WWE 2K19 for PC, PS4, and Xbox One is the latest game in the long-running wrestling series. In our time with a preview build of the game on a PS4 Pro, we noticed revamped visuals and a better frame rate coupled with improved controls making it a drastic step up from WWE 2K18. Gadgets 360 spoke to Mark Little, Executive Producer at WWE 2K19 developer Visual Concepts to find out what we can expect from the game when it's out on October 5.
This year, the obvious focus for WWE 2K19 seems to be its graphics and polish. Past WWE games were rough around the edges with certain superstars having detailed character models while others did not. Also, the audience around the ring looked rather generic in prior entries. None of this seems to be the case here. Little explained that this is due to Visual Concepts' constant work on the WWE game engine across annual releases.
"We can't rewrite everything in one year," Little admits. "We do as much as we can and the next year we keep improving on it. Last year we did a very large overhaul to the rendering engine and used some new techniques, while the visual results were great, the performance wasn't where we wanted it to be."
With WWE 2K19, he tells us, enhancing its visuals is crucial as it "makes the gameplay itself feel more fluid and responsive" which is key to people who play the game a lot. WWE 2K19 is targeting 60fps on all consoles and PC with the latter being the lead development platform.
Furthermore, there are new additions such as cinematic moves that merge seamlessly into the gameplay. Pull off a suplex or a signature finisher like the Stone Cold Stunner and the game camera will zoom in and show the action from another angle. Little says it's a part of the game's attempt to emulate what's seen during a WWE TV broadcast or pay per view event.
"It's an opportunity for us to be able to get closer to the characters and sell the drama and impact of those moments without affecting gameplay," he says.
Though don't expect it to work in every mode. Matches with multiple wrestlers won't get the cinematic treatment.
"You only see that in our match types with few superstars in it," he says. "When there's lots of people running around, we need the camera pulled back so players can see what's going on. But in one on one matches we take the time to get in there and have that cinematic feel to the game."
However not all changes to WWE 2K19 have been in the graphics department. Gameplay has seen some changes with the Payback mechanic. Payback is activated when you take enough damage and lets you choose actions that let you even the odds. Prior to a match, players can select two out of eight Payback moves. These range from a low blow to spitting at your opponents. The reason for this, Little claims, is to allow newcomers a chance against more seasoned players.
"One of the challenges we put to our design team was to come up with a gameplay system that will allow users new to the game to get back into the momentum of a match," he says. "And on top of that, we wanted the system to provide a secondary strategy element for experienced gamers."
While the core gameplay of WWE remains the same, mechanics like Payback add another layer of nuance. We wondered if this is what we could expect from WWE games going forward - additions that complement its familiar controls and pace of play.
"There's always room to do additive stuff and little sides," he confirms. "Part of what we'll continue to do in the future is that there will be a lot of things people will be able to turn on and off."
The reason for this approach, Little says, is due to the diverse range of people who play the WWE games.
"I don't think there's one solution for everybody," he admits. "That's why we'll continue to explore secondary mechanics, alternate controls, and all sorts of other things to broaden out the appeal of the game to more people."
One of these options present in recent games has been the choice to toggle how weight detection works in WWE. WWE 2K19 and 2K18 let players choose between an arcade-like/ game-y approach wherein smaller wrestlers can pick up and throw bigger ones, or use an option that mimics real world physics where that doesn't happen.
"That's some of the stuff we add based on feedback from fans," he reveals. "As we've gone more into the realism side of things with our game, it's not always fun for everyone. Some people might want Rey Mysterio to be able to throw Braun Strowman and have a more dynamic match. But if you go with the realism side, Rey Mysterio doesn't even pick up Braun Strowman."
To Little, such options acknowledge WWE's youth base who may not want to bother with some of the more realistic aspects of the gameplay.
"What we know is the younger generation of gamers tend not to understand the nuance of why Rey can't pick up Braun Strowman," he says. "That's a good option you can set as a parent that your child can still have a lot of fun with the mode and be able to play the wrestling game without being stuck behind the realism of why some things are limited."
On the topic of fun, we noticed that WWE 2K19 sports an assortment of customisation options. One of them wouldn't look out of place in Minecraft with a pixel art style. It's referred to as the Block Body in game. We had to ask how Block Body made it into the game.
"That literally came out of us wondering what would happen if we did this," Little reminisces. "We tried it, found it hysterical, and decided to make it a feature now."
What's more is Little hinted that it could be the first of many such callbacks to gaming culture and the aesthetic associated with it.
"Everyone on our team are fans of games and like having fun too," he says. "That's something people can expect to see more and more when we move forward with the title."
To him, it's a small way to differentiate the game from the show.
"If you look at the WWE network and all the content they create, it's all over the map," he observes. "From old Saturday morning cartoons to reality TV stuff. We look for opportunities in the game that they can't do in real life because it's not practical and we have fun with this stuff."
Finally, with cross-platform play still being a talking point in a post-Fortnite world, we wondered if big annual affairs like the WWE 2K series would ever implement it. Last year, Little claimed it was a lot more complicated than flipping a (non-Nintendo) switch.
"I have those conversations with Sony and Microsoft on an annual basis," he says. "The reality is that most of it is us waiting for them to arrange and clarify how that could work and what the rules around that would be, once we can get past that level with them, then we'll able to start looking into it more seriously."
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