Hiroaki Yotoriyama Interview

Hiroaki Yotoriyama discusses what his team's doing for the three console ports hitting Japan next month. So there's more than one hidden character left, then?

No gaming genre attracts more hardcore fans than fighters, and no game system attracts more hardcore fans than the Xbox (in Japan, anyway). That must be why an inordinate amount of interest is swelling around the Xbox version of Soul Calibur II, due out March 27 in Japan alongside the PlayStation 2 and GameCube ports. Famitsu Xbox, sister magazine to Japan's biggest games mag, tracked down series producer Hiroaki Yotoriyama of Namco and grilled him about how the console ports are turning out and what new characters still have yet to be announced. It sounds like Namco's got him working night and day?hopefully he'll remember what his family looks like after it's over.

Q: Tell us a bit about how Soul Calibur II came to be released on three different consoles at the same time.
Hiroaki Yotoriyama, Namco: There's been this direction within the company to begin developing a multiplatform strategy, and Soul Calibur II was picked to be the first game under this plan. It's an honor, because I can feel the high expectations the company has for the game, but at the same time it's also making me feel the pressure. I knew this project would be tough since before this came up, so we just decided to buck up and give it our best shot.
The arcade version of SC2 was finished up around summer last year, and we released Version D of the game in September after that. We barely even touched the console versions before then. That work didn't really get moving until afterwards, so there's no doubt that we had a lot of work to do.
Q: So you're releasing the game after only six months of development... is that possible just because these are ports and most of the work is done?
Y: Not really. To us, it feels like we're working on a new production, not porting something else. The internals of the game are being made completely differently from before, and we're adding a lot of new features as well.

Spawn isn't just a badass superhero with a hand axe?he's also "Only on Xbox," as Microsoft's PR loves having us say.
Q: Looking at the screenshots, it seems like the Xbox version is the prettiest.
Y: From our point of view, we're not necessarily trying to pick out what's the best system and what's the worst system during development. If you take a bowl of ramen noodles and put it in a different bowl, it'll taste the same, but it'll seem a little different, I guess. (laughs)
Q: But wouldn't it be a better experience if you play it on a high-spec machine like the Xbox?
Y: If that's how you approach hardware specs, then sure... As I said earlier, we're making them all the same way, so if you notice something different between two versions during play, then that's an indication of the difference in each console's abilities.
Q: So are there any Xbox-exclusive features?
Y: The Xbox version will be the first Japanese game to support D4 component video [a high-quality digital video standard in Asia]. That may be a large part of the reason why it looks so good. If you watch it on a compatible TV, then there won't be a single blemish in the image. It's really surprising, actually. If you have a D4-compatible setup then I hope you try experiencing it for yourself. By the way, we didn't include any special features that use the internal hard drive.

Q: Each version of Soul Calibur II has its own exclusive guest character. The Xbox version has Spawn; could you tell us how that came about?
Y: I was very glad to find out that Todd McFarlane not only knew about the series, but also praised the original as a very creative production. So, partly from that, we'd been having exchanges at each other's workplaces. When SC2 came about we wanted to work together, so from that, first Necrid and then Spawn were born.
The Xbox is a strong system in North America, so we figured this would be a pretty effective thing to do. Even within Japan, Spawn is a fairly well-known character with a lot of very hardcore fans. We thought that that fanbase would overlap well with gamers that own Xboxes.
Q: Looking at the screens, he's got a lot of very cool animation and style.
Y: The producer was having a blast building that character, so I think he definitely deserves that compliment. Also, since his movies and attacks are something you've never really seen in the series before, I think he's a very singular character. He can fly, too. You could think of flying as a sort of stance for that character, I guess. He's also got a flying weapon.
Q: With a character as strong as Spawn, were you worried about him destroying the character balance?
Y: We redid all of the balances, of course. That process will probably continue all the way to the end.
Q: With all of those flying moves, too, he sounds like a difficult character to control.
Y: He's not that hard to control. I think he's pretty well balanced; anybody can use him, and anybody can make him fly. His main weapon is a hand axe, which we thought up for two reasons: we thought it'd be more fun for him to have a weapon unlike anything before, and there was something like a hand axe that came with the Spawn action figure we had.
Q: What about Necrid?
Y: I think he's a neat character to watch because he's got moves from lots of other characters, but using him well may require a certain amount of technique. That character was also created with the North American market in mind. If you're a fan of U.S. comics, then I think you'll love him.
I should also note that Spawn is a special character for all of us; we made him after researching the comics and movie. None of his animation was borrowed or copied from other characters, and all of his moves were built from the ground up. I think you'll realize this when you see him in action.

Q: Tell us about the Weapon Master mode.
Y: This mode has over 200 different weapons available, so just collecting all of them is a lot of fun. Some of them are very strange, non-weaponlike weapons, so I hope you'll find some of them funny, too.
Q: I think we saw Voldo using a ring weapon and a big pair of scissors at the press conference.
Y: Imagine Edward Scissorhands and I guess you'll have the right idea. (laughs)

Q: You mentioned that there's another new guest character besides Necrid... who is it? (laughs)
Y: I think that if you're a fan of Soul Calibur, then the lineup we have will be exactly what you hoped for... what you wished was in the game before.
Q: So there's more than one?
Y: Something tells me these questions are leading me somewhere... (laughs) I think that, if we can get more than two characters in, then we'll have worked ourselves to death to get this project done. I don't mean to be obtuse, but I really can't say for sure about this yet. That's how quickly this project is going.

Q: Despite your lack of time, you're still putting in a lot of features.
Y: That's because our staff wants nothing more than to make the people who play our games happy. Most of us here have been involved since Soul Calibur, so we have a lot of compassion for what we do. All the work that we did on the Dreamcast version is really paying off here. (laughs)
Q: Have you thought about supporting Xbox Live in the future?
Y: Soul Calibur's battles can be decided in a matter of frames, so I think that the truly realtime battles that online gamers want would be difficult to do. We did some research on this... If we built some AI routines and had the characters fight based on that, then maybe it could be possible. I'm certainly interested in networking, but we have a lot of time constraints... our top priority here is making sure we release all three versions at the same time. I'd like to have you hold an interview celebrating the end of the project sometime next month. (laughs) [This interview was conducted on January 20.] We're planning to hit the 100-percent mark in the middle of next month. Despite that, though, we're working right up against the clock to make this game as satisfying as possible, so I hope all of you are looking forward to it!

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