Q&A with 2K Sports gameplay director and IU alumnus Mike Wang


Class of 1996 IU alumnus Mike Wang poses for a headshot. Wang is the gameplay director for the NBA 2K series at Visual Concepts and 2K Sports. Courtesy Photo

Mike Wang is the gameplay director for the NBA 2K series at Visual Concepts and 2K Sports. A 1996 graduate of IU, Wang has spent the last 18 years in the video game industry and worked on games in both the NBA 2K and NBA Live series. IDS reporter Patrick Felts interviewed Wang.

Felts: How long have the next-gen versions of NBA 2K21 been in development for?

Wang: Portions of the game engine have been in development for the past couple of years, but the bulk of the engineering began when we received the development kits from Sony and Microsoft in late 2019.

How impressive do you think the visual upgrade is?

I’m always impressed with our art team and how they’re able to set the bar for sports games visuals. The details of the skin, hair and eyes are especially impressive and lighting has made a huge jump with next-gen. As a huge fan of the NBA, I love seeing all the small details come to life, right down to the freckles of the players.  I think visually, it’ll be one of the most impressive titles of this console launch, not just in sports but across all genres.

Should fans expect new features and modes or a similar experience to the core game on current-gen consoles?

I can’t disclose anything about that yet. But the features and modes that our fans have come to love on current-gen will be returning with a host of new things to enjoy as well.

What are your thoughts on the new shot meter in NBA 2K21?

In general, the shot meter is a great learning tool and feedback system, especially for those who are new to 2K basketball. I always encourage veteran players to turn it off if they want to maximize their boosts though. With next-gen, we’ve made some tweaks to the shot meter art based on fan feedback that makes it much easier to “read” and understand why shots are made and missed.

What is your favorite new addition to the game?

There’s way too many to name and my favorite addition I can’t really talk about yet. On the gameplay side, my favorite upgrade is movement. I think player motion feels and looks much better than it ever has before, both dribbling and on defense.

What can fans expect going forward from the series?

We have a lot of great things planned for the 2K series, from gameplay enhancements to new modes and features. And we also have a very active community that we listen to daily who always send us great wish lists. So there’s never a shortage of ideas, it’s just a matter of when they can get in based on our schedule and time constraints.

What is your main goal when making a game?

There are so many goals that we pursue every year in developing NBA 2K. Being the most accurate sports simulation and making the most fully featured sports game on the planet are two big ones. But at the end of the day, our main goal is to entertain our fans. We know our fans expect a lot from us, and we expect a lot from ourselves. So that drives us to push as hard as we can to make the most feature rich and enjoyable game possible. So whether you’re brand new to the series or have been playing for 20 years, our goal is to make a product that everyone can enjoy.

What sets NBA 2K apart from the rest of the sports games on the market?

I’d probably say the thing that sets us apart is just how huge NBA 2K has become. There are so many modes and so many different ways to enjoy NBA 2K, there really is just so much value in the product. It’s almost like having five or six games in one. And of course, as the gameplay director I’m going to say 2K also has the best gameplay of any sports game, but I might be a bit biased there.

What is your dream feature to add to NBA 2K?

I have a few but will respectfully decline to answer so no one can steal my ideas.

What have you learned from your years in the industry?

Between the constantly evolving technology and trying to assess community feedback, I feel like I’m learning something new every day. But one lesson I’ve learned over the years is that you have to keep pushing and you have to keep innovating, especially in the sports gaming genre. The tough thing about sports games is that the target is known, you can flip on the TV and watch a basketball game or go outside and play hoops in real life.

So the tough part of designing a sports game is how to translate those things onto a virtual court in a way that’s challenging and fun. So I’m constantly trying to think of new ways to make the game interesting for our consumers and keep 2K basketball fresh. Not everything pans out the way you want it to. Some ideas that I thought would be great ended up falling flat with gamers. But pushing the envelope and trying new game mechanics/features is how 2K has grown into the behemoth that it is. So it’s something that we’re going to continue to do as a dev team.

Any word on the NFL partnership announced earlier this year?

Sorry, can’t comment on that one.

After colleges were in MyCareer in 2K16, has there been any desire to dip your toes back in on college basketball, either in NBA 2K or reviving the College Hoops series?

We’re always looking to expand our involvement of college basketball within the NBA product, and that’s something you’ll notice with NBA 2K21. We’ll see what the future holds, but personally, I’d love to see the College Hoops series make its return to the 2K product line. Maybe one day. Go Hoosiers!

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