I spent the weekend at the EVO Championship Series, a mecca for fighting-game competitors and home to the biggest Street Fighter IV, Marvel vs. Capcom 3, Tekken 6, Mortal Kombat tournaments in the world . This year, I’m told, EVO attendance spiked sharply to nearly 8,000 attendees — enough to strain the confines of the biggest ballroom in one of Las Vegas’s larger resort hotels.
With EVO’s popularity soaring in recent years, it’s become common to see legendary figures in fighting game design prowling the demo stations, studying player reactions and answering questions. At EVO I caught up with Katsuhiro Harada, the outgoing game director for Tekken since its inception on the PSone. I particularly wanted to discuss this November’s PS3-exclusive Tekken Hybrid, the upcoming Blu-ray compilation that will include CG film Tekken: Blood Vengeance 3D, an enhanced version of the seminal PS2 fighter Tekken Tag Tournament, and an appetizer in the form of Tekken Tag Tournament 2 Prologue.
PlayStation.Blog: How are you managing the creation of producing so many Tekken projects? It seems stressful: You’re working on Tekken Tag Tournament 2, Tekken X Street Fighter, and now Tekken Hybrid which includes a new Tekken CG film and Tekken Tag Tournament HD.
Katsuhiro Harada, Tekken Director: It is tough to manage all of these projects. But rather than having some sort of special method, the secret has more to do with the core team working on Tekken for so long that everyone knows what needs to be done. We’re right on top of things.
PSB: I think a lot of Tekken fans are going to be excited to hear about Tekken Tag Tournament HD, which comes with Tekken Hybrid this November. What has been enhanced?
Harada: We wanted to keep the feeling of the game itself from the PS2, so we haven’t changed a lot there. The graphics aren’t just upscaled or anything, we actually re-created a lot of the in-game textures. A lot of work went into refining the graphics. Another reason we’re doing it now is because a lot of people in Europe played the PAL version, which was a slower version of the game. Now they’ll be able to get the full experience here. There are also younger players out there who never played it, and I think it will appeal to them.
PSB: Tekken Hybrid will also include Tekken Tag Tournament 2 Prologue. How many characters will we be getting, and which ones?
Harada: Ahhh! [laughs knowingly] Well, for Prologue, we’re mainly focusing on the characters lineup that appears in the movie, Tekken Blood Vengeance 3D. We want them to have the spotlight. But we can’t say all of the characters that we have planned yet….but as you’ve seen with Devil and Ling Xiaoyu, we matched their costumes in Prologue to the movie. We also include a 3D model viewer in Tekken Hybrid. It’s a good package.
PSB: Do you plan on supporting stereoscopic 3D in Tekken Tag Tournament 2 Prologue?
Harada: Yes, we do. We haven’t really announced a lot about it yet, because we’re still working on it. We weren’t quite sure if it would end up in the final version. But…we’re about 85% sure that 3D will make it into the final version.
PSB: What made you want to add stereoscopic 3D support for Tekken?
Harada: There are several factors. The movie, Blood Vengeance, is also in 3D on Blu-ray. Not only that, but our programmers and core staff were quite interested in 3D as a new challenge to tackle. So it all came together. Since Tekken is a three-dimensional fighter [in terms of fighting and movement style], I think a lot of people will like seeing what 3D adds to our gameplay model.
PSB: I remember Tekken 6 being a bit controversial when it first came out — with walls hits and juggles and bounds, some people were annoyed by how long combos could go on. How will you balance this juggle-heavy gameplay with the addition of a tag partner?
Harada: There are some people who say the combos are too long and that it gets out of hand. The flip-side is, if you’re the person doing the combos, it’s really entertaining and fun. But you have to look at it in a new light with Tekken Tag 2. A lot of tag combos aren’t as long as those in Tekken 6 but they’re of strategic value: they reduce your opponent’s red recovery gauge. So you may wish to play that way. Also, after the bound, you can do a “Tag Assault” where you and your partner pummel the opponent. It looks really over the top, and it does a lot of damage, but the flipside is that you lose your red recovery gauge. So there’s a strategic element to the tag juggles — the goal isn’t to just perform the longest combo possible. You really have to choose the best time and place for each combo that you use.
PSB: I understand that you’re veeery early in development for Tekken X Street Fighter (the Namco-produced, Tekken-centric answer to Capcom’s Street Fighter X Tekken). What’s your overall vision? Have you thought about how you might implement fireballs in a Tekken setting?
Harada: [laughs knowingly] Obviously, the Street Fighter characters will have to have their fireballs. Ryu without a fireball just wouldn’t be…right. Obviously we’ll need it. When you look at executing a fireball in a 2D setting, it works almost like a jab. It keeps your opponent where you want them. When we bring fireballs into Tekken X Street Fighter, there are two different ways we could go. It could be used as something similar to keep your opponent in the place you want, or it could be some kind of a special move or powered-up version of their techniques. We’ve not decided on what route we want to take with this yet.
Another element to think about implementing fireballs in Tekken is, how do you avoid them? When you play a 2D game like Street Fighter, you obviously can’t go back and forth in the screen — you usually jump over it. But in three-dimensional fighting games like Tekken you can sidestep. So do we want players to jump over fireballs? Or is it okay to sidestep them? That’s something we’re not decided on, we haven’t had enough time to look into it. We have a lot of staff, myself included, who grew up liking Street Fighter. I’m really confident that we can come to a good balance between the two worlds.
PSB: I work for PlayStation, and I’m a huge Tekken fan, so I have to ask: Are you interested in developing for PS Vita at some point?
Harada: Oh! [laughter] I have to be really careful in how I phrase this so it doesn’t get taken out of context. But since you’re a Tekken fan…you probably know the answer to that, right? [laughs]