The newest issue of the German M! Games magazine (formerly known as Man!ac) features a full two-page interview with one of Virtua Fighter’s most important men: Makoto Osaki.
In the interview Osaki, Development Director at AM-2, reveals interesting bits about the newest Virtua Fighter installment, its new items and game balance. And if you ever wanted to know why a first-person shooter gave inspiration for some hot nifty VF5:R online features, then read on about it in the interview.
Note: As far as I suggest the interview was most likely conducted in English (with Osaki answering in Japanese with a Japanese translator at his side), then translated to German for the magazine; and now, I’ve translated it back into English. I hope the contents won’t suffer too much from this tedious language shifting. As well, the interviewer’s questions are in bold–this is only because of the readability for you. In no way does this mean that the interviewer’s persona stands above developer guru Makoto Osaki!
A thousand thanks to the most fabulous M! Games magazine!
Since when have you been working on Virtua Fighter 5: Revolution?
Since the release of Virtua Fighter 5. We only released revision A and B to keep the gamers’ interested in the franchise while we were already working on something bigger.
In VF5: Revolution Taka-Arashi enjoys his comeback from Virtua Fighter 3. How come?
Quite simple: The fans wanted him back according to a survey on vf.net, the Japanese Virtua Fighter ranking network.
But the way VF3 and VF5: R play is quite different. President of AM-2 Hiroshi Kataoka said that the adjustments needed for Taka-Arashi would be too complicated.
In comparison to other characters, Taka’s movements were slow but Virtua Fighter 5 is more fast-paced than VF3. Therefore, in Virtua Fighter 5: R we made him quicker – but he still remains one of the slower paced character. To compensate his slow speed we doubled his move list and made him less complex so that learning his fighting style is much easier than in VF3. We had to create countless of completely new animations for Taka and the rest of the cast. Instead of SoftImage 3D we now use XSI for rendering and animating. With those new tools and our newly gained experience we could integrate Taka-Arashi into Virtua Fighter 5: R. As well, the hit animations look much better now.
Jean is the second new addition. How did he make it into the game? Why a second character with silvery hair?
Jean is the very first character who fights in the traditional karate style. It was strange that Tekken had karateka among its characters since day one and Virtua Fighter didn’t. Therefore we designed this half Japanese half French character Jean. We always create characters in the way that you can instantly make out their type: Jeffry is the strong wrestler, Blaze the quick, irritating thing *laughs* … Silver hair is considered cool and extravagant by many Japanese. We simply lacked a character that resembled the style of the Visual-Kei movement, which is, due to many J-rock bands, quite popular now.
How did you go about the balancing for the different revisions of the game?
For every revision our top player and motion director Katagiri-san works on the game balance; every revision is aimed towards a specific direction. Up to now we had a rather mild balancing for the characters, but for VF5: R we aimed for a much more devastating direction: Every character has strong and powerful attacks and the potential to cause very high damage. In comparison to Revolution’s predecessors, a round can be over now quite quickly.
So, more high-damage combos again – similar to Virtua Fighter 2 and 3?
Rather to the first versions of Virtua Fighter 4. VF2 was too difficult: Whoever got hit with Akira’s Tetsuzankou could practically give up the round. There were matches that only lasted three seconds!
Some items in the character editor received bad criticism on the internet because they were allegedly too ridiculous and wouldn’t quite fit into a serious game like Virtua Fighter …
*laughs* We thought about that for a long time. In Virtua Fighter 4 we had those embarrassing items that only the player received who lost too much or played too badly. Soon the items were accepted quite quickly and the players began to lose on purpose so that they could grab the items. At the beginning of VF5 there were only items such as hairstyles, make-up, and so forth — but the players wanted flashier ones, so we gave it to them.
Beat’Em ups are not as popular as ten years ago. They are getting more and more complex and tend to scare new players off. How can one counter this trend?
When Virtua Fighter was released it gave the impression that with its three-button system it is much simpler than Street Fighter 2 with its six buttons. In the course of the next 15 years, though, Virtua Fighter became more and more complex. I’m wondering: If Yu Suzuki, the creator of the franchise, developed a game under today’s conditions, what kind of game would that be? Maybe one with alternative controls?
Well, his touch-screen beat’ em up Psy-Phi was canceled in 2006 after its location tests. Alternative controls only seem to be successful in the area of home consoles.
Honestly, the traditional arcade format—joystick plus buttons—is the cheapest one for arcade hall operators. In the past there were many machines with gimmicks like hydraulic seats that you can find with Space Harrier or Outrun. Today you can’t really find those things, they are simply too expensive. We don’t even need to talk about the market from overseas—it’s almost dead. In the USA no one goes into the arcade halls anymore because everyone’s got these games at home. But in Japan those arcades are situated near traffic junctions such as train stations so that many people come past it. Thus, we have a smaller market; the consequences are smaller budgets for development. With less money at hand we can’t produce gimmicks and costly arcade machines in big numbers. This makes it difficult to bring alternative controller devices on the market.
What do you think about beginner-friendly beat ’em ups such as the Smash Brothers’ series?
I like the game and my son plays it for hours. But apparently, it seems to stand in-between the genres. Timing isn’t as precise and the gameplay isn’t as complex as in traditional beat’ em ups. I wonder whether the game would have been as successful without those popular characters—I don’t think so.
In the last couple of years many things have changed. One year ago only otakus owned a PSP, but on our way here we saw many people with a PSP in the subway. Any idea why?
Of course. Monster Hunter is out! *laughs* The game sold over two million copies. Even here at Sega many people play Monster Hunter in their breaks. I think that’s a trend in Japan: competitive products lose their popularity whereas cooperative games become more and more popular.
In a former interview you talked about your preference for first-person shooters. Do you still play them?
Yes, with pleasure! At the time, I play a lot of Call of Duty 4. Our clan is strong, one of the best in Japan. And I’m crazy about Battlefield: Bad Company.
Do you look forward to Gears of War 2?
I have children, I can’t play that at home—much too gory.
Many Japanese developers are taken by first-person shooter genre in a certain manner. For Japanese gamers these shooters only play a marginal role though …
I think that’s due to the following reason: First-person shooters are the prime showpiece on Western markets and help to introduce new technologies; in Japan those are rather beat ’em ups and racing games. Of course, we developers want to examine the new technologies and therefore play the newest shooters. Especially Call of Duty 4 is highly impressive and even possesses the flair of arcade titles at times: it’s fast-paced, offers 60 frames per second, and challenges the player. Some of its online features are so good that we took them as inspiration for Virtua Fighter 5: Revolution.
Some traditional Sega brands are currently continued in the West: Sumo Digital, for instance, ported Outrun 2 and Virtua Tennis 3. As well, you can observe a tendency in the development at Sega: from the East to the West. Even the new House of the Dead: Overkill is being developed by an English team. How do you feel about it when your brands are continued by 3rd party developers?
I think that we went in the right direction. All these product lines are successful in the West. Every team should try to make the best out of the predominant market by taking advantage of our brands at Sega. But for you over in Germany your laws are really strict. We have huge problems over there to market our lightgun shooter.