We chatted with Visual Concepts all about WWE 2K23

Posted on January 25, 2023

WWE 2K23 has just been announced, releasing in March this year with a legendary cover star and plenty of new features worth buzzing about. With a lot of expectation as the series heads back to yearly releases, we had the opportunity to sit down and chat with the developers from Visual Concepts, who are feeling positive heading into this years iteration.

Certainly, WWE 2K20 was a massive mistake, received poorly by fans and critics which essentially triggered a reboot of the series as we know it. “To be honest, it kind of shaped the culture of our studio and this team.” says Lynell Jinks, Creative Director at Visual Concepts. “When we took the game over from Yukes, we thought we knew what road was ahead of us, but we had no idea.”

“I think it’s safe to say that we shipped a game that we weren’t necessarily proud of, and it really put our egos in check and drove us to be better. When we set out to make WWE 2K22, thankfully Take-Two and Visual Concepts allowed us to take the time to make a game the fans deserve, so we had two and a half years to reboot everything, not assume what we want, figure out what we really need and the best way to deliver it.”

As we all cautiously (but optimistically) head back into an annual series after that 2.5 year break, fans are curious to see how this new iteration will really stack up. With a solid base to build from, it sounds like the team have really brought things back on track, and are able to move forward with an engine and team that they trust, with the view to make things even bigger.

“If you look at the foundations we laid last year and everything we’re doing this year, we’re making everything we put into that game just better.” Jinks continues. “We’re building the tools to be as creative as we want to be, and WarGames is that example”.

Featuring two rings side by side, a steel cage surrounding them both, six (or eight) superstars entering the match at different intervals, a bunch of weapons and more, WarGames is by far one of the most chaotic match types in wrestling history, and a tall order to represent properly in a video game. In great news, Visual Concepts are excited about the challenge and the possibilities implementing that match type has provided them.

“…we’re making everything we put into that game just better.”

“Ever since 2017, fans have been wondering and hoping for WarGames, and timing is everything. The work that went into rebuilding the engine to facilitate the possibility of a WarGames was achieved through the work that everybody put into WWE 2K22.” says Bryan Williams, Associate Game Producer at Visual Concepts.

“All the moving parts that a match of this magnitude entails, it was the designers, the engineers, the artists; it was all hands on deck to take this gargantuan match, with all of these moving pieces and parts and chaos, when you’re introducing weapons, two rings stuck together, and you have this space in-between which we’ve dubbed ‘The Trench’, where you can toss people through it, fight within it, springboard from one ring to the next. If you’ve seen WarGames, you know how chaotic and action-packed this match is, and that was our goal to replicate that to the best and the truest of our abilities, and I think we’ve achieved that.”

Of course, we have to talk about the man that you can’t see himself. John Cena is the cover-star of WWE 2K23, which means he’s also the focus of this years 2K Showcase. But there’s a twist; in previous years, you play as that iconic cover star through key matches in their career, but with Cena, you’ll be playing every match in an attempt to beat him. A tough task for any wrestler during his dominant run on the top during the late 00s, that’s for sure.

Dino Zucconi, Showcase Lead Designer at Visual Concepts let us know how they’ve flipped the script. “‘You can’t beat me’ is what we’re talking about here! You have Cena driving this, a focus on the Ruthless Aggression era, with the top superstars of that era, and it’s about getting a win on the biggest dude of that era. You’re not playing as the same person every match; you have to learn their move set, learn what kind of style works the best. You still have the objectives to guide you through and the full motion video cutscenes coming at you. We have a lot of good stuff in the Showcase this year, and it’s cool to shine a light not just on John Cena but on the whole Ruthless Aggression era, they deserve it.”

John Cena was always an almost undefeatable character, with many fans having nightmare-ish memories of the “Super-Cena” period of WWE, where it seemed like he could never be beaten, no matter what. The team is playing into the joke, and Cena was a true professional about it all, as you’d expect. We were wondering just how involved the wrestler-turned-actor was in the process of bringing the Showcase to life, and it sounds like it was a great success.

“He was a great sport, we had a fun time with the shoot, we have about 40 minutes of pre-match videos where he’s breaking down what’s going on with each opponent.” Zucconi adds. “It’s a lot of back and forth with him, to make sure we’re good, what would work with the game we have, what matches are bigger than others. I like to get it as authentic as possible so I don’t want him saying a bunch of words I wrote or somebody else wrote, so he gives his thoughts on the matches, the opponents and the events. You get a lot of inside stuff you probably wouldn’t think you’d hear from John Cena.”

WarGames and Cena aren’t the only additions of course, as the gameplay has evolved too.

“We’ve made some key and fundamental improvements [to the gameplay], including a larger emphasis on stamina.” says Williams when talking gameplay nuances. “It was present in 2K22 but was more or less there to govern when you could run and when you couldn’t. We’ve added to that, so not only will it affect running, but your character will physically change over the course of the match. Without the need of any meter, you can tell… oh this guy is through a war, or he’s still spry and bouncing on his feet. You’ll get these visual expressions of behaviour on each character. We’re a simulation of WWE and it adds to that authentic presentation.”

“You’ll get these visual expressions of behaviour on each character. We’re a simulation of WWE and it adds to that authentic presentation.”

“We’ve also added some new finisher situations you can perform; Cody Rhodes for example, one of his moves is the Cody Cutter, and you can perform it as a finisher. It’s never been possible to do in-ring springboards as special moves, so we have added those new specials for characters who need them.”

According to the team, they’ve even added a new Payback slot (so you can have a chance to fight back even when you’re getting your arse kicked), female referees are included for the first time in WWE 2K23 (they have been added to the main TV roster in recent years), and you can even taunt with a weapon. These may sound like small things, but they’re all the little things that add up to make WWE the slick product it is week in and week out, so it’s exciting to see these additions. Even the pin mechanic – which has always been a little controversial – has received a major update, which Williams sounds stoked about.

“We have a new timed pin minigame that’s really compelling. When you see it in action you’ll fall in love with it. I always enjoy when I’m being pinned just to be in this minigame.” he perks up, before going into more detail. “You’ve got the cursor that moves back and forth, and you have the target zone, which also moves back and forth. So you have to time the target zone with the moving cursor to kick out. The movement of that zone is dependent on your health or, did you just eat a finisher? Let me tell you, after a finisher that thing is buzzing back and forth so fast. It’s difficult but it’s obtainable to hit, which makes those near fall kick outs that much more exciting. The suspense and the drama is palpable.”

The suspense is certainly palpable, and we can’t wait to get back into the ring and try it all out for ourselves when WWE 2K23 launches on March 17 for PS4, PS5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X|S and PC.