The Japanese interview with AM2 and Team Ninja conducted by Japanese website 4Gamer has been translated. the interview is really long, about 3 pages. Since this was translated by VFDC, they skipped translating the first page of the interview which was about Dead or Alive 5 development. So, you get more of the Virtua Fighter goodness.
How the collaboration with Virtua Fighter came into being
4Gamer: So let’s talk about the collaboration with the Virtua Fighter series. How did that come about?
Hayashi: Well, first off, the Dead or Alive series was created on the same system board as Virtua Fighter.
4Gamer: That’d be the Model 2 and Naomi boards.
Hayashi: Yes, so because of that, before announcing Dead or Alive 5′s development to the world we wanted to talk to Sega about it. At that time, we had a discussion about the possibility of adding Virtua Fighter fighters as guest characters, and after that things developed unexpectedly fast.
4Gamer: So what did the people at Sega think about that?
Katagiri: The guys at Koei-Tecmo brought the DOA5 trailer to us at Sega. It was a really great video, with two characters fighting in what seemed to be a construction site, and the stage was crumbling around them. Then just like Hayashi said, they inquired about the possibility of having the VF characters in the game. At the time I blurted out something like “They’re going to be in here?”, like I woke up from a dream. My first impression was that if they could do it, it’d be great, but how would it work?
Haneda: Yeah, we were really, really surprised. (laughs)
4Gamer: So were you worried about having the characters in the game?
Katagiri: As far as R&D goes there was no worries on our end. It was more like they’d pick the characters then wanted, then request the appropriate data, and then we’d give it to them and they’d go off and create it. So everything went swimmingly (laughs).
4Gamer: So when did this all take place?
Katagiri: It was early last year I think, but I believe it was a pretty tight schedule to get where they are now.
4Gamer: Ah, I see. So when did the development on this game start?
Hayashi: It was about two years ago, I think. We completed the demo reel about a year and a half ago, and then showed it to Sega 6 months after.
4Gamer: So that means that it’s been about a year since the VF characters were put into the game?
Hayashi: Yeah, that’s correct.
4Gamer: What kind of opinions does the DOA team have about VF?
Niibori: Up until now it’s always like we’re creating the games while looking at where they’re heading. Of course we view them as competition. It’s kind of like looking at an attack and thinking at what frames are they in a crouching position (laughs).
Hayashi: Yeah, for example when VF debuted its water stage, we also added a water stage to our game. And then when they added their snow stage, at the time we wanted to know what they did so we played VF while making our own game (laughs). As an R&D team we always view them as a rival that we want to surpass.
Katagiri: I… I see. (laughs)
Niibori: But you know, when we were analyzing the data that we got from them, it was surprising. Of course we knew it would be good, but everything was detailed down to the last little bit, and you could really tell that they thought about everything. It was like they tweaked parts to make sure that people could feel the love (laughs).
Katagiri: Huh? What parts are you talking about?
Niibori: Well, in DOA5 when we first put in Akira, you couldn’t use his Yoho to combo.
Katagiri: Ahh yeah, that was the first character they showed us. We gave them the frame data, but at the time we didn’t give them part of the data.
Haneda: In VF5 when something connects or is blocked, The frame on which you can move afterwards is different according to the attack. We didn’t give them that data, so all that data become uniform, and that’s why they couldn’t use it in a combo.
4Gamer: So you mean that guest characters from VF had all of their frame data and motion data sent to Team Ninja as they were, even though Sega has full supervision over them?
Haneda: Yeah, all of it. The character models, all the frame data for every move, even how they are performed. We also sent them all of the voices, anything we could prepare.
4Gamer: So the models are completely the same in VF5 and DOA5?
Haneda: Not really, a bit of DOA flavor was added to the models. For example, Sarah’s hair in VF comes out as one part, but the DOA5 model got rid of that. We actually talked about adding or removing those kinds of parts. So because of that, Team Ninja was able to add bits to make them look cuter or better looking.
Hayashi: We wanted the characters to really come out naturally as DOA characters.
Haneda: We really talked a lot about the facial models. In VF, the faces used in the character select screen are high end models not used in the game, but for DOA5 the faces closely match those high end models. But with Sarah her facial model was a little bit different from what we imagined. So for example, we’d receive the model from Team Ninja and then say make the chin 5 millimeters shorter, or make the eyebrows a little bit sharper. We really focused on these nitpicky points over and over again, so she’s not Sarah as you know her in VF, but Sarah as she would be in DOA5.
4Gamer: Did you pick Akira and Sarah as guest characters because they’ve been part of the cast since the beginning of the series?
Hayashi: The DOA series has always been behind VF as far as numbering goes. This is the first time that DOA has actually caught up to VF as far as number goes, so we wanted characters that have been in every iteration of the series, and we wanted characters that people associate with the VF series.
4Gamer: Did you have any other characters you wanted, such as Pai?
Hayashi: We did. On our staff we have a lot of people who love the VF series. It was a tough decision on what characters to choose because everyone wanted their favorite characters (laughs).
Niibori: Yeah I was really pulling for El Blaze to be in the character because that’s who I use (laughs)
4Gamer: It must have been a hard decision since everyone wanted the character they use.
Hayashi: Yeah, it was. This was the first time we’d have the VF characters in our game as guests, so obviously there was an order we had to follow. In the end it was the decision of the producer.
4Gamer: So tell us how it was implementing the VF characters to fit with the DOA5 system? Sarah for example doesn’t have any reversals.
Niibori: Yeah, Akira has a ton of reversals, but Sarah has none of those. So up until now we went to Sega and asked if we could use some of her throws for reversals, so I think it’s better to ask the Sega reps about this.
Katagiri: In Sarah’s situation, we included previous motion data from our database when we sent all of our data to Tecmo. However, VF4 and 5′s data was constructed differently, so while we gave them the data as is, we couldn’t do anything over here to help, so we told Team Ninja if they needed help that we’d give it to them. I do remember that a little bit after that they came back with samples to show us and said “we were able to replicate everything perfectly” (laughs).
Haneda: Sarah’s Front Suplex and Falling Angel Throws that weren’t in VF5FS are not holds that shift into throws, and they have the same names.
Niibori: Yeah, I definitely wanted to use those (laughs).
4Gamer: That’s so fans will be able to recognize those additions, I guess?
Niibori: I definitely think that people are going to really enjoy those attacks, so please look forward to them.
4Gamer: How about other attacks other than defensive holds?
Niibori: Ah, yeah, the inputs for the moves. In VF they have Punch, Guard and Kick, but with DOA we have Punch, Kick and Hold, and they’re almost exactly the same, but in DOA we also have tag mode, so you switch characters by pressing all three buttons at the same time. Akira and Sarah have commands in VF that require you to press all 3 buttons at the same time, so that means tagging wouldn’t be possible if we just left the commands as is, so it’s been a tough fight deciding whether to drop these moves or not.
4Gamer: Has it been that tough?
Niibori: Definitely. we’re working hard on Akira, but we still have some work to do with Sarah.
4Gamer: So the attack commands for Akira and Sarah will emulate their VF counterparts.
Niibori: Yeah, we want people who play VF to jump right into DOA5 and easily control these two characters. We’re hoping that these fans can experience DOA and realize how fun it is.
Hayashi: Also, with DOA we have Japanese and English voices recorded, but with VF all regions share the same voice samples. So in DOA5, if you pick Japanese voices, only Sarah will still speak in English.
4Gamer: Ahh yeah, now that you mention it, she only has an English voice.
Hayashi: Yeah if we hired a voice actress for her, then she wouldn’t be Sarah anymore, so we left her voice as is.
4Gamer: In fighting games that feature these kind of collaborations, the guest characters always seem to be a little bit weaker than the regular cast. What about with DOA5?
Niibori: We have no intention of making them weaker than our regular roster. With our previous games and with this game, we plan our characters to have certain strengths, such as a character with powerful throws or a character with powerful strikes, or strong/numerous mixups. So with that in mind, we’ll plan things so that Akira fights in a certain way, or Sarah uses her Flamingo to attack like this, so that we retain the essence of both Akira and Sarah as they enter the DOA world, so it’s a pretty simple way of tweaking things.
4Gamer: So there’s a definite chance that an Akira player can take a world or national tournament.
Niibori: Definitely, we’d like that to happen (laughs).
4Gamer: We’re looking forward to that! So how was the fan reaction towards the inclusion of the VF characters?
Hayashi: For DOA5 we felt that the fans really wanted these kind of characters in the game. After we released footage of both characters and the response from both the VF fans and the DOA fans has been very positive. We’re really happy with their response.
The 30 Second Rule, and VF5FS
4Gamer: Sega’s R&D team is also joining us today, so we’d like to talk about the console version of VF5FS. How has the reaction been since release?
Haneda: In general the player feedback has been good, and sales has also been good. Also, a lot of VF fans have been putting a lot of importance on the inclusion of items.
Katagiri: Because of that, a lot of players have not only been purchasing the main game but also the item packs as well.
4Gamer: So how many people have been purchasing the item packs?
Katagiri: A lot more than expected… I guess? (laughs)
Haneda: Really, I’m surprised. I definitely can feel that a lot of our players are focusing on the items.
Katagiri: When we distributed questionnaires to people playing in the arcades and asked what they were concerned about, game balance and how the game feels was about the same, and interest in items also appeared. So we figured that this would also be the same for the home user as well and they’d focus a lot of time on that area.
4Gamer: So what was the reason for going with a digital distribution instead of a retail package? Also, the 1500 yen price point for the game is quite cheap too, right?
Katagiri: VF5FS’ port got a lot of good feedback overseas from fighting game fans, and they really wanted a release of the latest version.
4Gamer: Yeah, I get the impression that international players really pulled for this game.
Katagiri: So when we were thinking about releasing it overseas, if we released it as a package game it’d take a lot of effort, and thinking about how everyone plays online nowadays, we felt that releasing it as a digital game and pricing it as a digital title would be the best way to sell it. When we were thinking about the price, we didn’t think about the overall price and thought we could sell it a little bit cheaper than retail game, but our overseas partners said to sell it at $15. So that was like wait… 1500 yen!? What!? (laughs)
4Gamer: So this means that the port was mainly for people overseas. Were you expecting good sales overseas then?
Katagiri: Yeah, we were. When it comes to digital sales, Japan and the rest of the world are completely different, and honestly digital sales do far better internationally.
4Gamer: So then, how was the reception for the game overseas?
Katagiri: We don’t have all of the information yet, but as far as I’ve heard we’ve been getting good feedback from our fans. We had a big event before the release, and we heard that everyone was very excited for the game.
4Gamer: Wow, that’s great. By the way, this is a totally unrelated question, but why do you have to wait 30 seconds in a room match before the match begins?
Katagiri: Well first remember that VF is known as a game heavily dependent on frames.
4Gamer: Yeah. In the heat of battle each player’s frames are being calculated, and in that situation what kind of offense or defense they mount is what makes the game interesting.
Katagiri: We really wanted to make that type of game a focal point when playing online, so it was a matter of data traffic. We want to use all of that data traffic for the game, so that’s why you can’t enter a room during the middle of a battle.
4Gamer: Yeah, once the fight starts then the room is closed off, I noticed that.
Katagiri: If people were able to enter a room midway through, that would affect the data traffic between the two players playing, which is why we removed it from the game. And that’s why we have that 30 second wait time before each match so that players can join the match at that time.
4Gamer: I see.
Katagiri: No matter what there’s always going to be some lag, and for the player they can feel even a little bit of it, which is why we designed it this way.
4Gamer: So it’s a matter of you wanting to concentrate on creating a very stable online environment.
Katagiri: It’s a straight-forward way of thinking, but we were really aiming for a game where people would enjoy creating offense or defense with frames in VF.
4Gamer: Got it. So, I’m sure that every VF fan is wondering about this, but do you have any plans for the next iteration of Virtua Fighter?
Haneda: When we have something that we can announce we’d like to do it, but now is not the time, unfortunately. Once we have something that’s worthy of the Virtua Fighter 6 moniker, then we can talk about it.
Katagiri: After our work on VF5 we’ve been thinking about what we can do for the next game. However, what will make it in or not depends on a lot of circumstances.
Hayashi: We also had a lot of time between DOA4 and 5, and so I can understand the importance of their numbering.
Haneda: Yeah, it’s been six years since the release of VF5.
Katagiri: Surprising, really. I really want to thank all of our fans for being with us until now. We really appreciate that people were able to continue playing this one game up until now.
A fighting game for the entire world, an internationally produced fighting game!?
4Gamer: So let’s talk about fighting games as a whole. This summer there are a lot of fighting games coming out, but what do you feel about it as fighting game developers. Also, there have been a lot of money at tournaments and a lot of pro gamers have appeared on the scene as well. What are your thoughts?
Katagiri: I’m really happy about it. We see them as rivals, but we also see them as partners as we all develop fighting games, and everyone has been doing their best to put out the best product. As for the players, we’re really happy that they’ve gotten very excited over these games and have been supporting them.
Hayashi: I’ve also heard about how people in other genres don’t get as excited as the fighting game genre too.
Katagiri: Once people get excited, that’s when you can have really competition. That happens within our company, and so that’s also what happens with players too, right?
Niibori: It’s great to be a fan of fighting games right now. When I was in school and just playing games, I really wanted things to move into the realm of e-Sports, and I was one of those guys who really got into DOA’s online play. We have Japanese pro gamers now, and our tournaments are getting as exciting as the ones overseas. We feel that we can really be competitors in that area with DOA, and we’re hoping to forge a great future with the game.
4Gamer: How about Mr. Haneda, who was one of the former Tetsujins of Virtua Fighter (known by many as Shinjuku Jacky).
Haneda: Huh, me? (laughs) This is just my personal opinion, but I’m part of the dev team now, right? So I feel like I’m actually a pro now. We’re extending our public promotions right now, so as a company doing the same kind of thing for support and contracts may be a little bit hard, but we definitely want to do more in that field.
4Gamer: You mean Sega supporting players?
Haneda: In general I can’t say anything, but for example, we have our group of VF Star Players, and we have them travel to local tournaments. That is one step in the right direction, but that’s kind of like our own group of pro gamers, right?
Katagiri: With VF5 we took the first step and we’d like to create something more like a pro wrestling business that incorporates the community.
Haneda: Having said that, getting there won’t be smooth, but we’re stable with our current stable of star players. But we feel that’s just one step in the right direction.
4Gamer: We want to pay attention to the relationship between the pro gamers and the game makers. By the way, VF has always been an arcade game first, whereas DOA made the shift to a console game during its life. Could you both tell us what kind of players you are concentrating on?
Hayashi: Since the beginning DOA has been made as a game that aims for both the casual and core markets in terms of what you see on the screen and basic concepts. With DOA5 it’s becoming more of an entertainment product, so we’re thinking that this is a game that even people who are bad at fighting games will have an interest in.
4Gamer: So not a specific type of player, right?
Niibori: Yeah, not one in particular. We’ve been searching for a product that can appeal to both sides.
Hayashi: On the other hand, as a fighting game for the home market, it’s completely different from the VF series, and it’d be hard to bring our type of game to the arcade as it is, because ours is designed for a slow burn.
4Gamer: I see, and the VF games have up until now been primarily an arcade game that is specifically aimed at the core gamer, correct?
Katagiri: When we first started production on the game, we had no thoughts of what to do for a console version. We have to make something that’s good for the arcade gamer first. Even when we are porting it for the home market, we aim for product for the people who play in the arcades. That is something that is part of the home console version of VF5FS, and it’s more of a VF characteristic than a Sega one.
4Gamer: The VF series and arcade games cannot be separated, right?
Katagiri: Yeah, that’s right. When we talk to a lot of arcade operators, they tell us that if it has the VF name attached to it, they want us to keep going the way we’re doing things.
4Gamer: Oh, one other thing. This is something we can only ask when talking about fighting games, but the genre is populated by Japanese developed games, and nothing has been made overseas, why is that?
Katagiri: Well, overseas they have Mortal Kombat.
4Gamer: Yeah, everyone says that, really.
Katagiri: With Mortal Kombat they have times where you think it’s a movie but then the round starts suddenly, and it’s something that a Japanese developer wouldn’t create. When comparing them with fighting games now, there are times where you might think “that attack launches them that high!?”, but that’s how a lot of western games were in the beginning. But they continue with their way of making fighting games because people always say how great it is.
4Gamer: So you mean that developers overseas are going to push for that kind of high quality in the future?
Katagiri: Yeah, if they keep going the way they are, there’s going come a time when a really high quality game is put out there, and then people are going to start saying “Japanese fighting games are terrible!”
Hayashi: There are going to be a lot of people who played Japanese games and will want to make that kind of game themselves.
Niibori: Take for example, Skullgirls, which was released on PSN/XBLA and was created by people who play Japanese fighting games. Lately a lot of effort has been put into developing fighting games overseas, and I feel that they’re continuing our tradition. I really feel that if we continue the way we are now, we’re going to be in a dangerous situation.
4Gamer: But I’m surprised because up until now when I’ve asked many people, they always say that fighting games are only made in Japan.
Katagiri: Yeah, that’s if you’re talking about now.
Haneda: Yup, that’s right, for the time being.
Katagiri: With games that are successful now like FPS games or GTA-like games, when they first started appearing, I think a lot of people were thinking “just walking around and doing nothing in this sandbox isn’t very interesting”. However because they kept working on it they got to where they are now. And with fighting games that can also happen, where overseas developers start sowing the seeds for their success in the future.
Niibori: We can’t be complacent, for sure.
Katagiri: The Koei-Tecmo guys already said it clearly, but if you continue on the same trajectory and it isn’t interesting, you have to move onto another trajectory. That’s why for example Mortal Kombat has their fatalities, where they have stuff that’s funny but also stuff that’s kind of scary. They’re on a different trajectory that takes up a good chunk of resources, but it can also give birth to totally new trends. That’s why before that happens we have to do something ourselves.
4Gamer: We definitely want to see new types of fighting games coming out of Japan. To wrap things up, we’d like all of you to send a message to the VF and DOA fans.
Katagiri: I think a lot of VF fans are considering how the VF characters are going to play in DOA5. People who play VF heavily are probably going to think “doesn’t this happen?” a lot. Playing the VF characters with the same type of controls, coupled with the showmanship of DOA is a very fun mix and I really want people to try it out. I’m definitely looking forward to playing the final game, so I hope to see people online!
Haneda: I only know about the parts I’ve played so far, but DOA5 has become a game that both VF and DOA players can play, and has a lot of content aimed at different types of players. This is definitely something that both sides will enjoy.
Niibori: With the VF characters, we’re aiming for something that doesn’t feel awkward but also feels new and fresh, so we absolutely want VF players to try it out. Of course, I’m hoping those who have played DOA from the beginning will meet up with VF players and have a lot of great fights. Actually I’ve been doing some secret training with Katagiri in VF5FS since I bought it myself (laughs).
Haneda: Really? Thanks! (laughs)
Niibori: Yeah, so if DOA fans want to get a head start on how to fight Akira or Sarah, I suggest trying out the console version of VF5FS. I think you’ll be able to find that a lot of strategies that work in VF will also work in DOA5 when it comes out!
Hayashi: The timing couldn’t have been better to ask for VF characters to guest star in DOA5, as we’re developing the game right when the console version of VF5FS came out. So for these next three to four months there are a lot of fighting games coming out, but we’re able to release DOA5 in a very good window. Like Katagiri said with all of these fighting games coming out at the same time, it’s like gravity pulling in the fighting game fan, so we’ve been looking forward to these next couple of months. We’re going to work hard to make sure that everyone really enjoys our work.
4Gamer: Thanks everyone for your time.