Let's talk about wrestling. No, not the stuff you see in the olympics. I'm talking about that dramatic ring opera on cable, which, conveniently, tends to make for a pretty awesome video game. The folks at Yuke's Co know what it takes to make an enthralling WWE game, but with annual releases and a large, demanding fanbase, it's a tough ask to continually improve and evolve.
WWE 2K14 creative director Cory Ledesma knows this better than anyone. He's been working on WWE video games for more than a decade, and leads a passionate team of designers hellbent on transforming the television spectacle into a gaming experience equally as exhilarating.
"Each year it's always a question of how we can make it better and how could we deliver more," he tells me. This year in particularly brings with it new challenges. In February, publisher THQ declared chapter 11 bankruptcy, selling off its assets, including the rights to the WWE games. Grand Theft Auto maker Take-Two Interactive snapped up the rights, with all future WWE games to be published under the 2K Sports banner (publisher of NBA 2K14). With a change in publisher came a change in vision, something Ledesma says was great for the franchise.
"The culture at [2K Sports] is all about product quality and authenticity. That's what they preach and that's what they focus on," he says. "As soon as we joined up with the team, that's what our focus was and that's what their team does every year: how can we elevate product quality, how can we push authenticity to make it seem like you're watching WWE right on your television in your living room?"
The big challenge, according to Ledesma, was not necessarily taking on 2K Sports' perfectionist culture that, it seems, was the easy part but rather to bring the presentation of the WWE spectacle to the video games, something he believes was missing in previous years.
Fan favourite The Rock returns in WWE 2K14.Image: 2K Sports
"The video game is an extension of the WWE experience, and we pride ourselves on being that extensive and being truly authentic," he says. "I think it's the perfect marriage."
When word came through that the WWE games brand had been snapped up by 2K Sports, many saw it as a good thing. The publisher is, after all, behind the acclaimed NBA 2K14 series, which appears to go from strength to strength, year on year.
However, the diehard WWE fan was skeptical, and soon the uncertainty would rise through the community: was the WWE experience everyone had come to love going to change?
"The core direction and vision has remained consistent," Ledesema reassures me. "One of the reasons why 2K was interested in the franchise was because it's been a long-running and successful franchise. So their approach is, 'How can we help you to make it even better?' So it's really building on top of the successes that we've had in the past and really incorporating the visions that 2K has for their sports products, and carrying that over to the WWE brand."
Ledesma and his team have been on the promotional trail for a few weeks now. With release only a few weeks away it lands October 31 the finishing touches are being added, and wrestling fans the world over are preparing for 2K Sports' WWE vision.
"We wanted players to experience the best matches in wrestling history," says Ledesma. This philosophy is driving WWEK 2K14's new direction: an ode to the past, and a love for the classics. But in bringing the iconic WWE matches from the television screen to a virtual environment, there needs to be an elevation of presentation.
"We identified the big matches and just built on that," he explains. "We felt there was a lot to be desired on the presentation standpoint. While we always thought the presentation was solid, WWE is just a phenomenal production when you go to an event. They do a great job of presentation with storytelling, and one thing we do for inspiration is look to them for guidance."
WWE 2K14 celebrates 30 years of Wrestlemania.Image: 2K Sports
The new 30 Years of Wrestlemania Mode is just as big as it sounds, and it comes at a crossroad for the WWE game series, a time of cultural change, and an unbridled focus on authenticity and honour.
"All the things we knew going into the mode was that we were going to be retelling the most important matches in WWE history," he tells me. "So doing those matches justice, choosing the right matches, matches everyone would agree would be the best matches in Wrestlemania history, making sure we add all of the legends that we needed. It was really a daunting task.
"But what we were really up for is the challenge, because we felt really comfortable that we were going to be able to do it. We were able to overcome most of the challenges and deliver a great experience, I think."
It would be hard as a wrestling fan to not take comfort in that, knowing the people behind the video game of your beloved sport are so close with the people that make it special. "What's so good about an annual franchise like this is being able to acknowledge your mistakes, acknowledge what you don't do so well, and improve on your failures.
"We've got WWE support, and they give us whatever is needed to make it as authentic as possible."
We'll soon get our chance to relive those historic battles, which will hopefully herald a new generation of WWE games.
WWE 2K14 is out October 31 on Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3.