Tekken 7 has been out in Japanese arcades since March 2015, but it still hasn’t hit store shelves for home systems. That will finally change in early 2017 when it lands on Playstation 4, Xbox One, and PC.
Katsuhiro Harada, the longtime producer of the franchise, was present at the North American finals for the King of the Iron Fist Tournament. The best Tekken players from around the country gathered to compete on the currently unreleased Tekken 7 for cash prizes in San Francisco. While competition is going strong in Tekken 7, fans of the series are probably wondering what’s going on with the home versions of the game.
GameSpot caught up with Harada-san and game designer/translator Michael Murray to talk about the competitive scene, the arrival of Tekken 7’s home version, and character development throughout the series.
GameSpot: As eSports grow and the fighting games scene continues to flourish, how do you see Tekken 7 fitting in?
Harada/Murray: We're already able to do the tournament series on the current arcade boards that we have. We have maybe 30 or so that we send around to events. So right now [that] has kind of limited the environment which the players in North America and Europe are able to get their hands on Tekken 7.
We feel that eSports is becoming increasingly popular, but the players have limited time with the game. So we're hoping that that's going to change quite a bit after the release on console and PC in early 2017. We think that we're starting off slow, but after the release date things will start to pick up.
To you, what distinguishes Tekken from other fighting games in the competitive scene?
I guess the obvious difference is probably that the game is 3D as opposed to 2D. A lot of the other 2D fighters are using 3D game models and graphics, but to actually have 3D coordinates and be able to move into the background and foreground in a way that changes the gameplay is something that sets Tekken apart quite a bit from other games. There were more 3D fighters in the field many years back, but Tekken has been the only major one that remains.
Why do you think that is? Why have other fighting games all gone 2D but Tekken has stayed 3D? Why do you think we haven’t seen Soulcalibur in a while?
It's hard to say, but it could be perhaps: at the time Tekken first started, it wasn't the major franchise it is today. Virtua Fighter was kind of considered the pinnacle of what a 3D fighter should be. One match is just 60 seconds, and within that time frame, you had many different instances in which you and your opponent are almost in a rock-paper-scissors match. The way you're reading your opponent, you make a choice and your opponent makes a choice. That would occur very frequently throughout a match. That was kind of considered the proper way to make a 3D fighter, and Tekken was headed in that direction a bit, but then we decided maybe it's too complex for some people.
We reduced the frequency of reading your opponent and those particular chess-like instances within a match. For example, in Tekken, there's not a big difference in reach between you and your opponent when characters are chosen. With Soulcalibur, a lot depended on the weapon; it could be a very long staff, it could be a dagger. So even if the position of you and your opponent is a certain space, a lot still depended on which weapon you had. All these things you have to consider when you play the game maybe make it a little bit more difficult to jump into than Tekken. So it could be that just [Tekken is] a little bit simpler and approachable.
Are there going to be any changes to the home version? What's going to drive people who've played a lot of the arcade version to pick up the home version?
Obviously we don't want to change the formula people expect. That said, with all the Tekken games, we always add extra content. One of the big features is the story mode, in addition to the arcade mode. Other modes, for example, consistent of some type of gallery that allow you to catch up on story elements of the past installments.
How did working with Unreal Engine 4 impact the development process?
In past Tekken games where we didn't use Unreal Engine, there was a major difference in that we had much less time to actually do game design. When we submitted our documents to a programmer, we had to wait quite some time before we actually saw our work on screen.
Being able to use Unreal Engine and to have our work and the graphics appear relatively quick gave us much more time to work and focus on the actual game design elements. It also makes it easier to port to different platforms.
What is the driving force behind bringing it to PC? Do you expect a sizable audience on PC?
Before, we used to do a lot for Sony's hardware first. The hurdle to porting to PC afterward was quite high at that time. Since we're developing the game on PC from the start using Unreal Engine, it made it much easier to release a PC version. There are also many markets in which many gamers prefer PC rather than console.
Have you considered incorporating PlayStation 4 Pro or Xbox Scorpio support for the game?
Those platforms are relatively new as far as what we know about them and what's been released publicly about them. It's hard to comment on that right now.
So, no Nintendo Switch version to reveal?
We're quite surprised by the Nintendo Switch announcement; read into that what you like.
Street Fighter’s Akuma has been part of the lead up for Tekken 7; he was featured in the E3 trailer, for example. Do you see further crossover characters in the core series? Was there experimenting in Tekken X Street Fighter that provided some inspiration?
Akuma may be a special case. It’s not like other games where we take the character and put him in the character lineup and that's it. He's actually part of the story and the game--not just the backstory but actually in the story mode itself. It might be interesting to include some other guest characters, if there was one that really clicked and could bring in a new audience. But at the moment, it's not something we're actively thinking about.
As far as Tekken X Street Fighter: not much tie over between Akuma and that game. Akuma was a thought that actually occurred much earlier when we first were discussing Street Fighter X Tekken. Afterward, we thought right away that it would be cool to bring Akuma into Tekken.
Are there any plans to continue development on Tekken X Street Fighter, or is it something you're not thinking about right now?
You mentioned the story mode is going to be a very important part of the home version. With that in mind, how does Tekken 7 further develop its characters?
In typical story modes in other fighting games, you merely load the game, each character says one or two lines to each other before the battle, then you go into the standard battle with the timer from the same position all the time. All the same rules apply from them fighting.
We tried to change that, so the circumstances at the beginning of the fight might change: the relation of you to your opponent distance-wise, maybe your health or the status of the stage. All these things were done to make the game feel very immersive. Whatever is going on in the cinematics shifts straight into the in-game scene, and then straight into the gameplay itself. You're not thrown into the standard battle. That's really what we focus on changing this time for story mode.
Tekken has always included a diverse set of characters with different nationalities, playing into the game’s theme of the King of Iron Fist Tournament. How important has it been to create and maintain diversity in Tekken's cast?
It's probably because we take different approaches to designing new characters. It's not the same every time. For example, some of the ideas might come from the animators because there are certain animations, fighting styles, martial arts, or something that they focus on first and flesh out the character from there. It could also be that the planner comes up with a certain look for a character they want to show off, or a game designer wants a character from a particular region. For example, Shaheen from the Middle East.
Sometimes it comes from the designers who actually draw the character. Since we don't take the same path for every character, perhaps it’s one reason why there is such diversity in the lineup.