With a silver tongue and an iron fist, fighting game luminaries share their thoughts on the current state of the genre and where it's heading.
Katsuhiro Harada, Producer, Namco
Why do people enjoy fighting games?
Why do people play chess? Why do people compete in matches? Why do people fight at all? These are the bases for all games. You can't explain it in one word, but in the case of fighting games in particular, the process by which players learn how to control the character--and the sense of fulfillment they get the moment they first feel directly linked to their character and can start using strategies--is very similar to the process of learning and reaping the rewards of something in real life.
It's just one situation where happiness and pain go hand in hand. Fighting games allow you to experience the real-life event that all humans go through in a virtual world. In this system, the responses happening inside your brain aren't all that different from in real life.
When it comes to fighting games, aside from learning the controls, a lot of them require knowledge and experience. These kinds of games also require physical ability, like reflexes and mental prowess, to stay in control while under heat. There may be substantial gaps between players, but the fun and thrill that this process makes you feel is the highlight of the fighting game genre.
How important are nontraditional modes in fighting games, are they worth the time and resources spent on development, and what (if any) benefit do they bring fighting games and/or their community?
Whether or not something is "important" changes depending on the player's play style, values, and community surroundings. If a fighting game were only used as a fighting matchup tool, then these modes would not be necessary. However, drawing from previous examples, the gameplay available through Tekken Bowl and the Scenario Campaign has been widely supported by players. If it weren't, then the Tekken series obviously wouldn't have sold 40 million copies. At a glance, fighting games may seem like nothing more than a simple matchup tool, but that's actually a very narrow way of looking at them.
If a fighting game were only used as a fighting matchup tool, then these modes would not be necessary. However, the gameplay available through Tekken Bowl and the Scenario Campaign has been widely supported by players.I see that to a certain group of players, it's not a matchup tool, but a fighting-action game, where they derive a lot of pleasure from freely controlling the character. Rather, our players place a lot of importance on watching themselves improve along with the character, as well as the world setting and story. At the same time, however, it would be wrong of me to say that these same players don't value the matchup tool aspect of the game at all, either.
Take people who purchase Ferraris and Lamborghinis, for example. They're not all necessarily speed freaks or would participate in time attacks or car races. They may just appreciate the fine leather seats, exterior beauty, the sound of the engine, or just the opportunity to control a vehicle with amazing horsepower. They're not necessarily looking to compete against someone, but may just want to take the car out for a spin on some mountain roads, maybe try a few tight corners.
The satisfaction they get from learning how and being able to handle the car is important. They're not just going to racetracks to get serious; they may enjoy a colorful stretch of street where they can stop by a cafe on the way. A lot of our players are like this. But you still can't take away speed from a racecar.
Of course, not all of these examples pertain to fighting games, but they do share some common components. Fighting isn't the only way that a character can be enjoyed. It takes more elements than that. It's through those suggestions gathered over time that we came up with various modes. And it takes time and resources to make it happen.
Personally, I'm a big fan of FPS games, and I play them a lot, but if FPS games were just specialized for matchup tools, then I wouldn't be playing them as much. I feel that the scenario campaign modes, zombie modes, etc. all provide vital gameplay. Likewise, it's no good not having competitive modes, where you can headshot your opponent in a few milliseconds, and tournaments. Thus, what seems like a completely different gameplay is actually connected on several facets. So, it's not about being necessary or not--this isn't something that can be whittled down to 1s or 0s. If that were the case, then we'd be asking if it's necessary for humans to play video games at all.
Do you believe the fighting genre is at risk of imploding?
Let me first say that I've heard this exact same question when I first started making fighting games 17 years ago from certain types of reporters and customers. And on that note, in the 20 years since Street Fighter II went to Dash and then to Turbo, that same question has been going around the industry. Don't get me wrong, it's not that I'm fed up with this question. I'm just stating a fact. It really isn't a recent question, because some people were already asking that just two years after the first fighting game was created. This question could really apply to any game genre out there, but moving onů
One thing I can say for now, in regards to Tekken, is that after 17 years, each title has continually sold approximately 40 million for the series. And it has the biggest market share of the versus-fighting genre. Its market is worldwide, with the most units sold in Europe. And this isn't talking about the good old days. This is currently happening. Compare that to the number of hardware installed base, and you'll see that Tekken has consistently sold over the past 17 years. It's not very often that you'll find a game that consistently sells into the millions with every title. Tekken even outperforms games that people think will do well. It's important to remember that the market is worldwide.
In regards to the arcade version, it has more proceeds than the console version, and in the past five years, it's routinely kept the number one rank over the course of a month among the video game genre. That's between 2006 and 2011. We're not talking about the '90s here.
If the genre is imploding, then it imploded a long time ago already. Of course, it's tough to say that it's increasing. After all, you could say that this genre has a preference for a constant layer (albeit the numbers are still high). I agree with your assessment that these games aren't doing enough to attract new players to the genre. I always have that fear inside me. That's why we're always trying to add new modes and systems to Tekken. As the earlier numbers prove, that's what helps Tekken continue to sell, and has successfully transitioned through two generations of players. Please don't forget that this is purely objective numerical data and facts. We're trying just as hard for the upcoming Tekken Tag Tournament 2, but I'll get into that more in your next question.
How accommodating are fighting games for players who are new to the genre, and should fighting games be responsible for teaching concepts such as cross-ups and option-selects?
I see it a little differently. If a fighting game teaches players individual moves and basic combos well enough, then players should be able to quickly move on to learning these "theories."
Take, for example, the young generation who are quick at learning individual moves and combos. They have faster reflexes and are more aggressive. Once this generation masters the basics of individual moves and combos, they quickly learn the theories by themselves. Once they understand that they can link to the characters and they see that they can do it, they move on to the next step: wanting the knowledge to help them win. They go out in search of information, try it out, fail, adjust, and experience this with many other players.
This is just one example with the young generation, but if you try applying it across a wider range of players, it's difficult to say that every group of players has that same desire for information and knowledge for winning. It's likely that the reason for this is that fighting games aren't effectively teaching the basics that come before theories to the players. These theories are the final push for players who have cleared the basics.
In order to successfully make players seriously consider these theories, it's first important for them to be able to control the character and feel linked to them. But while this is important, we know from our own research that there are many players who give up in the middle of the process of learning the basics.
In fact, close to 60 percent of players feel some degree of stress and frustration, and they lose their motivation to continue learning the basic controls. These players who give up think that if they can control the character freely, then they want to try using strategies, but they can't learn the controls.
That's where we came up with the entertaining game mode called Fight Lab in TTT2. The basic concept was to make a mode that's fun for both beginners and experts of Tekken. But we have a few ways to do this. As you know, Practice mode was first introduced to fighting games with Tekken 2, but this mode is no longer for beginners. It's for advanced and tournament-level players.
Then what about Tutorial mode? At first glance, it appears to be for beginners, but do you really think that beginners will think, "Well, I'm a beginner, so I'd better master the tutorial"? Wouldn't they simply skip the tutorial thinking, "I've played before," or "I'm pretty good at these kinds of game already"? Is the tutorial actually being used like it's supposed to by the players? This is where I have my doubts. To put it bluntly, tutorial modes aren't really that much fun. It's human nature to want to skip ahead after studying the basics and doing some physical training to jump into the real competition. Even I sometimes skip warm-up exercises and jump right into the pool. But that's when you realize you're not prepared.
To put it bluntly, tutorial modes aren't really that much fun. It's human nature to want to skip ahead after studying the basics and doing some physical training to jump into the real competition. That's [why] we decided to rethink the concept of a tutorial.That's where we decided to rethink the concept of a tutorial. For example, I remember how a minigame like Tekken Bowl received the support from all sorts of gamers. Why, you ask? Because it was fun. Similarly, in Fight Lab, players can play all sorts of minigames in a story-driven setting. In the mode, the player must repair, teach, and raise a robot called Combot that was wrecked in the prologue and had its memory erased.
Some examples of the actions are dodging pieces of sushi that will come flying from offscreen, or tiny Kuma and Panda. Even as a simple action game, it looks fun and is reminiscent of a bonus stage of an action game from the past. And by the time you clear it, you've learned how to sidestep.
In another one, you have to punch Ganryu sumo wrestlers to make them inflate like a balloon from Tekken Bowl. The more you punch them in midair, the bigger they will inflate--until they pop! Sure it's amusing to see onscreen, but it's the perfect minigame for players to learn the concept of attacking in midair, and finding attacks that can effectively hit your opponent in midair.
Of course, that's not all. Once you clear the minigame and clear a chapter, the player earns customizable parts to alter the Combot's physical appearance. A list of the Combot's ultimate attacks also appears, from which the player can select a move to program into the robot's memory. Those of you with a strong imagination may have already figured this out, but by the time the player completes this mode, he'll have his very own original Combot--complete with its own unique appearance and attacks. For example, you can create an entirely new character that combines Paul's Smasher attack and King's Giant Swing attack!
In short, the original intention of this mode is to teach a Combot while playing fun minigames, but in the end the player is the one who learned! And that's not all. It's also a mode where you can create your own dream character. Advanced players may not need a tutorial mode, but in this mode, the minigames are fun, you can test your handle of the controls, and it serves as a measurement of your skills. Beyond that, it answers the dream of Tekken's core players for the ability to customize a character's moves, which can be done again and again.
Of course players can also bring their uniquely made Combot into online matches (this excludes Ranking Matches because you don't know what moves a Combot has, which would be unfair). You can have loads of fun fighting with it among your friends and test whose Combot is the strongest or best. That's how we're designing the Fight Lab to be both fun and important to both beginner and experienced players. If they can experience the fun of controlling a character and the process of improvement, then we can at least say that this would increase the number of players who can move to the next step.
Most fighting games follow a cycle of training and then playing competitively. Can a fighting game break this cycle and still be considered a fighting game? What will it take to realize the fighting game equivalent of a Portal or Fallout 3?
The basic gameplay of an FPS is to aim your crosshair--plain and simple. For that reason, if you're going to say that as long as you're aiming in first-person, then that makes an FPS, then your logic is right. But there are also people who recognize the strong puzzle elements of Portal, or that Fallout is practically an RPG. Coming from someone who has played high-end computer FPS games since the days of Doom, I can personally say that I don't think the FPS genre is strictly confined to competitive titles. Naturally, because the competitive element is summarized by the aiming element that I brought up earlier, the genre is very good at allowing anyone to play with minimal effort, and there was a time when everyone played for the competitive element.
But the competitiveness in an FPS is concentrated on the aiming, which is simple, thereby resulting in a lot of similar titles. The biggest change in FPS games was the addition of scenario campaign modes (story mode) that allowed players to feel and experience what they do in films and dramas. The presentation and story development, in the form of an interactive script system and engine, bolstered the genre, ultimately gaining the attention of a wider audience. If it weren't for that, then clearly we wouldn't have so many players playing them today.
It's doubtful that you can apply this same concept to all fighting games. The gameplay structure is completely different, as are the appealing elements. Tekken Force, Tekken Bowl, and Scenario Campaign just don't fit into the "cycle" you talk about. Besides, this cycle of gameplay varies to a degree from player to player. The difference in audience can be attributed to the hardcore aspects of fighting games. Players relentlessly fight for victory in individual matches where there is ultimately a loser. It's this kind of severity that makes those who choose this genre a little less widespread than FPS players.
The Tekken arcade systems in Japan, the rest of Asia, and Oceania are all connected to a system called Tekken Net. The player's cell phone, arcade cabinet, and game ID card are all linked, giving them a sense of competing on a team, rather than individual, asynchronous play, and moving towards different goals, in addition to playing individually. This isn't head-to-head gameplay like in tournaments or online. Of course we're trying to re-create something similar to this in the console version of TTT2, as well. Then again, as I mentioned in my earlier comments about racecars, you can't completely deny the competitive aspect, either.
Why do fighting games need to evolve?
This isn't exactly an answer, but it feels like you're asking this in order to prove a theory that you have. You seem to be asking this question with the assumption that we all have a sense that we need to evolve. I understand what you mean, and how you feel. In fact, I often have the same thoughts, too. Coming from someone with 17 years of fighting game development, the question I want to ask is, "Is evolution the same thing as change?" If a customer with expensive tastes said that he wanted to try a fine wine, I wouldn't hand him my favorite brand of tequila.
If you change the core element of a game, it may cease being a fighting game altogether. Some people may pop up claiming that this newly evolved form is the new face of fighting games, but then what is the definition of a fighting game? What is the definition of evolution? If our views differ on this, then of course we'll have vastly different answers.
Take Diablo III, for example. I'm eagerly anticipating the game's release, but if it turned into a casual jump-action game where players don't feel the fear of death, and the agonizing item-search element were reduced, then I'd consider it a disappointment. Fortunately, Diablo III hasn't altered its core gameplay, which is why I've already preordered it and am waiting for the release. As long as the core gameplay hasn't deviated severely and actually provides more enjoyment, then I would consider that evolution. What you seem to be asking is whether Tekken can reach out to casual gamers. I agree that it's a valid concern, one that we constantly face.
However, I can say this. The seriousness of one-on-one fighting and constant struggle to overcome loss, the fun of competition, and the pleasure, fame, and accomplishment that you gain after an arduous journey--the various emotions you go through during a fight is hard to find in other genres, and it's only achievable thanks to the above elements. This is really unique among fighting games. Such a rare genre exists in this world. You can recognize your own abilities through fighting games, and the lessons you learn you can't get elsewhere. It's different from passive entertainment. I think that we need this kind of genre.
I want people to experience this, which is similar to life. That's why we have to keep trying hard and evolving. So I hope that you take note of our efforts, what we're doing, and track record that backs it up.