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Planning  Tekken 's Future: Katsuhiro Harada's Vision

Planning Tekken's Future: Katsuhiro Harada's Vision Exclusive

December 7, 2011 | By Christian Nutt

The Tekken series is currently in something of a boom -- from a development perspective, that is. With five announced games -- Tekken Tag Tournament 2 (PS3/Xbox 360), Tekken 3D Prime Edition (Nintendo 3DS), a Tekken for Wii U, and two collaborations with Capcom: Street Fighter X Tekken and Tekken X Street Fighter -- in development, it makes for a potentally crowded space.

Gamasutra spoke to Tekken chief producer and director Katsuhiro Harada to find out if the market will soon be oversaturated with Tekken titles, and how he plans out the overall growth of this sprawling series.

There's a tremendous amount of announced Tekken games right now. Are you worried about overexposure for the series?

Not really worried about that. The reason for that is because, back in the day when we used to make the previous Tekkens, it was mainly focused on one platform, be it the arcade or PlayStation hardware. Plus the user base was much more narrow; it tended to be 20 year old males.

But now we've noticed there's a broadening of the player base, where they're anywhere between 20 and 40 years of age, and you have various different hardware that are very viable platforms at the same time. We really want to give players many different chances to play on different hardware that they own -- or in a particular situation, whether it be on the go, or at their house, or such. So that's really the reason behind announcing some Tekken titles for different platforms.

When you say you have a broadening of the user base, are different kinds of Tekken games attracting different people, or is it just because the series has a long history, that more and more people are getting familiar with it?

So the major element is probably just because of the length of the series -- how long it's been continuing. You tend to get younger groups playing the game in the arcades, heavily focused on versus gameplay. Whereas as they tend to get older, they enjoy the movies and the visual content that's included on the game disc more so than the versus gameplay.

So I think just because of the length of the series is the reason why you have a broadening of the user base, I guess. Not really sideways, but more up and down, because it's pretty much the same people that continue, with younger people coming in as well.

Do you have an overarching strategy for the series, or is it more that opportunities arise as platforms come out, etcetera, and you devise ways to address those?

It's kind of a bit of both. Obviously I've had a vision spanning several years, five years from the start -- or if you count from now, three years and into the future. The focus is mainly on what kind of titles we want in our lineup.

From that start it was Tekken 5, then 6, then Tag 2, then a collaboration with an outside company, Capcom. So the titles were pretty much decided, but it's kind of hard to read what's going to come out or what particular hardware is going to do well. So all of the titles are pretty much decided for the next several years. I kind of have to reevaluate the plan according to the hardware, and the situation.

So yeah, a good example of this is Tekken Tag Tournament, the first one. When it first came out in the arcades, it was originally based on PlayStation 1 hardware, obviously. But as we were working on the consumer port for the consoles, Sony came in and said, "We have the next PlayStation, the PlayStation 2, that's going to come out."

So we had to reevaluate our plan at that time. We knew that we wanted to make Tag 1, but now we have this new hardware, and the new base of players that we wanted to aim at. And what we want to do with the game itself, we have to reevaluate the specs, because the capabilities of the hardware changes, and such. So that was one example from the past, and it continues today.

For example, [Capcom producer Yoshinori] Ono-san's team is working on Street Fighter X Tekken. We have our Tekken X Street Fighter that we will be doing here. Currently I'm thinking of that for PlayStation 3 hardware, and this is just a "for instance" -- I mean, it's not like we have any kind of info that you don't -- but if Sony were to say, "Okay, we have the next PlayStation hardware available," then obviously we would put that into consideration.

With so many titles, is it difficult to find ways to differentiate between them? How do you find that inspiration?

So really, the key element we take into consideration when developing for several platforms with the same franchise is that you really have to think of who owns that hardware, and who's going to buy the game. If it's, for example, a handheld platform, who is the typical user going to be? What do they want out of the game -- because of the hardware, and the capabilities and such?

Also, for example, even on the high-end stuff, are they tournament players? Are they going to be spending a lot of time on the game and then competing? Do they have the money and resources to go to the different tournaments and such? Okay, what kind of games do those players want?

So I really am thinking with the hardware first, and what kind of people are going to adopt the game on that hardware, and then try to tailor it to those needs.

In the question of the hardware capabilities versus the hardware's audience, which is more important, in your opinion, to consider?

Of course the audience would be the most important.

Especially for a new platform, considering that the game industry often sees rapid changes in user response based on competing titles or trends, how do you make that determination?

Well, for example, you mentioned when new hardware comes out that it's kind of hard to anticipate what the user base is going to be like. But we first come up with a theory of what we think what kind of audience that would be, and then we have group interviews and focus tests with people who already own the hardware, and also people who plan on purchasing the hardware, to see how close our theory is to actual reality, and adjust accordingly.

But then there's also the portion of having a development team that's been working on fighting games for so many years now -- over 16, at the moment. They know what fighting games are. They know who's playing, what they want out of a fighting game. So we take that objective data that we gathered from the group interviews, and about what kind of audience owns the hardware, and then we pair ideas. "Okay, people who are into fighting games would want this right here," and pair those two.

So obviously the latter part about using your fighting game knowledge to come up with ideas that the anticipated user audience will like, that's a little bit more of a gamble per se, so it's kind of a pairing with objective data, plus the knowledge and experience gained from developing fighting games for so long.

And it's also kind of tricky, because you can kind of gauge what the user base wants at that particular time that you asked them, during the group interviews and such. But more than that we really try to, when we're creating our games, include elements that they don't know that they'll enjoy yet, and to change their perception of the game after they've played it. This is something we totally have a lot of confidence in, and then when they play the game, they're totally going to love it. And then they're going to realize how good that particular feature is. That's one thing that we really strive to achieve with our games that we create, as well.

Speaking of which, do you ever get concerned that you know, the fighting game genre becomes formulaic or stale? Or too confined?

Not really. Because this is something that's been said about the genre for quite a while now, but for Tekken at least, people who are familiar with the series -- who avidly play the games -- can tell you that each installment is actually quite different from each other.

Especially even Tag 2, the latest one that came out in the arcades. People who played it can say, "Oh, you know, this isn't even a sequel to 1, it's so radically different."

Also, the Street Fighter X Tekken game that Ono-san's team's working on, there's a few new ideas there that are almost kind of Smash Bros.-like, you know? So there's still quite a few new ideas to implement, I believe.

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