Recently, we had the chance to sit down with Katsuhiro Harada, the creator of the Tekken series. In the gaming world, when it comes to Japanese developers there are a few that have transcended the anonymity associated with most developers, and have developed a bit of a rock star image. Some of this is a natural evolution of giants in an industry that is still small enough to seek out icons, yet not big enough to have the public scrutiny on headliners that is attached to stars in other billion entertainment industries. Some of it is a deliberate attempt to embrace the quirkiness of their popularity. Katsihiro Harada is a bit of both.
On one hand he is a long time industry vet, who has become the face of one of the world’s biggest franchises, a role he has embraced whole heartedly. Whether that means showing up at Namco events in Vegas with champagne for everyone and models on each arm, or engaging in faux-feuds with Street Fighter producer Yoshinori Ono (which included an epic prank rivalry that turned into a brilliant viral marketing campaign for the games’ crossover offerings — see below), Harada has been up for it. On the other hand, he has been known to snap at gamers for “whining and complaining” and “practice being an adult.”
But putting aside his personality, Harada is a respected developer for a reason. His work on the Tekken franchise has been influential, to say the least, and the gaming landscape would not be what it is today without him.
We had the chance to ask him a few questions (through translator , including where he thinks the industry is going, what keeps bringing him back to the fighting genre, and what his own favorite fighting style is.
What is it that keeps bringing you back to the fighting genre?
It’s probably because you are fighting — not against the CPU — but against another player. So depending on the player the experience is quite different. And not just that, but after creating the game we are able to go out to these various tournaments and events and play against the fans in the community, and so you actually get a lot of feedback at that point as well, “you know this is really cool, but we’d like to see this or that implemented,” or “this feature changed in a certain way.” Being able to implement that to make an even better game is really good.
How do you select which fighting styles to include in Tekken?
Well you know, early in the series we started off with some of the more famous fighting styles, obviously, and then from there progressed throughout the series to more styles that aren’t as well known, but the movements are quite interesting and fun to watch. And then more recently, since most of our game designers and animators are very familiar with all of the various more well-known martial arts, we kind of leaned more towards actually making our own fighting styles.
What is your favorite fighting style? If you could choose one style to master, what would it be?
I like the martial arts, especially where you’re not doing grappling, but more hits. Something with not very long combinations, but more power with into each blow. For that reason perhaps, karate.
With new consoles coming soon, where do you see the fighting genre going?
Well, when you say “next generation” you are probably talking about consoles, and as far as fighting games on next gen consoles, it probably won’t change much from what you see today. Obviously there will be some new mechanics and stuff you normally see on an updated sequel. But rather than that with the newer consoles, the really big changes I foresee is perhaps with mobile, like cell phones or perhaps tablets, or some of these things that are becoming very popular. They are also becoming much more powerful. You also have the capabilities that are increasing with the networks — wireless networking connections and such. So there is going to be that line where fighting games will probably continue on their current path on consoles, but also this new way of playing, perhaps on a cell phone or a tablet via a wireless network. And that’ll be something that might make a bigger impact, and might come sooner than you think.
So are you excited for the next gen of consoles, or are you happy with where fighting games are right now?
The one thing that I really am looking forward to regarding the next generation of consoles is that they’ll probably be more focused on online — they all do that now, but more so. Always being connected to the internet, always being able to access. And everyone being connected to the internet via the consoles as the foundation, to mean that we would have more freedom to design moments that rely heavily on online play. And that is also something to be excited about for fighting games.
Also, for Tag 2 we actually expanded a lot of the online capabilities, and included a lot of new features, but these obviously — voice chat as well — require a certain percentage of the CPU of the console. That is probably an area that will be greatly improved with the next generation. So that’s something that will benefit fighting games as well.
Regardless of genre, where do you see gaming technology evolving years, even decades down the road?
It’s kind of hard to read, a lot more so than it was in the early 90s, for example, to predict what would happen in 2000 or so. Things are much less visible that way. But if I had to pick one thing, it would probably be graphical capabilities – the graphics will look similar to life, they will be very realistic. And this will probably help increase the feeling that players get, that they’re represented inside the game. The barrier between the game and the screen and themselves kind of collapses, and they feel like they are pulled into it as a result of the technology. That’s probably the one thing that’s easy to foresee.
It’s kind of hard to think that there will be some drastic change. For example, any input device that has a directional pad, any controller — that’s something that has been around for years and years now. Perhaps long ago people would have thought that would have been done away with in favor of analog sticks or something else as the main way of inputing direction, but that’s not the case. Also, people have been saying for some time that touch panels are more prevalent and they’re taking the place of keyboards, and that still hasn’t happened yet either, so it’s hard to think that drastic change will happen in the next 15 years or so.
But at the same time I feel that creating that drastic change — or something that is a real change out there — is almost the responsibility of us as game creators. So I have to start working on that big idea now.
Well, games have always looked at movies as far as presentation. For example, the angles you capture a certain scene from, the way you have the rhythm of when it really explodes or when it is more subtle. The tempo. Those are the kind of things video game creators have taken as an example in games. But there are some areas where movies can’t compete. For example, the Metal Gear series and Call of Duty. Up until now you’ve seen these movies where the main figure is portrayed, but it was from a pulled back perspective. But with these games you are in the battlefield, spinning about, and everything going on has been recreated.
From a different perspective, EverQuest, or some of these online games. You can connect and play in the same atmosphere and environment with hundreds of other people, and that itself is entertainment that movies can’t recreate. So there are instances where games can go beyond what movies can do
Tekken has a universal appeal. Do you deliberately design it for an international audience, or do you not worry about that and just make the best game you can?
Early on in the series, perhaps [Tekken] 1, 2, 3, maybe even 4, was a time when Tekken was mainly not developed as a fighting game to build all these players, but almost to try and implement new technology and showcase that, as well polish it. And this technology also ended up being used in other Namco games, whether it be the polygon models, or moving the characters on a 3D plane with X and Y and Z coordinates. So each time we went in with technical goals we wanted to achieve. It wasn’t really until about Tekken 5 that Tekken started being viewed as a relevant fighting game that was tournament worthy. Up until then Street Fighter and the Virtua Fighter series were on that level. It was at about Tekken 5 where we reached that. From then obviously the development was more focused on trying to develop certain audiences.