Being able to 'see into the future' as we are often called to do in spreading the word about the best upcoming games is a real mixed blessing. Yeah, we've had a fair few bouts on the wonderful new Virtua Fighter 5 but coming home from SEGA's offices to the semi-crushing realisation that we'd have to go back to VF4:Evolution in the interim was, in a word, nasty. To try and fill that gap a little, we decided to catch up with SEGA's ever-spectacular AM2 team to lay to rest our list of 'if...'s, 'why...'s and 'what if...'s - this is what they had to say for themselves on the subjects of new characters, online options and making allowances for old men.
Eurogamer: How were the styles of Eileen and El Blaze settled upon and with a game so reliant on balancing, how difficult is it to introduce new characters to an established line-up?
AM2: El Blaze, the Mexican wrestling champion uses the Lucha Libre fighting style. Eileen is originally from China and uses a "Kou-Ken" style taught to her by her grandfather. The various characters and different fighting styles are what make VF5 so fun, so we're very excited to be able to add these two new characters to the franchise.
When we think about a new fighting style or a new character, we look at whether we can include what has not been done before and whether it suits the global vision of Virtua Fighter. In short, we try to be loyal to the series. We come up with numerous ideas within such contexts and examine if one suits the game or not as we create it.
To achieve the balance adjustment after adopting new characters and fighting styles, you have no choice but to actually play the game. Those who are in charge of the adjustment and test players thoroughly play the title day after day to find that perfect balance.
Eurogamer: One of the biggest changes since VF4:Evo/FT is the greatly increased customisation potential for each character. Do you think that this is something we'll see becoming commonplace in gaming as time goes on?
AM2: Yes I believe so. As you say, many games feature this within themselves and it is something that we have had a lot of fun with for Virtua Fighter 5. We have many types of variations, we prepare ones in large quantity to suit characters ranging from fashionable ones like sunglasses to bizarre ones like night-vision goggles or gas masks. When it comes to female characters, you can make them up with lipstick and it looks funny when you equip a male character with a mohawk.
Eurogamer: From our time with the game, the Offensive Move mechanic seems extremely interesting but are you worried that players might ignore it and choose to just play the game like VF4 instead? Which characters would you say benefit most from this new element?
AM2: Believe me, if you came up against a player who was very well skilled with the new offensive moves, trying to play like the old way would result in a great many losses. All the characters benefit from this new offensive and it is impossible to pick one character that benefits from this more than another.
Eurogamer: One notable absence in VF5 is that of online play - are we to assume that this is due to latency issues that would break the game online? Is there likely to be any kind of online functionality at all in the final version? Were downloadable high-level replays or character items considered, for example?
AM2: Our stance toward the online gameplay has not been changed from what it was before. VF5 runs at 60fps. It would be nice if there were an environment where we could communicate with no problem at all under this condition, but unfortunately, there are various barriers for the network gaming. We wish we had an Internet environment that would convince the players who develop frame-by-frame offense and defence. The Japanese advanced players play battles that can be determined within one frame! We were interested in dowloadable extra service and PlayStore, but we decided not to adopt them this time. Instead, we decided to include every possible item we can offer since we could secure sufficient space due to the introduction of Blu-ray Disc.
Eurogamer: Are there any concerns about the fact that Tekken: Dark Ressurection has been announced as a downloadable title for the PlayStation 3 while VF5 will be full price or do you see them as being aimed at two entirely different markets?
AM2: We have no particular concerns. Though the methods of the sales are different, I believe both titles are dominant products that will activate the PS3 market. I expect the synergetic effect will boost the beat-'em-up genre.
Eurogamer: What other fighting games does the team enjoy and/or draw inspiration from? What is your take on the current state of play within the beat-'em-up genre?
AM2: We have always believed that the duty of ours... no, the duty of Virtua Fighter is "to offer the best battle tool with the state-of-the-art technologies". We just provide the player with a tool, and encourage them just a bit. The sensitive players who can find the possibilities in it will start playing the game boldly. We also believe that the circle of players will gradually spread from there and that a new excitement will be generated.
In sum, we would like to lead this genre with "to offer the best battle tool with the state-of-the-art technologies" set as the unchanging goal.
Eurogamer: What advice would you give to beginning players who may be daunted or overwhelmed by Virtua Fighter's scale, potential and hardcore following?
AM2: It is true that there are a great many fans of VF who play the game very hard. With the correct mentality it is within the grasp of dedicated gamers to become good at VF5. First, purchase HDTV, PS3, and Virtua Fighter 5. Then, complete the PS3 edition of Virtua Fighter 5. Try to fight against your friends often and become the best. If you become powerful to the point where there are no rivals left, even if you try really hard to find one, begin saving money and buy an air ticket with saved money and visit Japan. We recommend you play against Virtua Fighter players in videogame arcades as you will then sense a broad range of the VF players and the depth of Virtua Fighter, and we believe you will move a step closer to the realm of mastery.
Eurogamer: Earning cash and items in Quest Mode seems extremely tough and seems to require great perseverance to get to the 'good stuff' - is this an intentional move to increase the prestige attached to these custom items?
AM2: We basically produce the Quest mode in such a way on purpose in order to enhance the gaming. However, because the customisation items are a factor relevant to appearance, it would be different depending on the player's judgement whether or not the items you obtained are valuable. In short, a sense of worth is different from person to person. Moreover, even when thinking about a single item, whether it is worth something or not will change based on its potential combination with other items. If you think this way, it is possible that items you can obtain later may not be always the 'best' items.
Eurogamer: Was Dojo mode polished and tightened up to encourage all levels of player to want to learn more about the game's characters or simply to accommodate the ever-growing number of hardcore fans that need that extra play data?
AM2: Of course, we elaborately created the mode for all players. Beginners may feel that the Dojo mode is just the place of training, but there is a common saying in Japan that "the stronger one is, the less efforts in training oneself one spares".
The more powerful you become, the more you will feel like learning new techniques, and you will also want to practice in various situations. Moreover, it is fun again to try out the moves, techniques, etc. you have been practicing in actual battles, and achieve success.
After you became an advanced player, the Dojo more will no longer be a place of training, but you will have reached a stage of new "entertainment". I hope you understand this.
Eurogamer: What is the likelihood that there will be an 'Evolution'-type game down the line to keep console owners more in line with the current arcade machines?
AM2: We cannot reveal anything about the future for Virtua Fighter at this time.
Eurogamer: And finally, speaking of arcades, are any localisation issues being made that reflect the vastly differing attitudes of East and West towards coin-op arcades? Why do you think such a divide exists?
AM2: I do not think there are no problems since we have devoted proper commercial assets to appropriate locations. Certainly, there are region-by-region differences in cultures and in what is hot, but we the developer can obtain such pieces of information while in Japan because our overseas subsidiaries are extremely active. Also, we do not forget to actually visit other countries as occasion demands, and have a look ourselves.
Virtua Fighter 5 is released on PlayStation 3 on March 23rd from SEGA. Check back soon for an in-depth review of the game.