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The Japanese studio, which is behind 20 years (and 70 million sales) of licensed wrestling games, has established the new team in order to create internal competition for its WWE projects and reinvigorate its staff, senior vice president and producer, Hiromi Furuta told VGC.
[UPDATE: Our full WWE 2K Yuke’s interview has now been published, with the full transcript of this story.]
The studio’s latest release, WWE 2K19, was widely considered to be a return to form for the series, but otherwise it has been criticised in recent years for a decline in quality.
Furuta confessed Yuke’s has become frustrated with what it has been able to achieve with recent WWE 2K games, and suggested that its relationship with publisher 2K Sports (American studio Visual Concepts also contributes to the WWE 2K series) is partly responsible.
Another contributing factor is the lack of competition in the wrestling genre, she said. Yuke’s historical rival, WWF No Mercy developer AKI Corporation, effectively left the genre following the release of 2006’s Def Jam: Fight for NY: The Takeover.
“I think having no competitor isn’t healthy at all,” Furuta told VGC. “When we had competitors in the wrestling space, we were determined not to lose and that was a great motivator for creating something great.
“But right now, looking at the market demands, players are expecting something new every time we release a game and we feel like we haven’t achieved what we’ve really wanted to do. For example, in many cases we’re still using old assets and we’re not able to do some things in the way that we want to.”
Futura said the studio may “find a way to do things in the way that we want, in terms of our existing relationship with our publisher”. However, for the time being its solution is to create its own rival wrestling IP.
“We are trying to launch a new wrestling game,” she said. “Of course, we will retain the WWE team, but we are also aware that our creators are beginning to lose sight of their passion and confidence and becoming focused only on completing assigned tasks. That’s not the direction Yuke’s wants to go in. So, in order to compensate, we’re going to start a new wrestling project.”
Furuta said the unnamed project is at a “very early” stage and that Yuke’s has ideas for new game systems it thinks will result in “an interesting game”.
Yuke’s is still deciding who the target audience for the game will be, Furuta said, so it’s possible it could go in either a “very realistic” direction or introduce fantasy elements.
“We’re not chasing money or trends,” she said. “We’ll go in whatever direction we feel is most interesting, combined with the passion of whoever leads the project. As long as whoever leads the project has enough passion, then I’m sure we will achieve our goals.
“In terms of our new wrestling project, there are many experienced creators here in this field so I’m confident it’s going to be an awesome game,” Furuta added.
The producer also confirmed Yuke’s will continue its long-running association with the WWE 2K series.
“It is a project dear to our hearts and has even become a part of some of the veteran creators’ lives,” she said. “We have a huge history making these games and still have a good relationship with 2K. Anyhow, WWE would never allow us to stop making these games! However, the new project we have in mind will be the internal competition for WWE.”
“We are aware that our creators are beginning to lose sight of their passion and confidence and becoming focused only on completing assigned tasks. That’s not the direction Yuke’s wants to go in.”
Yuke’s plans ‘Breakthrough’ AR tech
The studio’s new wrestling IP could allow it to utilise its proprietary real-time motion capture technology, ALiS Zero, which has so far not been adapted for WWE 2K.
ALiS Zero has been created based on the developer’s experience making animations for the WWE 2K games, it said. Essentially, the technology uses AR cameras to render motion capture actor performances in real time.
So far Yuke’s has used ALiS Zero mainly to power a series of “AR live performances” in Japan, featuring anime characters performing on stage and interacting with a live audience.
However, producer Furuta claimed that if used for its wrestling game production, ALiS Zero could also save “tons of money” and man-months.
“We’ve spent years analysing how the human body moves and how to animate it, so it’s no wonder that our research has evolved into the AR space,” she said.
“[For game development] we could can save tons of money required for renting a motion capture studio, hiring actors and such. From a production standpoint, this system can certainly save a lot of man-months.
“For WWE, for example, motion capture is created by the wrestlers and/or actors, and then that data is cleaned up by a mocap studio before being sent to artists for further processing and fine-tuning.
“With ALiS Zero, the data is created on the spot, along with the motion capture, and submitted immediately,” she said.
“This new system does not require anyone to edit or process the data. It immediately creates data that can be implemented directly into the game. So yes, it can save a lot of man-hours, and a lot of time overall. We are confident that this is a huge breakthrough.”
Furuta confirmed that ALiS Zero is not actively being used for WWE 2K development, even though the studio would like to use it.
“Unfortunately, this specific technology hasn’t been adapted yet for WWE,” she said. “Yuke’s ultimately defers to 2K, as they are the publisher and they have the final call. However, I believe it will drastically change the efficiency of development. We would like to use it.”
The studio’s ambition for ALiS Zero is to create “something similar to [our AR performances] in the wrestling world, putting on a real-time esports event where the game characters appear ‘live’ via AR”, Furuta added.
“Then players could battle against each other ‘live’ via the AR space, with a real audience watching. I think this competitive element could be done with our technology and know-how.”