At the WWE 2K17 press event, we had the chance to interview two of the game’s developers — Lionel Jinx, the creative director, and Ramel Balesta, designer. For more interesting WWE interviews, be sure to check out our talk with Sasha Banks and AJ Styles.
After playing the game all day, I’m quite impressed with Nakamura’s body language – did he did his mocap and if not, who did?
[Lionel] I don’t know if we’re at liberty to say who exactly did it.
Is he in the credits?
[Lionel] Some MIGHT recognize their movements and they’d be right!
Who was the hardest character to replicate, for their essence?
[Lionel] Shinsuke and his entrance and hand movements and gestures. Ramel talks about how the strong style, and just being able to replicate that in our game is unique and we did a great job of replicating that.
This is the first game with him in over a decade, with the last being Wrestle Kingdom II on the PS2 – but he wasn’t the King of Strong Style then. He was almost a completely different person and then he went to Mexico and found personality.
[Lionel] And listened to a lot of Michael Jackson and Freddie Mercury.
How much fun was it to replicate that? It sounds like it was a fun challenge.
[Lionel] We always mark out and last year, it was definitely Finn.
Some of his stuff was already in too.
[Lionel] It’s also easy when you have a Japanese developer.
And Yuke’s used to own New Japan and that helps when you’ve got an ace in the hole – but there’s never been a version of him as good as this in a game. The Kinshasa here is perfect and it’s organic now and you even have the middle rope Kinshasa. He also has the strong forearm strike that feels vile and feels like a boxing game where you land that perfect strike.
[Lionel] That’s our mocap director making sure it’s all done right.
The essence of wrestling is so important and Goldberg is another one that is replicated perfectly. The second the cops show up, it took me back to Nitro. Taker’s intro legit gave me goosebumps too, with the headphones and then his usual theme mixed in with pyro blasting. It also worked so perfectly together.
[Lionel] The team nailed it.
What is the biggest upgrade from past games – discounting backstage brawls since they’ve been in past games.
[Lionel] Our mandate was the overall presentation, and we’ve got contextual taunts, breakouts out of victory scenes and the show flow feels more like a broadcast. We want to make it feel like what you’d see on a Monday or Tuesday night.
I loved doing a backstage brawl and hitting someone from the locker room into the hallway area. It reminded me a lot of No Mercy, where it replicated a fight in the sense that if one was breaking out, this would be happening. The SD games were a stunt show and I enjoyed diving off the helicopter as much as anyone, but it was fun for a night with a couple buddies and beers. Right off the bat, I was worried about movesets, but they’re full now. You used to be only be able to do a few strikes and it was very minimal – was there a mandate to do it better than ever?
[Lionel] Yeah, we want to put the Visual Concepts stamp of approval on it and raise the bar. We did it with the NBA franchise, and whenever we come up with a new mode – like MyCareer, and adding backstage and crowd brawling. We look at what the fans wanted and improve upon what was done before. The Network is a huge help.
It’s basically a giant reference library.
[Lionel] When we go to Yuke’s, we see a huge library of DVD and VHS tapes! We use them for our design docs, and every time we see Raw, we see things we can use.
Some of that, like the overhead cam, is new – but in a game, you also have to wonder if you can do it in real-time.
[Lionel] Yeah. Sometimes, it’s not realistic – but with things like the floating camera, we did it years ago and now the show is doing what we used to do.
How long have you been a fan of wrestling?
[Lionel] I was huge fan of WWE in the ’80s, and my cousins used to watch the territories, but I was a WWE-head.
As a tech-head, you would probably love World Class – because they were years ahead of their time with micing the arena and camera work.
[Lionel] In the ’90s, I was huge into the NWO, Sting and Goldberg. We’re starting to see those guys in our game and that’s not by coincidence! We had a guy Shane, who was a huge ECW fan and he marked out with Joey Styles.
Last year, you also had Mikey Whipwreck, who is pretty much retired. You always want to see an underdog succeed and in ECW, he was always against winning titles because “I’m not supposed to win things!”.
It was amazing to see how the audience react to him.
Kudos to not re-using the Stunner either – he had a different snap to it and it was done perfectly.
Are you excited about the season pass content?
[Lionel] We’ve seen it – it’s a bit like seeing your Christmas presents early. My excitement comes from you guys and it’s like seeing a parent watch their kids open up their presents.
You always want the big smile and not “oh, it’s socks!” One great thing about this game is that it does get the composition of a match right. Now, the career mode has been evolving over the past few years. What are the big new parts for 2K17?
[Lionel] The addition of promos. Last year, you could make a superstar, but the only way to show yourself off was as an in-ring performer. Now, you can talk on the mic so the crowd can get your character. We also have Paul Heyman, so you can get on the good or bad side of The Authority or maybe Brock Lesnar.
[How did it come about to have Heyman as the crux of the mode?
[Ramel] With Brock as the cover athlete, it was natural. He can be a teacher and that’s what we wanted to key in on this year.
Was it disappointing to not have the showcase, but then being able to make this better?
[Ramel] With career, and especially Universe, you can make it better. You can make your own video and you have three saves this year.
[Lionel] And we don’t have to spend time making Showcase videos, and now you can make your own videos.
Raw 2 was probably the last one that let you do that, and it allowed the in-game world to come more alive.
[Lionel] When we see the amazing CAS models that folks are creating, and last year, when AJ signed, we didn’t have him – but he’s on community creations without the entrance. There’s no video package – but now, you can mimic that.
It’s all about making the universe seem consistent, and that’s one thing the last few entries have benefited from is having CAS models that can come fairly close to what’s in the game. In years prior, it would be a clear disconnect. How it’s done now reminds me a lot of No Mercy, and because the parts are all from the same stock, everything meshes together better.
[Lionel] That’s one of the reasons we felt confident enough to get rid of photos for character renders. The models look good and they hold up and now we don’t have to break the immersion.
You want the experience to be as 1:1 as possible and we’re all looking forward to playing it in October.
WWE 2K17 launches on October 11 for the PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4, Xbox 360 and Xbox One consoles. Our time at the press event was spent playing the PS4 version, with a set of gaming headphones to ensure everything could be heard amid all the background noise of the event itself. We will be providing an in-depth review of the game upon its release and had a blast playing the game with fellow gamers from across the world at the event.