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Contemporary Battle Planners Explain How to Make Fighting Games:  Arc System Works & French-Bread Round Table Discussion
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印刷2015/11/21 00:00

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Contemporary Battle Planners Explain How to Make Fighting Games: Arc System Works & French-Bread Round Table Discussion

As a growing game genre, fighting games produced by Japan are currently played in tournaments worldwide. Riding on the back a healthy netplay environment and robust streaming culture, many new fighting game titles have been announced this year. This bumper crop of new titles is surely a boon to fighting game fans.

In order to create such fighting games, someone must fulfill the role of "battle planner". Battle planners decide the game system and battle concept, and occasionally must conduct community discussions on game balance. They play an important role and share an intimate relationship with fighting game players. How do these battle planners normally think and approach their job?

4Gamer sat down with those responsible for battle design in Arc System Works' fighting games including Mr. Kazuto Sekine aka "Pachi," Mr. Ryohei Endo, Mysterious Masked Man No.1, along with Atlas' Masked Man No. 2, and soft circle French-Bread's Mr. Kamone Serizawa. These five men gathered to have a round table discussion concerning "battle planners."
We hope fighting game fans will read through the various topics discussed including: necessary skills for fighting game design, system trends, character creation, how game balance ought to be, and the future of fighting games.

※この記事の日本版は「こちら」


GUILTY GEAR Xrd -SIGN- Official Site

BLAZBLUE CHRONO PHANTASMA - Official Site

Dengeki Bunko: Fighting Climax - Official Site

Under Night In-Birth Exe:Late - Official Site

Persona 4 Arena Ultimax - Official Site



The fighting game history of the respective Battle Planners


4Gamer: First off, please introduce yourself and your history with fighting games.

Kazuto Sekine aka Pachi, Arc System Works Battle Director Supervisor. As a player, his tournament achievements include 2nd place for Psychic Force 2012, and Guilty Gear XX#Reload champion at SBO 2005.
Pachi: Okay why don't I start? I am Sekine, the battle director supervisor for Arc System Works. My career in game development started from Blazblue Calamity Trigger (BBCT) where I was involved in the implementation and design of the Unlimited Characters. Now I am responsible for the battle design in the Guilty Gear Xrd (GGXrd) series.
My history in playing fighting games…. It was the M.U.S.C.L.E.(Kinniku Man Muscle Tag Match) on the NES, so about 30 years (laughs). If you count from Street Fighter 2 in the arcade, around 24 years. At that time I snuck away from my parents and went to the game center.

4Gamer: What was your all time best playing fighting games?

Pachi: That would be my 2nd place finish at the Gamest Cup for Psychic Force 2012. Along with Guilty Gear X, these two titles became a turning point in my life.

4Gamer: I see. By the way, speaking of Supervisor Battle Director, what exactly are you supervising?

Pachi: Everything really. For example, unifying the outer standards of battle for grades and stylish types. My role is to point the overall direction. For battle design, there will be times when I consult with other teams and give my opinion here and there. We go through Kyohei Kato for everything related to the Blazblue series.

4Gamer: Unfortunately today Kato-san was unable to attend due to other matters, but maybe we can get a letter from him?

Ryohei Endo(Endo, for short): Kato, currently the main planner for Blazblue series says "The first fighting game where I thought logically and played was Real Bout Fatal Fury Special. My best game was Guilty Gear XX # Reload (GGXX#R). I spent the most effort on that title and met Pachi through it."

4Gamer: Kato-san defeated Daigo Umehara using Ino in Tougeki GGXX#R, right? Among some small circles, he became a legendary "God Killer."

Pachi: Well the person to use Kanji to defeat the "God Killer" at Arc Summit is none other than Endo-san.

Ryohei Endo, Arc System Works Blazblue Chronophantasma Director. He was also the voice of Wizman in Guilty Gear 2 Overture
Endo: Well if I have to introduce myself, I started at Arc System Works as the programmer and planner for Guilty Gear 2 Overture (GG2), and then became director for Blazblue Chronophantasma (BBCP). My best game is Fatal Fury Special, and I even bring my Neo Geo to the office and play it.

4Gamer: Wow, you're still actively playing Fatal Fury Special. By the way, what's the reason you became hooked on fighting games?

Endo: In 2nd year of middle school, I first encountered Samurai Showdown, then I transitioned to Fatal Fury Special and had a lot of fun. After that I convinced a friend who seemed to have a lot of money to buy a Neo Geo.

Pachi: That happens a lot for fighting games!

Endo: "You can scrape together your X'mas presents and Otoshidama(new year's money) and buy it. Besides, Art of Fighting 2 is coming out soon too." (laughs) After that I stayed over that friend's house every week and got hooked. Of course I felt guilty and decided to buy my own console and play with everyone together. From that point on I was a Neo Geo die hard.

4Gamer: Next, Kamone-san please.

Kamone Serizawa, French-Bread's Planner. He was the commentator for Arc Revo 2015 Under NIGHT IN-BIRTH Exe:Late[st]
Kamone Serizawa(Kamone, for short): I'm Kamone Serizawa from French-Bread. I am in the director, battle planner and battle programmer for Under Night In-Birth (UNI) and Dengeki Bunko: Fighting Climax (Dengeki FC). In other words, if the game balance is broken, it is probably my fault (laughs)

(everyone laughs)

Kamone: All that aside, my first fighting game was SF2 on the SNES. My brother really liked fighting games and made me practice with him everyday.

Pachi: Ooh, just like me! (laughs)

* Die-chan, a very strong player in Persona 4 The Ultimax Ultra Suplex Hold, is Pachi's real brother.

Kamone: From then on, I became really addicted to fighting games. In middle school I would leave the house early in the morning and beg the arcade to open at 8 a.m. and play before roll call. At school I would sleep and return back to the game center after school. I met many friends in the arcade, and started to travel long distance to play around the time of GGXX#R.

4Gamer: Kamone-san, you and Kyohei Kato shared the same home game center, right? Did you play a lot with him during that time?

Kamone: Yes, it was incredibly vexing to play with Kyohei (smirks). After that I played The Queen of Heart and PC Doujin Fighters, then transitioned to the arcade version of Melty Blood. I would say my all time best games are GGXX#R and Melty Blood.

4Gamer: Understood, next we have...

Atlas Mysterious Masked Man No.2. He was the director and producer for P4 Dancing All Night but what is his true identity?
Masked Man No.2 (MM2, for short): I am the director for Persona 4 The Ultimax Ultra Suplex Hold (P4U), Masked Man No. 2. I heard there was a incognito meeting today so I came here.

(everyone laughs)

MM2: Well P4U Series is jointly produced by Arc System Works so naturally they handle the fighting game portion. However, as a representative for Atlas, I handle the conceptual direction and convey fan requests to Arc. Therefore, I maybe a bit out of place considering the purpose of today's round table discussion.

4Gamer: By the way, do you usually play fighting games?

MM2: Of course I play. My best game was Virtua Fighter2 (VF2) during my college years. You could really feel the "weight" behind every move in that game and feel the possibilities. I was deeply moved by that and it became the reason I knocked on the door of the video game industry.

4Gamer: Oh really?

MM2: I may appear this way now, but when I first entered the gaming industry, I was a designer for 3D models and created event performances.

Masked Man No.1 (MM1, for short): No.2, I heard you were quite torn between the idea of entering Atlas or not.

MM2: Yes, I was troubled with the decision to either become a pro wrestler or a game creator at the time.

(all): Wow what a 50/50 decision!

MM2: At that time CG rendering for movies took an incredible amount of time. While I was making my sample during job hunting, I was doing weight lifting while waiting. I thought I could make 3D models and make my body.

Pachi: Hearing that really brings VF2 to mind.

Mask Man #1, Arc System Works' Mysterious Battle Planne. After handling Guilty Gear XX / -Slash-, he was oversaw the Blazblue Calamity Trigger and P4U series.
MM1: Ahh, sorry for my late response. I am Arc System Works' Mysterious Masked Man No.1, Battle Planner and Director for the P4U Series. I entered Arc System Works during Guilty Gear XX/SLASH, and from then on worked on creating fighting games.

Pachi: There's actually many console game machines at his house, and he can provide a gourmet platter of various games when we go over to play.

MM1: In a good way, there are many miscellaneous things in console characters and fighting games (laughs). I like games that are broken in some way.

4Gamer: So you're more of a console type than arcade type?

MM1: Yeah my first experience with fighting games was Street Fighter 2. I was born in Hiroshima and there weren't that many arcades nearby. I would play SNK games on the the MVS cabinet at the old candy store. The main games I played were console versions of Joy Mech Fight, "Dragon Ball Z Super Butoden", and "Yuu Yuu Hakusho 2".

4Gamer: I see. Out of all titles, which would be your best gourmet selection?

MM1: Gourmet eh? Then it's probably PlayStation 2 "Sakigake!! Otokojuku". You make a 3 man team from 20 or so characters, and there would be a really fast flying kick to tag in your partners. The moment you defeated one opponent, you would eat a flying kick out of nowhere! (laughs).

Pachi: Moreover, there were many infinite combos (sarcastic laughter).

MM1: In one way, it was an incredibly speedy game and that made it enjoyable.

4Gamer: Aside, may I ask your all time best game? (laughs)

MM1: If I were to choose seriously, it would be Street Fighter III: 3rd Strike. Due to the parry system, you could enjoy the feeling of improvement every time you played. It was the game that really got me into playing at the arcades seriously. When I interviewed for Arc System Works, I answered "I like 3rd Strike." The company president asked "Not Guilty Gear!?", but I could not lie. (laughs)


Necessary Skills for a Battle Planner


4Gamer: Now that we are through with self-introductions, let's move forward with more in depth discussions. Actually we've gathered questions from the foreigner fighting game community on what they wanted to ask most from Japanese fighting game producers. The number one question was "How can I become a battle planner?".

MM1: Of course, the answer is to interview at a company that makes fighting games, right?

Endo: Well that's the normal way. In my own case, when I was considering switching careers, the Guilty Gear series Director Daisuke Ishiwatari approached me and that's how I joined Arc System Works.

4Gamer: Just what type of invitation was it?

Endo: "We're making a new Guilty Gear game, what do you think?", Daisuke said to me. So I entered the company with the intention of making a fighting game, but it wound up being Guilty Gear 2 (laughs).

4Gamer: Turned out to be a RTS instead, huh? (laughs) Regardless, you two became battle planners the traditional method by applying for the job. On the other hand, Pachi-san and Kamone-san became battle planners as players, right?

Kamone: In my case, my start came from writing about strategies on my own web site for the games I played at that time. More so than strategy, it was actually, "Hey this is an infinite combo, wow awesome," always finding fault and complaining. When I think about it now, I was really a prick back then (sarcastic laughter).

4Gamer: During Melty Blood?

Kamone: What really lead me to where I am now is "Melty Blood Re Act". At the time it was sold, I would find bugs and propose balance changes on my site. These proposed changes would be reflected in updates by Pachi, who suddenly appeared. While all this back and forth was happening, before I knew it I was dragged into the developer side of French-Bread.

Pachi: In my case, I visited Arc regularly during my time as a game writer. One day they proposed to me "Hey we have something coming up, would you like to help out?", and that's how it all started.

Endo: As a developer, we really want to hear the opinions of core users, so we created opportunities to get the testimonials of advanced players. During this process, we can hire those that seem to be really good people.

4Gamer: When people ask "How can I become a Battle Planner," they probably want to know what skills are necessary. Of course creating games is a group task, so I think communication skills are very important…

Pachi: Actually, that's probably the most important thing. As a planner it's important to be cognizant of what you communicate to people, and how it is perceived. If you fail at this it doesn't matter how good you are at the game, your message won't be delivered. It's very easy to criticize, but you must know how to improve things with a concrete plan. Also, don't write unnecessary things on the internet.

4Gamer: You're certainly right about that (sarcastic laughter). Alright, let's change up the question a little bit. When you changed to the role of a game creator, what was the first new point of view that you acquired?

MM1: For me it was finding a deeper interest in the technological aspect. When you're creating a game you will always encounter dropped frames and bugs. When I play other games and experience the same problems, I've begun to observe how can we solve those issues.


Pachi: When I was a strategy guide writer, I really gained a lot of know-how on how to make fighting games. "Strategy" is really the just dissecting a video game. In my case, not only for fighting games but for all game genres, I was able to experiment with a lot of debug roms from different makers, and this really taught me a lot.

Kamone: In my case, whenever I proposed balance changes on the web, I would always think of how to retain each character's unique trait, rather than focus on balancing the strength of everyone. This type of thinking really helped by broaden my vision in terms of battle balance.

4Gamer: By the way, when you look back at those proposed balance changes now, how do you feel?

Kamone: Now that I think about it...it's really amazing (smiles bitterly). Overall it was organized well, but there should be more emphasis on the character's unique attributes, and really harness the concepts.

Pachi: When I joined on the developer side, I started to think more about how to create and perform highlight scenes unique to each character. If we had a policy to just dull the broken elements, the "play feel" of each character would be similar. Even if balance was achieved in this way, it would just be...eh , you know?

MM1: Strictly speaking, it doesn't matter if the game balance is good or bad. If the players say the game is fun then it's a success. Of course as a product the game should be free of bugs, and game balance is crucial for a game to be played over the long term by many people. However, a game that is not fun will not even be touched by anyone.

Pachi: After all, games are personal experience.

4Gamer: This connects with the topic of character individuality, but what concepts are you thinking about when you create a fighting game's character? For example, do you think about matching a battle concept to the visual design of a character, or perhaps even do the opposite?

Pachi: For us the battle concept really originates from the character design. From the story and character trait there is a setting, then from there we "flesh out" and create the specifications.

4Gamer: You mentioned in a previous interview that GGXrd Bedman was created in a similar fashion. (link)

Pachi: In very rare cases, we will come up with the battle concept first, and then approach character design. GGXrd's Ramlethal was created from the idea of a dual sword wielding character first. The same goes for BBCP's Azrael, a character that originated completely from the battle concept first.

MM1: Before you decide on the small details for character design, it's common to first think about the overarching battle design. After the design is fixed and locked in, you can begin to reconcile the character design with the battle design.

Kamone: We also share the same method, everything originates from the character design. Perhaps because we are understaffed, we'll broadly define the battle system to the designer before we create the design in many cases. For example, if we're doing a version upgrade and adding two new characters, we'll ask for one as the "standard type," and the other as something more technical.

4Gamer: Under this method, designers also require working knowledge of battle design, right?

Kamone: Actually it's a little more specific than that. When you look at all the matchups entirely, battle planners should be able to propose things such as "If the character is like this, the lineup would be more settled," or "if the weapon is too long, it may be problematic," or "if the character height is too tall, it would not be good."

Pachi: Height is really important, yes. That's because height determines the general reach of all moves.

Kamone: That's right. Even if a character is short and fights with martial arts that can also be troublesome to adjust. In the end, you can say it's all about character design.

Height… well actually, Miyako Arima, the small bodied, empty handed (no weapon) character that represents Melty Blood, uses hakyokuken fighting style. Using her as an example, she is largely handicapped in the game balance. Can't you say that this is somewhat linked to the reality of martial arts?
GUILTY GEAR Xrd -REVELATOR-

4Gamer: The original draft of BBCP's Amane was sent via email from the voice actor Sugita-san (Mr. Tomokazu Sugita, who plays the role of Ragna) to Mori-P (Mr. Toshimichi Mori, Blazblue Series producer). You could say the concept of dealing damage with chip damage was preceded first by battle design right? (link)

Pachi: Yes that's right. In Sugita's email, he wrote "the character should deal chip damage with drills!", and this was implemented into the game directly. Yeah, that was very difficult to tune in the game. If chip damage is powerful, it means that you must not guard, and that very concept strays away from the general principle of fighting games. Therefore we really endeavored to adjust the game delicately.

4Gamer: How about the case when the game is based on an original series, such as P4U or Dengeki FC?

MM1: P4U is based on an RPG, and originally the characters all can fight, so it really wasn't a burden. The status already have a setting, so in principle we follow the original story when we put the battle design in order.

Kamone: In Dengeki FC, we properly surveyed fans of the original series for how they imagined the characters. We prioritized designs that did not stray far from these fan impressions. However there were characters such as Kousaka Kirino and Minato Tomoka where we asked "is it really okay for them to be punching each other?". This was very worrying, especially for Tomoka who is just a primary school girl.

Pachi: It was amazing that you could put out Tomoka.

Kamone: Originally Tomoka was designed according to the theme of the original work when I read it. Actually its more about my impressions I noted for the characters. I was thinking, "Yes, that's right, it's great that everyone could play basketball together." (laughs) That's why it turns out if you were playing basketball, the opponent will occasionally take damage.

MM2: In P4U when we added Kujikawa Rise, we held a very detailed meeting with Arc. For a character that originally did not fight to join the battle, it was crucial to not destroy the image of the character in the original work, yet add a "punch line", as Kamone-san mentioned.

Pachi: Speaking of which, who was behind the idea of Margaret's Suplex?

P4U2 Margaret B+D action, the Ultra Suplex. She will vertically leap into the air and slam her opponent into the ground. This move is almost unbelievable for a secretary to perform.
GUILTY GEAR Xrd -REVELATOR-

MM2: MM1 just took the liberty himself...

MM1: I didn't just do it arbitrarily! When I asked for permission "Can we give Margaret perform the suplex?", I made sure to get an "ok" reply. It was just right.

Pachi: I have no idea what you mean exactly by "just right." (laughs).

MM1: Well since the word "suplex" is in the title, we had to give someone a suplex, right? Margaret is constantly doing off the wall things in the story, so it was entirely plausible. The original story and the character image have to conform with another, so inevitably it's a difficult situation.


"Anime Game" = "Air Dasher"?


4Gamer: This is another question from a foreign player: "Why do anime games tend to be air dashers?"

Kamone: If you count out classical battle designs such as Mortal Kombat and Street fighter, nowadays it's predominantly Air Dashers.

4Gamer: That may be true. However the interesting thing is that foreigners use the two terms interchangeably. Therefore, the titles that everyone who gathered here today work on are anime games, and thus also "air dashers."

"Anime Game" refers to fighting games that look like anime. "Air dasher" refers to fighting games that have mid-air dashes, high jumps, and long combos. These two are terms are foreign slang. Although the origins of the words are completely different, they are used interchangeably to mean the same thing for the most part.
GUILTY GEAR Xrd -REVELATOR-

Pachi: In Japan we rarely use that type of classification, right? Games are referred to their maker, such as Arc games, French-Bread games, Examu games and so forth. If that's the case, wouldn't Ultimate Marvel vs. Capcom 3 also be considered an anime game?

4Gamer: Japanese people would consider UMvC3 as the Anime game, but it seems to be a borderline case and opinions are split among foreigners.

MM1: The reason why anime visuals allow mid air dashes is probably because of the visual affinity, right? Actually there was a prototype of BBCT during development that didn't allow mid-air dashes nor high jumps. We wanted to make something different from Guilty Gear series. However, that version of the game was not fun at all.

Kamone: Ah, UNIEL, in its prototype phase, was also a game which focused heavily on the ground game footsies. However, this didn't really match with the visual character design. If your battle component is very stoic, the motions and abilities have many restrictions. It's entirely possible that the game's universe would completely be called into question along the lines of "Uhhh..the people in the 'hollowed night' seem so weak, right?"

MM1: Conversely, if SF2 Ryu had an air dash, it would seem a bit odd, right? They did it right it UMvC3, but even then it feels a bit awkward. A fighting game with a stoic battle design must also have a stoic in-game world.

4Gamer: I see. Just as battle concepts are decided by character designs, presumably so too is the entire battle design dictated by the in-game world.

Pachi: Simply put, fighting games are basically action games, so it's more fun to move around according to your wishes. Of course, there's enjoyment in the older games, as your stoic patience piles up. There's definitely other fighting games like this, so I want to make something different….when this happens I just want to fly freely in the air in the game.

(everyone laughs)

4Gamer: By the way, do you ever think about making a classical, stoic fighting game?

Pachi: For our company, Battle Fantasia is a classical type game.

MM1: That title was a challenge at that time to express a 2D fighting game with 3D graphics. During development, we tried to implement chain combos into the system. Perhaps due to the 3D graphics, the motions looked terrible when they were canceled during the combo. Because of that reason, we pursued a stoic game design instead.

Just as the ad campaign reads "Fight with swords and magic," the in-game world of Battle Fantasia is based in fantasy. However, the battle design is somewhat stoic. You can evade the opponent's attack with the "gachi button", similar to the parry system.

4Gamer: Ah yes, as expected the battle design is dictated by the needs of the visual aspects.

Pachi: If I had to create a non-Anime game, I would personally want to make Mortal Kombat. Street Fighter's design is already unshakeable, it seems like you can't freely create. Mortal Kombat seems like it would be more interesting.

4Gamer: Oooh! Wouldn't that be great?

MM1: However if Arc System Works made a game, wouldn't it naturally turn into an Arc-ish anime game? In the past I was involved with "Hard Core Uprising", and before I knew it there was mid-air dash and double jumps. "Wait a minute, isn't this just Contra?" (laughs).

* Hard Core Uprising: Konami's spiritual successor to the Contra series. It was developed by Arc System Works.

Pachi: That was probably the case (laughs). However, Skullgirls is a fighting game developed overseas with Japan in mind. Couldn't Japan also create a fighting game with overseas players in mind? It can be totally non-canon, please give us an offer to create "Mortal Kombat, the Animation."

4Gamer: It feels like that would turn into a "Ninja Slayer" type of game.

Pachi: That seems entirely possible (laughs).


 
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