Tekken Tag Tournament 2 Interview (PS3)

Katsuhiro Harada is one of the most brilliantly laid back Japanese developers I’ve ever had the pleasure of interviewing – and I discovered this lost gem, an unpublished interview from E3 – on my iPad. Seeing as Tekken Tag Tournament 2 recently released, it only seems fit to release it.

Last time I spoke to him he was rolling about on a couch in fits of laughter with Capcom’s Yoshinori Ono to talk Street Fighter X Tekken – and this time when I arrive to see him, he’s sitting in a meeting room wearing sunglasses with a half empty bottle of Tequila and two cheap souvenir shot glasses proclaiming their love for Los Angeles.

Speaking through Michael Murray, a game designer on the Tekken team, he was happy to quite literally laugh in the face of danger when asked if he’s worried that the underperformance of Street Fighter X Tekken indicates that the fighting genre has reached critical mass once again, as it did in the late 90s.

“Well, I guess that from a general standpoint it's always better to have fewer rivals,” he laughs, shrugging his shoulders. “That's something you can easily say. If we were the only ones, Tekken would be the only one selling, so that would be cool, I guess.”

It seems like a non-committal answer, and for a moment I am disappointed – but then he roars back into life with a more detailed answer, brow furrowed as he considers the question and his response.

“On the other hand there are many other things to think about. For example, Street Fighter took a ten year break, almost, from 3 to 4. Other games and other franchises used to be in the arcade but now are not...” He pauses, and there’s that shrug again, along with an adjustment of the sunglasses that seem part of a carefully-constructed hard-man image. “Tekken has been out continually for 17 years.”

“We've always been there.”

I go to speak, but there’s more, Harada proving himself as someone who very carefully considers his game’s position in the market. “Rather than compare it to the fighting game genre as a whole Tekken is kind of a separate entity.”

“We have our own fanbase; people who play in the arcade or tournaments count for, I don't know, maybe 20, 30 percent of the people who play Tekken population whereas the other remaining 70 or so are the lighter fan group.

“They've continually bought the games in our series, and we think that doesn't change when other new fighting games appear. As long as that keeps happening, we don't have to worry too much.”

In this, Harada touches upon a subject I’m personally very curious in. One of the difficulties of Street Fighter X Tekken was Capcom trying to simultaneously appease both the hardcore and casual fighter audiences – and ended up over stretching themselves.

Street Fighter X Tekken didn’t do as well as hoped at retail despite being a fine game, and word is that the game is likely to be dropped from major competitive tournaments after Evolution 2012, the largest US tournament, where it’s below even King of Fighters XIII on the billing. How does one shoot for such startlingly different audiences simultaneously and how are resources divided up?

“Well, first of all, the fact that you asked that question shows that you already know a lot about fighting games,” Harada comments. He’s not wrong. I don’t tell him I’m more of a Street Fighter person than a Tekken person, though.

“So you realize the difficulty involved in that - you're totally right to ask about it. The 20 percent that do go to the tournaments and continue to play the game - first we need the core of the game to be very high quality.”

“Not just the look of it but the gameplay mechanics involved, the characters, the balancing - all of that has to be something that makes those people say 'Okay, this game is top tier.' The other part is about the bonus modes, the character endings, the story setting, that kind of stuff - it's geared towards lighter, more novice players.”

As expected, then, Harada and his team view the two are more separate than Yoshinori Ono’s Street Fighter teams likely did, and Harada then goes on to explain that entirely different methodologies go into the two sides of the Tekken coin.

“The way they're developed is quite different. They're both very intensive and require resources, but the one geared towards the 20 percent makes use of our more experienced staff that are very familiar with the gameplay mechanics over a longer period of time.”

“The remaining 80 percent - the content we give to them is made by a lot more people, but also a lot more quickly. They're both very intense, but there are quite different properties to both aspects.” With that in mind, it’s quite astonishing that Harada’s team has continued update and upgrade the original arcade release of Tag 2 throughout Japan even whilst developing the console version.

“Even though we're still working on the console version even in the arcade we still continually update the balance of the game periodically,” Harada explained. “The console version is done with that as a base.”

“Obviously when we add new characters - some of whom haven't been announced yet - we have to take another look at the existing characters and how they blend together; make some adjustments here and there. Obviously that's done while we're making the game and we're still not finished with that, we're still working on it. It's a really continual process.”

One thing that is all new for the console release is the inclusion of a Snoop Dogg themed stage, as well as some of the rapper’s music. That’s resulted in a hilarious music video featuring major fighter players and community figures and a truly incredible Eurogamer interview, and Harada argues that Snoop is a natural fit for the series – even if it wasn’t his idea.

“Normally when we implement something new in the game, it comes from the development side, we do some research and we implement the ideas - then we have our marketing folks sell the game. This time, the collaboration was different - we had a rough idea from the development side, we've always had upbeat music - but not hip-hop so far,” he said.

“We wanted to take this fighting game that's been made in the east and kind of combine it with Western influenced music - so hip-hop was kind of a good choice this time. When we approached our marketing guys, they were on the same page and said 'Hey, that'd be a really cool thing to try.'”

“Then we kind of heard that Snoop was into fighting games and had played a bit of Tekken, so - once we did actually approach him about working with us, we found he was very favourable about the whole idea. Things went very quickly after that.”

I save the question Harada probably doesn’t want to have to answer for last. Tekken Tag 2 is due out in September, I say – but with Tekken X Street Fighter already announced, it means there can be no break or downtime. The pressure is already on for his team to create the next major title, and they’ve got Street Fighter fans to appeal to this time, too. Does he regret talking about it so soon?

“From a development standpoint, not really,” Harada says – and there’s that shrug again, the answer immediate, certain. “The fans have that to look forward to, and that adds to our motivation to develop that game.”

“If anyone regrets it it's probably our PR people,” he says with a chuckle. “Because we said it so early, now when they want to push Tag 2 - and we do too - people are still very interested in Tekken X Street Fighter. PR would like the article to be 100 percent Tag 2, there's always going to be a little bit which is about Tekken X Street Fighter.”

“We don't mind talking about it a little bit, but Tag 2 is our focus. It’s our masterpiece. We really think it's worth the wait.”

Tekken Tag Tournament 2 is out now for PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360.