The current Creative Director for Visual Concepts, Lynell Jinks has always had a vision on the franchises he has worked with. Dating back to his days with the NBA 2K series, his artistic and creative visions have proven to be large in growing his career. He would eventually jump ship over to WWE once 2K acquired the series from THQ. 2K would transition the development of the game away from the tenured Yukes and now Visual Concepts has complete control of the series. At the recent WWE 2K20 Preview Event held in Las Vegas at the T-Mobile Arena, we got to discuss with Jinks not only what it meant for the series being 100% under Visual Concepts, but also what it meant for himself.
We began our interview with Jinks by jumping into the obvious. We asked him what it meant for Visual Concepts to be in complete control and what it brings to the franchise this year. “For me,” Jinks stated, “if you look at glimpses of what Visual Concepts is about and our DNA and you look at things like MyCareer, you have a male and female story where it’s a story itself. It’s not a typical thing where you have a male and female wrestler make it to the WWE and that’s it. No, like these are high school friends and it comes through with ups and downs like any other relationship and it feels like you’re watching a little movie. Like, ‘oh my God,’ it’s what NBA 2K did really well for years and with WWE 2K19 we scratched the surface of that. With 2K20 and everything being in-house and under our control, for everything to come together in the story and the amount of detail we put in our environments like Hell’s Colliseum and twice as many WWE Superstars doing voiceovers for us. All these things we were able to do and feel confident doing because we have full control. Like looking at high school in MyCareer, simple things like hallways and adding things here and there and I didn’t ask them to do that. One guy was reading our script and was like I’m going to put the bomb-disabling dolphins in the green-screen room and I was like go ahead. I’m like any of that stuff, go ahead and do that. We’re all gamers and we’re all developers but that extra little effort and care and passion that we have about this franchise you’ll start to see.”
In recent years, one of the biggest attractions comes in the form of the WWE Showcase mode. This documentary-like game mode focuses on the journey of either a Superstar or a group of Superstars as the Women’s Revolution takes flight this year. Players will participate in the journey of the Four Horsewomen. We discussed with Jinks about how this year’s Showcase mode will follow suit with the success of the previous ones. “For me, it’s being a part of history. You’ve seen what the WWE has done in the past two years for putting the women at the forefront of their product like Ronda and Becky main eventing Wrestlemania or Sasha in a Hell in a Cell match. These things happened recently and is part of history. It’s what people have come to expect nowadays especially for the WWE. For us, having a woman on the cover, having a female Showcase and highlighting these four women who are revolutionizing wrestling. For me, as a father of a daughter seeing the doors opening and for us as developers to go all in and show them the respect they deserve and highlight them in fifteen of their best matches from NXT to now is a huge honor for me. We are also told by them what they were going through at that time and the memories are amazing. Our goal when we brought Showcase back was like watching something on the WWE Network. That’s what we’re trying to do here. Yes, it’s a WWE game and in years past it always feels like yeah it’s just a game with a WWE logo in it. But these stars are larger than life and you saw it last year with Daniel Bryan’s voice. We have to keep playing that up. To me, that’s what makes the WWE special. It’s our responsibility to the fans that they know that playing our game.”
One thing that the WWE 2K series has never lacked is the amount of game modes. Besides the WWE Showcase, there are a ton of options for players and it requires quite a bit of effort to propel each mode forward each year to keep fans engaged. 2K Towers was introduced last year and this throwback to the Mortal Kombat series is going to evolve this year. We asked Jinks about what to expect with the Towers, along with the new and ongoing 2K Originals features. “We added a bunch of new stipulations and match types. I think out of the gate, we have fifty new towers and then the Roman tower. That doesn’t even count what we’re doing with the Originals and episodic towers we have and Road to Glory on top of that. So having the keys allow us to play around with different things that we didn’t even address last year. We were like that’s cool, we’ll just change the stipulations on that. Starting the match with different health or other things we have control over. Or with the Originals and adding the presentation on top of that with the fictional characters and little story notes here and there. So we are just scratching the surface of what this mode can be but the fact that we have full control over it allows us to play around with it.” As for how often we would see content for the 2K Originals, Jinks said, “We haven’t released the schedule but it’ll be on a pretty consistent basis. Once it starts, it’ll start flowing in pretty consistently. For me, I love Bump in the Night but for me, there will be one there that I’m really looking forward to because I’m a big sci-fi guy. There’s some really good stuff coming.”
With Jinks being the Creative Director at Visual Concepts and an artist at heart, he makes no mistake that his favorite aspect of the WWE games is the creation suite. We asked Jinks about what players would see in this year’s game, and things got a bit complicated but rest assured, the changes are coming but some things needed to be shuffled around due to time constraints. Jinks went on to say, “Creation is the most important part to me in the game. It was a struggle to make sure that everything that fans have grown to love was in the game and working as intended. That alone, we spent so much time on that. It’s so complex and deep and we have so much content year after year that we basically have to rip everything apart and put it back together to make sure it worked as is and then saw if we could make it better. Certain things we tried to but at the end of the day, we’re running out of time so the decision to postpone Create a Championship and Create a Superstar was such a huge undertaking to get working again, we had to pull resources off of Create a Championship and put them on Create a Superstar to get rid of all the issues and then update it in a patch to have it. Knowing that, our focus early on and how deep that code base was for the content that we had to focus on more content through MyPlayer and Road to Glory and with Originals, you’ll actually get a ton of new content for Create A Arena and parts that are geared towards 2K Originals. Like Bump in the Night, you’ll see weapons. The thing that we saw early on at the event last year with the Wyatt Compound was that there was nothing else to do. There’s some weapons in the MyCareer version of it that was patched in later. There has to be things in these environments for people to play with that affects gameplay and the match type. That kind of spawned into this whole other thing. Let’s add different categories of weapons like one handed and two handed objects. Let’s build on that and what can we do and if you look at the Originals, the weapon wheel allows for customization and you can have the bat that has a pumpkin skull on it. I want to use a bone instead of a bat or use a tombstone instead of a chair. On the surface you might think we didn’t add that much to create, but what we added to customize your match or character with our new content, there is a ton of content. The head of Bray Wyatt will also be in the game.”
His desire for the creation suite was further proven when we got a bit more personal about his tastes with the game. We tried to get him to admit a favorite game mode, but he stood firm on his decision for the most part. But he loves the writing involved in MyCareer this year, as it continues along the lines of last year’s story-driven mode. Jinks stated, “Outside of creation, I don’t know. When I was working with NBA on player likenesses and I had all these tools to map textures on the faces and I put that stuff in the game. I approached Yukes to put that stuff in the game and they asked how and I showed them. This is where the face photo feature came from. So for me, as an artist, it’s a creator. Everything that went into MyCareer, I’m a sucker for high school movies and rom-coms, I love that stuff. There’s a real story and I read the script and was like that’s cool. But seeing it play through and laughing in my office even though I knew it was coming, I still felt sad after a certain part. This is the stuff that excites me. I can’t wait for people who don’t know what’s going to happen to experience this.”
One thing the WWE does every year is change the entrance design of its shows. This year it was really untimely and we asked Jinks about how this made him feel. He also mentioned they can’t just up and replicate it with a patch. Jinks stated, “I get it and people will be like release it in create a arena, but it doesn’t work like that. If you do that, the jumbotrons are in a certain aspect ratio. You have to create all new trons to support that new stage layout and where they come out, it’s all different. It’s a huge challenge and they gotta do what they gotta do and it’s just ill timed. It’s one thing that we make sure we support the following year.”
With Smackdown moving to Fox and the WWE including stars from other forms of combat sports, we wanted to get Jinks’ opinion on this and what this meant to him and his team. Jinks went on to say, “You know, I get what the WWE is doing. I hope it works because if you look back at what WWE did with Mike Tyson, it opened it up and put eyes back on it again. To me, that was the catalyst of the Monday Night Wars where the WWE took over and the WCW was left in the dust. There’s fanbases out there from these other sports that have an interest in wrestling and there is a correlation. Let’s see if there’s some crossover here and I think there is and if they start bridging that gap and we can starting adding these people into our game, I’m all for it.”
For more on WWE 2K20, be sure to read our hands-on preview.