Get Ready For The Next Interview! Katsuhiro Harada of Tekken

Katsuhiro Harada

At the tail end of E3 2011 (literally 4:30 on Thursday when the floor closed at 5), Jason Fanelli sat down with Katsuhiro Harada, creator of the wildly popular Tekken fighting franchise, and his translator Michael Murray to talk about the future of the franchise, the effect of the Japanese earthquake on his team, and how social media allows him to interact with his fans in new and exciting ways. There’s even a brand new, never-before-revealed piece of information at the end…enjoy!

Jason Fanelli, The original Tekken Tag Tournament was released over twelve years ago, what made you want to return to the tag format after so long, and did you want to do it sooner?

Katsuhiro Harada (through Michael Murray): Tekken Tag Tournament was very popular when it came out twelve years ago, but it’s very difficult to make the game, technologically-wise. You need twice the memory and processing power to display four characters, and naturally since we have to work on getting all four characters displayed, it gives us less resources and time to work on new gameplay mechanics. After Tag 1, we wanted some time to do that. Tekken 4, 5, and 6 each had new elements introduced to the game: walls, then breakable floors and walls, the bounce system, etc. Many additions were made in the meantime, and we recently gained some new technology which allowed us to have four characters on-screen at the same time, which wasn’t the case before. Of course, for 12 years fans have been saying “We want another! We want a sequel!”, so now that we’ve evolved this far as a franchise, we can do a tag on top of that and it would be something interesting. It was all about timing, and it just so happened to take 12 years.

JF: In the gameplay I’ve seen so far, there’s only been a few fresh faces, like JayCee and the returning Jun Kazama. I presume the roster is set, but if not, will there be any more brand new characters?

KH: As far as the arcade version, this is the lineup we want to start with. It’s difficult to add many new characters to the game with the tag system and the technical constraints we spoke of before. This is the roster, but there’s still 44 characters total, quite enough already. However, the arcade machine is networked, and there’s a lot we can do with that. Also, with the eventual console version, we’re considering adding new characters, but for the start this is the lineup of playable characters, and we haven’t shown the boss yet.

JF: I’m assuming right now you’re focusing on the arcade release , with an eventual console version to follow…is there a timeframe?

KH: The machine next to you is the arcade version, and it is currently 80% done. It’s going to release in the fall of this year in Japan, and obviously it will be a little bit after that for consoles, so unfortunately it isn’t anytime soon.

(At this point, I was allowed to play a few matches of Tekken Tag Tournament 2 on the arcade machine Harada-san had in the room with him. He explained the new Tag Assault system and gave me some pointers on strategy. At one point, I apparently did something right, because I got a “whoa!” out of Harada and Murray, to which Harada-san told me that I was the first media person to learn the system so quickly. I’ll post a full hands-on preview of Tekken Tag 2 soon, but my first impression would be rewarded later in the interview…)

JF: Before I move on to Tekken 3D, I had a couple of non-gaming-related questions for you. First, I’m wondering how what happened in Japan recently affected your team specifically. Were there any delays, was anyone unable to come into work, etc?

KH: There was quite a lot of effect, as you’d expect. Not anyone on our team specifically, but people in our office had homes destroyed. Not where they live now, thankfully, but childhood homes and places where they grew up. Also, the factory that produces our arcade machines was inoperable, destroyed by the earthquake. Specifically, the two of us were scheduled to fly to Atlanta for the Final Round tournament on that day, and in the middle of going to the airport, we were stuck on the train with a whole bunch of people and ended up unable to go. Our office was closed down for almost two business weeks because of the earthquakes that kept coming. Inside the office, ceiling panels had fallen, there were things that had broken…it had quite an effect on our development. There were also quite a few people who weren’t easily able to get back into the flow of work. Once you’ve seen such a terrible thing, with things destroyed and people experiencing loss all over, it feels like it’s not a time to play video games. It’s hard to get back into work and making video games after experiencing something like that.

JF: Well, I’m sure I speak for a lot of people when I say that I’m glad you’re sitting here safe, and that the team is safe. Take all the time you need, obviously, I don’t know if you’re still recovering, but we can wait. The fans on Twitter might not say so, but we can wait, we promise. (Laughs all around.) That’s actually my next topic: you’re very active on Twitter (He can be found at @Harada_TEKKEN), and it’s very entertaining. How important do you find social media and being able to keep up with the fans at a one-to-one level?

KH: Tekken’s been around for 16 years now, and when I was working on the first one, the Internet itself wasn’t even big yet. The only way for fans to gather information was through TV or magazines or newspapers, and their voices were never directly able to reach the developers who make the games. Companies who were trying to sell their products would have to do a mass marketing campaign through all of these different media, creating a trend that people could follow. However, since the introduction of the Internet and social media, we’ve seen a change in players, especially around Tekken 5 and 6, that are a lot younger than they used to be and don’t care as much about trends as they used to. They use the Internet to gather information about what they’re interested in and not much else. I feel that putting our game out in the conventional way might not really convey everything we want from a creator’s standpoint. By using Twitter and some of the other tools, we have a way to tell these people exactly what we’re making and how it’s being done, as well as have the fans beable to directly tell us what they want, which is a unique opportunity.

JF: Well, that can be a double-edged sword sometimes, right?

KH: (laughs) Oh yes, as we find out often. There’s a lot of “bring back this, bring back that” that we hear.

JF: Regarding Tekken 3DS, I remember last year when the 3DS was introduced, you were talking about the new technology. Do you find the 3D aspect to be a new challenge for you as a developer?

KH: One of the main challenges we had to start was the stages. The way we go about making stages for non-3D devices is quite different, and if you try to take a stage and port it to the 3DS, it may not stand out as much. Some of the structures, specifically how you design them, make them look better in 3D, and we need to pay special attention to that. Another difficulty in developing for 3D is when titles make the jump to 3D, they need twice the rendering power, so they often drop the frame rate to about half of what it is normally. We don’t want to do that with Tekken, as it’s always run at 60 frames per second, but we really want the 3D as well, so it’s something we’re working on still. Our tech demo here is running at 60 frames per second with full 3D.

(I again was allowed to try the demo in front of me. It was not fully playable, rather a much more simple demo: Asuka Kazama and Lili were on screen and pressing the A button cycled between various actions: intro poses, throws, attacks, etc. The thumb pad allowed for free camera movement around what was going on, and I found that interesting…)

JF: This free-camera movement during the introduction is pretty cool. Is that something you plan on keeping in there, or is it strictly for this tech demo?

KH: We hadn’t planned on it, but it’s interesting that you mentioned it…perhaps we will.

(While playing around with the tech demo some more, I noticed that the free-camera allowed for some…well…interesting angles while Lili was lying on the ground. I know I risked being unprofessional, but I had to ask…)

JF: I’m curious about one thing…how many people have done this with the tech demo? (I show Harada-san and the translator the “interesting” angle.)

MM: Well, me. (Laughs.)

KH: (Laughs.) Quite a few, actually.

JF: Now, this is just a tech demo, so the game is in the early stages. I’m assuming, then, that this won’t be out for a while like the console Tekken Tag 2, is that true?

KH: This hasn’t technically been announced, it’s not actually in the company lineup, but as the creator of the game, I’d like to have it out sometime this year.

JF: I played Street Fighter X Tekken today, and I was very impressed with it. I like the tag system and I like that you retained the “one health bar down” system from Tekken Tag, i.e. only needing to defeat one character on a team and not both, as opposed to Capcom’s “defeat everyone” system. Did you find yourself compromising with Ono with certain things, and did the friendly rivalry ever turn not-so-friendly?

KH: This isn’t the first time Capcom has worked with another developer, as you know they worked with SNK. We had heard rumors that the two disagreed on a lot of things, which caused unneeded tension, and we didn’t want that. As a result, we agreed that there would be two separate games, and each one wouldn’t try to stop the other from a creative standpoint. If Ono asks Harada to tell him about a character, he’ll give his opinion but he won’t direct him on how Tekken characters “should” be, and vice versa. That was one of the first things decided about the project, and so far it has gone really well. It’s interesting also that at this E3, there were the three main conferences: Microsoft, Sony, and Nintendo. Throughout those conferences, there were only two Japanese developers prominently featured: Ono at the Sony conference and myself at Nintendo. Seeing as how we’re the only two that got attention, it seems that the partnership is working out so far.

JF: One last question for you: who is your preferred character in Tekken? Who do you use?

KH: Heihachi.

MM: Harada was once known as the “Heihachi of Shinjuku.”

JF: Really? Did you have the pointed mustache at the time?

MM: He had the hair. (Laughs.) And the outfit. He had made a special outfit, with company money of course. (Laughs.) He was the first one to hold events and get people excited for the game, so he was known as “Shinjuku no Heihachi,” which translates to “The Heihachi of Shinjuku.” Tekken has a lot of young people now, so not a lot of people know about it.

JF: Might be time to break it back out, eh?

MM: He’s destroyed all evidence! When I first heard about it, I searched the Internet for pictures of it and I just can’t find it. Arcadia, a popular arcade magazine, found a picture of it and put it in an article once, and Harada crossed it out and said “no!” (Laughs.)

(Now, thinking the interview was over, I was ready to thank him and head out. However, he decided to let me in on a little secret about the upcoming Tekken Tag Tournament 2…)

KH: I want to tell you something about JayCee, she’s not really a new character. This is the first time we’ve told anyone this, but her name is actually a play on words: JayCee or “J.C.”…Julia Chang.

JF: Really?

KH: In the story, Julia has a friend who’s a lucha-libre, very popular with the children and people world-wide. She couldn’t make it to a special wrestling match because she had to go to the hospital, so she asked her good friend Julia to fill in for her. Julia, so no one would know, dons the mask and performs pro wrestling. That’s why the character is changed in that fashion. I haven’t told anyone this ever, but since you’re a Tekken fan I’ll tell you this too: right now her name is JayCee, but the game will feature customization like older games. With this, you can take JayCee’s mask off, and if you do her name will come up as “Julia Chang” instead of JayCee.

JF: I didn’t notice before, but is Julia on the character select screen? If this is how we’ll play as her, will she retain her old moves?

KH: The moveset doesn’t change, it’s mostly Julia already but with quite a few special new moves that are the lucha-libre type. She’s not on the roster, but her name will appear if you take the mask off.

JF: Interesting! I can’t believe I didn’t put that together until just now.

MM: Well, he had asked me for a name that would kind of hide it, so I thought of JayCee, and he was afraid it would be too obvious, but it looks like it worked.


Katsuhiro Harada, everybody! What a pleasure to meet and speak with a man who has entertained me for 16 years now (more than half of my life). Here’s to hoping I can talk to him again about whatever his studio cooks up next.


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Author: Jason Fanelli View all posts by
Jason lives and breathes gaming. Legend tells that he taught himself to read using Wheel of Fortune Family Edition on the NES. He's been covering this industry for three years, all with the Node, and you can see his ugly mug once a week on Hot Off The Grill.

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