Tekken It to the Limit With Katsuhiro Harada

Get ready for the next battle.

I'm sitting at a cramped little table at the Las Vegas Resort & Casino surrounded by Bandai Namco's Katsuhiro Harada, Daisuke Murano, and Michael Murray. We're smack-dab in the middle of the casino floor discussing fighting game development. Across from us, several rows of slot machines come alive with bright lights and electronic jingles for their patrons. Money goes in, but never comes back out. This isn't surprising. One machine continuously plays a sweet eagle screech.

Katsuhiro Harada is the director of the Tekken franchise, while Daisuke Murano and Michael Murray are both producers on Bandai Namco's upcoming Rise of Incarnates, which I saw back at the 2014 Electronic Entertainment Expo. Some of you may recognize Murray's name, because he is also Harada's longtime translator for the Western press--or at least he has been for as far back as I can recall. Over beers, the four of us talked fighting games, Eastern versus Western business practices, and Twitch streaming. Unfortunately, this interview took place before the big Tekken 7 announcement, so I don't have any juicy tidbits about that game for you just yet.

GameSpot's Peter Brown took this screen shot to the limit with an extra addition.

How has developing a fighting game changed since you started working at what is now Bandai Namco?

Katsuhiro Harada: The costs involved have grown exponentially. Look at the Japanese animation industry: a long time ago, we used to create by hand all the key animation cels. But recently it has become too expensive to do that, so everyone ships out their work to China or elsewhere. The same can be said for games. It's expensive to use Japanese developers, so we're increasingly relying on outsourcing to make all the assets and such for our games just to make ends meet. That's something that's definitely different from a long time ago.

Daisuke Murano: From the beginning of Rise of Incarnates' development, our team has been very international--just look at Michael and me. In fact, our team is so international, a lot of times we'll have our meetings exclusively in English.

Michael Murray: Yeah, [Daisuke] is a producer and I'm a producer, so we do it all in English. We work with our outsourcing company, the US offices, and others all in English. It's a really unique team. Even our main art lead speaks English.

DM: Rise of Incarnates' director lived in the US for 10 years, and the story writer lived in the US for seven years. Now they live in Japan, but sometimes we'll have conversations in English, and suggest American comics or Marvel or DC comics, or even American cities, as points of inspiration for the game.

Was putting together this sort of international team by chance, or was it planned that way from the beginning?

MM: It was by chance. I knew Daisuke while working on Frame City Killer, and we became pretty close, so I would go visit him all the time and see what he was working on. One day he showed me [Rise of Incarnates] and said it would be cool if I could join the team. Tekken was wrapping up at the time, so I chose to join, and we made that happen. But that was on our level. As far as management goes, they didn't really have any designs like that.

DM: With Rise of Incarnates, our main user is worldwide, so we thought about it and decided we needed to make an international team with an international frame of mind.

Rise of Incarnates has a two-on-two fighting style similar to the Gundam Extreme Vs. series.

If you're working internationally, do the Eastern and Western styles of business clash?

MM: That's actually my job! [Bandai Namco] is a Japanese company, and their way of doing things is different. They don't see the importance of community, for instance, and a lot of things that Harada is doing now [for Tekken] is by his own power. He's able to just do it without anyone complaining. He doesn't really ask management, and if they complain, he'll deal with it, but traditionally it doesn't work like that. Daisuke and I talk about what we want to do, and then it's my job to present those ideas to management. And I have to frame it correctly, because I know how [management] thinks, but I also know this is important for the American audience. I've done a lot of [that sort of work] on Tekken as well. We're the first to do this in the company for a lot of the stuff we do. I push it through management, and it's an uphill battle, but I've been there so long that I'm able to convince them. Having been there 10 years now, I've built up a little stock. That's why we're trying a lot of new things, and it can be difficult to push through.

Since so much of Bandai Namco is centered around fighting games now, it's surprising to hear that community support isn't viewed with more urgency from up top.

"A lot of things that Harada is doing now [for Tekken] is by his own power. He doesn't really ask management, and if they complain, he'll deal with it, but traditionally it doesn't work like that."

MM: They say, "Well, if we do this, how much profit does it make?" and that's hard to equate. Harada and I are the only ones who go to these events abroad and see firsthand the impact it has, and that's not something you can measure on paper. Harada just takes responsibility and does it, and a lot of times he gets yelled at.

KH: A lot of people just don't know what this is like.

MM: Western developers all have a Twitter account and just tweet whatever they want. In Japan, you have to apply for an account in the company, and there are all these restrictions. Harada had one before there were all those restrictions, and I had one as well, so we just do what we want, and it has been successful so far, but a lot of times people are just copy-pasting press releases and such. That's something I've been able to help Daisuke with because I can go to our boss and say, "Let us do this and I'll take responsibility." But I'm still not the maker of Tekken, so I can't do anything I choose, but I do get away with a lot more than most people, and I try to make that benefit Rise of Incarnates. Daisuke is learning the ropes though--he gets to come out with Harada to events like this after all.

So what is the average age of the Tekken team?

KH: Probably late 30s is the average. From 35 and above is when you maybe start to be a producer. It takes some time to get those responsibilities.

At the last Anime Expo, Bandai Namco showed off an Oculus Rift demo of Sword Art Online, which Harada worked on.

I find most fighting games are still designed with the one-on-one, arcade-style mentality in mind. Do you ever see yourself moving away from the arcade scene?

KH: You gain a lot from the arcade. [Patrons] will try your game at least once, but if it sucks, they'll never play again, so it's a severe environment to be in, but that just makes you stronger. And since it's a public place, you can see how people are enjoying your game: are they pissed off or unhappy or just half-assing it and complaining? With high-speed Internet, it might be easier to balance the game because you get all this data, but you can't get that emotional feedback--unless you had a camera or something attached to the console to measure facial expression or heart rate. Using the streaming feature on the PS4 to watch how users are playing could give you a similar experience to being in the arcade, but [watching players] is still a really important aspect of development that could be lost if we didn't have an arcade presence.

KH (cont.): You look at Super Nintendo games or Genesis games or even mobile games, and a lot of those companies rely on KPI data and statistics alone to balance their games and get the most profit. For the most part, that is a company's focus--profit--but also those games are so simple that you're able to tell quite a bit from numbers alone. However, for something as complex as a fighting game, that's something you can't read though numbers alone. That's why we place an importance on showing up to tournaments and arcades and monitoring players' experiences with our game.

"With high-speed Internet, it might be easier to balance the game because you get all this data, but you can't get that emotional feedback...[watching players] is still a really important aspect of development that could be lost if we didn't have an arcade presence."

DM: Rise of Incarnates is interesting because the length of each match is similar to an arcade [fighting game] experience, but there are elements from other genres as well. It's not purely a fighting game, per se. The overall gameplay benefits from communication with your partner. It's not just about logging in, playing for a few minutes, and logging out. It's about strategizing and discussing the matchups with your partner and implementing that theory, as well as the customization aspect as well. There is that human element at work that needs to be recognized.

How would a fighting game that is not designed with the arcade mentality in mind function? For example, Harada-san, what if you designed Tekken without letting players share the same screen?

KH: We've discussed that before, actually. There are some cool things you could do: you could make the dramatic effects and [impact] effects even more over the top since it's not a shared screen. You could put the move list on the screen for your fighter, or other personalized stuff. There are lots of cool things you could do with screen personalization, but there are also benefits you get from being part of a community or being in an arcade where you're seeing your opponent directly. In Japan, you see top players and they have these beautiful girls alongside them, and other players see them and think, "Oh man, I want that!" And that is something you'd miss, though you could maybe show that online too.

Perhaps using some sort of streaming service, like Twitch? How prevalent is Twitch, or online streaming in general, in Japan?

KH: Twitch is starting to pick up a bit, but the main one is still NicoNico. People are playing on that, but for very fast-paced stuff, it's hard to show it correctly on NicoNico, so people are kind of noticing that Twitch is better suited for that. Even so, it's not whether you're good at the game or a top player or whatever. In Japan, it's all about that person's personality. They need to be commentating and be interesting to listen to. We have a term that roughly translates as "stream master," and they're actually quite famous and make a lot of money doing that. It's kind of a different format than what is in the US, I think.

Yeah, in America I think we're much more willing to simply watch a good player, even without commentary.

MM: I was thinking of doing some Twitch streaming with Daisuke, actually. Harada and I could jab at him while he's playing! But I'm kind of serious, because Rise of Incarnates is a new title, and if we could stream it from our office and just be shooting the shit, it would be fun for us at the same time, and people would be able to see something they can't play yet.

What would a fighting game inside the Oculus Rift even look like?

That sort of transparency in development is something that's becoming more and more important here in the US. What about in Japan?

MM: That's going to be my biggest hurdle yet. No one is doing that in Japan. This is just an idea that I came up with that I pitched to Daisuke, and he wants to do it, so the next step is convincing our boss to say OK, which might be the most difficult thing I've ever done, but I think it would be a good opportunity for this title. It's rough because we make a Facebook page or something for Tekken, and it gets three million likes instantly, and then we make one for Rise, and we get maybe three thousand to start. But yeah, [transparent development] isn't really prevalent in Japanese society, and convincing the companies that this is something we should do is still pretty difficult. If I succeed, it'll probably be the first time a Japanese company has done it. And when the next Tekken comes around, Harada will just do what he wants.

So there are going to be a bunch of live streams with Harada in his pajamas drawing up design documents?

MM: Yeah, and he'll be drinking tequila the whole time.

Written By

Want the latest news about Rise of Incarnates?

Rise of Incarnates

Rise of Incarnates

Discussion

50 comments
hystavito
hystavito

"[Bandai Namco] is a Japanese company, and their way of doing things is different. They don't see the importance of community"

That sounds kinda bad :), but I guess it's just the truth about how different things are in the Japanese game industry.  Nice to just hear it put plainly though, not some candy coated carefully spun response.


"unless you had a camera or something attached to the console to measure facial expression or heart rate"

Kinect 2.0! :)

BranKetra
BranKetra moderator moderator

That screenshot with the bears is funny. It shows how popular hip hop is now.

179107199999
179107199999

That screen shot aboard the Gan Ryu Maru has an ursine along the side of Kuma and Panda wearing the "bear" essentials.

Mojira7
Mojira7

My impression from the interview is that working in that game company is not really fun at all :( Pretty serious business, profit, convincing management and stuff going on, just like inside a lot of large companies...

coldfusion25
coldfusion25

I really hope they do some serious re-balancing in this version. 

My suggestions as an online player would be:


1) Rebalance cheap chars e.g. Jinpachi, the Chreddiger's. (if they will be in T7)

2) All characters should have solid poking, punishing and tracking, less cheap moves in general.

3) Nerf the top tier chars and boost the lower tier chars, both in effectiveness and difficulty. NOT THE OTHER WAY AROUND THIS TIME !!!

4) Better tutorial system; TTT2 is out for years and there are still so many beginners playing.

5) Provide some better throw break mechanics; it's just not reasonable to distinguish left/right throws online.

hermitkiller
hermitkiller

Hey guys, let's make a super cool petition for this game!!!

I wanna play this on my divine PS3 emulator with top notch resolution and over the top framerates xDDDD

I'm so stoked.

megakick
megakick

I don't care for the fighting mechanic. Virtua Fighter is far better.

lolowalsh
lolowalsh

I don't see the point of throwing 60 bucks on a fighting games , first of all fighting community have the attitude of slagging of all newcomers by calling them : noobs , scrubs ect...

Second : you have to commit and sacrifice many amazing games just to learn the game , so you will miss out many games basically most of my friends who likes tekken only play tekken which is boring

Third : my experience with fighting games in general is they are some sad people who hate on you just cause you don't play properly , so they will insult you and make tekken their life .

And finally I don't think fighting games are worth to buy full price , maybe second hand but not full price plus you have to buy arcade sticks so you can perform the hardest moves.

RobDev
RobDev

So COD 11 is ruining the industry but tekken 9, which in essense is pretty much the same game and story every game, no problem?

izvarzone
izvarzone

I hope they will release it on PC at same time, and it also will not have lag / red bars.

BradBurns
BradBurns

Can't wait for Tekken 7. I poured countless hours into part 6 and TTT2.

rawkstar007
rawkstar007

"Tekken it to the limit"

That play on words gives me an involuntary eye roll spasm.

kane6911
kane6911

Killer instinct will probably still be better. but we will see 

tom_cat_01
tom_cat_01

Whatever happened to Tekken X Street Fighter? Was it quietly cancelled? 

lonesamurai1
lonesamurai1

hoping for PC release with extra goodies

RSM-HQ
RSM-HQ

I'll look into Rise but ultimately more interested in Tekken 7.


Never thought I'd see another Tekken after Tag 2, I remember an article on Harada saying it was possibly the final Tekken game because the series felt "complete".

sladakrobot
sladakrobot

why are the japanese so obsessed by bears and pandas?

personally,it ruins the game.

i played Tekken 1+2+3.

Mraou
Mraou

Zelda it to the limit with Eiji Aonuma! Mario it to the limit with Shigeru Miyamoto! Metal Gear Solid it to the limit with Hideo Kojima!

meedokicky
meedokicky

Oh it is more complicated than I though :o

And you see people on Twitter asking Harada to add a character they made XD

I haven't been paying attention to Rise tbh, maybe I'll check it out sometime.


Good read Maxwell, thanks :)

kane6911
kane6911

yeah i do not know about this game now that i can see it, it looks good graphically but i am kinda concerned looking this though, looks like they are trying to do too much in this one. instead of just fight we machines and motorcycles kinda lost on this one.  

imajinn
imajinn

@BranKetra Now? The gold chain thing has been done to death for years now and the bears have always had that backward dance move since T3.

hystavito
hystavito

@Mojira7 Their statements did strike me as surprisingly revealing and honest :).

sanchango
sanchango

@Mojira7 isn't that the majority of game companies. I mean sure they make it sound fun, but in reality, they are all working very hard on the game. Making sure that everything works and hopefully isn't broken/unbalanced.

179107199999
179107199999

@coldfusion25 kill bound juggles. make launchers less safe.more emphasis on fighting not juggling.Yes Tekken always had juggles but TTT2 and T6 made it ridiculous TTT2 even more so

chasecarnevale
chasecarnevale

@coldfusion25


1) Jinpachi isn't overpowered, and the Capos are low-mid tier at best. Chreddy do force you to play around their weird style, but they aren't exceptional at anything, so intelligent play will beat them every time.

2) With so many characters, if everyone was decent at everything, there would be no differentiation whatsoever. Everyone ought to have notable strengths and weaknesses, and when you fight them, it's your job to play around their strengths and attack their weaknesses. For instance, Julia/Jaycee's fff1 is ridiculously good, but can be ducked. Paul's qcf2 is the most powerful single attack in the game, but has short range and can be sidestepped. A move is only cheap if you let the opponent get away with it.

3) You seem to imply that Bamco buffed all the top tier characters from T6, and nerfed the bottom tier ones. You're wrong.

4) Very right, and this is a problem that fighting games as a whole have been struggling with for a long time. It's not an easy genre to get into, and if it intends to grow at all, there needs to be more of an effort to acclimate newcomers without reducing the complexity or skill-ceiling of the games.

5) Throws are supposed to be a 50/50. Even offline, among pros, reading a throw exactly is risky business. As with Soul Calibur, you're better off knowing your opponent's options and playing around them. If King/Armor King's back is to a wall, always break 1+3. Even if they only use 2+4 grabs, you'll be avoiding the massive damage and disadvantage of getting hit with Giant Swing into a wall.

shoguntake
shoguntake

@lolowalsh "all fighting community have the attitude of slagging of all newcomers by calling them : noobs , scrubs ect..."

That's a very broad generalization, there are assholes in every video game community. I've bumped into a fare share of them while playing Tekken Tag 2 but the same can be said about every game I've played online.

 "you have to commit and sacrifice many amazing games just to learn the game"
No, this is subjective and makes little sense. Again, spend time on one game then of course that is time you could have spent playing another game let alone doing something else altogether. Your time spent mastering fighting games don't have to take much longer than hunting a platinum trophy in any other game.


"you have to buy arcade sticks so you can perform the hardest moves."
No. Not at all.

179107199999
179107199999

@lolowalsh I don't care if someone is a beginner. What ticks me off is when someone buttonmashes or just spams or if a beginner calls you a spammer when in fact you're doing 5-7 moves and you happen to punish them for doing literally the right move to counter the move you know they'll throw out and no you don't need an Aracade stick to play proper. Someone did very very well at EVO in SF using a Ps1 controller. And as for learning the game.If you have a real love for it then learning won't be so bad however if you have harsh feelings then learning will be possible just slower.As for sacrificing like I said about love for the game you won't mind it you wouldn't think about it much. Maybe the Fighting game you play isn't the one for you.Its ok to be a casual at Fighting games. not everyone is god tier and online makes some things stronger than offline.Also Just play.You get better in time. 60 is worth it unless its Injustice or MK or even BlazBlue where they'll keep adding characters as paid DLC. In those instances just wait to buy.And don't get me started with SF and Soulcalibur 5

Enfamous_Mr_BHC
Enfamous_Mr_BHC

@lolowalsh not all the time you need that stick but it makes it easier. Fighting games have an athlete's mentality, in sports like football, basketball, boxing and soccer no one takes it easy on you if they are serious about the sport. The only way you grow is to unfortunately take some beatings, but it depends on the mentality you have. If it's too hard walk away,you can learn at your own pace but if you wanna get better keep trying.

179107199999
179107199999

@RobDev chasecrnevale said it perfectly. Now as far as story. Its a continuing story.The Tekken story isn't the same with every game and gameplay as chase said isn't the same.Every Tekken game has been different. Tekken also emphasizes skill as opposed to cod. you can camp in Cod but you can't turtle in Tekken.Also its Tekken 7 TT and TT2 aren't offical storyline games. neither was Tekken Advance and Tekken Prime.

chasecarnevale
chasecarnevale

@RobDev The difference is CoD aims low and wide: they make games to appeal to the lowest common denominator.


Tekken is specialized. The fighting community isn't very large, and even among fighting game enthusiasts, Tekken has a reputation as being very difficult to pick up. But that's the allure. And every entry in the series adds at least a half-dozen characters, major rebalancing, and new mechanics. It's never "pretty much the same game". Just because someone's good at Tekken 5, doesn't necessarily mean they'll be good at Tekken 6, because several fundamental gameplay mechanics changed between those games.


Also consider that there's been a new CoD release every year since 2007, while Tekken has only released a new version every 3-4 years, since 1995. CoD is factory-manufactured bullshit. Tekken is an actual videogame.

RSM-HQ
RSM-HQ

@BradBurns Me also, my online matches in TTT2 was in the thousands xD

Xmus942
Xmus942

@kane6911 

Probably? Based on what???

hermitkiller
hermitkiller

@lonesamurai1 Sure there's gonna be pc release.....

Just like they have released every tekken, virtua fighter and soul calibur to your precious rigs xDDDDD

Petition this, petition that.....beggar here and everywhere xDDD

sirapathetic01
sirapathetic01

@sladakrobot It's not that serious to the point that it "ruins" the game. Relax.

Stebsis
Stebsis

@kane6911 What? The two pictures with the motorcycle and the warmachine thing are from Rise of Incarnates, not from Tekken. How do those even resemble Tekken?

kane6911
kane6911

@Xmus942 tekken has a very restricted fighting system and the fact that is probably one of the slowest fighting games of all time.  tekken needs to get rid of that robotic fighting system to a free form fighting system to even be really relevant. this is why i still i say DOA is a better the better fighting game because of the system it built on and how it controls. hell even street fighter is better. so Killer Instinct Will probably still be the better fighting game.   

xOmniCloudx
xOmniCloudx

@BradBurns @tom_cat_01 No it's not. Harada confirmed on his twitter that it was still in development a few weeks ago and to stop asking if it was cancelled.

kane6911
kane6911

@Stebsis @kane6911 tekken is a fighting that combines technology with their characters so yes it does look like tekken. after all you bears, a mechanical swords man, flying demons and ect. so the do pictures do look like something tekken creators would try to pull. 

179107199999
179107199999

@kane6911 @Xmus942 no its not restricted. That depends on how you play. As for Doa. Its shallow. Its not deep.and the catch system is kinda annoying. Tekken and SC do a better job at distingushing  between highs and lows and always had a better sidestepping system with SC being the best even if SC5 had a sorrier version. Also it took DOA decades before someone even figured lets give them the ability to sidestep. also KI is good but in my opnion its not better than Tekken or SC. however KI has a combo breaker. TTT2 and SC5 definitely needs that. 

xOmniCloudx
xOmniCloudx

@kane6911 @Xmus942 You have no idea what you are talking about. Tekken is a much faster paced game than DOA. It's just that Tekekn doesn't hold your hand. Movement system is always about your speed on cancelling actions so the faster you do it the faster the game moves. If you suck at cancelling then you wont be moving fast at all. 2.5D games are faster than 3D games just like 2D games are faster than 2.5D games so of course KI is faster *facepalm* KI is garbage btw. It's the worst major fighting game released in the past decade. Half a roster and a ridiculous breaker system. Scrubs shouldn't be talking about fighting games....

BradBurns
BradBurns

@xOmniCloudx @BradBurns @tom_cat_01 If it's not cancelled, it's not coming out in my lifetime, so it might as well be to me. 

But if you're one of those people that are still eagerly anticipating that game, more power to you.

BradBurns
BradBurns

@kane6911 @Stebsis I can totally see how you got the two confused. Tekken is cluster fudge of motorcycles, cellphones, robots, and bears. Especially the cut-scenes.