Evolution of Art, Animation & Expanding Character Diversity on “Next-Gen” Consoles
The end of this past year brought more of our efforts to fruition with the successful release of another WWE title, WWE 2K16.
WWE has had a long, renowned history of publishing video games over the decades. Starting way back in the ’80s, their video games have been around nearly as long as consoles have existed. (For a deeper look into WWE’s History of Video Games, check out these great retrospectives. ) Very retro indeed, but it’s come a long way from the days of 8-bit graphics.
WWE 2K16 is the 2nd title released on “Next-Gen”, or 8th Generation, consoles (Xbox One, PS4). Both, WWE 2K15 & WWE 2K16, showcase the latest technological advancements and aesthetic improvements that I’ve been so heavily involved in developing since my inception with the R&D team at Yuke’s LA, in 2013.
And it’s definitely not Yuke’s first rodeo either. This is the 17th consecutive WWE title developed by Yuke’s over the last 16 strong standing years with the WWE franchise and licensed publishers. Making it the longest-running annual combat game series.
In anticipation of Next-Gen consoles, I joined the team to help lead and implement new character art and rigging initiatives for production on the new platforms that were just around the corner. As you might imagine from the impressive longevity of this video game, we saw our share of it’s “legacy”. Obviously the days of 8-bit had long past, but the assets were still very far away from reaching their potential, especially regarding next-gen quality. A major overhaul of the character architecture was underway…
2K Games had just acquired the publishing rights  for the series from the recently defunct THQ , so we had access to some of the same cool, new photogrammetry technology being utilized by Visual Concepts for their NBA game.
Ultra high resolution facial expressions & full body scans captured by Pixelgun Studio.
…and btw, they even do house calls. Their photogrammetry camera rig is mobile!
The introduction of photogrammetry marked an epoch in the evolution of the series as well as the industry…
This technology has driven enhancements to the superstar characters and in game animations to higher levels of fidelity and quality; and has reshaped the content creation process.
“…full body scans of all of the WWE Superstars for WWE 2K15, as well as 50 days worth of motion capture data, and it shows.” – MetalArcade.net
“…a huge visual leap for the series, with incredibly realistic graphics that look to perfectly replicate the likenesses of the John Cena, Randy Orton…” – Paul Tamburro at craveonline.com
Improvements to WWE 2K16 are iteratively based on the foundation developed for the previous release, and better streamlined for an very expansive roster.
“The roster is, quite frankly, nuts.” – IGN 
With more than 120 unique character models, WWE 2K16 has the largest roster of wrestling superstars in franchise history. Nearly doubling last year’s total. #wwe2k16LargestRosterEver
WWE 2K16 Screenshots
WWE 2K16 Trailer
Check out an in-game footage trailer of the latest release for this long standing franchise below…and find more at WWE 2K.
“The world as we have created it is a process of our thinking. It cannot be changed without changing our thinking.” – Albert Einstein
As this new data and technology have made it’s way into video game production, the major challenges haven’t only been about the technical aspects of implementing them (film & VFX studios have already been using this and similar technology for years now ), but also in regards to;
- content creation’s understanding of this paradigm shift, lowering iteration time, and escaping “legacy” thinking…
- The challenge of lowering iteration time between content creation and final in-game implementation, isn’t anything new, although it has been compounded with the introduction and complexity of this new data, as more time and resources went to reshaping and adapting the character animation pipeline.
- The feedback loop for iterating animations has also grown to also include more involvement and effort from the character artists, even creating the need for a specific skill-set of artists to help create and manage the largest amounts of assets involved. (For example, Ready at Dawn is currently seeking a Character Blendshape Artist for exactly these purposes.)
- Legacy thinking: “Innovation means not only generating new ideas, but escaping from obsolete ones as well.”
- budgeting  cost/time for implementing this new data into an evolving pipeline that suits the needs of each game and studio.
- As a result, more studios have found the benefit of adopting 3rd party solutions (such as Faceware for Facial Performance Capture) as a cost-effective means for adapting to the increasing demands and graphic capabilities of the latest consoles.
A slightly similar tune to the advent of the former generation of technology and consoles. Yet, here we are again…comprehending and implementing the constant flow of change…
“You never change things by fighting the existing reality. To change something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete.” – R. Buckminster Fuller
To which I might add, “be resourceful”. Don’t reinvent a wheel when you can refine it. This doesn’t mean you’ll be any less innovative, and it’s likely to make an easier transition into the new.
In future posts, I hope to discuss these aspects in more depth; techniques that worked, those that didn’t, overcoming limitations, ideas / suggestions for improvements, and share a few tools & tips for content creation and production pipelines.
What would you say has been the most challenging aspects of content creation or development with new technology in your experience?
References [ + ]
|1.||↑||WWE 2K16 Review – gamesradar.com|
|2.||↑||WWE’s History of Video Games – wwe.com|
|3.||↑||A Complete History of WWE Games: Past, Present and Future – craveonline.com|
|4.||↑||History of – WWF/WWE Video Games (1987 – 2016) on YouTube|
|5.||↑||Eighth Generation of video game consoles|
|6.||↑||longest-running annual combat game series – Guinness World Records Gamer’s Edition 2015|
|7.||↑||“Take-Two Interactive today confirmed that 2K had entered into an exclusive, multi-year licensing agreement with WWE for games to be developed by Yuke’s.” – GameSpot|
|8.||↑||“Today, THQ was officially sold and auctioned off. Within the next few weeks, the struggling video game publisher will be no more.” – Kotaku|
|9.||↑||“We’ve captured talent in their homes, hotels and offices, on movie sets, at athletic facilities, and inside our state of the art mobile capture rig. We can be wherever you need us to be. We’ve completed full sets of both face and body capture in under 5 minutes. If your talent has only a small window of time, we’ve got you covered” – Pixelgen Studio|
|10.||↑||“…full body scans of all of the WWE Superstars for WWE 2K15, as well as 50 days worth of motion capture data, and it shows.” – WWE 2K15 / WWE 2K14 Graphics Comparison – Randy Orton (metalarcade.net)|
|11.||↑||“…a huge visual leap for the series, with incredibly realistic graphics that look to perfectly replicate the likenesses of the John Cena, Randy Orton…” – Paul Tamburro at craveonline.com|
|12.||↑||For further comparisons > WWE 2K14 Entrances ⇒ WWE 2K15 Entrances | WWE 2K14 Screenshots ⇒ WWE 2K15 Screenshots|
|13.||↑||WWE 2K16 Review: WWE 2K16’s in-ring action exemplifies excellence in execution. – IGN|
|14.||↑||See the full WWE 2K16 roster – wwe.com|
|15.||↑||#wwe2k16LargestRosterEver – instagram|
|16.||↑||“Instead of spending huge amounts of time painting human characters, VFX studios started to use 3D facial and body scanning services in the nineties to create digital doubles for movie actors.” – 3D Scanning for Video Games by graphinesoftware.com|
|17.||↑||“…a strong understanding of the content creation process for blendshape rigs. As the Character Blendshape Artist is responsible for working very closely with the rigging department to create clean, efficient, and highly polished facial rigs…” – Character Blendshape Artist « Ready At Dawn|
|18.||↑||“2K admitted that rebuilding the core gameplay and transitioning into the new console took a lot of time. However, they are in a “better position than ever” going forward and will keep taking feedback.” – 2K talks Hulk Hogan DLC possibility, MyCareer glitch and lack of content criticism in WWE 2K15|
|19.||↑||“…the latest developments in character animation have been truly significant. A new, more accessible world of capturing nuanced facial expressions has come to the forefront with companies like FaceShift and ImageMetrics…” – Advances In Facial Animation Will Increase Communication and Creativity|