WWE 2K Creative Director Discusses ‘Never Say Never’ Motto for WWE 2K19

Developing yearly titles is a difficult task and the developers over at Visual Concepts listen to their fan base for the WWE 2K series. We were recently invited to the WWE Performance Center to get our hands on the upcoming WWE 2K19 and we sat down for a chat with Lynell Jinks, Creative Director for the WWE 2K franchise. There are a plethora of new game modes and improvements in the upcoming title as the motto for the team this year is “Never Say Never.” A lot of aspects, coincidentally, tied into this motto as the game will answer a bunch of fans’ requests. The focus for WWE 2K19 was to make the game fun again and focus on what WWE does best: storytelling.

Lynell stated that the fans let him know last year that the Showcase was sorely missed. He already had a plan in place to bring it back, but things took a turn for the better through that process. Showcase returns this year with the story of Daniel Bryan, which is being told in Bryan’s words. When asked if Lynell was excited to work on this mode, he said, “Oh yeah. It’s funny, everyone has been asking about how quickly this Showcase got put together and actually we were in consideration to do this last year. We knew we had to bring Showcase back and we heard the fanbase loud and clear. He was basically our only choice. We thought it was the most compelling story and he was out of the WWE for a while at that point. We felt it was a good story to tell and not knowing what his absolute future would be. We didn’t know what his status would be and that would throw a monkey wrench in our plans. When we pitched it to the WWE, they said to hold off and that they were working something out with Bryan. “Luckily, for everyone’s sake, we kept working on it.”

The team’s motto “Never Say Never” speaks directly to the Daniel Bryan story. Lynell discussed that the team needed to think outside the box as they brought in a new writer directly from the WWE and some other staff to help revolutionize WWE 2K19. Jinks breaks down the driving force behind the motto. “Making a game every year is hard and this is what we all signed up for. We tried to focus on things they’ve never seen or won’t see again. Like a Big Head Mode or a Block Body Mode that you can paint on, or Towers. All these things we wanted to do and think outside of the box that people have been used to. They kind of got turned off by the product we were giving them and we had to think outside the box and they never thought that we’d do it. The core was simulation, and people got turned off by that and we were hearing loud and clear that they weren’t buying it anymore and that was the driving force behind all of that.”

With a new writer coming in and the shift of focus going towards storytelling, the biggest modes that will receive the benefits of this are not only the Showcase, but a revamped MyCareer. We asked Lynell how the team is implementing the story telling change. “It’s implemented in Showcase with Daniel Bryan with his own words in a documentary format like WWE365 or WWE 24/7, we really wanted to go after that emotional tie-in with Daniel Bryan. You can’t get that from us doing a voiceover with the voice of God, but having Daniel Bryan do it himself, it’s the only way to do it. For myCareer, the biggest thing we kept hearing was it being the same. Starting off in NXT and working your way up to the main roster. It became stale. We decided to have a more linear storyline that focuses on the story telling and a more cinematic experience. Starting off the indies only to get held back down by The Authority, and that to me is where WWE is at it’s finest. The storytelling, we try to mimic that as much as possible. We worked with the WWE to get voiceovers and this was the first time doing it. I can’t wait to see what we do in the years to come.”

AJ Styles is gracing the cover of WWE 2K19 and Jinks mentioned it actually fits the mantra of the motto, coincidentally. We asked him what it meant to the team for AJ to be on the cover. “Oh man, it’s phenomenal. AJ is amazing. To me, if you watch any of his matches, he always brings it. It kind of ties it with everything we are doing this year. He’s not the ideal guy that the WWE normally deems for their cover guy and to be the ambassador of the brand, he’s agile and fun to watch. He’s strong and entertaining, and for us, that’s what we wanted to get back to. Make the game fun, fast and entertaining, make it fluid. We were hearing from the fanbase is that it was too slow, too sluggish and it wasn’t any fun anymore. So we tried to make sure that was our motto this year and when we found out he was the cover athlete we thought, ‘Dude, this is a perfect tie-in.’ This is everything that he exemplifies and it ties into everything we’re doing this year. It’s kind of serendipitous in a way.”

WWE 2K19 
will also be bringing some innovations to gameplay. The biggest change is the new Payback System. This is a separate meter that fills up and allows for various match-swinging moves such as using poison mist or a quick recovery. The aim with this was to add some lasting innovation to matches as fans complained of stale combat over time. Lynell went into the decision making and implementation of this system.” Just going back to making the game fun again, the gameplay guys Jason and Derrick really wanted to figure out a smart and intuitive way to have a more dynamic experience in the game. One of the complaints we kept hearing was once you play our game, after a few months, it feels like you’re playing the same game again. All the guys feel the same. By having this other option, it’s easy just to add these Payback abilities rather than go in and customize abilities and save a separate guy and do all that. It’s like hey, let’s think of a cool way to change it up like poison mist or these things that only exist with this type of mode. It feels more dynamic. You also add on the Overcharge System in Road to Glory, you see someone’s fist glowing and be like what is that. You will see with these things, it won’t be like any other game we’ve done.”

As Lynell mentioned above, the new MyCareer won’t be just starting in NXT and grinding matches to the top. This will be narrative driven as your character will start in the indies and have a story with real voiceovers during progression. It will also have a skill tree with how to expand your player as you gear them towards being a specific type of competitor. We asked him what the top innovations were for MyPlayer and MyCareer. “I would say the Skill Tree. When you play around with that and you’re leveling up your character and you have this sense of ownership that you didn’t have before, it makes owning these items and these prestige levels matter. Now, you really have to put some thought into what abilities you want and what character types you want as your wrestling style. It ties into myCareer as well. In Road to Glory, earning those parts and a lot of people complained in the pay-per-view events that you only earned masks, now you get to unlock items and parts. Maybe it’s a whole outfit or boots, so we really tried to address that this year.”

The team has paid attention to its creation community as the WWE 2K series has had a plethora of players create some excellent characters and venues. There will be some improvements to creating superstars and other aspects this year to simplify the process. “The big one is adding randomization this year in Create-a-Superstar,” Lynell said. “At the top level, you can just randomize until your heart’s content. You can keep hitting the button until you find something really silly or really cool. If you kind of like what you have already but want to randomize a particular part, such as boots. Like I like my trunks and head gear but I want to change my boots, you can choose that part and randomize on that level. We also saw the amount of creation from the players that customize, we added the mirror option for just a button press for copying. If you want to import a part from someone else, you can individually do this without destroying the superstar. Finally, there are new filters for Create-A-Arena. You can make it darker like old school arenas, also change saturation for vibrant or gloomy atmospheres. We added the cel-shaded filter this year and we wanted to give you guys to create something unique and fun and we know that’s where the game lives. We want that expressiveness that people have to come out.”

Visual Concepts has introduced a the new 2K Towers. This mode features challenges that are updated daily to add a bit of freshness to the game. Lynell breaks down the main influences and thought process that went into introducing this mode. “We took a hard look at ourselves and what was fun,” he stated. “What made us fall in love to begin with. Fighting games and sports games and the inclusion of Big Head Mode. Just like old school latters and gauntlets and it’s a cool, fun way to use our roster. We wanted players to have more to do than just exhibition and my career. If you don’t want to play Road to Glory or other modes, there’s still a purpose to play the game and keep coming back. We put a lot of work into changing the stipulation of the match types and the various towers. Only one person in our office beat the AJ Styles tower, it’s extremely hard. It creates the buzz of the old school games again. I remember crying when I couldn’t beat Ninja Gaiden. I want to people to have that experience. It wasn’t crying because it was cheating, it was crying because I need to get better and get that sense of accomplishment.”

As originally mentioned at the beginning of this article, yearly titles are very difficult. In comparison to other yearly titles, the WWE 2K franchise has a plethora of options to play. Whether it be the Universe, Career, Showcase or various other modes, there’s a never ending need to expand on what’s there. Lionel talked to us about what it takes to keep this franchise fresh on a yearly basis. “It’s so hard, it really is. But, I will say that the benefit of working on a yearly title is that we tend to ‘blue sky’ a lot. We know where the deficiencies are in our game. I always tell people are fanbase is very loud and vocal, and that helps dictate what we try to aim for every year. We may not get there in one year or two years, but we try to plant the seed by making sure we can tie in the hooks that we can expand on later on. But our lists our huge every year of what we want to do and that list keeps growing because if we don’t get to it, we know it’s on the top of the list for the next year.”