سه‌شنبه, سپتامبر 26, 2023
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Tekken 8 Director And Producer Discuss Making A Console-First Entry In The Series

Bandai Namco’s Tekken is one of the longest running fighting game franchises and has gone from strength to strength with every iteration. Its last entry, Tekken 7, proved to be massively popular worldwide, igniting the competitive spirit in seasoned fighting game players, and stoking the curiosity of newcomers with an interest in learning.

Eight years since its release, Tekken 7 has maintained its popularity, which makes the prospect of making a sequel daunting. And yet, a sequel is indeed on the way, with Tekken 8 being announced in September 2022. How does the team behind one of the most successful fighting games of the last few years approach clearing the table and doing it all over again? We asked longtime Tekken creator and director Katsuhiro Harada and producer Michael Murray about exactly that, as well as their take on the current state of the fighting game genre.

Bandai Namco’s Tekken is one of the longest running fighting game franchises and has gone from strength to strength with every iteration. Its last entry, Tekken 7, proved to be massively popular worldwide, igniting the competitive spirit in seasoned fighting game players, and stoking the curiosity of newcomers with an interest in learning.

Eight years since its release, Tekken 7 has maintained its popularity, which makes the prospect of making a sequel daunting. And yet, a sequel is indeed on the way, with Tekken 8 being announced in September 2022. How does the team behind one of the most successful fighting games of the last few years approach clearing the table and doing it all over again? We asked longtime Tekken creator and director Katsuhiro Harada and producer Michael Murray about exactly that, as well as their take on the current state of the fighting game genre.

What is the starting point for a new Tekken when the previous one has been so successful? How do you approach making a new one knowing that you’ve basically struck gold with the previous one?

There’s so much to think about making a new game, as you said, when Tekken 7 is so successful, but if we have to pick a starting point for the conversation, it’s probably the fact that it’s the first time we’ve ever released a game first on console rather than the arcade iterations. So that in itself is a huge challenge for us in the way that we make the game, but a huge benefit for the players because everyone around the world gets the game at the same time.

For people who don’t have the context of why arcade release is important or historically why arcade releases have come first, why is that such a big deal?

So the series has been around for almost 30 years and the arcade version always came out first and then the console, and as you said, many people are playing now from Tekken 7, so they didn’t really realize what it used to be back in that day. When [Tekken] made its way to the console, it had so many extra modes and content and things to do outside of the main battle portion of the game. And Tekken was probably the first fighting game to do that.

Now everyone is used to having a story mode or other modes of play, but back in the day, Tekken was the first one to do that. And not just a story–we had the Tekken Force or the bowling, so that even if you are not a very good fighting game player, you still have a lot of stuff to play by yourself. You don’t have to always have an opponent to play the game and enjoy it.

Back in the day, we would make the arcade version where we were able to first focus on fine-tuning the main portion of the game of battle [gameplay] and the characters and the moves and all that is entailed there. And then after getting that done and having it ready, we would move on to the console content I just described. But this time, since it’s one package on console from the start, all of that has to be done in one integration. So the amount of money, people, and time that takes compared to the old way we used to do things is so much more intense.

How much of that is a reflection of the state of arcades in Japan and what do you lose by not being able to go to a location and see the people playing?

We grew up with arcades and were fortunate to be able to experience that. For many people at the time, it [was] a good place to just go by yourself but then be able to connect with other people in the community–[to] surround yourself with the game that you enjoy. For us it was a really important part of the gaming culture, but it’s hard to say why they disappeared or started to disappear. [Japan’s arcades], like you said, although later, are pretty much on the same trajectory as the West. Did something particular cause that like COVID or lockdown or something? Maybe a little bit. But Harada was just saying that he feels just the times have changed of what people need in their life.

The amount of time everyone is on their cell phone or watching Netflix at home just because now they’re able to do more stuff when they couldn’t before has changed. So maybe they stopped going to the arcade as much as they used to. So it’s not like any one thing that may cause this to occur, it’s just that the way people live now is different in what they choose to spend their time on.

That said, we are trying to find a way to, how would you say… We haven’t announced everything about the game yet, but inside of Tekken we’re trying to find a way to address those needs of the current generation and how they want to play games. It’s something we wanted to do with the game, so maybe later we’ll talk more about it.

Those location tests based in arcades were also a good way for you to gather information on the game. Now, does that mean that the online community is, by necessity, the stand-in for that? And then how much does their input change the way you play the game? We’ve already seen the Heat meter change based on feedback.

The way we receive feedback currently [is not only by] having the online tests that we’re doing like the currently closed network tests, but also being able to have hands-on opportunities where people can actually play the game and we can see them playing is a very viable method of gathering data. You have to test early on to make sure functionality works and everything because that’s something that’s so important nowadays. And it’s not just Tekken, any game that’s online pretty much does that same way testing, but also gathering feedback.

Going back to the location tests, there’s an image that’s where all of the game balancing was done. But at that point the game balancing was pretty much locked in and it was more about testing the income, so how many play times, how much money did you get in that certain day… Not just to make a financial decision–it’s also a good way of measuring if the game is hot, I guess you would say. So if the income isn’t that great, then you can tell maybe your game needs more work, but also it’s more of a B2B because the arcades and the other people who are buying the machines themselves look at that to decide whether they’re going to purchase it for their particular arcade. So if the income isn’t high enough, you’re not going to be able to get everyone to buy the game, and you can go back to the drawing board. There is a little bit of feedback taken at the time, but there isn’t a whole lot of time between the location test and actual release of the game to actually make a lot of fine-tuning of the game itself. So it’s either like, “Okay, it works, let’s go full stand ahead,” or, “No, it’s not that good, we need to go back to the drawing board.”

Tekken 7 is still hot in a lot of ways, so from your perspective, as people who make the games and also have to make business decisions around games, how do you decide when the right moment for Tekken 8 is?

As you said, Tekken 7 is still going strong. The monthly active users continues to increase, which is quite surprising. And even if you look at eSports, the viewership goes up every year and even the number of people participating in the tournaments goes up. Like you said, it’s hard to judge the exact timing of when to move on to a new one. Originally we were thinking, for Tekken 7, maybe there’s a season two and that’s when we would go to the next one. But since people are investing so much time and money into Tekken 7 and learning the system and intricacies and competitive nature of it, there has been a lot of feedback that they wanted to continue to see more with Tekken 7. And so we just gradually we’re kind of doing a temperature check with them and they keep saying they want more of Tekken 7.

We tried to answer those requests in a way. But it’s a fine balance there that at some point people want a brand new game and you just have to look closely at the weighting of that. I play Payday 2, so I am like, “I love this game, I want to play it forever.” And then you get to about the sixth year or so and maybe around the seventh it’s like, “Okay, I think I’m ready for a new experience.” And so there is that feeling, it’s kind of similar to Tekken 7.

There’s been periods where fighting games haven’t been as popular, but Tekken’s always been consistent. It’s always been there, it’s been the foundation of the genre, always keeping it alive. And now it feels like the genre itself has more permanency. Do you feel like the fighting game genre is still a bubble that might burst at some point and we’ll have another phase where it’s low-key, or do you think it’s here to stay? This year we’ve got a new Tekken, Mortal Kombat, and Street Fighter. Are fighting games now recession-proof, for want of a better phrase?

Harada: So that’s a question that gets asked occasionally and so I’ve had a lot of time to think about it and it’s probably got to do with the image of Street Fighter 2 being so huge at that time that it appeared to be, as you said, not a bubble or anything like that, but it was a thing. And I think what you’re getting at is if something is just so popular and everyone’s doing it, maybe you feel like it’s got to come down sometime. So maybe that image was there with Street Fighter, but if you compare it to a puzzle game or something, I don’t know if it’s ever been like, “Oh, everyone’s playing puzzle games”–it’s just been around so long that people have been playing it continuously. So everyone knows that it’s a genre that’s not going away.

Fighting games have been around for a quarter-century, and so it might seem like there’s been ups and downs, but as a genre it’s been so long that we’ve continued to have a fan base, not just for Tekken. But in general as a genre it’s here to stay–I think that it maintains a certain level of popularity. In Japan, there was a ski fad where everyone was into skiing at one point. Even though that kind of settled down a little bit, [there was still] quite a large population of people who skied. It never went away, it’s still in the Olympics. Skis and equipment are still being sold everywhere. So it’s kind of like that–we don’t feel it’s going to ever dip down drastically. It’s here to stay.

But one interesting thing is we were talking about fighting games as a whole. But if you look at 3D fighting games–and to make a distinction here, since even 2D games now have 3D character models, we’re talking about having coordinates on a 3D playing area–Tekken’s probably the only one that continues to keep having updates and new installments. So that’s kind of an interesting thing to look at in the genre as a whole.

Do you feel a responsibility to keep that side of the genre healthy? You are custodians of two of the biggest 3D fighting franchises in Tekken and SoulCalibur.

So the short answer is no, not necessarily. It’s just that when you look at 3D fighting games, they’re so difficult to make. [There are] indie developers making all kinds of other genres like first person shooters, even fighting games there’s some but they usually only create the 2D fighting games. 3D fighting games just require so much technology and knowledge very specific to that category, and we’re not even the custodians of 3D fighters, it’s like we’re making Tekken and Tekken is kind of its own thing. We have the know-how and expertise to continue to create this, and people are still wanting to play Tekken so we feel a responsibility in that manner to continue to answer the needs of the players who want Tekken. But it’s not like we have a torch and think, “Oh, we need to keep 3D fighting games alive” or anything like that.

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