Yu Suzuki Q&A
We sit down with the creator of Virtua Fighter to get his thoughts on Virtua Fighter 4, the future of the series, the Xbox version of Shenmue II, and more.
Yu Suzuki stands out among the field of game developers as one of the select few who can truly be called an architect of modern gaming. The titles he and his teams at AM2 have worked on read like a list of some of arcade gaming's finest moments. As the market shifted from 2D to 3D, Suzuki and his teams made significant contributions that shaped what has followed. The Virtua Fighter series stands as one of Suzuki's finest accomplishments. A driving force in the evolution of arcade technology and the development of the 3D fighting genre, the series has made a sizeable impact on gameplay and game development. Over the course of its various incarnations, the Virtua Fighter series has introduced the use of motion capture for character movement, reversals, and multilevel arenas, as well as the use of polygons in fighting games. We had a chance to talk to Suzuki, who is in town to promote the PlayStation 2 conversion of Virtua Fighter 4, and question him on the series, game development, AM2, and Shenmue II.
GameSpot: How do you feel about the way the PlayStation 2 conversion of Virtua Fighter 4 came out?
Yu Suzuki: It's good. [laughs] We've added a lot of features for the consumer version.
GS: Are you happy with the extras you put in VF4 for the PS2, or did you want to put in something else?
YS: I'm pretty satisfied with what we did on such a tight schedule.
GS: Why did you put in the AI system?
YS: Well, I initially tried it in VF2. It had an AI feature on the Saturn, but I wasn't able to do what I wanted to on it. This is my second try at developing the idea a bit more. But I think I can still develop it further than this in some different genres as well.
GS: Will an arcade stick be released for the PlayStation 2?
YS: That's still to be determined at this point.
GS: Did you have any concerns when the decision was made to bring VF4 to the hardware? How long was the game in development?
YS: It took about about six to seven months to create the consumer version. But that's heavy work for me. [laughs] The schedule was very tight, and it was our first experience on the PlayStation 2 hardware.
GS: How was it working on the hardware?
YS: It went well. Everybody was surprised.
GS: Why was the hard drive support taken out of the US version?
YS: You should talk to Sony's people. [laughs] But seriously, in Japan, the number of users that actually use the hard drive is pretty low right now, so it's not that big of a deal.
GS: Why haven't we seen the story behind all the characters in VF come across more in the games?
YS: Well, the reason is that the games are made for the arcade, and so we need to engage people for short times. It's usually about three minutes average. So we focus on the fighting aspect of it. Focusing on story is something I'd like to do in the series in the future.
GS: What's prompted the changes in the series, like the addition and subsequent removal of the evade button?
YS: Nothing really that important, just changes to improve the feel of the game, really. Three buttons work well. There are advantages and disadvantages to both configurations. If it's more or less equally balanced, it's better to make a decision early and keep developing based on that. So now that we're done with it, the feedback is that the three-button setup was the correct way to go.
GS: Who's your character in VF4?
YS: My main character is Sarah, my second is Lei Fei, and then Shun Di. Sarah is really nice to play.
GS: Where do you see the Virtua Fighter series going?
YS: Well, of course we'd like to do another installment.
GS: Do you think we'll ever see a Virtua Fighter game online?
YS: It's technically feasible. It would just depend on the market.
GS: What do you think of the 3D fighters that have followed the Virtua Fighter series?
YS: It's definitely a good thing that there are other games in the genre.
GS: Do the other games on the market influence the direction of the Virtua Fighter games?
YS: Not really. I don't usually play too many games. Most of my games are influenced by other things, like movies, visiting San Francisco, going to Napa Valley, and buying wine. [laughs]
GS: What do you think of the changes that the fighting genre has undergone since the appearance of the first Virtua Fighter?
YS: Well, Virtua Fighter jumped from 2D to 3D--it was an epoch marking change. Virtua Fighter 4's big change is the network in Japan. The card system and VF net link and its compatibility with I-mode. There are 1,900 locations that can connect.
GS: Had you thought about trying to do that in US arcades?
YS: Yes. I wanted to try it, but it didn't work out.
GS: In terms of the characters, will the VF characters always stay in the fighting games? There was once talk of a VF RPG a long time ago.
YS: Oh, I'm not allowed to say. [laughs] I think the VF series is AM2's flagship title, and we need to treat it carefully.
GS: What do you think of using CG in games now that game hardware is so powerful?
YS: I think that the technology is important. Dreamworks and Disney's computer animation is very nice. Consoles still can't do real-time CG like that. As far as games go, if it's fun, it's fine. The important thing to focus on is making sure that the game is interactive. If you keep the player from interacting for too long, it's not so good. If the movies in a game are too long, then you start to get bored after the first time that you see it. So games with longer movies have less replay value.
GS: Is there any genre of game that you have not yet worked on but would like to?
YS: Yes. [laughs] I'd like to try to develop a broadband game some time.
GS: What do you think of the game industry climate right now? There seems to be a focus on profit and less on original ideas.
YS: There is some pressure. [laughs]
GS: Do you feel as though you still have the same freedom to work on original ideas as you did before?
YS: I think I still do have the freedom to do what I want to do. It's not unlimited, but it's there.
GS: Do you still think you could devote the time and resources you did to an original game like Shenmue?
YS: I think Shenmue was too big! [laughs] Now that AM2 is an independent company, we have to take profit into account. This year, it would be good to have a profit because then we can challenge ourselves in the future. If AM2 is profitable, then I can do anything! [laughs]
GS: It sounds like how movie studios operate.
YS: I think the Hollywood business is a good balance. In Japan, the main focus is on series and sequels. I would like to try new things, though.
GS: Has the Japanese economy made it difficult for you to do new things?
YS: I think American people like new challenges, and that's really comfortable for me. Up until now, you'd release a game in Japan first and then bring it out in the States, but since the American market is so accepting of new things, I'd like to introduce new things here first and then develop the series in Japan, since the Japanese market enjoys sequels and series.
GS: How is AM2 managing its resources in terms of supporting all the consoles?
YS: Well, that's confidential. At the moment, we're focusing on PlayStation 2, but we're researching all the other platforms--Game Boy Advance, Xbox, GameCube, and PC. You can look for some announcements later this month.
GS: Speaking of the Xbox, what can you say about Shenmue II on the Xbox?
YS: Well, it's already been brought over to the Xbox. The gameplay is intact.
GS: How much does the hardware affect how you develop a game? How will Shenmue II take advantage of the Xbox?
YS: What we did first was bring the game over pretty much the way it was on the Dreamcast. The next step after that is to see how much we can take advantage of the Xbox and make it better. We're going to go through the game part by part to make the best use of the hardware and then put it all together.
GS: Can you comment at all on the rumors of VF 4.1?
YS: This is the first time I've heard of it. [laughs]
GS: Thanks for your time.