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Tekken Tag Tournament 2

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We speak to series producer Katsuhiro Harada about turning Tag into a franchise after 12 years away.


This year's AOU Show, which took place at the Makuhari Messe International Convention Complex in Chiba last month, was one of the smallest in the arcade event's history with many companies choosing not to attend. But despite the declining market in Japan, Namco Bandai's Tekken has remained the most profitable arcade series for the past six years - a trend which looks set to continue with its latest installment, Tekken Tag Tournament 2. We caught up with series producer Katsuhiro Harada at the show to discuss Tekken's continuing success, introducing more humour to Tag 2 and why it's taken 12 years to produce a sequel.


Why have you decided to make Tekken Tag Tournament 2 now?

We wanted to do it much sooner; we talked about it when we were about to make Tekken 6. The pressure was such that we had to go for 6 and put any ideas of Tag 2 aside. In a way, the first Tag came to crown our achievement with what you could describe as the first generation of Tekken; to bring the franchise to the next step, we needed the next generation of hardware. This came with the PS2 and the PS3. The fact is when we finished Tekken 6 Bloodline Rebellion and were thinking about our next step in the franchise, most of the people around were pushing for Tag 2.


With this second game, Tag has become its own franchise. Why have you decided to separate Tag from the other Tekken games?

You may find this strange but people often react based on a rhythm; you get used to something which becomes natural to you. In a fighting game, I would describe this as the way you chain moves. Tekken is basically a versus game that opposes two combatants, but if you add a tag experience on the top of that, users may loose focus because we are talking about two different things. When you say ‘tag tournament’, you immediately understand what it is about. The rules are crystal clear, and your brain easily switches. And from a developer point of view, it's also easier to focus: because you are not trying to do too many things at the same time, you have a greater chance to make a better experience. Actually I believe you do a better job. So it is less a commercial issue but really a creative one: to separate the two experiences.

What is Tag 2 bringing to the Tekken fighting experience?

In the previous Tag, we were very limited from a technology point of view. We had to limit ourselves to two fighters on screen at the same time. Because we are now able to have up to four characters, we're able to not only make the fighting experience more dynamic but also more enjoyable.


Are you using a new generation of board for this game?

This is indeed a new board. The previous 347 has been replaced by something we call 369 but, basically, it is very much the same technology. We have the same amount of memory, the same CPU etc.


You’ve remodelled the character models for Tag 2. How did you go about doing so without compromising their personalities?

You have no idea how difficult it was and still is! I’m still hesitant. In the West, photorealism is the standard and the latest games show how close [Western developers] are now to achieving it. Tekken is not about that. On the other hand, take a game like Street Fighter or Guilty Gear. Their charisma comes from the art style and their anime looking motions. But what is Tekken about? Well, this is a very tough question as there is no real answer. It's a mix of CG with a very Japanese way of designing characters. So changing the models, bringing them to the next stage, is a very difficult process and one that should not hurt the fans. We made new sets of shaders with the use of normal maps. The quality of the character models looks very improved, but I’m sure there will be people who won’t like our current approach. We’re still working on those models, so the final version may offer either a little more realism or a stronger anime touch. We can’t tell at this point.


Heihachi Mishima was grey and old in previous games, but in Tag 2, he’s noticeably more youthful. Why did you decide to change this?

[Heihachi] is one of the longest running characters in the game, but as you may know, the voice actor [that played him] died. We thought the circumstances gave us the opportunity to change things, make him a little bit younger. We managed very well, and almost magically, to explain this fact: basically he drank a potion that made him younger! Yes, you’ll tell me, “What the hell!?” But we’re just like that!


Tag 2 introduces network play, but appears to be limited to Japan, Asia and Oceania. What was the reason for this?

Well, in previous versions, we had a few units installed in North America and Europe. We would be very happy to come sell our cabinets if there were places for them, but arcades are quite extinct in those markets. So for the moment it is true that Tag 2 is very much focused on these markets.

The popularity of fighting games in the arcade seems to be dwindling, why do you think that is?

To a certain degree, I think there was a fighting game boom. The PlayStation was certainly a big factor in this. In a short period of time we were flooded with tons of 2D and 3D fighting games, and Street Fighter went silent for about a decade. During that time, Virtua Fighter and Tekken kept releasing [versions] in the arcade. I was talking with Ono-san of Capcom the other day about Street Fighter, and how the franchise really reached its peak with SFIII; the team had done everything that was possible with the franchise by that time. It had tons of systems, but this worked as a barrier to potential newcomers. It was like sport: it’s cool to watch, but since you stand no chance against the pros, there's not much fun in going against them. That problem just grew bigger and bigger.


Fighting games are very severe as half of the players will loose automatically. SFIII was almost bringing that to 80 per cent. It was seen as the best 2D fighting could offer but it was very much exclusive to a few. You pay 100 yen to play and loose. That became more and more apparent in the genre and the result was predictable. Tekken survived because it's a game that, in a way, is almost a parody of a fighting game. I was often criticized about that fact when we made Tekken 1 to 3; it was possible to win by just doing silly things on the controls. You could inflict massive damage with just one move, and people who were winning and were then defeated because the other player did such a move felt annoyed. You still find this in Tekken 6 when players were clearly leading the fight but lost because of rage. From a good player’s point of view, this is seen as a potential accident. From a more novice player’s point of view it leaves them the possibility to defeat good players. You may play 20 times and loose 19 but there is still a good chance you win at least once.


I think this was key to our franchise’s survival and appeal over the years and versions. That’s why when SFIV came out, it wasn't the continuation of SFIII, it went back to good old SFII. Ono-san told me that during those ten years of silence, he studied Tekken to understand the reason for its popularity. So he realized that [street Fighter] needed to be simpler, to leave an open door to new users. That is why SFIV is so successful today. To have a pyramid, you need a large base. If you don’t have one, then there can’t be any pyramid. I think this is the reason why a franchise like Tekken managed to remain very active in the market.


Is this why Tekken X Street Fighter became possible?

Yes indeed. The crazy thing about Street Fighter is that as soon as it came back on the fighting stage, people started to say that the boom was back. I realised how much power was in that franchise. Americans are quite good at Street Fighter while Europeans are better at Tekken. This was very exciting ground for opposing both on a common stage. In addition there were many talks in the past about mixing franchises, Tekken VS Virtua Fighter, for instance. There was Capcom VS SNK already, but I was told that doing such a thing is a last resort because as soon as the buzz is gone, it’s pretty much over. So I was always thinking that such a project was something to avoid at all costs, it was very much a taboo.


But then I realised that Street Fighter has been going for more than 20 years and Tekken for 15, releasing one game after another, so there was no point in fearing the end of something. Our priority is to answer fans’ requests or desires. As soon as we started to talk about that, people were immediately excited so I guess it was the right move. And with SFIV, Street Fighter has become more compatible with Tekken, making a cross fighter possible.


Today, many game series have left the arcades and gone consumer only, but Tekken continues to debut new instalments there. Do you feel this is still an important sector for the franchise, and Namco?

It is indeed a very hard place to be, especially these days. The consumer world is a place where you buy a game once and that’s it. The arcade is about a coin, a 100 yen coin. If a game feels bad on your first play, it’s over. This is a very harsh but great place to learn. You could just put Kuma on both side of the fight in Tekken and I’m sure you'd achieve game balance, but that wouldn't be much fun. The true balance is between the fun and the stats that come with characters and to master this, there is no better place than the arcade. You can’t find any better testers than the people in those arcades because they understand those issues very well.


To achieve a great balance, you often release the game and gather the feedback. You do then an update based on what you learnt. It can be done via an online software update or what we call a major update, which is no less than a new version of the game like the Dark Resurrection or Bloodline Rebellion. You release a strong concept first and let it be beaten by users. What remains is something that has been polished and rounded on the corners and edges. That result is what you want to bring to the consumer world, it is our way. So yes, the arcade is a very important place for us and especially for this franchise.


Tag 2 features custom items that have an effect during fights - did you feel that character customisation in fighting games had become too throwaway?

I did spend time wondering about those item customisation features. I was not sure they were useful, including Tekken's. But players enjoyed them. Still, we were thinking there should be a better way to implement such a feature. With Tekken 6 we tested the idea of item-waza (item action). The feedback we had was quite positive. It wasn't a game changer in the course of the fight, but clearly fun.


Are you concerned about the additional resources required to create so much additional content?

Well, this is huge indeed and we can’t make too many [items] at the start. But, if we think users want more of them, we can make more, later. Actually, I’m not just interested in items but also moves. Why not give users the possibility to customize some of the moves? I think it's possible because this is a tag game, which allows the use of lots of combinations and some humour as well. In Tekken, you can’t find any humour in the fighting because it is very focused on the fight. Tag 2 allows four characters on screen so that gives me the possibility of bringing a third character in to the ring just for some funny actions, like the count when one fighter is down, etc. This gives Tag a very different flavour to the Tekken experience. If Tag 2 was just an additional mode to a normal Tekken, there would be no way we could reach the level of humour that we enjoy in the current AOU Show’s demo. It would contrast too much with what a normal Tekken stands for.

Will it be another 12 years before we see Tag 3?

The fact is Tekken is gaining lots of popularity outside of Japan today. I think 90 per cent of our users are outside the country. While Tekken will go head on against Street Fighter soon, I still want to keep Tekken continuing its journey in parallel. As a new franchise, Tag is certainly getting its own line as well. As for a Tag 3… in 12 years? Today’s users should be married by then, with children - if not grandchildren! I’m not sure it would take that much time, but since I also look after Soulcalibur, that’s lots of work for the few people we have. Maybe I’m be starting something new? Who knows?

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