Like Ed Boon and Mortal Kombat, Katsuhiro Harada is synonymous with Tekken. Loved by the community for his sense of humor and relentless trolling of fans, he's been involved with the storied franchise since 1994. Working his way up from a project producer on the first Tekken – while also voicing Yoshimitsu, Marshall Law, and Kunimitsu – he now sits at the helm of the Bandai Namco's flagship fighting series.
In the lead up to Tekken 7's home console release, through his long-time translator Michael Murray (himself an accomplished game designer), we spoke about the evolution of the franchise, the future of arcades, and whether the Street Fighter and Tekken universes are canonically linked.
Interview by David Milner.
Tekken 7 first launched in Japanese arcades more than two years ago. This is increasingly rare for modern video games. How important is the arcade scene for Tekken?
For fighting games, it's kind of a natural progression. They come out in arcades first, they're polished, and then they come out later on the home consoles.
This is something Tekken has continually done for years, but other fighting games ceased to be able to release an arcade version. Most of them would probably like to because it's still viable if you can sell your game.
It's actually very important for our business model because it allows us to gain a certain amount of revenue, which is then used to create the console version, add in content, et cetera. It's still important to us.
It's also important to our fans because, at the same time as funding this console version, it also ensures [quality control]… It is very important for Tekken still, but how long that will continue is hard to say, because of the state of the arcades.
I heard that your parents wouldn't buy you a console when you were young so you used to sneak into the arcades to play. Are they an important place for you personally?
Of course, there are a lot of memories, fond memories of the arcade and the formative experience that it had. But that can be said for a lot of people of the same age, roughly in their 40s – arcades were the root of their experience with video games.
That said, from the perspective of a business man, it's more and more difficult to continue to release in arcades because of their decline. At the same time, there's the rise of a large group of the Tekken community in Western countries that no longer have arcades. It's something that I'm continually thinking about.
But if we released straight to the console, I'm not sure that we could have maintained the same level of quality. For the arcade, Tekken 7 was one of the first fighting games that actually allowed players to play against an opponent online in another arcade location – since you're paying a dollar each time you play and there's no way to refund it if something goes wrong, we had to assure the players that there was a high level of quality in the online matches. Whereas if we started on console, that would've been the starting point and we can patch it whenever you like, so there isn't so much urgency in providing such a stable experience from the start.
You're including a cinematic story mode for the console release. Street Fighter V launched without one and was met with disappointing reviews. Do you think a story mode is crucial for a fighting game's home release nowadays?
Actually, the importance of the story mode to us isn't anything to do with current market expectations or the reception of Street Fighter V. It's more that it's something that made Tekken successful throughout the franchise.
We've always had CG movies for the opening or character endings, et cetera, so it was really important to provide that deep story experience. We were doing that from so long ago when other franchises were focusing solely on the competitive fighting element of the game. We had had this story element from early on, and that was one of the reasons for our success with a casual audience. It was just natural that we improved upon that for Tekken 7.
Speaking of casual audiences, you're including a comeback mechanic for the first time in Tekken 7 with Rage Arts. What was the thought process behind that? Why did you decide Tekken needed it?
There were actually several reasons for implementing the Rage Arts. As you said, one is that it allows the user to come back from behind if they're losing. But another major reason is that we wanted to make people spectating more easily feel what the players who are playing the match feel, and to more easily understand the point of the match where it's, "Hey, this guy has a chance to come from behind!" Or knowing something dramatic is happening.
So this, in addition to the super slow motion or the Rage Drive, is to make the match more exciting all the way to the end, while making it more of a spectator-friendly experience.
I'm guessing esports is naturally a part of this consideration?
Well, you know, esports is a word that became popular more recently. But fighting games have always had tournaments where people gather, whether it's in the arcade or in a gymnasium or a sports center somewhere, to enjoy the game and watch the competition.
And then we also recognized the shift that people are not only enjoying playing the game, but they were also enjoying watching streams and other things, like on Twitch. And this was an element that made the tournaments very exciting to watch in person but also even on the stream. So, rather than just esports, this was a game design choice to make the spectator experience more enjoyable as a whole.
Up Next: Find out about Akuma's role in the Tekken universe and what needs to be in every Tekken game…