Dodging, Striking, Winning: The Arc System Works Interview
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  Dodging, Striking, Winning: The Arc System Works Interview
by Christian Nutt
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January 13, 2009 Article Start Page 1 of 5 Next

[In one of the company's first-ever Western interviews, Gamasutra talks to Guilty Gear creators Arc System Works on the state of the fighting game genre, their new projects, and their opinions on the Soulcalibur and Street Fighter franchises.]

Best known for its freaky and stylish Guilty Gear 2D fighting series, Arc System Works has built itself up the most prolific purveyor of 2D fighting games of the last several years -- beyond its own series, it has done contract work for Sega and Capcom.


The company has done this while maintaining a fiercely independent, idiosyncratic vision, while still managing to dip its toes into the waters of 3D. Arc's work with the overlooked Battle Fantasia, released last year on Xbox 360 in North America via  publisher Aksys, provided inspiration for the 3D turn of Capcom's Street Fighter IV before that game entered development, according to SFIV's director Yoshi Ono.

In this interview, Gamasutra was able to sit down with four of the company's creative talents at its Yokohama headquarters: Guilty Gear creator and the company's chief designer, Daisuke Ishiwatari; Battle Fantasia director Emiko Iwasaki, one of the few women to rise to that level in the Japanese game industry; Junya Motomura, the company's U.S.-educated, English-speaking graphics designer; and Toshimichi Mori, the director of the company's upcoming HD Guilty Gear replacement, BlazBlue.

Guilty Gear replacement? As more or less confirmed by Ishiwatari in the below interview, rights issues with Sega have, as net rumors have suggested, caused the developers trouble with what was once their own original IP -- and as Mori admits, the company is "basically begging" Guilty Gear fans to play BlazBlue

With a body of intriguing work behind them and a future set on bringing 2D fighters dazzlingly into the HD era with BlazBlue, Arc System Works seems to be at the most vital it has ever been. We tackle the company's present, future, and philosophy in the following questions.

Arc makes games that appear both in arcades and on consoles, like the Guilty Gear series. Do you feel arcade fans and console fans want different features from your games? Do they have different expectations?

Daisuke Ishiwatari: In my experience, the biggest difference between arcades and games made expressly for home consoles, like Guilty Gear 2, is that solid online play is tricky to arrange for the latter format. The console games I'm most interested in making are highly competitive, and their quality depends on whether you can get a reliable network up and running or not.

In arcades, or game centers, two people can battle on different machines without even a single frame of lag. In trying to bring games like these to the home machines, we have to tackle these network related issues as well, which makes the production process for the two formats fundamentally different.

With ports of arcade games to consoles, you're forced to do what you can to preserve the original. It's also really important to increase the game volume by adding new content and features. Not that I'm really qualified to talk about that though, as I haven't done much porting work. My experience is more with original titles made expressly for the consoles.

So, it's tough to speak about porting issues as I haven't done it much myself, but I think the main goal with home ports should be to add volume to the originals by enriching the game world and adding content that gives fans new incentive to play at home.

Arc System Works' Guilty Gear XX: Accent Core

Toshimichi Mori: I've been involved in porting Guilty Gear to the consoles a bit, and also in working on the arcade versions. With arcade games, people insert a coin, and generally play them for a short period of time. When you play at home, though, you can take your time, and explore all aspects of a game. 

We want our arcade games to provide quick bursts of enjoyment, and then when the same game goes to a console, the goal becomes creating a play experience the user can really sink their teeth into. People don't just beat a fighting game once at home, they play through it numerous times, so we add things like a story mode to flesh out back story for each of the characters, things that will expand the game world.

DI: In terms of user groups, I think there are more female fans playing the games at home. You don't usually see that many women playing in arcades. That's another reason to add character backgrounds and story elements to console versions, as we've found those things appeal to many female players.

Are there a lot of female players of Arc System Works games?

DI: As far as the fighting game genre goes, yeah, I think we have quite a few.

Article Start Page 1 of 5 Next

Jesus Alonso
13 Jan 2009 at 12:24 pm PST
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As a fighting genre fan, I find this interview really interesting, with a big load of ideas to think about for a while :)

Blake Nicholas
13 Jan 2009 at 12:51 pm PST
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The part of the interview about how Capcom sold SFIV as more user friendly brings up something I had been thinking about for awhile. At one point they say if they really wanted to make it friendly to new players of fighting games they would have made a single button press do a move like a hadouken.

I was thinking this exact thing the other day about how if a fighting game only had easy to do moves like that then it would be more about the thinking part of the game than the reflex part of the game. I consider myself a very good strategic thinker while playing fighting games, but my reflexes are kind of rusty since I went a long time without playing a fighter. I recently bought SF HD Remix and was shocked at how bad I was at performing some of the moves, primarily the shoryuken. I could do it okay, but not on a consistent basis which often times would leave me open to be attacked if I did the move and nothing came out. It took away my defensive game because I couldn't do much against opponents that pressured me to turn the momentum back in my favor. Now I realize with practice I will most likely get back to how I used to be able to perform the moves. Question I have is why not just put everyone on an even footing from the get-go to allow that fair play from the get-go? If nearly everyone could perform the moves consistently it would put the emphasis on the thinking game. The reflex game would still be there as well because the top players would still have to learn certain frame data to know when to perform various moves, and the frame data could even be more strict than normal because of the ease of performing moves.

As it is now there are many tiers of fighting game skill levels which usually leads to a lot of matches that are quick and no fun for either party. The higher tiered player has an easy win, but they don't have to think or do anything other than pressure the lower skilled player, and the lower skilled player just gets dominated until they quit the game. If you ask a higher tiered player what they want out of competition their answer would most likely be something to the effect of, "worthy opponents" because fighting games are at their best when two people are going against each other that understand the system and thinking game.

So what do you guys think of a system that would strip down the emphasis on move complexity to allow players to start off on near even footing? I think it would allow for high level play right off the bat. The spacing, baiting, and overall thinking strategy of the fighter would be the primary gameplay. All of which are the top gameplay mechanics present in high level play among current gen (and past gen) fighting pros.

Bartosz Oczujda
14 Jan 2009 at 2:06 am PST
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To answer your question, I'll tell you the system you're writing about already exists. It's used in PSX version of Marvel vs. Capcom and in GC and Xbox versions of Capcom vs. SNK (it's optional in both games, you don't have to use it if you don't want to). To cut a long story short – 99% of advanced players hate it. I don' know why. I'm a fighting game fanatic myself, and I don't care if someone uses it or not. I'll tell you why.

Fighting games are not about execution of special moves. Fighting games are about using your brain and knowledge to out think your opponent.

Let's assume a hypothetical situation that in a certain game it is utterly easy to make a special move, or super move, or... even a damaging combo on a press of a button. A weak player will say "Cool! I can take 70% of your health bar with a single button press" but there is a little problem... he actually has to hit his opponent to damage him. What distinguishes advanced player from a newbie is not only his execution of moves, it's the usage of moves. Pro player knows when to attack, and when to block, he knows frame data, he knows combos, traps, tricks... He knows the GAME! He spent his personal time to learn all this. And he doesn't care about how easy or how hard the special moves are, cause in fact they are not that important as some people might think they are. Besides special moves, you've got normal moves, throws and game specific command moves, they are much more important than specials.

What I'm aiming at is, by providing players with a way to easily perform complicated moves, we don't make it easier for them to compete with advanced players, we only reduce their frustration of not being able to perform special moves. It's pure marketing ;-)

Jonathon Walsh
14 Jan 2009 at 1:22 pm PST
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That's an arguement I've heard time and time again across many genres that have a competitive aspect (FPS and RTS Mostly as I'm not really a fighter fan).

My response/counter argument is the same, the reasoning behind having to do the complex action isn't for the challenge of the action itself. Rather you create these thought consuming actions to pressure and challenge the player to complete the other actions. It's a similar concept to the game show Distraction: where players are forced to answer questions while being distracted.

By distracting players who are trying to compete (in this case with complex move inputs) you make the tactical and thinking challenging more difficult and harder to get right. It provides extra depth for players as they must have a really good mental capacity (in the scope of video games at least) to both master the distraction, the immediate strategic choices (which move to do), and the meta/mind games.

Another thing that I firmly believe in is that every game is solvable. No game (even chess) is perfectly balanced, there's always a bias and a set of 'perfect' inputs to result in a win when facing you opponent. However for a time-sensitive game such as a fighter or RTS the perfect input is near impossible to achieve. Response times and complexity of games assures this. The 'distraction' though magnifies this effect and makes sure that even top players make enough minor mistakes to keep the game interesting. If players are allowed to play too close to the perfect line of play then the game at the top will become shallow. By adding distraction and keeping players further away from this perfect line due to slower reactions and reduced mental ability towards tactical and strategic memory choices you open up more room for meta and mind games to form to create an exciting competitive atmosphere.

So while things like complex moves, unit queuing, or any other simplification may seem like a trivial complication that serves just to annihilate new users to the game may actually play a key role in keeping the depth of the game for high level play.

On another note I love this article. While I don't play fighter games as mentioned earlier I absolutely love any discussion on competitive gaming. Great read.

brandon sheffield
14 Jan 2009 at 8:22 pm PST
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Bartosz - the system also exists in tatsunoko vs capcom. takes some getting used to, but it can level the playing field in a way - but also encourages special move spamming a bit.

Bartosz Oczujda
17 Jan 2009 at 2:35 am PST
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@Jonathon Walsh
While the notion of distraction is interesting, and true, I have to disagree with the rest of your concept. A game doesn't necessarily have to be shallow when special moves are not complex. Real life example? Tekken. 95% of moves in this game are very easy to do, even bread and butter combos are very easy, for example (explanation 1=square, 2=circle, 3=X, 4=triangle, d=down, f=forward, u=up, b=back):


more advanced

d/f+2, b,f+2,1,2, f,f+2
d/f+3, d+2, d+2, d/f+3
u/f+4 d/f+1, f, 1,2,1,2

these are v.hard
u/f+4, 4, f,f+4
f,d,df+2, 1, 1, 1, 1,2
d/f+3+4, 1, 1, d/f+3+4

You see? The motions you have to perform are easier than in Street Fighter or Guilty Gear, where you have half circles, quarter circles, double quarter circles, 360's, or even 720's to perform in every combo. And I wouldn't call Tekken a shallow game.

I'm sure that Capcom or Arc System Works guys won't abandon their love to quarter circles and similar motions, but there are two things they could to, to make the game more accessible to new players.

1. Prepare tutorials about the game, and every character in it. (I know that SF4 will have something like that, so that's a big plus).

2. Make the moves easier to perform by increasing the margin for error.

Thanks for the info I didn't know about this.

Tyler Doak
26 Jan 2009 at 9:44 pm PST
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Thank you SO much for this interview! Fighting games are indeed becoming a BIT more mainstream recently, but we'll have to see if it actually helps. Bottom line--I'm thankful for Arc System Works. Seriously the new Tekken and Soul Calibur are utter garbage and there is ZERO depth going on in SFIV. The past is chock full of great fighters and the future is bright with Blazblue, Battle Fantasia, and the rise of Doujin Fighters, who also have a love of the genre and hardcore fans. Capcom and Namco have totally lost that. Capcom has the scratch to hire top shelf designers and instead hand it over to a bunch of jokers for SFIV. Namco has AMAZING asset talents. Take a gander at the new Naruto, Soul Calibur, and Tekken. These games are gorgeous in the rendering, characterization, AND animation. Gameplay? Good luck finding any there. You'll find 'cool' customization of character looks instead.
Fighting games are THE greatest games ever. It's unfortunate that these companies with such great potential (and pocketbooks) are setting everyone up for failure.
Long live Arc System Works!
Go out and play Blazblue!

ASW, if you guys read this, I wanna be an intern.

Tyler Doak
26 Jan 2009 at 9:47 pm PST
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(sorry double post)
I meant to comment on the article more! (as i should have been)
I thank you so much for this interview, because part of their animation process has FINALLY been revealed to me. I've been asking around forever, but had never been able to find it. It seems the art related questions are always forgotten! Thanks again.

Percival Tiglao
3 Feb 2009 at 9:53 am PST
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@ Bartosz

To me anyway, it seems that Guilty Gear XXAC is indeed somewhat loose with the quarter-circles and such. As long as you get every direction in order in a certain amount of time, it does not matter what comes in between. For example, I occasionally perform Millia's disc by doing quarter-circle forward forward heavy. (2366 H). Despite that quarter-circle forward is all you need, the extra "forward" press does not prevent you from performing the attack.

Anyway, there are very good reason for these "complicated" motions.
* It diversifies characters. Millia plays completely different from Jam, despite both characters being a "rush down" type. Whereas Jam's Dragon Punch is a very useful anti-air and comboing attack, Millia does not have a single Dragon Punch in her entire moveset. (by Dragon Punch, I mean f,d,df, or in GG terms: 623). Also, Iron Tager is the _only_ character with 360s and 720s in his moveset in all of BlazBlue. Character diversity is certainly a good thing methinks.
* It gives the characters far more attacks. Not only are neutral and directional attacks available (forward heavy, neutral heavy, etc. etc.), but every character gets additional attacks in the form of quarter-circles and so forth.
* Orthogonality between attacks. In games such as Soul Calibur, or to take it even further, Naruto... characters "autocombo" as I like to call it. For example, a standard 6-hit combo in Naruto is simply light-light-light-light-light-light. (no need for buttons, just smash the button 6 times and you got a 6-hit combo). For the most part... Guilty Gear characters don't have "auto combos". They are full manual in some sense.

Orthogonality is a double-edged sword of course. It makes characters _much_ more difficult to control, especially for a beginner. It also sharpens the divide between newbies and experts. However, it allows expert players to have absolute control over every action of their character at every point in time.

@ Bartosz
Try Naruto. Unblockable full-tension supers are performed with a single button press and can take out 60%+ of a character's life. (Lee's Hidden Lotus is practically a teleporting OHKO). Overall, a fun game that lacks depth. Too many silly things were added (you can activate a counter _after_ you've been hit with an attack) but certainly a good game to try if you want to see how far "easy fighting games" can go. Soul Calibur and Tekken hit a better balance point compared to Naruto IMO.

@ Walsh
I agree to some extent, although I'd like to add that nearly every string of even "perfect" attacks has a perfect defensive. (high block / low block / jump / backdash, etc. etc.). Therefore, the "perfect" plays will always involve a mixup and a little bit of chance. IE: more like Rock / Paper / Scissors, as opposed to chess. ie: Talim's Wind Charmer can hit medium, high, or grab the opponent, all under the speed of a human's reaction time. Sure, if you grab, they can duck. If they duck, you can hit medium (you must stand to block mediums in SC).

Carl Albright
27 Feb 2009 at 2:23 am PST
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This was a very nice interview. I'm very interested in hearing Arc System Work's views as I respect the company very much. Just from playing one guilty gear title, I could grasp the company's morals and views on gaming and pretty much confirmed it with this interview.

For the part about accessibility to all kinds of players, They make each character different in their games. Some people only adapt 1 character because it speaks to them in a certain way. Some characters in blaz blue can be played with very simple button combination others need more complex and faster ones. Also for complete noobs, random button presses = a decent enough combo so games can be played enjoyably between 2 new players as well.

I think a live arcade scene is important. Think about how people treat each other through the internet. You play someone over the net with a microphone 9 times out of 10 you'll get an annoying person who curses you out (in America) but go to an arcade, you wouldn't treat people like that to their face. You might even make some new friends. Even though you meet more people playing online, the meeting to chances to make friends ratio is MUCH lower. Also if you physically meet someone in the arcade it somehow becomes ok, if that person becomes a friend to treat them like a friend. An online friend, you still aren't too sure about, you certainly wouldn't want to arrange to meet up in a dark alley, lol.

Anyway, I think their views on female gamers was interesting as well.

Can't wait for their next interview! :)



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