Parting Shots: WWE 2K23
Game: WWE 2K23
Occupation: Creative Director, Visual Concepts
Career Highlights: NBA 2K series, WWE 2K series
When Visual Concepts took over the WWE 2K series from longtime developer Yuke’s, it’s no secret that things didn’t go so well. WWE 2K20 had numerous gameplay and technical issues, to the point that the studio took a year off to make sure it could get the next franchise entry right. After WWE 2K22 helped get things back on course, Visual Concepts now gives us WWE 2K23—and while it looks to continue to make improvements in every area, it also gives the team more chances to build for the future instead of just rebuilding the past. To learn more about WWE 2K23, we stepped into the squared circle with creative director Lynell Jinks to pin him down for some answers.
You’ve said that WWE 2K22 was about getting the series back on the right track. What, then, is WWE 2K23 about?
Lynell Jinks: Great question. We let a lot of people down with WWE 2K20, and that is not lost on us. WWE 2K22 was all about proving that we can make that comeback story. Now, WWE 2K23 is built on everything that we learned on 2K22. We built this thing from the ground up, and that allowed us to have the confidence to try things like our new match type, WarGames. In 2K20, and any year before that, there was no way we could have done anything like this. We had none of the tools. None of the foundation to really entertain any of these ideas. And so with 2K23, you’re really starting to see us take this franchise and make it ours, and start to introduce new things that the fans have never seen before. And it’s just the beginning.
Since you mentioned it, how did the addition of WarGames to 2K23 come about?
LJ: At the time of conception, it seemed weird that we would highlight a big match type that was only on NXT, but we were just like, we’ve learned so much, let’s try it. And then we were pleasantly surprised that the WWE was highlighting a WarGames Survivor Series [in 2022]. We were like, you know, this is serendipity in its truest form. We were all stoked, but at the same time, a little disappointed, because they didn’t follow the same layout as the NXT version in terms of the cage placement. [laughs]
Still, I think fans will appreciate the fact that it still plays the same. And you can do all the fun stuff that you would see on a WarGames live event in WWE 2K23.
What’s the one feature that most stands out for you in terms of the changes made to Universe mode?
LJ: The event system that we built into it is amazing. We’ve now gamified that, giving players way more control than they ever had. Usually you would play, and you were just waiting to see what happens, whereas now you feel like you have a choice in the matter, setting up rivalries, setting actions, and letting that momentum in the game do its thing.
To the delight or scorn of fans, depending on which side of the fence they fall on, John Cena is the focus of WWE 2K23’s Showcase. What can both groups of fans expect?
LJ: We knew that when we announced Cena as the highlight of our 2K Showcase, everyone would be like, “I don’t wanna play as John Cena. He wins every single match.” So when it was pitched to me by our designer in charge of Showcase Dino Zucconi, he was like, what if we make players the opponent, and we focus on John Cena’s matches where he lost? “Never give up,” that’s his motto. Let’s lean into that, and focus on the times when he had to reevaluate his position in the company, and in wrestling, because he got beat down, and had to figure out how to go on and become the icon that he is.
So we focused on that, and got Cena to lend his voice to the 2K Showcase, and the documentary footage that we shot, to let players know what was going on in his head, the emotions that he was going through at that time while taking those losses, and how he recovered from it. To me, that’s wrestling. That’s storytelling, right?
You get home to find that your kids have a copy of WWE 2K23, and they’ve recreated you in the character creator. How did you turn out?
LJ: I think my kids will make me look like a clown. [laughs] Probably modeled after Doink the Clown. But just my bald head, no wig. And I’m full of dad jokes. I’m the cheeseball of our family, so yeah, I think they would lean into that. The dad joke guy.