Interview: Godfather of Tekken, Katsuhiro Harada

We had the opportunity to sit down with Katsuhiro Harada, the godfather of Tekken and Soul Calibur, at the local Namco Bandai office last week.

Find out what goes into game balance, Namco Bandai’s plans for Tekken Tag Tournament 2 and Harada’s view on the Tekken community in Singapore. Michael Murray, senior game designer for Tekken, was also present to translate for us.

RGB: With consoles being the platform of choice for many Tekken players, do you see yourself continuing to create future arcade version of Tekken?

Harada: If you look at fighting games from a long time ago, everyone made arcade versions, whether it was Street Fighter or Tekken or Soul Calibur or any of these games. And even Street Fighter from fifteen years ago, and Tekken from seventeen years ago. That was just the case – that was where it first came out. And then a port would come out for the consoles. That was just the natural progression of things.

And then early 2000s, that was when some games stopped appearing in the arcade, and only made the console version. Maybe that’s why some of that might look that way, but Tekken, as well as Virtua Fighter, is one of the only games that has kept on doing well in the arcades. That’s why you see (that) other games aren’t in the arcades, it’s not because it’s better to not have an arcade version.

We have the arcade version, it’s very successful. Then we have the console version, which is also very successful. For Tekken, at least we will continue to work with both, because both versions are very successful.

RGB: Vanity items such as swimsuits. What can you share with us about DLCs such as these? Will these items be available on Tekken-Net to arcade players?

Harada: We have a whole bulk of custom items already in the game before DLC… maybe 95% of them are already in the game. The swimsuits are preorder items for download, and there are also characters in stages for preorder downloads. And obviously the lead character in stages are free. But ( DLC) is something we haven’t announced yet.

RGB: Street Fighter X Tekken had Pac-man. Will there be any special characters in Tekken Tag Tournament 2 (TTT2)?

Harada: There aren’t any playable guests characters per say. There is the Snoop Dogg character in a stage that we did as a result of our collaboration with him (RGB: Snoop Dogg is not playable). But the reason that we don’t do guests characters usually is that there aren’t many requests for them.

When we talk to fans, most people say they’d rather see a new Tekken character or a new Tekken character from the particular country that they’re from.

RGB: We understand that a Wii U version of Tekken will be developed on that console. How do you see the Wii U’s tablet being optimized for a fighting game like Tekken?

Harada: Obviously we plan to put in some features to make use of the hardware, like the controls. That’s one thing that stands out. Perhaps adding shortcuts to the game that are easily accessible from the screen. But more than that, what’s probably going to be more interesting…is the collaboration with Nintendo and being able to use game elements that are very Nintendo-like, like the E3 mushroom you saw.

What goes into balancing a character for competitive Tekken play?

Harada: It’s a very long answer, are you prepared? Balance is not that simple. It depends on which player group you’re talking to, about what they’re in for.

If you ask a very novice player who is very new to Tekken who they think the strongest character is, they might say Kuma or Jack, because they look very powerful, or their reach is very long.

Then if you ask someone who’s gotten used to Tekken the same question, it’s not going to be Kuma or Jack, it’s going to be other capoeira characters, or Paul, because the capoeira characters are very tricky. Like Paul, who’s got a lot of high damage moves.

Then again when you ask people who participate in tournaments – the ones who don’t win but are able to get past qualifiers – they’ll say Lars is definitely the strongest character.

Then if you ask tournament goers who are in the top tier, maybe before the Top 8, they would say that Steve is a lot stronger than Lars. Or even the Mishimas would be better than Lars.

So from what we just told you, which group sounds like the correct one?

(MA: I think everyone’s correct, except maybe the lowest tier (you mentioned). Because everyone has their own experiences in the game.)

Harada: So do you take the opinions of the top level tournament players and say they’re correct? Or do you take the other 70%? Or maybe you want more novice players and beginners to the series, to enter the community, so maybe you should pay more attention to their opinions.

It’s not as simple as one being more correct than the other. It all depends on the environment you’re playing in. So we provide different characters to match the needs of these groups.

For example, we might want to give beginners a chance to be able to win and to enjoy Tekken and to feel what it’s like, so we provide a character that’s easy to control. For others, we provide (characters) for higher level players, maybe (these characters) are not so strong at first but if you get really get good at them, you end up being a really good player. …Other characters we provide could be for people who aren’t in either of those groups (previously mentioned). They want a character that’s difficult to win with, but that they really like. And we love to put the effort and time into that. So these are all sort of geared towards different audiences.

So with that in mind, we then take the very objective data from the Tekken-Net regarding times and durations of usage, and we get that data from the consoles when we can, and then balance is done by a professional balancing team that has over ten years of knowledge doing that.

And (we) also (consider) the players’ opinions via Facebook, Twitter and the Internet. We also directly interact with the communities. So all these are taken, pulled and then tested for accuracy. If what the player is saying matches the information collected from our servers, then all that put together helps us decide the balance direction of our games.

RGB: Is there anything Harada-san would like to say to the Tekken community in Singapore?

Harada: This is only the second time I have been here. But I can see that there are a lot of passionate fans here and I am very grateful for that. But my impression is that the people of Singapore are very shy, so I hope that they will tell me their opinions more directly and that they won’t be afraid to say what they think.