Blazblue: European launch interview with United Zen CEO Tomo Ohno

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Interview

Introduction

This interview was conducted on March 3rd 2010, during the course of a press event in Cologne, held by Headup Games, the German publisher of Blazblue: Calamity Trigger. It was conducted by Adrian Ruth (Kuroko) and David Huggele (ATG) for www.hardedge.org, the biggest German Fighting Game community. Before the interview, Tomo Ohno held an introductory speech and outlined Zen United's work in Europe, emphasizing that the late European release of Blazblue: Calamity Trigger is necessary in order to gather feedback about the market, which Arcsystem Works isn't accustomed to yet.

Interview Topics

Balance @ Arcsystem Works

[Note: I had to reconstruct this question from memory since we didn't tape this part - ATG]
Hardedge:

Arcsystem Works is famous for their well-balanced games. Can you tell us how the balancing process works, in general? There are of course the location tests in Japanese arcades, and your own debug testers. But who is the first person to make balance decisions?

Tomo Ohno:

As i mentioned before (he is talking about his introductory speech here), whenever somebody is needed in some position at Arcsystem Works, he just fills in, there is a sense of making decisions together. It's the same when it comes to balance - we usually meet and discuss important topics together. Everybody has the right to say or present something, including all the testers. In fact, in one of those meetings, the producer of BlazBlue introduced Noel, which was his own design, and it actually dates back 10 years. He really likes that character, that's why there are almost no panty shots of her (laughs). About the location tests: Not many people know this, but we actually taped every single match that was played at the location tests, and later evaluated them. It was over 40 hours of video.

PC Version of Blazblue

HardEdge:

The PC-Version is listed on the internet as coming out in France - so everybody was thinking: oh, it's in french only, will we ever get to play this?

Tomo Ohno:

Our focus of the pc market is actually Germany. This is our target market, since it's obiously the biggest PC market.

Older Arcsystem Works games on XBL/PSN

HardEdge:

Xbox Live and Playstation Network are very popular platforms. Have you thought of bringing older Arcsystem Works fighting games to XBOX Live or Playstation Network?

Tomo Ohno:

There is a possibility but at the moment we don´t have actual plans. What the thing is: for example in Guilty Gear. It was developed for PS2. It looks ok but but back then the TVs weren´t that big. There were those big, chunky TVs. It looks ok. Play Guilty Gear now on those flat TVs, the big flat ones - It doesn't look good. It looks as if you are missing some color. It looks kind of grey. So that was one concern we had. We want people to play it.

HardEdge:

Of course, everybody is expecting you to make another HD game.

Tomo Ohno:

So it's one thing that we don´t want to release something where the quality is not as great as we expect it to be. We can't ask people to use an old TV to play. Another reason is of technical nature. Since Guilty Gear is a 2D game, it's rather more difficult to do than it would be in a 3D game. The difference is: you have a lot of memory because of data right? When you play, and it says "loading" - it takes all your memory to the cache. In 3D games, the models are loaded, and the only thing that has to be sent are their positions. The data is not that big. With 2D, you have to load every single drawing to play, for one player you need to upload around 200 drawings so for example Noel vs Ragna you have to upload around 400 drawings which is a massive amount that cannot be cut down.

BB Interview Rachel 1.jpg

This is a very interesting drawing. As you can see this is just regular printer paper. On some of them - there is actually a print on the back. You know, they used misprints to work with (laughs). This is an original drawing that the main artist did. Then she hands it to the assistant artist, and he creates the animation. For example, this is litchi: This is her animation for jump spin and land (shows us sketches of her j.B), for that you need 15 drawings. A B C and so on.

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That's what I was talking about before: exaggerated movement. Look at her leg, it's so long. if you leave it in its normal size for this animation - it doesnt work. With 3D, the current technology doesn´t allow you to do this. For example to make her spin, you need 15 drawings. If you think of the amount of overall data, it's a massive amount of the data.

BB Interview Litchi 2.jpg

[Shows us her introductory pose]

This is quite a simple thing. This is what she does when she comes to the screen. You need 16 drawings. 10 for Litchi and 6 for the stick. As you can see, only this bit of the leg moves. This is just a small thing, but it is something we enjoy doing. It's something you cant´t easily see, but I would believe it makes a difference.

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HardEdge:

This is very interesting. Arcsystem Works is famous for their attention to detail. If you take Guilty Gear, you have all these single frame animation-"easter-eggs", like those of Zappa and Axl.

Tomo Ohno: This is a trademark or satisfaction. This is a rather interesting one.

[shows us drawings of Rachel]

This is Rachel moving around. This is the hand animation. The hand moves like this. You cant really see it, but we thought when she moves her hand you have to make sure her finger also move.

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Taito Type X2 piracy

HardEdge:

The Taito Type X2 board has been pirated and Blazblue: Continuum Shift has been leaked. How bad is it; and what is Arcsystem Works' stance towards the whole thing?

Tomo Ohno:

It's... annoying to be direct. Especially since it was ripped from the arcade. We sold the arcade version only to the professional arcade centers. So they ripped it.We are heavily concerned. We worked on the board system and the pc version as well. This is something we cannot prevent 100%, it's very unfortunate but there is nothing more we can do. We don't tolerate it. whenever we find someone uploading it we send a legal letter and ask them to shut it down. If they don't, we sue them. We are quite tough on this. But at the same time, we want to create the community for people enjoying playing together, talking to each other. So we can start from a community like yours. If you have a German champion, we are planning on doing a championchip. So you'd play the UK champion, the champion from France, and eventually the Japanese and/or American champions in the World Finals. Building a strong community is the only way we think we can prevent the piracy, since you can never enjoy playing the game alone as much as you would if you play with friends.

Next title / Guilty Gear

HardEdge:

Arcsystem Works has been giving some hints in recent interviews that there might be a followup to Guilty Gear Overture. You described before how everybody at ASW is working on everything, whatever is needed, so I was wondering, is there a "Fighting Game Team" at ASW, and some other team that does all the smaller games?

Tomo Ohno, amused:

Arcsys ONLY has a fighting game team (laughs)

HardEdge:

You are probably working on the console port of BBCS right now. What's next - is there another fighting game in the pipeline?

Tomo Ohno:

Oh, you want to talk about a new Guilty Gear? (grins)

HardEdge:

For example. Or some other fighting game?

Tomo Ohno:

At the moment, our "fighting pipline" is fully Blazblue - Continum Shift and the PSP version. However, Guilty Gear is not dead. Blazblue is not replacing the Guilty Gear series. I know there is a rumour that we have an issue with Sega regarding Guilty Gear. We dont! Daisuke Ishiwatari, the creator of GG, has full intention of developing a new Guilty Gear. I have full intention of making that happen. The question is, when, how and actually where?
Well the challenge we had in Guilty Gear - people like you (the hardcore players) enjoy Guilty Gear. You will probably enjoy everything we expect the people to enjoy, but you have to be on a different level to enjoy it. If you are a novice, most of the time, you don't see anything. You know, you have no idea how to make it happen (talking about combos and gameplay here). The Guilty Gear series over time became too difficult. it wasn't easy to get into, and Blazblue came from the bottom. We had to find a way: lets not make it easy but ...

HardEdge:

easy to learn but hard to master?


Blazblue character designs and target audience

Tomo Ohno:

Yes. So that is one thing we tried to do. So that was one issue we had. The second issue was the conscious decisions during game development. Blazblue was perfectly streamlined for the Japanese market. We exactly knew what we were doing. Each character almost has some kind of "mission".

HardEdge:

There is a character for every person. There is a ninja for me. I always play ninjas (laughs) (ATG doing the interview...)

Tomo Ohno:

Rachel is for goths.

HardEdge:

Yeah of course (all are laughing)

Tomo Ohno:

[somewhat left unedited]
The things we usually talk. You know: Some people like ass and some people like breasts. You like ass you go for Noel. You like breasts you go for Litchi. Simple as that. But for example. Taokaka the cat character. That is designed for the cosplayer. It's the easiest thing to do the cosplay play. You dont show your face, you just put on the mask, it's the easiest thing.
Also, Carl's purpose is quite interesting. The boy with the Robot. We are actually aiming at women. Late teens, early twenties. They associate themselves with the robot, they like helping the young boy. So... there's a unique and also strange culture in Japan. There is a huge community of girls who write manga, and sell things, and most of them have something to do with young boys. I don't know much about it. (laughs)

HardEdge:

It is very interesting. We didn´t know about this.

Tomo Ohno:

I don't know how much I should talk about this... (hesitates)... but there is a genre called "BoysLife". There a quite a few PSP and PS2 games for it, only available in japan. Most of them are like a dating sims, but they are based in boys schools.

HardEdge:

Sounds crazy.

Tomo Ohno:

(laughs). And the target buyers are girls. So this is the community of girls who like anime and manga. Like the guys phantasize about the girls. The girls phantasize about pretty boys. Carl is right for them.

HardEdge:

Interesting.

Tomo Ohno:

So anyway. This works in Japan but it doesn´t work in Germany. (laughs) so our next challenge is to create something while adapting to the German (international) community. As I explained before, we need to know you better, starting with the hardcore community. We have to start with the hardcore comunity anyway. so in your community: we want to see what the things are that excite you.

HardEdge:

To tell you a bit about our scene: it's quite complicated. If you take the german hardcore fighting scene. You have those Street-Fighter-only players, the bulk of them prefering very conventional characters. They think of Blazblue as too colourful and crazy. On the other hand, you have those players like us, which think of ASW characters as being very complex and their designs unique.

Tomo Ohno:

If we listen too much, we lose our colour. Our games wouldn't stand out anymore. You just need to find the balance somewhere. How to balance this process? I don´t know, we don't know. But learning something about the community is the key. I think the first step we want to take is to just see which characters Germans like and which ones you don't like or just totally don't get at. For us, finding that out is very important and the challenge for the next Guilty Gear is:
Next Guilty Gear - whatever it's going to be called - will be designed to sell it globally. Japan, of course, will be the most important country. But we want to have some sort of mechanism before to gather feedback, request the wishlist so we can extend it to the design colaboration. Not many companies succeded on developing in market in the location yet. So that's Guilty Gear for us. It's a huge challenge, but we will try to get the user involved somehow. so we are counting on you guys. (laughs) Come up with something!

HardEdge:

we hope we can be helpful (laughs)

Tomo Ohno:

You know the Natal. There are lots of things to think of. We are bringing Daisuke Ishiwatari to Europe. His mission is to meet people of the scene and see what it is like. For us, it's quite surprising to visit the gamestores in germany aswell. The store looks totally different (from Japanese ones). When the store looks that different, how do you sell things? In Japan the stores are quite small, but they have lots of games. So people look at the covers from a close distance. Here - Mediamarkt - Huuuge (laughs). So you see the game from almost 3~5 Meters away. So if you pick too many characters for the box art, you can´t really see it well. That's something I learned about the German games. The games have one huge picture but its easier to identify. You see, this is one small thing we learned when we came here to visit.

Cross-compatibility and cheating

HardEdge:

Since the XBOX360 and PC Version are cross-compatible: Did you consider doing something about cheating on the PC version? Capcom justified Street Fighter 4 not being cross-compatible by saying that PC-gamers would have an easy time cheating. Do you know anything about this?

Tomo Ohno:

I have no idea. I mean, what's the fun in winning the game if you cheat? (laughs)

HardEdge:

There are always people who cheat. It is stupid, but people do it.

Tomo Ohno:

I wasn´t aware of that. After all, when you cheat, you know that you cheated. If you have a strong community that knows each other virtually, if you cheat, everybody will know it eventually, so nobody will play with you.

Sengoku Basara X at Tougeki 2010

HardEdge:

Sengoku Basara X will be played at Tougeki (SBO, Super Battle Opera) 2010. Was this a decision by ASW? Is there still a large enough community for the game in Japan to justify it being at Tougeki?

Tomo Ohno:

Since Basara X is owned by Capcom, it was their decision, and we don't have anything to do with it.

Last personal question

HardEdge:

A personal question for the end: Arcsystem Works did the Hokuto No Ken video game, and we all thought that it worked out really well and that Arcsystem Works' takes on other IPs a very interesting and cool. If you could pick one of your favourite mangas or movies or something else that ASW would make a fighting game to. what would it be?

Tomo Ohno:

(takes a very quiet and long thinking pose) - silence

HardEdge:

(laughs)

Tomo Ohno:

You know, Tatsunoko - I grew up with them. That was something I grew up with. strangely, when you saw the animations when you were a kid, they looked so real. You lived in that world. If you look at them now, well... (laughs) So, you know, I personally wouldn't want to see something i enjoyed so much when I was a kid now see in the Arcsystem style. Especially since Capcom took them all (laughs)

Hardedge:

(laughs) Our collective favourite would be a "JoJo no Kimyou na Bouken" game by Arcsys. JoJo with stand characters and ASW gameplay - that would be awesome.

Tomo Ohno:

(laughs) well, we will find something.

Hardedge:

Thank you very much for this interview.

Tomo Ohno:

Thank you.

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Marco Cabibbo, David Huggele, Tomo Ohno, Adrian Ruth, Ruben Garcia

All concept art © Arcsystem Works, used with permission from Zen United & Tomo Ohno.

Arakune Concept Art

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