
LJ: All of it stems down to gameplay. It’s a game, you know? The people are going to play it. If we added Towers and big head modes and block bodies and cool arena effects, it doesn’t matter if the game still feels the same and kind of sluggish and not as responsive as people wanted it to be. So, that’s one area we felt like we had to really make sure that we put a lot of effort into. That was the catalyst of reshooting animations, retooling Hell in a Cell and steel cage matches completely.
For example, one of the cool moments you’ll find in steel cage matches, you have the ability to exit through the door or climb the cage. So, you get those scenarios where the guy’s climbing, you’re like, “Oh shoot, he’s climbing, but I’m on the ground. I might have a better shot to go through the door.” You have this tension, you have this buildup, right? It’s fun, rather than once the guy starts climbing, and all of a sudden, you’re on the ground and you’re like, “Alright, I have no chance to catch him, so I lost this match.”
Creating those moments, it’s like the game just feels so different. It feels so much more fun. When you play it and you add all the extras on top of it, I’m like, “I think we’re onto something.” And I think it’s a good foundation for us to build on for future years as well.
M: My Career is the mode that I always look forward to. Every year, I create my character and I progress through that career path. Last year, I felt My Career was a bit off. What direction are you taking with the mode this year to change it up a little bit?
LJ: We’ve heard that feedback and that made us go back to the drawing board. We reached out to a former writer of the WWE, Sean Conaway, to basically write the story of My Career and have it feel more cinematic. We’re looking at games like NBA 2K, right upstairs from us, so it’s hard to ignore what they’re doing up there.
A lot of current sports games have a more cinematic career story. So our goal was to kind of step outside the box and not necessarily have you start off in NXT; that was the same recipe that we were following for years and years and it just felt stale. You’re right, it was off. Then navigation backstage, with the load times and all that, it just compounded that experience.
That whole My Career, in my opinion, and we all felt, was just a bit sluggish and unpolished, so we wanted to correct that this year. So we reached out to Sean and actually hired him to write our story. Then we’re actually shooting something that you would see on WWE or a TV show where you start off in the indies and you see this guy still living in his van. And then having the voiceovers with over 26 WWE superstars, right? You’re like, “Holy crap.”
M: That was the one thing that I was like, “Oh, thank you.” I think I asked about that last year as well and WWE 2K18 didn’t have it.
LJ: It’s always a sore subject for me. It’s a modern game, it needs it, and we just never had it. Luckily, the WWE worked with us to make sure that we got all of this. They’re an amazing partner. Without them and all of the guys over there working on this, there’s no way we could’ve got this done. You’ll see some of the performances, and you listen to it, and you’re like, “Holy crap. This is amazing.”
One of my favorite scenes is The Miz will cut a promo, and you’re just like, “This feels real.” It’s amazing and you’re just like, “This is so cool.” He brought his A-game. A lot of guys did.
To me, when you look at that mode and you’re like, “Look at everything we’ve done this year,” that’s the one thing that stands out in my mind. Our biggest accomplishment is raising the bar there and setting the tone for what we plan to do for years to come.
M: The story mode, is it linear?
LJ: Yes, it is linear.
In order to do it right this first year, with getting the voiceover and hiring a writer, there was a lot of things that we had to figure out on our end. It’s our first time going down this avenue of doing a more cinematic approach. We had to make that decision early on. Adding too many branches inside of this would’ve probably caused our date slip because there was so much that went into this year and us figuring things out. So for me, it was the right choice this year but that doesn’t mean in the following years that we can’t do something that’s a little less linear.
M: 2K Showcase is coming back with Daniel Bryan.
LJ: 2K Showcase is back, yes it is.
M: The choice of Daniel Bryan, it seems like a pretty obvious one, given that the timing was very good with the release of this game. He came back, he’s had his matches, and he’s wrestling regularly now. Was it always Daniel Bryan?
LJ: It was always Daniel Bryan. If you think about it, it takes a year to make this game, right? After we leave here and we fix some of the bugs on this year’s game, we’re working on WWE 2K20. That’s it.
So we started [WWE 2K19], he was our only choice. He was the first and only choice. We just didn’t know what his status was going to be but we kept moving along as if he was still going to be part of the WWE. This is before he even announced his comeback. This is last Fall.
And so we’re like, “Hey, let’s figure out what matches we wanna do, let’s figure out how we wanna shoot this.” We were playing around with the idea and then we locked down the design. We were really inspired by the WWE 365 or WWE 24. We’re like, “Oh, we should really shoot it this way but that would require us to talk to Daniel Bryan.” Then we approached the WWE with our concept, and they were like, “Oh, that’s a really cool idea.” We didn’t know what his fate was, if he was coming back or not, but we wanted to involve him in the 2K Showcase. Luckily, they approved it.
They were amazing to work with, Daniel Bryan as well, to get all the footage and make it feel more like a documentary. Then he announced his comeback, and we’re like, “Oh. This changes things a little bit,” right? We started working with them and with what the story was going be and telling it. So luckily, we were able to add that end inside of it.
M: Since you’ve announced that, I’ve been trying to think of different ones that could be done because there are a ton of WWE Superstars. There are a ton are a ton you can choose from. Not to give any spoilers for WWE 2K20 — this one isn’t even out yet — but what are some of the ones that you would want to see?
LJ: Again, can’t give up too many spoilers, but like you said, there are so many superstars, so many cool story arcs that we could focus on throughout the WWE history. I mean, it’s so vast. We have plans and we’re already thinking about it.
M: If I could put my input on it…
LJ: Go, yeah!
M: I think a Women’s Revolution one would be really good.
LJ: I think a lot of people would love to see that.
M: You could do that progression starting with the NXT stuff. Like Bayley and Sasha, you know?
LJ: I can neither confirm or deny that that has been talked about. (laughs) No, I mean, it’s one of those things. It’s like you’re seeing the messages loud and clear about where women’s wrestling is today. It would be nice for us to highlight that and give them the respect they deserve.
M: Speaking of of the women’s wrestling, are we going to see anything from Evolution in the game?
LJ: So, there’s a Tower. We curate the towers with certain people. You’ll have a few women’s towers that’ll say, “Women’s Evolution,” and stuff like that, but we won’t necessarily have the pay-per-view since it came in too late.
M: My very last question. Just a couple days ago, I think you guys revealed the entire roster, right?
M: There were a couple names that I thought were mysteriously missing.
LJ: That is so strange, isn’t it?
M: I don’t know if you heard but there are a couple NXT names that aren’t on there.
LJ: Some of those.
M: Like maybe the Champion? One of them is here.
LJ: I think we might’ve saw one of them walking around here.
M: Yeah, Ciampa. So, where are they?
LJ: They were here earlier. (laughs) It’s one of those things. Every year, we work with the WWE very closely on locking down this roster and working with the talent as well. There are so many different variables that go into it. For various reasons, things just didn’t work out.
It’s just one of those things. It’s just unfortunate. We’d love to have him in the game. We’d love to have everyone in the game but sometimes that just doesn’t work out in our favor.
M: Yeah. Do you think we’ll see him in DLC?
LJ: Never say never. (laughs)
If you want to see what we think of WWE 2K19 thus far, you can check out our preview. The game is set to launch on October 9, 2018 for Xbox One, PS4, and PC. If you purchase the Deluxe Edition or Wooooo! Edition, you will be granted early access to the game on October 5, 2018.