This is another interview in the creator interview series that ran in the 2/4 issue of Famitsu. This one features Katsuhiro Harada from Tekken and Yoshinori Ono from Street Fighter. Scans were graciously provided by Japanese Nintendo, so check them out!
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Behind the scenes with the two biggest producers in fighting games
Interviewer: How did you two first learn of each other?
Harada: I’d seen his name on a Megaman CD, but the first time I was able to put a face to his name was a Tokyo Game Show around 2000, I think. Around when Onimusha: Warlords came out? And he did the music for Street Fighter III?
Ono: I was the sound management director for Street Fighter III, yup.
Harada: I always had a mental image of you as a music person. But before I knew it, you were a producer.
Ono: I was working as the sound producer and the sound effects supervisor on Street Fighter III at the same time Then I worked on Onimusha. After that, I switched to being a producer. I first saw Mr. Harada in a magazine. I remember thinking, “Wow, the person who makes Tekken is a scary-looking guy.” (laughs)
Harada: Your image was a little different back then too (laughs). Your hair was orange, after all.
Ono: I was 20, 30 kilos lighter too (laughs). After that, we started seriously talking to each other, well, it was before Street Fighter x Tekken, so around 2007.
Harada: We both wanted to try a collaboration, all the way back then.
Ono: We would both get interviewed, and we’d both talk about wanting to collaborate with the other (laughs).
Harada: In the end, Mr. Ono brought up the idea to actually do it.
Interviewer: Your collaboration in SFxT was shocking. How did the fans react?
Harada: Our initial image was that Street Fighter fans could get into Tekken, and Tekken fans could get into Street Fighter, so the goal was to have fans of each original series to enjoy the game, but we actually ended up with a whole new fanbase for SFxT.
Ono: That was unexpected.
Harada: SFxT started with us wanting something that would be a shock to fans of both series, but I was glad that a new generation of fighting game fans was born.
The surprise appearance of Akuma! And the scrupulous preparations needed
Interviewer: The other day, it was revealed that Akuma would appear in Tekken 7: Fated Retribution.
Harada: That was a reveal we’d been cooking up for some time. I’d conveyed the idea to Mr. Ono around four years ago, and we’d been working on it slowly. We actually had Akuma’s silhouette appear in the opening movie of Tekken 7. But, it was hard to make sure his identity wasn’t leaked.
Ono: Getting the timing down for big character reveals for fighting games is really important.
Harada: You need to make sure that reveals don’t overlap, and eat into each other’s popularity. A recent example would be for Street Fighter V, there’s the Middle Eastern character, Rashid, but Mr. Ono actually told us ahead of time “we’ve made this kind of character.”
Ono: In Tekken 7, there’s a Middle Eastern character named Shaheen, so I made sure to ask, “we’re not overlapping, right?”
Harada: Fighting games are getting popular in the Middle East, so we were talking about how it would be good if we could include a character that would get them to be even more passionate about fighting games. So, even though you personally talked to me and cleared things up beforehand, I saw in a foreign interview that you said “we copied Rashid from Tekken 7!” and a lot of fans were asking me “are you okay with that?” (laughs)
Ono: I was obviously joking, but it’s those parts of interviews that seem to just take on a life of their own (laughs).
Interviewer: (laughs) I was wondering if Akuma’s appearance used resources from the development of Tekken X Street Fighter.
Harada: Ah, that’s not the case for Akuma. SFxT had a bigger impact on newer fans than fans of the respective parent games. But if I were to have Akuma in a serious fight, a battle that Tekken and Street Fighter fans want to see, then I thought “I can’t have it happen in a spinoff.” For Street Fighter and Tekken to truly face off, I needed the appropriate structure, and because there’s a lot of focus and attention paid to Tekken’s story, I wanted to incorporate it there. Tekken 7’s Kazumi Mishima was actually created in 1995, although at that stage all we had was her name with Heihachi’s under the aiaigasa1, and we picked up that plot point 20 years later. Although to be honest, the aiaigasa was something the designer at the time just felt like putting in (laughs). One of the links to this backstory was that in the past, Kazumi Mishima had some sort of connection to a mysterious man. And thus, there was a part of Akuma’s story that hadn’t been told even in Street Fighter.
1. The aiaigasa is a symbol that shows love between two people, you may have seen it in a manga or something. Two names are written “under the umbrella,” showing that those two people are in love. It appeared in Tekken 2, and then later in the intro video for Tekken 7.
An intense battle unfurls
Ono: Wait, wait. Mr. Harada is saying it in his way, but really, we were at a bar and you definitely said “Street Fighter almost doesn’t really have a story, so it’s fine.” (laughs)
Harada: He says there’s a reason behind everything (laughs). On the Tekken team, we play all sorts of fighting games, and Street Fighter is so popular we even enacted a company-wide ban on it at one point. We just simply love Street Fighter. But, because we love it, we just can’t tolerate the haphazardness of its story (laughs).
Ono: Aah (laughs bitterly)
Harada: For example, the story of Ryu and Ken’s master, Gouken. He was killed by Akuma, and I thought that was a very intense story, but he’s back in SFIV, and I wondered “Why!? How!?” And it turns out, “he was just sleeping.” Are you kidding me? (laughs) There had to be another way to do it. I’m sure there will be people out there who see Akuma getting involved in Tekken’s story and think, “Why would you do that?” but for me, Street Fighter is the root of all fighting games, and I think having a point of connection to that is wonderful. I don’t think the shock of seeing Akuma in Tekken is something you experience often. We didn’t want Akuma to simply be a “guest character.” He should be a full-fledged “enemy.” In the same way that every character in Tekken has a burden to bear, we wanted Akuma have some sort of absolute reason to fight. That’s why I wanted to show Akuma’s cool side, the parts that you wouldn’t be able to show off in Street Fighter. The development team, we’re all fans of the original, so we made it with the feelings of “this is what would if we tried to seriously make something in the world of Street Fighter. Akuma’s trailer was cool, wasn’t it?
Ono: It was super cool! Akuma’s appearance is something we just had to wait and wait and wait on. And I thought, “Oh, you introduced him this way.” But, let me say one thing. We’re putting a lot of effort into SFV’s story. In a Street Fighter way (laughs).
Harada: The one thing I feel like we did that caused you a lot of trouble was that Akuma hasn’t appeared in SFV, as of now. So fans thought, “Akuma’s not appearing in SFV because he’s appearing in Tekken 7.” I’m just going to use this opportunity to say, that’s not necessarily the case!
Ono: We considered, among other things, character variation when creating and choosing the roster for SFV, and Akuma isn’t among the DLC characters that will be added to the game later in 2016. But we might as well just keep saying “right now the Tekken guys are using him” (laughs).
Harada: We got a lot of positive feedback from the fans, so I’d like to show more of this battle between these two worlds. From our viewpoint, we also think that we could make Ryu look cooler.
Ono: Compared to how we write for Ryu, where we just have him say “I came to fight against even stronger opponents,” having someone else write a proper story for him sounds very exciting and I look forward to it.
Harada: A collaboration where we cover for our weaknesses while capitalizing on our strengths. It would be nice to be able to make another game like that with Capcom at some point.
Everyone can play: the future of fighting games
Interviewer: Both Street Fighter and Tekken host tournaments for prize money, but how do you feel about the rise in popularity of pro gaming?
Ono: One of my goals for fighting games is for professional players to exist, but I think that if you focus solely on that then it becomes too core-oriented. I think having winning tournaments as one of the goals for the player is a good thing, but if the scene becomes just about high level tournaments, then the only fun in that for the other players becomes in spectating. So I think it would be good to have parts that everyone can partake in and have fun with.
Harada: Concerning tournaments, my thoughts are basically aligned with Mr. Ono’s.
Ono: If I were to make a sports analogy, you can’t just host tournaments at the National Olympic Stadium, you need to host tournaments at local venues that everyone can go to as well, otherwise you limit the number of people who can participate. So I want to make sure we keep the doors open. Also, at tournaments, everyone who wants to watch it live gathers around, but even if you’re at the venue, you’re looking at a screen. And depending on where you’re sitting, it can be hard to see. So I think it would be great if everyone could sit on the floor, put on a VR headset, and watch the fight from the first row (laughs).
Harada: I also think that VR could be used in spectating, so I want to do something like that in Tekken 7.
Ono: I think that having the characters right in front of your eyes would make the experience much more impressive. Especially because I think playing like that would be difficult.
Harada: If you’re playing with a free camera then that’s fine, but a first-person perspective in a fighting game would just be scary. I don’t think many people would enjoy an experience that’s akin to a pro boxer or wrestler hitting you (laughs).
We’re two completely different people
Interviewer: I want to ask about the relationship between you two, it’s going on 10 years since you began talking to each other.
Ono: We’ve been friends for a long time. I never get bored talking to him.
Harada: I think I can be honest about Mr. Ono’s good points. That’s why, regarding something he’s working on, I think “That sounds awesome. I want to work on that with him, too!” but I never think “I need to hold him back and sabotage him somehow” (laughs).
Ono: We disagree so little, you’d be shocked.
Harada: People often say we’re similar, but we’re really not similar at all. Mr. Ono always says “Everything can be turned into a number,” and he does things in order, but I’m the opposite and just do things on impulse, so we’re completely different.
Ono: But, it’s not that the way we think is different, it’s just that our process is; so what our goals are and where we end up are usually very similar.
Harada: Once, when we went drinking together, there was one thing Mr. Ono got really serious about. He said “This was your thought process during this thing, right?” and we was breaking that down. I don’t think like he does at all, so it was completely different, and it didn’t mesh at all. (laughs)
Ono: Even if I asked, “How did that happen?” I don’t understand how he did it at all. The more I listen the more incomprehensible it becomes, and I just get angry (laughs).
Harada: It’s less of a thought process and more just that I reach my conclusions by adding more enthusiasm and passion on until I get there (laughs). But our final goals and conclusions are similar, so we can talk about it, but the process is just completely different.
Ono: It’s because we can compare processes that we never get bored, probably. We could just keep talking until the morning (laughs).
Harada: We’re similar in essence, I think.
Ono: But even though I remind you every time, you always leave things behind (laughs).
Harada: This is kind of strange, but whenever I’m with Mr. Ono I seem to forget things.
Ono: This isn’t a joke. Do you know how many times I’ve picked up Mr. Harada’s phone or his credit card, from the cafeteria at Namco Bandai to random places where we’re out of the country? He says, “I won’t forget it this time!” and then he stands up and I see his phone on the desk. I try to contact him, but I can’t because he’s lost his phone (laughs).
Harada: But I don’t normally do that (laughs). Just when Mr. Ono is around.
Interviewer: (laughs) This is the final question. If you two were to work on a game together, what sort of game would you like to make?
Ono: Yes, yes. After we retire, we’re going to start a travel agency.
Harada: One that specializes in trips to Hawaii (laughs).
Ono: We’ve already decided that we’re going to scope out potential customers in this area.
Harada: Mr. Ono will be in charge of the business aspect, and I’ll be working with the older customers, trying to get them to come and take a vacation. Mr. Ono has a weirdly well-detailed business strategy planned out, so it’s fun to talk to him about it.
Ono: So, if we were to make a game together, it would probably be a game about a travel agency (laughs).
Harada: But if we were to make that game, it would probably end up being a strange board game of some sort (laughs). But let’s talk about something a bit more ambitious. I do have dreams of getting a bunch of people in the Japanese game industry together, getting investors, getting capital, recruiting a bunch of big-name directors, and then making a really sharp masterpiece of a game.
Ono: Get everyone’s insight, get their brains working on something together, and pour money into making that a reality. We’ll make that, retire, and then open a travel agency together (laughs).
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