The Legendary Man Who Gave Birth to the Fighting Game Genre With “Street Fighter 2,” Nishitani Akira, And Why He Is Betting His Company ARIKA’s Future on FIGHTING EX LAYER. [Interviewer: Tekken’s Harada Katsuhiro]
“When did you start playing fighting games?”–When asked this question, a great number of gamers respond with “Street Fighter 2 in 1991.” Since then, countless fighting games have been released. But the genre’s format had already been nearly perfected by SF2.
The degree of perfection achieved by SF2 brought on a fighting game boom, which no doubt led to the popularity of fighting games today. The one in charge of SF2 was none other than the legendary creator–Nishitani Akira. Also known for giving birth to Final Fight, he later left Capcom and formed his own company, ARIKA, which released multiple titles such as Street Fighter EX (1996) and Fighting Layer (1998).
On April 1st, 2017, which happened to be April Fool’s, Nishitani and ARIKA unveiled an unnamed game they called “The Mysterious Fighting Game.”
At the time of the announcement, no one knew whether this was simply an April Fool’s joke or if they really intended to release it. But in the trailer, Kairi, Garuda, and Hokuto appeared and there were many signs that the game was connected to the Street Fighter EX series.
And then came July. In Las Vegas, America: at the world’s largest fighting game tournament, Evolution 2017, they exhibited a playable version of “The Mysterious Fighting Game.” On this grand stage, they announced that the game was currently in development on Playstation 4 as well as revealing the EX characters Skullomania and Darun to a roaring crowd. From that roaring crowd, the excitement and hope that “The man who gave birth to fighting games, THAT Nishitani, has returned,” was even written about by foreign journalists.
It goes without saying, but the amount of influence that SF2 had on the fighting games that came after it is immeasurable. Tekken, Virtua Fighter, The King Of Fighters, and so on; all of these series would not exist if it wasn’t for SF2. The man known for leading Tekken, Bandai Namco’s Harada Katsuhiro, was also of the generation that grew up experiencing the SF2 boom firsthand.
For Nishitani, who is returning to world of fighting games, what thought process gave birth to SF2, and how does he view the fighting games that came after? What kind of thoughts and ideas is he putting into the game he is currently developing? Along with Harada, who asserts that Nishitani is a “genius,” we decided to ask about the circumstances surrounding SF2 as well as his new game from Nishitani himself.
This interview took place on November 16th, 2017–and by coincidence, that was the day where they announced the official title for “The Mysterious Fighting Game” – FIGHTING EX LAYER.
Interviewers- Harada Katsuhiro/TAITAI
In The Early 90s, Nishitani Himself Discovered What Was Needed In Fighting Games
-Before we move on to FIGHTING EX LAYER, first I would like to ask about “Nishitani’s greatness as seen from Harada.” You often speak about Nishitani as a “genius,” right? What do you mean by this?
Harada: For me, my start with the action game genre began with Double Dragon (1987), which then became mainstream with Final Fight (1989), but it was Street Fighter 2 (1991) that came out and truly sent shockwaves.
I’m sure there were a lot of other people involved besides Nishitani, but this game was “Head to Head”– in other words, by using the premise of a Character vs Character game, they didn’t create a new title, but instead gave birth to a new genre. It was truly amazing. That is why I call Nishitani a genius.
-I see. What makes Street Fighter 2 so amazing is how it showed up at that time in such a complete form that it became the basis for fighting games even today. Nishitani, how were you able to take the general knowledge of Action Games at the time and come up with the concept for SF2?
Nishitani: When making SF2, the theme at the time was “How do we take the original Street Fighter and modernize it?” So we decided to use the experience we gained from making Final Fight and started building the game from there.
This may sound a little rude, but games at that time had a lot of things about them that were “not properly made.” *laughs* We started by investigating those things, then we began brainstorming about “What feels good?” and “What actually makes something fun?”
-For example, what kind of things did you investigate?
Nishitani: To get specific, things like fixing the way hitboxes worked. If you look closely at action games at the time, it was often the case where if a player hits an enemy with an attack, the attack’s hitbox would disappear. By doing this, it made it easier for the game to process, but it created stressful situations for the player when multiple enemies were on the screen and attacks could only hit one enemy at a time. There were also cases where the the game would group together cases of “enemies getting hit” with “the player attacked.” While this made it very convenient for the game engine, I really hated things like that.
-That is strange.
Nishitani: Yes, the first time I thought we should fix this was when we were making Final Fight. This is a bit specific, but when we tried to make it so that attack hitboxes would hit other enemies even after hitting the first enemy, we ran into problems because the enemy that got hit on the first frame would again get hit on the second frame. In order to fix this, we made it so the attacks “remembered” which enemies they had already hit.
We also wanted players to be able to hit the same enemy multiple times, so we designed a system specifically for that. And although this wasn’t what we ended up using in SF2, we fixed the lazy attack input timing found in other games and made it precise.
-You really studied the negative aspects that players resigned themselves to thinking was “just part of the game.” From there, you were able to find out what “felt good.”
Harada: It’s really amazing how you went through piece by piece, destroying and rebuilding such specific areas. But shouldn’t we have had this discussion 10 years ago? It’s an old story, I feel like the youth right now must be thinking, “what the hell are these guys talking about?”
Nishitani: I’m sure that’s how it looks to the newer generations. *laughs*
-But on the other hand, going back and reading various old interviews of Nishitani, you often said things like, “This felt better so we went with it,” showing that you valued “feeling” more than “reason.”
Nishitani: The most important thing certainly is whether or not something feels good. I feel like I am more of a theoretical type, but since I tend to get too caught up in my theories and ideas, I am constantly scolding myself. If you make a game with just your ideas, then the end product will be stiff. Therefore, as much as possible, I place priority on sensations like “fun” and “feeling” when making games.
When talking about old games, sure they were interesting, but many of them were just made simply out of an idea; I wanted to make them more fun. That part is also what I’m referring to when I say I wanted to “fix” games.
–For example, what is a title that was “just made out of an idea?”
Nishitani: It’s too old, but games like Qix (1981).
Harada: You really brought up an old game. *laughs*
Nishitani: I like that game, but many parts are just made from ideas; if one modernized that game, I’m sure they could make it feel different. There was also Volfied (1989), that game became much more welcoming.
Harada: Also, many games back then were designed to capture the players interest in the first 3 minutes, then crank up the difficulty so they had to input another 100 yen coin to keep playing.
Nishitani: I also played a lot of games in the arcade, but speaking from a company standpoint, at the end of the day, we didn’t want people playing for more than 3 minutes on just 100 yen. So we often thought “How can we make the players consent to getting a Game Over?”
Harada: SF2 was really amazing. With just 100 yen, you could play forever as long as you won.
Nishitani: Yes, even though players could play longer the stronger they became, the speed at which money was spent at arcades also went up.
Harada: There are stories about how one side of a head-to-head setup would only have a few hundred yen in it, while the other side would have more than ten-thousand.
Nishitani: At that time, a lot of the old shooting games were still around; those games you could pretty much play forever on one credit if you were good enough. There were a lot of games like that, and arcades were having trouble trying to earn money, so fighting games really were critical to bringing life to arcades.
-It’s certainly true that there were few games that made both the players and the arcade happy back in the day.
Harada: I thought that the Time Attack mode in driving games was really amazing. I mean, there were countless players putting everything they had into “Finishing the game as fast as possible.”
Nishitani: That’s right, I thought the same thing.
Harada: So then after the Time Attack came fighting games, it was really amazing. Back then we played on table cabinets, so we sat side-by-side instead of head-to-head, but SF2 had already came up with that business model.
-This is another episode where you can truly sense Nishitani’s greatness.
Harada: If we’re talking about Nishitani’s greatness, then I also need to share stories like the SF2 Backjump episode.
Harada: For example, in Double Dragon, you could walk around on different planes and actually had quite a bit of freedom, but in the end it all came down to “How do I attack my enemy before he attacks me?” But in SF2, you had jumps which went very high and far, which gave birth to offense and defense. And speaking of those jumps, compared to jumping forward, the range of backjumps was actually longer.
Nishtani: They were long. A bit long. *laughs*
Harada: Now this has become common knowledge, so fighting game players might think it’s only natural, but if you think about it normally then the jump you make when attacking should go further or be faster. Even so, the backjumps in SF2 were longer. The one who came up with this idea was Nishitani. The first time I heard this, I couldn’t understand his reasoning. I thought “Why would he decide on something like that?”
-Certainly, I can’t come up with any ideas why.
Harada: For us that entered the Game Industry after the release of SF2, we have a very strong sense of admiration for games like SF2. So we often think of “I want to outdo this, I want to outdo that” while studying and breaking down games. I’ve got a lot of experience from the industry and my company, so often I make discoveries from there. By using all of my experience and knowledge gained over the years, I’m sure I could find an answer on what a proper jump should be.
…but, the rumor is that Nishitani’s “make backjumps longer” idea came from before the game had even taken form. Before the fighting game genre was even born, and they were still in the planning stages, to say something like that? I’m sorry, but I can only think that he is not a normal person and that some aliens have tampered with his head.
Harada: As a player, I naturally made this discovery on my own. When I noticed it, I thought “I discovered this before anyone else, I’m a genius!” but actually I just played too much and it was something that everyone would notice in the end. *laughs* Anyway, after I joined my company and began developing Tekken, even 10 years later I would hear the story of “Nishitani thought of that before the game had even taken form. He said that during the planning stage,” from various industry people from around the world. No matter what, I wanted to hear the backjump story from Nishitani himself. How much of the rumor is true…
Nishitani: Well, it’s actually pretty spot on. Something that struck me while listening to Harada’s story; when he started developing games, he had something to compare them to- but of course, for me there was nothing. Since I had nothing to compare to, just as I said before, I prioritized on making a game that I thought “felt good” or “interesting” when played.
Applying this to the jump story, the system of backjumps being longer was actually inherited from Final Fight. It was an era where we couldn’t afford any luxuries in game, but for some reason the programmer made it so I was able to change that one parameter. So I tried making backjumps longer, and unexpectedly I felt the character’s individuality come forth, so I decided to put the same system in SF2. So to answer, I originally thought “Maybe the character’s individuality will show?” when coming up with the idea.
Harada: So you first experimented with making SF2 backjumps longer, then decided?
Nishitani: No, I stubbornly thought that no matter what, I wanted to put what we used in Final Fight to “draw out personality” into SF2. I thought that if you’re using a backjump to run away, wouldn’t you want to be able to run away as fast as possible? I didn’t care about the game system, I focused on the player’s feelings. I wanted to add in what I thought players would be feeling.
-So it all comes from the state of mind when playing!? Eventually in the end we are able to ask and understand the reasoning for why something feels right… but it all starts from playing and thinking, “This feels good. But why?”
Harada: There’s more, calling a move that cannot be crouch blocked a “mid attack” started with 3D fighting games, but the basis for mids came from SF2.
I really thinks it’s amazing that you discovered something like that. It’s all thanks to that discovery of mid attacks that strategy in fighting games came to be. Because there are mid attacks, there are also low attacks, and you cannot block everything.
-Nowadays it’s such an obvious feature, but without those mid attacks, fighting games wouldn’t exist today.
Harada: It’s kind of an extreme example, but if it was between two AI with perfect reactions, then the fighting game genre would never be successful. It’s because humans are imperfect that fighting games came to be.
Therefore, in order to create the game, Nishitani had to incorporate imperfections to guarding–but up until then, the only concepts that had come forth were as simple as turning guard on or off.
–How did you come up with the idea for mid attacks?
Nishitani: In the original Street Fighter, there was both standing guard and crouching guard, so first we decided we needed to make that possible in SF2, but also thought about “How can we assign a purpose to each action?” We brainstormed and thought “Jumping attacks look like they should be able to be blocked while standing,” “Sweeps should only be able to be blocked if you’re crouching,” so we went from there and successfully tried adding moves that could not be blocked crouching, so we decided “Let’s go with this.”
Harada: What’s really amazing is how since then, no other base design has managed to surpass the mid / low system. Later on, when games stopped taking place on horizontal stages and instead went to third person, it was difficult to judge the sense of distance so the systems reverted back to being able to block everything, regardless of mids or lows.
Nishitani: They really did. *laughs*
Harada: At that time, I thought over and over again “The discovery of mid attacks was really amazing.” With that in mind, I entered the 21st century and thought, “In the early 90’s they already discovered almost everything needed in a modern fighting game.” Honestly, I’m a bit jealous of those able to work in that era.
Nishitani: It’s actually because we had nothing to compare to that we were able to create so freely. When we made SF2, the energy of the staff was really good–there were a lot of designers and programmers who thought “I’ll do anything to make this game fun!” Of course, I also said “Let’s do this, let’s do that,” but since everyone was so full of excitement and energy, I felt like it was up to me to toil away on my own and balance the game. But in the end it all worked out.
–Hearing your story now, I’ll remember this feeling of “Things that seem only natural weren’t always there; they were invented.”
Harada: There are too many people who don’t realize this. There was a time when I was trying to make history where I found myself passionately thinking “I’ll make this the best game in the world” and “if I can just understand every other game, I can use them as a base and build something even greater.” But then I noticed all I was doing was redoing everything Nishitani had already done with SF2.
Although I was young, I was a pro; surrounded by an outstanding staff in an outstanding environment, but once I reached the goal, I found that everything had already been done years ago… it was truly a life changing experience.
–It must feel like finding an out-of-place-artifact. To make something out of nothing. That is why you call Nishitani a “genius,” Harada.
What’s More Important Than Balance, Is Whether Or Not A Move Feels Good
-Even when designing with “feel” in mind, there has to be times where you think, “It would be interesting if this move acted like this.” How do you output these ideas, who do you tell them to?
Nishitani: The first step is matching your image. I often say “Play the game inside your head.”
–”Play the game inside your head.” What do you mean by this?
Nishitani: If you only think about the specifics, your interpretation of the game will just match what’s convenient for you.
For example, if you look at one of Jackie Chan’s famous evasive moves, you might think “It would be cool if I could replicate this in the game system,” but even if you work out all the minute details of the system and present it to players, there’s no way they will use that system just the way you intended.
-I understand that.
Nishitani: Everyone wants to win, so players will just use your system to find out the oversights in your game. As a creator, it’s important not just to think about ideal conditions; for example, if you’re making an arcade game, imagine the scenario of “Putting 100 Yen into the machine, playing until you get a Game Over, then leaving.” Don’t simply think about how you want it to go–actually play out the entire situation in your head. It’s rare to be able to be to match your original vision 100%, but it’s important to share and refine ideas first, and worry about the specifics later.
-I think that works now when making a new fighting game because there are already examples to base things on. But in an era when only side-scrolling beat-’em-ups existed…
Nishitani: In those days, first we wrote up some simple specifics, then we got requests from Designers saying “I want to put this move in,” finally we fine tuned the game while playing it on a screen.
As for animation, first we would get a simple base from a Designer, but in the end I kind of had my hand in everything. I was the one adjusting frame data and such in order to make the game feel good for players. I also handled the hitboxes.
Harada: It’s not that there was never a fighting game before. I played Double Dragon and Final Fight, but the first time I heard about a “One-vs-One Game,” I actually thought, “This is a step backwards!” Even though at the time we were fighting against large groups of enemies and big bosses, to hear about suddenly going back to 1v1, I thought “Having just two people on the screen seems pretty boring.” *laughs*
Harada: Yie Ar Kung-fu… I love Yie Ar Kung-Fu. Let me say this now so people don’t say “Harada is insulting Yie Ar Kung-fu!” when this goes to print. *laughs* But back then I had the image that “They are just trying to remake Yie Ar Kung-Fu with modern graphics!” When you were making SF2 back then, didn’t you ever think “Isn’t this going to turn out pretty bland?”
Nishitani: Now that you mention it… that thought never came up. Before the original Street Fighter came out, there were some 1v1 games in arcades, right? I really loved them, games like Karate Champ (1984), Flying Dragon (1985), and Hippodrome (1989). It’s because I played those games so much, instead I thought, “I can do more.”
Harada: So just like the discovery of the mid attack rejuvenated the thought-to-be exhausted fighting game genre, there are probably still big discoveries waiting to be uncovered in other genres. Thinking like that, there’s still a bright future.
Nishitani: There are, there are. There are still plenty of things to discover!
Harada: You may think “Well, they did a good job making this 1v1 game,” but if you look closely you can understand how much work they did. Aspects such as guard effects and sounds, things that normally would get overlooked when making a traditional beat-’em-up were instead crafted down to the minute details. Because it was a 1v1 game, you could show off the characters and the effects, as well as setting a Round and Time limit.
Nishitani: That was actually quite scary. Take a shooting game for instance–in games where it’s One-vs-Many, if you just fine tune the general framework, the game will be ok even if some small parts of it are bad. But in a 1v1 game, you need to make the game recognize when the two players are making contact with one another. There was the fear of “If we mess this up, it’s all over.” We actually made a bunch of mistakes. *laughs*
Harada: In the first version, there were no mirror matches, right? Thinking about it now, that’s actually quite odd. It’s amazing.
Nishitani: At that time, the CP System we used at Capcom to develop the game had a circuit board which could just barely handle having two of the biggest characters on the screen at the same time. In SF2: Champion Edition, mirror matches became possible, but that is because we removed unnecessary things out of the background.
Harada: During SF2, I thought “You can’t pick the same character” was just common knowledge; but humans are fickle, and once we became able to pick the same character in SF2:CE, I thought “Of course you should be able to do that!” At the time I even said “Why weren’t we able to do this from the start!?” *laughs*
–*laughs* Many fighting games came out after SF2, were there games that you were able to learn from?
Nishitani: There are a bunch! I was really amazed once 3D games started appearing and doing all sorts of new things… but the first game to really surprise me was Samurai Showdown (1993).
Harada: Ooh, actually I was going to say Samurai Shodown as well.
Nishitani: Frankly speaking, as a game it had some rough parts…
Harada: But that actually made it better.
Nishitani: That’s right. I thought “We’ve come really far.”
Harada: At the time, I thought “I wonder if games are going to start getting more and more complex? That’s going to be a pain.” But then suddenly that rough game appeared.
-What did you feel was so amazing about Samurai Shodown?
Nishitani: How do I say it… for example, in Guilty Gear (1998) every character has their own unique mechanics and systems, but I thought Samurai Shodown was a pioneer of fighting games themselves.
It’s not just that the properties of the game were different, the entire nature of the game was different. Brandishing the fearful Power Slash, if it hits then the screen explodes and your opponent’s life bar melts away. Furthermore, there aren’t really any combos. It’s a really amazing solution they came up with.
Harada: Thinking about it from a modern fighting game standpoint, it’s like they took out all sense of logic when deciding on that damage. *laughs* But even by ignoring the common theory behind fighting game strategy, they were able to captivate everyone because of the impact of that “special skill.” Having that Power Slash come at you from such an unimaginable range meant you couldn’t resort to the usual tactics, but people were okay with it because they thought “Well… it IS a Japanese sword being swung at full force…” It was such a novel idea. *laughs*
If everyone was fighting barehanded and suddenly someone with a sword showed up, you would think “That’s not fair!” But in this case, everyone had a “bladed weapon” of some sort. I was really surprised when such a wild fighting game like this came out.
At the same time, while I was thinking that fighting games would become more and more complex, Virtua Fighter came out and I was shocked at that technology. On one side we had a game suited for those that were good at research and technical skill, but on the other side we had a game where you could just got “BOOM! Power Slash!” *laughs*. That contrast was really nice.
-So even if you balance the game, rather than making all characters equal across the board, it’s better to have “a part that might be a little off, but feels really good to do.”
Nishitani: It’s hard. If you overdo it, then it’s no good.
Harada: That’s right. I often say “If you only want to make a game that’s balanced, you can do it tomorrow.” This is goofy way of explaining it, but take Tekken for instance, sure there might be a difference between playing on 1P or 2P side, but if the only playable character was Kazuya, then theoretically the game would be balanced. But if you do this and say “Well, that’s not fun,” then the topic changes. Even though we were supposed to be talking about balance, these feelings come out.
It’s a really basic example, but this is proof that even if one acknowledges a game as balanced, what’s most important is “fun.” But when you talk about “How can we make this fun?” it quickly becomes “Kazuya vs Kazuya is ok, but wouldn’t it be nice if Kazuya could fight people with different moves?” and then “I want this changed.” From here you can see the inconsistency between Fun and Balance.
-Certainly, there are definitely some things about a perfectly balanced game that would go against the fun aspect of it.
Harada: Let’s say you were told, “Make all moves have the same frame data. Then if you just change the animations a little bit, each character’s individuality will show…”
For example, if you have a punch that hits on the 20th frame, “then you should give another character the same punch, but just change the way it looks. That’s fair.”
But this is ridiculous. Even if a move has the same frame data, if you change characters then naturally the shape of their limbs and their outward appearance will change as well. Because of this difference, even if the numbers are the same, the change in animation and visuals won’t just change the impression the move gives off–it will actually have a big effect on how fast a player is able to react to it. By changing how something looks, you change how players perceive it, which brings about imbalance.
So reversing that, even if you add just one thing that’s different between characters then the game will become more fun. If you diversify the frame data then fun will be born through strategy. Not just the startup frames, but changing the frames on block will also make the game more fun. So by changing things up, the fun of fighting games comes out, and this is the reason why we break down the notion of “perfect balance.”
-How does the staff fine tune those aspects?
Harada: When it comes to fine tuning the game, most of the staff were originally players so they are quite particular when it comes to balance. So we start by making the damage values similar, then soon after work on making the hit frames similar. The animations are made by the animators, so some minor differences start coming forth.
Once we finish, we test out the game by playing and having the tuning staff share their ideas. To the best of our ability, we try to find that balance between theory and logic when tuning our games.
But after a while, the staff that was supposed to have agreed on certain balance, suddenly starts saying things like “We need to make this part feel better,” and “For some reason, this isn’t fun.”
So then, we end up throwing out everything we did and going back to the start, and even though this leads to a lot of grumbling in the office, when playing the game again with the character planners, we end up saying, “This is definitely way more interesting.” *laughs* This is where that inconsistency between fun and balance comes up.
Nishitani: Everyone wants the same thing. *laughs*
Harada: But if you say this, then the players get really angry.
Nishitani: Huh? Why is that?
Harada: Since they can’t see the delicate process behind the design, when they hear this story they just think “Even though you went through all the trouble of balancing the game, you just broke it in the end?” Which then tends to turn into “That’s why that character is so busted!”
Nishitani: I see…
Harada: But even those players that may think “Quit screwing around!” when they hear the story about us breaking the balance–if you present them with my previous example of a perfectly balanced fighting game where everyone could only use 1 character and ask them, “Well, do you think this is interesting?” then I think they would say, “It certainly is boring if you only prioritize balance,” and understand our side of things.
Nishitani: They definitely will.
Harada: That’s right. There are some things you cannot do when it comes to “balance.” Balance is not about making everything equal–but making everything “close” or “slightly different.” Although there will always be some extremists around that will say “No, everything has to be equal.”
But even being a game developer, it took a while for me to realize the inconsistencies between fun and balance. There was a time when I ran around saying “Fighting games are about balance! Balance is everything!!!” Then when I reached my goal, I thought “Huh? That’s strange. This is boring.”
Harada: If you look back on it, the balance in SF2 was not very good.
Nishitani: It was bad! *laughs*
Harada: I usually played a turtle style Guile, but once SF2:CE came out I began cheesing people out with the M.Bison loop, and even had an opponent come over and kick the cabinet. *laughs* The balance was just that bad. Back then there was no way to perform an online update like we can now.
Nishitani: It was impossible back then.
Harada: Well, the broken stuff is a seperate story, but finding that equality between fun and competitiveness leads to balance being paper-thin.
Nishitani: No game’s balance has ever been better than just “good.”
Harada: That’s right. It’s not that you want to make the balance bad, but while struggling to make the game competitive you also want to show off the good parts. By the way, there’s a quote from Nishitani that I often use myself. Whenever I’m asked by a foreign reporter, “What do you think is the most important thing in a fighting game?” I instead ask them the same question and they respond with things like “complex strategy,” “balance,” “Japanese craftsmanship,” and things like that.
While those things are also important, I think the real answer is different. “What’s important is whether or not landing a move feels good to the touch, if you can’t grasp that feeling then the game won’t be interesting” is something Nishitani said in an old interview, which I took and use on my own now. *laughs* I had also arrived at the same conclusion, but I was never able to put it into words, so hearing Nishitani say that was like hearing myself. *laugh*
-*laughs* The balance wasn’t very good, but even so, SF2 had a logical strategy as well as a pleasant feeling when played. Even just the sound made when blocking felt good.
Harada: You’re right. Even the little effects felt good. The group that made Tekken was just a gathering of people who played SF2 too much–during our lunch breaks, if we started playing Street Fighter then we couldn’t stop. The company actually put out a “Street Fighter Ban.” *laughs* At the time we were all young, just a group of people who wanted to play fighting games.
Nishitani: A “Street Fighter Ban…” *laughs*
Harada: Tekken’s guard system is the same way. Because we were so used to Street Fighter, even though we were making a 3D game, we made it so you held back to block instead of copying Virtua Fighter’s system. It’s all because everyone had played Street Fighter for so long.
At the time I didn’t understand how to make games, so looking back on it now Tekken 1 through 3 were really sloppy games, but there were a lot of parts that were influenced by Street Fighter. In particular, I wanted to make the effects flashier than SF2.
-So when it came to balance and specifications, first Nishitani came up with the idea, then he played the game in his head while thinking about how it would feel to the touch. After that, it was just about fine tuning until he reached the point where he could say, “This is it.” The end result was miraculous… I think I understand why Harada calls him a “genius.”
Input Buffers And Cancels, They Just Came Out Of A Desire To Make The Game User Friendly
-It’s going to be released in Famitsu soon, but in the “Looking at Risk and Return to Understand the Fun of Games” talk by Masahiro Sakurai, he brings up SF2 and points out the Shoryuken command–“You commit to a risk by pressing forward, but are rewarded with a period of invincibility.” Was this also an intentional design?
Harada: It seems logical, but if I had to guess I would think Nishitani didn’t originally have that in mind when he put it in?
Nishitani: That’s right.
Harada: But from the start, you didn’t intend to make it so easy that anyone would be able to freely use and control special moves, right?
Nishitani: No, actually I was troubled over that at first, but in the end I decided “Whether it be a hadouken or a shoryuken, I want to keep the damage low but make it easy enough that anyone can do it.”
Harada: But you also put in a system where there’s a 1/256 chance that a special move will come out when they press a button, right?
Nishitani: That was because I really wanted everyone to perform a special move, I thought “Maybe there are some people in the deep countryside who will never learn about the existence of special moves. If they notice that their character shot a projectile, maybe they will go and search for an answer.”
-So that’s why.
Harada: But everyone thought it was just a bug during SF2 days. *laughs*
Nishitani: Yes, my apologies. *laughs*
Harada: You would think “This is it!” but then without intending it, the game would perform a Shoryuken. There are a lot of people that don’t know about this, right? If you tried something like this now, everyone would be furious.
Nishitani: Ah, so the current generation doesn’t know about this.
Harada: If I put a system in the new Tekken where there’s a 1/256 chance that a very unsafe move will come out on its own…
Nishitani: That’s no good. You’ll have to remake it!
Harada: Even if there’s no information or details for the players, by playing they will eventually figure things out. The rumor at the time was “The developer didn’t think we would be able to perfectly perform special moves so he put in this system” When I heard this, I thought “Our ability exceeded the Developer’s expectations” and felt happy for some reason. *laughs*
-What was the logic you used to come up with the special move commands?
Nishitani: They were already a part of Street Fighter. But in SF2, we were focused on “How can we make these easier to perform?”
Harada: When talking about special move commands, the charge motion is a type of input buffer. That’s amazing as well, the “Discovery of the Input Buffer.” For example, even though I had the general idea of the input buffer in SF2, there was no input buffer in Tekken until Tekken 3.
Nishitani: Oh, is that so?
Harada: It’s because I played so much SF2 that I understood the general concept. But I couldn’t wrap my mind around it and concisely explain it in words.
With an input buffer you can input the command for your next move while your character is currently performing their first move, then with just the press of a button, a special move will come out, allowing you to smoothly play the game–but Tekken was designed around the concept of the game’s animation smoothly matching your commands, so I thought “What was the point of SF2’s input buffer?” and couldn’t come up with an answer.
-Tekken wasn’t the same?
Harada: If you go back and play Tekken or Tekken 2 you’ll understand, but it’s shocking how difficult it was to perform moves in those games. Before you even reached the strategy part of the game, you first had to play the “Input the moves with the correct timing game,” which had a direct relation with player strength. *laugh*
To remove this inconvenience, I decided to make it so the game would read your inputs early… but as I was making it, I realized it again. “Wait a minute, didn’t SF2 do this already?” *laughs* It wasn’t in Tekken until Tekken 3 in 1997! But this was already in feature in the SF2 era; isn’t that amazing?
Nishitani: I just wanted to make the game user friendly. Cancels were also added just because we wanted to make the game user friendly. It’s not that I added cancels simply because I wanted to.
-You wanted the characters to directly mimic the player’s inputs.
Nishitani: That’s right. When you input the Hadouken command on the joystick then press the punch button, there are often times where you end up pressing the punch button first. I wanted the game to ignore that and let the Hadouken come out. By doing this, we accidently discovered cancels and thought “What’s this?” but in the end we thought “This is pretty fun.”
Harada: But for things like Zangief’s 360 motion, without an input buffer there’s no way you could have came up a move like that. As player, when I first saw that command I thought “You’re just gonna end up jumping!”
At the time, we didn’t understand the speed with which you had to rotate the joystick, so no matter how many times we tried, we would end up just jumping and then punching once we landed. After a while we noticed, “It seems like this is a move you have to input while jumping or doing another move” and after testing and understanding we thought, “Ah, now I see.”
Nishitani: That’s right. But, I never expected everyone to be able to do standing 360s.
Harada: Ah, so it really was like that.
Nishitani: Well, we had the idea of “Input this one after jumping.” We also had the idea of “Whiff an attack and do this,” but we had a feeling of “Will that many people really be able to do that?” It ended up being a lot more than we had imagined.
Harada: Now it may seem like an obvious thing, but back then the input buffer was truly astonishing. I want this generation to go back and play the input buffer-less Tekken and Tekken 2. In a certain way, it’s really astonishing to me as well.
-The more I hear about how complete SF2 was, the more amazed I feel.
Harada: There are countless times were I discovered something, only to realize it was something already done by SF2.
-If you just followed the specifications when making the game, then this tale would not be so complex. That earnest and diligent way of making games; how much of that do you think carries over to today?
Nishitani: I actually feel a little bit sad for the current generation of game designers. For my generation, we looked at the games we grew up playing, and learned as we tried to recreate them on our own, but the current generation uses pre-made tools to work on ready-made products. So there’s not really an opportunity for them to study and experiment.
Harada: I think that can’t be helped. The business model has also changed. In the past we lived in an era where “games themselves were rare.” From there, games became more and more common until we entered an era where “If this is fun, we can sell it,” which then grew into an era where technology became the focus–the “We can sell polygon games” era. From that era, the game industry transformed into a major global industry, and we entered an era where a game’s fun and quality became a war of resources.
And now Marketing and a PR Strategy are just as important to a game’s success as how fun it is. Even if “fun” is still the core of a game, the areas around it have gotten bigger and bigger.
-Smartphone games stick out when thinking about that.
Harada: Smartphone games are easy to understand. The fun of the game…for example, in the case of a puzzle game where you need to match three colors to make them disappear, the fun at the core also needs to be accompanied by a network, server, management team, social promotion, then you need to attach various IPs and brands to the game, and so on- everything but the fun aspect gets bigger and more bloated. We are no longer in an era where you can just about talk about the core of the game, about “what makes the game fun.”
Nishitani: That’s right. It’s just as you say.
Harada: Now that it’s become this, you no longer hear stories of new recruits being told “Make a game where it feels good to land this punch,” or “Come up with something new you’re proud of. That’s all you have to do.”
Nishitani: But those are the things I think are most important.
-So listening to this talk, Nishitani’s new game is made not with his surroundings in mind, but with “fun at the core”: a title that will challenge the industry with its pleasant feel and user friendliness.
Challenging With A New Title Centered Around Fun
-Now allow me to switch topics from how you approach game design, to your new title FIGHTING EX LAYER. What did you think when you first saw FEXL, Harada?
Harada: It’s a journey back to our roots. If you use a war as a metaphor, then the weapons, supply line, and base held by ARIKA are not big. But since they are choosing to go into battle like that, I felt that they are gambling on “whether or not they can convey the fun of the game.”
Nishitani: Actually, the fact we were even able to make it this far is a miracle. When I was making the first prototype, I thought “Maybe I’ll just practice working on Unreal Engine?” and then in April we revealed the game as an April Fool’s joke. Of course at that time I wanted to make a commercial version, but I actually had doubts and a feeling of “Is this even possible?”
Since then a lot of people helped us out, even Harada worked with us in his private time, and as we worked on all those minor details and finally reached where we are today, I have a feeling of “We’ve come really far.”
Harada: Conversely, hasn’t it become a really pleasant era? For example, in the old days if a company wanted to make a certain type of picture, then a talented programmer would have to go into a graphic program and make it from scratch; but with Unreal Engine, the labour needed for development has greatly decreased.
Nishitani: That’s right.
Harada: However, it’s really amazing how you decided to go back into battle with an original fighting game title.
Nishintani: It really is amazing. It’s been an incredible amount of time since my company’s last published title.
Harada: The BLAZBLUE series from Arc System Works also shocked me.
Nishitani: But that is a story from a while ago.
Harada: It’s true that it was a while ago, but even so, at that time I said “There will never be another completely new 2D fighter in this day and age.” But then, a brand new original IP suddenly appeared and has become a proper title lasting even to this day.
–I’ve actually also spoken with Mihara Ichirou (ARIKA Vice-President) about the process of launching FIGHTING EX LAYER, but I heard that things weren’t always so optimistic. Even while knowing that things would be very difficult, why were you able to make the decision to say “Let’s do it anyway.”
Nishitani: Even Mihara would constantly say “I want to make another fighting game.” I also have the role of Company President, so I can’t really come out and announce it. But as we got closer to April Fool’s, Mihara’s excitement quickly started to go up. If I had to say it, it was actually his excitement and feeling of “Let’s do it” that I ended up latching on to.
Harada: There’s a chance at succeeding so you’re going through with it, right?
Nishitani: The first time we felt a response was on April Fools’. At that time, since we made the announcement on the same day of the event, we didn’t expect anyone to show up, but about 30 people came and two-thirds of them were from overseas. We also broadcasted the event on Youtube and a lot of people tuned in to watch.
I don’t know the exact numbers, but there was a time when 30,000 people were watching at the same time, and pro-gamer Kazunoko who was there doing commentary with us said, “That’s a crazy amount of people!”
Harada: Those 30,000 people were all Skullomania fans.
Nishitani: That was the first time I felt confidence. The next time was EVO. Even though Harada was telling us how popular Skullomania was, we always thought of him as a sort of “joke character” who played a minor role.
But when we went overseas and set up the playable demo without Skullomania in it, person after person who came to the booth would ask, “Is Skullomania going to be in this?” and I realized how popular he really was.
Harada: They also don’t see him as a serious character, you know? But he has a heroic sense to him. The interesting thing about the reaction at EVO was that usually an audience’s excitement will peak about 20 to 30 seconds after the trailer starts, but once Skullomania appeared on screen everyone’s excitement levels suddenly went to MAX. *laughs*
Nishitani: That was really great. That was when I understood how popular Skullomania was, and the second time I felt confident about the game.
-The “chance to succeed” that Harada was concerned about, this can be summed up as, “What part of this game is more fun than the other games out right now?”
Harada: Yes. It was a rude way of saying it, but I asked them, “Now what are you going to do?” Mihara responded with, “We’re thinking about the main mechanics.” When I heard that design was “the ability to control the same character in different styles,” I thought, “Maybe this will be a good match for the current generation.”
Fighting games are a very severe type of game where “the only thing you’re supposed to train is yourself.” After training your physical execution and gaining experience, the results of the match rely entirely on yourself. But with this new system, I have a feeling there may various other ways you can aim for the top. Something like, “instead of just doing push-ups all day, you now have a tool called a tennis racquet.”
Nishitani: That’s certainly true.
-So you decided to make a new title with fun at its core. Next I would like to move on to the details about this new system.
The Situation Changes Between The First And The Last Round!? The Center Of This Fun Is The “Gougi System”
-First, about the Blue and Yellow icons on the bottom of the screen. They differ from the gauges seen in other fighting games, could you please explain them in more detail?
Nishitani: Those are called the Gougi System. The blue icons don’t cause such a drastic change, but the main yellow icons (which you choose before a match) are designed with the concept of “Let’s alter the game engine.”
For example, if you select the “Hades” Gougi then you can equip your character with Super Armor. This means you can give any character Super Armor. This is very strong!
Harada: Are they always active?
Nishitani: There are different activation conditions, for example, something like, “Get knocked down 10 times to activate.” Therefore, if you don’t want to activate your opponent’s Gougi, it’s probably important to attack them with moves that won’t knock them down.
Furthermore, if a Gougi activates once, then it will stay activated throughout all rounds until the battle is settled. Therefore, the first round and the last round will never be the same.
-It’s almost like the concept behind a card game.
Nishitani: It’s good to think of it like that. When he first heard this story, Mihara suddenly got really excited and said, “This idea, we can sell this, right?” *laughs*
-Certainly, with this system, there will be paths to victory aside from just training your physical skills.
Nishitani: I’ve had this idea for a long time, but I felt many people would hate it because it seemed like it was destroying their hard work. Even myself, up until 5 years ago I thought, “This will never work.” But I think now an idea like this can succeed.
Harada: I think I know what you mean. When I heard the idea, I thought, “This is something very now-ish.” It seems like it fits in with the current times.
-Maybe it’s because of the shift towards random online matches. Even by using an unbalanced deck in a card game, there are times when you win and times when you lose.
Nishitani: That’s also true.
Harada: Depending on who you are matched with, there are times when you have a big advantage. In the old days of card games, everyone who played was gathered at the same table, so the people who lost would just keep on losing; but now with online play, you have a chance to win based on the matchup.
Nishitani: Whether or not we put it in is a different story, but we also have an idea to allow players to change maybe 1 or 2 Gougi after a round ends. While players would usually choose Gougi based on their own personal affinity, this might open up an Counter aspect to the game.
Harada: For example, what do some other Gougi like “Ghost” do?
Nishintani: In this game there’s a dash, but by equipping “Ghost”, your character will turn invisible when performing a dash. The character still has a hitbox, but they become completely unseeable. Imagine a grappler disappearing…
Harada: They’ll be able to get on top of you before you even know it!
Nishitani: That’s right. If they are hit, or block an attack, or if they perform an attack of their own, their character will become visible again.
-Going completely invisible seems very powerful… On the other hand, what effect do the blue Gougi have?
Harada: Do the blue ones act like passive skills?
Nishitani: The blue ones will change your character’s status, so they won’t cause any dramatic shifts like yellow ones. I think some of these are interesting and others not so interesting. For example, if you raise your attack power by just a little bit, it doesn’t make things fun. I don’t want to do things like that.
-This may be a little specific, but it seems like deciding whether or not your opponent can see your equipped Gougi is very important.
Nishitani: That’s right. This is something else we are still thinking about. For example, maybe at the start all 5 Gougi would be hidden, but as the rounds progressed they would start to be uncovered.
Harada: As a fighting game, I think this will lead to new discoveries.
Nishitani: When you’re fighting, of course you have to think about your character’s abilities, but as the match goes on the system will begin to take form. Affinity with the system will be just as important as with the character.
-In card games, there’s a sense of fun to be had in thinking both inside and outside of a match; I think it’s amazing that you’re bringing this variety to fighting games.
Nishitani: That’s right. There is a limit to how good one can become at this game just by approaching with the usual method. With this, I want those who have grown apart from fighting games to come back and play. However, right now the system is a bit complex, so we are racking our brains figuring out how to make it easier to understand.
Earlier I mentioned that “Gougi will stay activated even after a round ends,” this also means that I want to change the standard flow of fighting games. In some fighting games there are examples of meter carrying over between rounds; but generally even if the rounds change, the game stays the same.
I wanted to make it so the game itself changes as the match goes on. Things like “my opponent now has super armor activated, I have to change the way I attack.”
-So depending on your Gougi layout, there’s a chance for a miraculous comeback. Do you plan on selling Gougi as DLC?
Nishitani: Right now I’m arguing with Mihara over that. He wants to sell Gougi to try and recoup the development costs. But I don’t want to turn them into something to sell. *laughs*
Harada: *laughs* Looking at it now, Gougi are almost like the power-ups in Gradius. If you heard something like, “They going to charge for the individual power-ups in Gradius,” imagine how much of a scoundrel you’d think Nishitani was. *laughs*
Nishitani: But aside from the money issues, there’s also the topic of, “Won’t these cause problems when running tournaments?” When playing in a big tournament you don’t play on your own personal console, and there’s also no way you can have everyone log in to their accounts. So right now we are coming up with ideas like, “Why not include a Tournament Mode which lets players use all Gougi?”
-It does seem like there might be issues with tournaments. But also I feel like depending on how they are presented, people might have an interest in buying Gougi.
Nishitani: Mihara is always saying, “Please don’t do the same volume and pricing that Tekken 7 did!” *laughs*
Harada: Hmm…. Speaking of presentation; besides the obvious talk of UI, there’s also the game’s presentation as a fighting game. Before release, it would be good to create an image so that people don’t think, “So this is just a regular fighting game but more complex?”
Nishitani: Mihara is saying the same thing. But something I’m worried about is that if we just have everyone simply think of Gougi as Cards, there will be some people who are instantly against the idea. But on the other hand, if we don’t explain things well and people don’t understand the game, then they won’t be interested in buying or spending money on it.
Thinking about it from a business plan perspective, we really would like to include a system like this, and the ideas we came up with seemed to work well with it so we went forward with it; but really it comes down to whether or not the players would feel ok about spending money on the game, and also keeping the balance fair as a fighting game. At the current stage, our mentality is, “For now let’s just finish the Beta test and then think about everything”.
-A project that has come this far while still looking for answers, it’s not very common.
Nishitani: It’s quite rare, isn’t it. Although it seems many games overseas are developed this way.
-Now that you mention it, Steam’s Early Access also works kind of like that, although it is a sort of rough way of doing things…
Harada: People who want to play a game early no-matter-what can pay and get access. They also can help the developers out with QA.
Nishitani: Is something like that ok?
Harada: It’s actually been in the PC world for a long time.
-It’s almost like an event where everyone can communicate with each other.
Harada: Since it’s a gathering of people who are thinking “I just want to hurry up and touch the game!”, there is a certain level of understanding and acceptance. I’m also one of those types of people.
Nishitani: We are unsure whether or not we can do it during the beta test, but we are also thinking about events. Plans like, “Whoever finds a character’s maximum damage combo in training mode gets their name in the credits.”
Harada: Depending on the Gougi activated, there’s a chance the combos could get pretty crazy.
Nishitani: We’d be able to gather information and balancing data from it, and the videos would also work well as promotion.
-The way Gougi changes the actual core of the fighting game system, did you come up with this idea because you felt like the games were too restricted?
Nishitani: It’s not that. It’s just an idea I had, and I thought, “Can’t we do more with fighting games themselves?” Companies like Arc System Works have really been putting out a lot of new ideas. I thought it was really impressive how they could continue to release new games at that pace.
Harada: Depending on the game, meter can become a really crazy thing. *laughs* It also seems like this game is going to be quite difficult to balance…
Nishitani: Well… leave that to me. Although Mihara keeps saying, “This is hopeless.” *laughs*
-You probably learned a lot about balancing from your work with the EX and Fighting Layer series.
Harada: That’s right. In the Fighting Layer game that Nishitani made, there was a move called Super Illusion where you could escape anything by pressing 3 buttons at the same time. That move made Fighting Layer the first game in history where you theoretically couldn’t get cheesed out.
Nishitani: Oh! You know a lot. That was actually written on the back of the box.
Harada: It was crazy, but that kind of reverse way of thinking was so innovative. Just have Super Illusion solve everything.
Nishitani: We also have a move named Illusion in this game.
Harada: That’s good. Also Fighting Layer was the first fighting game where fighting the CPU was actually high level and fun.
Nishitani: Animals would start appearing. *laughs*
Harada: It’s not just that. Landing your moves almost felt like you were playing an action game; the CPU’s actual fighting AI was very deep, so you needed to have a proper strategy. Honestly, there were times when people would sit down to challenge you and you’d get pissed off and say, “Hey, I’m fighting the CPU right now!!” Will you add that to this game?
Nishitani: It’s difficult. But that’s definitely something we want to do again.
Harada: Since the CPU fights in Fighting Layer were so interesting, I actually did my best to make the CPU fights in Tekken fun by adding giant characters like Azazel and Nancy. But not that many people played Fighting Layer, so a lot of people think it was originally our idea. *laughs*
-Is that all? *laughs* In any case, I get the feeling that Nishitani’s balancing of the Gougi system may lead to another revolution in fighting games on the same scale as his creation of the input buffer.
Why Make A “Brand New Fighting Game” Now?
-By the way, earlier you mention that Harada was giving Nishitani advice in his private time. For example, what kind of advice?
Nishitani: We talked about Skullomania earlier, but things like what characters would be popular overseas, and what kind of things we must not do. I’m not really very knowledgeable about things like that, so after listening to Harada’s personal advice we decided on some design choices.
And then there’s EVO. Of course we wanted to go, but we didn’t have a way to get in. He really helped us out in that regard.
Harada: After Nishitani created fighting games, the communities in Japan and the West were both born and continued to grow, but Nishitani was not really around in the front lines. Therefore, when it came to EVO, It felt like we reversed roles and I was the one in the position to guide him.
Nishitani: You really saved us. We wouldn’t have made it to the Beta release if we missed out there.
-When did you first start talking?
Nishitani: When was it? I remember there was the talk of, “I want to discuss characters with you.”- I have a feeling that it was before April Fools’. Since it had been 10 years since our last release, we didn’t know anything, so I wanted to ask what kind of things we couldn’t do and we had our first meeting.
Harada: We had more specific talks around April Fools’.
Nishitani: Yes, you gave me character advice then. Also advice on things like different views around the world and things that you learned while working on Tekken. It’s without a doubt thanks to Harada’s cooperation that we decided to reveal Skullomania at EVO.
Harada: Nishitani has been locked away in Gotanda (where the ARIKA office is located), so I went there to lecture him on, “This is the way the world market works now.” *laughs* That’s when I said, “By the way, Skullomania is incredibly popular.”
Nishitani: I say this over and over, but I really didn’t believe Skullomania was popular until I actually went to EVO. Although we did once get an offer from someone saying they “wanted to make a game using Skullomania’s copyright.”
Harada: I thought, “This is your own character and you don’t even know this!?”
Nishitani: Mihara didn’t believe it and suspiciously thought, “Hmm…is Harada lying to us? Do you think he’s trying to sabotage us?” *laughs*
Harada: That would be a crazy story. A man who was deeply moved by SF2 grows up and 20 years later pays back the creator with sabotage. *laughs*
Nishitani: After I kept telling him, “This is what Harada is saying,” Mihara did research on the popular characters overseas and Skullomania was clearly #1. He confessed, “It really is Skullo…”
Harada: And then on the stage there was that roaring reception.
Nishitani: If the crowd didn’t react, then it would have turned into, “He really was sabotaging us.” *laughs*
Harada: …although thinking of it now, maybe it would have been more interesting if I did lie to you. *laughs*
-*laughs* What was Harada’s reaction when he first heard “Nishitani is making a fighting game.”
Nishitani: Hmm… It was like “How are you going to do it?” There was a nuance of, “It would be nice if it works but…” I feel like neither of us had a really positive outlook on it. Even we felt like, “Well we can get started, but where do we go from here…”
Harada: The times have changed, and so have the weapons. From the old days of, “If you gather a bunch of genius creators you’ll win,” to an era revolving around technical skill, then funding, and now marketing power. The way battles are waged has changed.
So as the world steadily changed and fighting games have reached this level of maturity, I started my thinking with questions like, “Well what kind of weapons does ARIKA have?”
But after hearing the details of their fresh and innovative idea, I had high hopes. Although, I was worried that it might be very difficult to keep under control. *laugh*
Nishitani: Maybe we can’t. *laughs* We have some ideas like supplying Gougi over time. If we did something like that, then the game could change so even if Darun was the strongest character in a certain month, the next month would be different. We’re thinking this might be one way to handle things.
Harada: I see, you probably could play the game longer like that…
Nishitani: Well, creating something like that is really hard. Mihara is always yelling and saying NG because we don’t have the development budget or operating budget. *laughs* We don’t know what’s going to happen, but for now that’s an idea we have.
-But embarking on this journey like this, as the company president, don’t you think risk is quite big?
Nishitani: It’s definitely big.
-Earlier we talked about it being possible because of the timing, but why did you initially decide to release a game now in the first place?
Nishitani: To put it simply, “I wanted to. It’s now or never.”
Also, I’ve wanted to making a fighting game for a long while now, and after thinking and coming up with idea after idea, I recently felt like, “I can do this!”
Harada: But producing a game is quite expensive, right?
Nishitani: Mihara is constantly telling me, “At this rate, even if we release the game, we’re going to go bankrupt unless it sells.” *laughs*
Nishitani: We really are hoping for success as we fight with our backs to the wall. Right now, all we can do is do our best and hope we can make a game that sells…but since we are making this ourselves, we can do whatever we want and it’s really fun! *laughs*
-That is one of the strong points of publishing.
Nishitani: Up until now we’ve always worked together with others. But now that we are publishing our own game with our own hands, I felt a great refreshing sense of, “Not being told what to do, this is what true freedom feels like!”
Harada: Even I can’t reach that level of freedom. The foreign marketing side of things has gotten really important. There are a lot of people who think I decide everything about my game, but things are completely different from the old days.
Nishitani: *laughs* Up until now we’ve done a lot of contract work for other companies, but ever since starting this title, the energy of everyone in the office is completely different.
Harada: Yeah, it must definitely feel different!
Nishitani: I didn’t see it with my own eyes, but one of our employees was so happy that he started crying tears of joy. “I can’t believe we’ve come this far. It’s wonderful.”
-That’s a touching story. But how about outside of the company… for example, how has the foreign media reacted?
Nishitani: I only saw it with my owns eyes at EVO, but today, we revealed the title FIGHTING EX LAYER on Youtube and when I looked at the comments, I really felt the reaction was huge. It’s bigger than I imagined.
Harada: Right now many things are changing with fighting games, and foreign writers are well aware of this. If you ask them, “What do you feel is going on in the world of fighting games right now?” they will respond with, “It looks like it’s getting very exciting with things like Dragon Ball FighterZ and the influx of e-sports.” There are many responses like that, but you also hear the key phrase of, “Nishitani has returned.” It’s almost like they are talking about a boxer who suddenly retired while on top. *laughs*
Looking at it from overseas, Nishitani is thought of as a man who created a legend and then went and locked himself away in Gotanda. That’s why I think there was so much excitement over, “Nishitani is back!”
Nishitani: I think you also spoke about this before, but it’s no good to just get excited over your own fighting game. Tekken, SFV, Arc System Works games; we all must get excited together.
Harada: You’re exactly right. In fighting games, there was a time known as the 10 years of darkness. We still didn’t have the infrastructure for online matches, but arcades in the west vanished. If you look at that time from a statistical perspective, lots of fighting game series went extinct, and sequels stopped being put out. Even Street Fighter had a 10 year gap where no new games came out. Because we had such a dark time, we learned that although it may be profitable not to have competition, there needs to be more than one title for the scene to feel excitement and energy.
-Tekken was a popular series that continued to succeed during this time, so why were fighting games seen as finished?
Harada: In the case of Tekken, it’s not really a game that’s influenced by fads, so it’s not like we were unable to sell copies during that time. With each Tekken release, we would sell from 3~5 million copies. There are only a handful of titles made in Japan that can so steadily perform like this in the global market. But even so, everyone continued to say things like, “There are no more fighting games,” “This is the end,” and “These are out of style.”
Even if you do your best on your own, without other games out there, a certain sense of excitement is lacking. That’s why I’m a bit happy that now ARIKA has chosen to make a fighting game.
-With that in mind, in FIGHTING EX LAYER there is a Progressive control type which lets players perform commands with simple inputs; was this a strategy not only to bring back those who grew apart from fighting games, but also draw in a new group?
Nishitani: That’s also one reason, but I really wanted to make a game that those with a more casual playstyle could also enjoy. Now that I’ve turned 50, I’m having trouble doing things such as the Shinkuu Hadouken motion. *laughs* Even if it’s just a little, I thought it would be nice if people like that could join us. Even though the inputs are simplified, the possibilities are still the same, so if you get used to it then I recommend using the Progressive style.
-Does that mean there’s no point in using the traditional Classic input style?
Nishitani: I think it depends on the person and whether or not it’s easier for them, but speaking from a game perspective, it’s not optimal. Actually, in the beginning of the planning stages, there were a lot of people against the Progressive input idea. But by the end, we were saying, “If he got used to it, even Umehara-kun wouldn’t go back!” *laughs* There are a few rare instances where Progressive is at a disadvantage; but for normal fights, Progressive is clearly at an advantage.
Harada: What actually changed?
Nishitani: For example, a Hadouken command will become “Neutral > Forward Punch”. A 360 command becomes “Up Punch”. It’s really amazing. A Shinkuu Hadouken command is “Back > Forward Punch”. By doing this, I want players to focus more on strategy and Gougi selection.
-Even in situations that require fast reactions, being able to unleash special moves with almost one button is very advantageous.
Nishitani: With simple commands, you really feel like you can react and counter with special moves of your own. Some of the vertical inputs are a bit difficult without practice, but even so I strongly recommend the Progressive type.
Even for those who only have access to pads, these inputs are very easy to do. Actually, when I went to EVO, I was surprised at how many people were playing on pads.
Harada: That started getting popular about 10 years ago, and then about 7~8 years ago the ratio between pads and sticks started to switch. Now, there are fewer people playing on sticks than on pads.
Nishitani: Eh! You’re lying!?
-It’s not just fighting games. In FPS as well, the number of pad players is increasing.
Harada: I was a PC gamer, so I could never imagine playing an FPS with anything other than a mouse, but now, mouse players are a huge minority. I’ve even been made fun of, “Harada, you can still only play on a mouse!?” Everyone is using pad nowadays, so in this era of pads, I think simplified commands may be a good thing.
Nishitani: You can input your commands really smoothly. By the way, when we brought our playable demo to EVO, 99% of people chose Classic mode. Well, I guess since everyone only had a little bit of time to play the game, they didn’t want to remember new commands.
Harada: But being able to input moves so easily…it seems like a game that could be played on a portable device.
Nishitani: Yes, you made a good observation. *laughs* We actually had an idea of designing some things to be mobile friendly. But since we ended up deciding on Playstation 4, we went back and changed them. That’s really impressive that you noticed!
-The decision to add in simplified commands, does this mean that the genre’s traditional execution training does not fit into “the fun of fighting games?”
Nishitani: I’m not against having players train their execution, but I think that should be in a game designed to have execution as a focus. However, for this game, I felt that it would just be a hassle, so I left it out, made the commands simpler so they come out faster, and thought it would be nice to have people say things like, “I’m a Gougi expert.” For example, something like, “I could beat Umehara-kun with my Gougi.”
Also, there are some things you can’t do in Progressive, but with practice, you can perform some Classic-only combos; so in this way, we leave the decisions up to each player.
-That gives veteran players the ability to use the skills they’ve developed throughout the years as well as opening up the gates to a new generation. In a genre where the hurdles have gotten higher and higher, the Gougi and Progressive systems look to bring everything back to even ground.
The “Good Feeling” That Can’t Be Put Into Words
-Hearing your story, I feel that with this new title, rather than trying to prolong fighting games, you are trying to reconstruct them.
Nishitani: That’s right. My image is almost linked to action games and the thought, “Wouldn’t it nice if things felt a little more crazy?” But the question is how far do we go? If we make the Gougi system too complex, then some people might not follow–this is going to be the focus of our fine tuning in the future.
That’s why we are deep in thought over the Gougi activation conditions. As I explained before with the super armor Gougi “Hades,” the activation condition is being knocked down 10 times- we are thinking about how we can change the game but keep it from having a disagreeable feeling.
Nishitani: When we first came up with the idea of Gougi, we made a “Don’t do these things” rule. The first one is, “Don’t make the game last longer.” For example, things that force you to wait for a while or things that increase your defense or health. This is not an absolute, but we are trying to keep them out.
The next one is, “Preventing your opponent from using their Gougi.” This one is interesting…but if we’re going to do it then maybe 2 years in the future.
Another one is “something really negative,” like making your opponent unable to use their punch button. There’s also “Gougi with dull effects” and “anything with a time limit or only lasts one round.” That’s about all of it.
-When you made that decision, how much was influenced by your thoughts on balance vs feeling?
Nishitani: I have a role as a player, one as a developer, and also one as a company president so it’s difficult to say… but I prioritized the sense of feeling so much that Mihara got angry at me. *laughs*
Even when he would tell me, “Hey, that’s really messed up isn’t it?” I would just respond with, “Don’t worry, we’ll do the best balancing in the universe on it *later.*” *laughs* No matter what, I don’t want to make a bland and safe game. I want to aim for a game where players feel, “Even though this one part is kind of rough, the game as a whole is really fun.”
-You really are an expert on understanding what feels good about pressing a button.
Nishitani: For example, if it takes 10 energy to press down a button, but then the game takes that and turns it into 50 or 100 and sends it back to you, regardless of the game specifics, it will be fun.
Harada: Most players might only be able to grasp, “It feels good when I hit my opponent and watch his life bar go down,” but there are a lot of things, like subtle screen shake, that makes something feel good.
-On that note, and while this may be a bit of a digression, I heard from Mihara that in the EX series, Nishitani actually fine-tuned the angles the characters spun when they were sent flying across the screen. I thought, “Wasn’t that really difficult to do in an era with no physics engine?” You miss things like this by just playing, but there is a lot of detailed design in these games.
Nishitani: The last game I worked on at Capcom was X-MEN: Children of the Atom. I wanted to make something like a physics engine for that. While it was rough, I made my own system that let you set weights and direction based on strike power, vectors, weight, and so forth. Even now, I don’t use physics engines.
-There’s also the story of how you manually coordinated how far characters moved back when blocking in SF2.
Nishitani: Guard pushback as well. We first did calculations and decided on what we thought was just the right amount. But something about it just didn’t feel good. So I pulled out the graph paper and tested making it bigger and smaller, closer and further, pixel by pixel; I did this countless times until it finally became the form you see now.
-And the game expressed that feeling of a hands on approach. What did you do in EX?
Nishitani: We brought the SF2 data over to EX. But when we tried it in action, I didn’t like how it looked like the characters were sliding, so we programmed it so that you stopped in place for the initial frames of guarding. We tuned the distance you slide back, and ended up with a “hard start, soft slide” feeling. We made the same system for FEXL, and also added in a sliding system from the forward dash.
-Are there other people in the company besides yourself that can judge whether something feels good or bad?
Nishitani: Of course there are! For example, if it’s hitting your opponent and having the screen shake, Mihara is an expert.
Harada: Now that you mention it, it wasn’t in the old versions but it is in now.
Nishitani: I wanted to put it in from the start, but we didn’t have the manpower, so we saved it for later. I thought, “what good is adding in screen shake if the moves aren’t even finished?” We researched how to add in the shaking, then once we finished a round of fine tuning, I thought, “now would be a good time to put it in.”
-Where is the boundary between “feeling good” and “feeling bad?”
Nishitani: That’s a difficult question. *laughs* It’s a really delicate balance…how should I explain it…
Harada: A hint actually came out earlier. I said, “Feedback is everything.” When you press a button and a move comes out, how much a controller vibrates, the things on the screen, and the sounds that are played… everything is very important.
-Feedback is everything.
Harada: For example, a roundhouse kick and a thrusting kick are different, right? In the case of a thrusting kick, rather than having the hit effects come out the moment the move connects, you should wait until the foot sinks into the opponent before the effects appear. You should also use a heavy sound effect and delay it to match the move.
But on the other hand, I want a roundhouse kick to have its effects displayed early along with a sharp and dry sound. Also, when it hits, your health shouldn’t slowly decrease, but it should go down with a “BOOM!”
In their heads, players are thinking “this is the way it should be,” but this feeling that can’t be put into words is a combination of how the sounds, UI, animations, and effects are all brought together and presented. Whether or not the player can get this feeling from the feedback that the game provides, is the basis that determines whether a game is fun or not.
Nishitani: You’re certainly correct.
Harada: But of course, there are other things about fighting games that make them fun.
-That sense and intuition, is this something you polished through all the experience you gained from developing?
Nishitani: “This feels bad” or “Something about this feels off” are things that anybody can notice. The first step is to try and make those parts feel better. After that, it’s as Harada said– work on trying to make things “feel good” and “cool.”
But also there are also times when you say, “I don’t know why, but this unexpectedly happens to be really fun.” And from there, you can make discovery after discovery. Of course, you try your best to aim for a goal, but you often find out something is fun by coincidence.
Allen has something called the “Ora-! Combo”. It’s a combo the ends with a move called the “Ora-! KIck”; it does a ton of damage and feels good to perform– almost like a music game. That is something that we stumbled upon unintentionally.
Garuda as well from the EX series, when the blades shoot out of his body they hit the opponent with a “BZZZ!” kind of feeling. That also is a naturally good feeling.
Harada: That “BZZZ!” wasn’t something you planned, it just turned into that by accident!?
Nishitani: No! *laughs* Originally the move only hit once. But I felt, “Something doesn’t feel right about this,” and even though it took a bit of work to make it hit multiple times, in the end the move felt good.
Looking at it from a designer standpoint, the animation is kind of weird, and from a programer standpoint, the hitbox is also weird. We didn’t like it at first, but in the end we decided “Let’s provide some entertainment,” and “Let’s have everyone enjoy it!”
Harada: There’s many times when you make a mistake only to find out it feels right. In Tekken, the way you go flying away with a “Boom!” after getting hit by a Mach Punch type move was because I originally made a mistake in inputting data.
Nishitani: Oh really?
Harada: I made a mistake with the knockback parameters and also the effects… why does someone who got hit by a Mach Punch have smoke coming out of them!?
Harada: I originally thought, “What the hell is this!?” but instead grew fond of it and ended up adding it to other characters. It’s the culmination of these little things that feel good that determine whether a game is fun or not in the end.
–Whether or not something feels good, it’s all decided at the end.
FIGHTING EX LAYER And Nishitani’s 30 Year Anniversary
Harada: The graphics in FIGHTING EX LAYER have almost a magical sense about them.
Nishitani: This time, Mihara is directing all of the visuals and production.
-Isn’t that traditionally a designer’s job?
Nishitani: Designers will always think their design is correct, so even if there are some parts where you say, “Wouldn’t it be better to do this for the game?” they won’t really change their design. So by having Mihara direct, the result is that Mihara and the designers have come to blows. *laughs* But with this way of making the game, the designers have been listening to our feedback, and I feel like the game has grown.
Since Mihara is here, I will say it, but this is also thanks to Tekken.
Nishitani: No, I’m serious. Also, when I told Mihara, “No matter what, make sure the load times and the game’s responsiveness are fast,” he used your game as a model to compare with. Thanks to that, were able to achieve load times that are faster than Tekken. Although when we tried to make the game look better, the load times increased…
Harada: It always increases at the end…
-There certainly are a lot of gamers who value fast load times.
Nishitani: Hearing the details, I’m really impressed Tekken was able to release a product of that quality and still keep such good load times. Now in FIGHTING EX LAYER, it takes two seconds to switch characters in training mode, but in exchange, we gave up on matching Tekken’s level of detail and beauty.
But even so, the whole staff is working with this desire to catch up to and surpass Tekken; so even when we make something look nice, although we are working on a much smaller scale, Mihara will say something ridiculous like, “That’s not as good as Tekken.”
Harada: Even though my game is supposed to be a fighting game, its size is 40 gigabytes… Well, I guess it also has some pre-rendered CGs.
Nishitani: …but honestly, one of the reasons we were able to do our best is because of Tekken. Of course, the designers have limits, and even though we lack manpower, Mihara would say things like, “Yeah, but Tekken did this!” *laughs* “Tekken looked this good and it came out last year, our game is supposed to be coming out next year, you know!?”
Nishitani: But that’s the truth. There’s no way for a player to know what kind of hardships we go through. Current society always has something to compare to. Earlier, Mihara was bothering the designers with, “Hey, did you see Geese and Noctis? Noctis’s sword disappears; can’t we produce this effect as well?”
Harada: The conditions and environment are different; it’s really unfair to compare them.
Nishitani: That’s right. *laughs* But since we have a goal, we are able to make progress.
Harada: I certainly can feel that. The usage of shaders and lighting, and then things like shadows, the graphics are really improving at an amazing pace.
Nishitani: That’s because the design team has been working hard even if it meant overtime; they really saved us.
–FIGHTING EX LAYER has gotten to where we see today because of of the strong desire to overcome adversity as well as Nishitani’s logical aproach to design. Things will get very interesting from here on.
Nishitani: That’s right. But first we have to have everyone try it.
Harada: Players these days are very capable, so I think the Gougi system has a chance to be something they look forward to.
Nishitani: At the very least, it’s something that we think is fun; I’d like to fine tune and promote the game and then see how many others find it fun as well.
Harada: Either way, I will be cheering you on like crazy. *laughs* I’ve helped out by saying, “The man who created this genre, Nishitani, has returned!” but I think that people both young and old- anyone who likes fighting games should experience Nishitani’s challenge with their own hands. Let’s all download the beta and give it a try.
Nishitani: I certainly would like to ask everyone to try the beta. The beta will be a critical juncture for us in a lot of areas. We want to hear you honest opinions on the game content, and Mihara is also watching the results from a business standpoint… If everyone plays the beta and shares their opinions, it will be a huge plus for ARIKA, so please give it a shot!
Harada: I think that it’s really amazing how Nishitani, the man who created the genre, spent years on the sidelines watching others grow and expand the scene, then finally returns to once again try and redefine fighting games. I think this is something that everyone in the fighting game community needs to take part in.
Also, something that many people are mistaken in is thinking that fighting games have gotten more complex over the years. Since Nishitani’s creation gave birth to them, the level of freedom has always been high; in some ways, the games have just started to match that level of completion. You could say they are just changing along with the times. It’s actually that the community has matured. Nishitani has been waiting for the moment to say, “Now is the time to do this.” It’s really interesting.
Nishitani: When we moved from Street Fighter to SF2, we had to make a lot of decisions on whether to adopt or reject certain ideas. The same thing is happening in the world of fighting games now.
Looking at games made by other companies, as well as our EX series from the past and thinking, “It would have been better to have done this,” and, “Now I think the Gougi system might work.” It’s a culmination of these parts that made me want to once again create a new game. Of course, this wasn’t a spur of the moment thought, but something I had been visualizing for a very long time. But, I felt, “Now is the time.”
-This also coincides with your 30 Year Anniversary.
Nishitani: That’s right. But to be honest, there were parts where I felt, “This is all we can do,” due to a lack of resources. But on the other hand, I knew that by exerting ourselves on the system and planning side of things we would be able to greatly change the quality of the game even without a huge budget. Ignoring whether or not people find it interesting, I feel like we were able to create something very different.
-Pokemon’s Tajiri said, “When talking about making something fun, people tend to just talk about adding more resources, but that’s not the case.”
Nishitani: By adding more resources and budget, people tend to feel a sense of fun just from that. But my company is not that large, so we cannot follow that approach. That’s why I think we did well this time with the Gougi system.
-This must be the concentrated greatness of “The Legendary Generation” that Harada spoke about…
Harada: There is a possibility that the limits themselves led them to coming up with this ingenious solution.
Nishitani: In the old days, coming up with ingenious solutions was all that we could do. *laughs*