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Arc System Works [Interview] – The future of the fighting game

15 Feb 2012  by   Paul Younger

It’s no secret that the fighting game genre has undergone something close to a renaissance in recent years, most people putting that down to the wonderful Street Fighter IV and its appeal to both genre veterans and newcomers alike.
Arc System Works, the fighting game studio responsible for the likes of Arcana Hearts, Guilty Gear, BlazBlue and Battle Fantasia have been around and creating top quality games since long before the recent surge in popularity. If you have anything approaching a love and/or respect for the genre then you’ve probably got at least one of their games in your collection.
We sat down with Geraint Evans, director of Arc System Works Europe, to chat about the future of the genre, Arc System Works’ plans for its own franchises and how the studio sees itself in the face of such stiff competition.
The results of our chat went something exactly like this:
IncGamers: What’s behind the recent increase in the popularity of fighting games?
Geraint Evans: Street Fighter 4 obviously played a big, big part in this revival – it certainly kick started peoples interest in fighters again. I think it’s the case with pretty much all genres – each has their rise an fall in popularity. Fighting games were huge in the early 90′s – it’s been a while since fighters have been in the spotlight, I guess their time is coming back! The important thing for us is to capitalise on this resurgence – to surprise these new fans and to continue to innovate and entertain within this genre.
BlazBlue: Calamity Trigger
IG: Many developers seem to be focusing on making their fighting games accessible to a new audience, how much do you think about that kind of thing in your own games?
GE: It’s a double edged sword. If you make your fighting game too easy, your hardcore fan base won’t be happy with the lack of depth and challenge. Make a game too difficult and new players won’t be able to compete, and will feel its a genre they’re unable to enjoy. With Guilty Gear, we were definitely in the latter category – so BlazBlue was intended to be a reboot for this very reason, to try to create a fighter that would be more welcoming to a new generation of players.
There are some important elements to opening up accessibility – and that doesn’t mean you have to compromise on depth. With BlazBlue for example, we implemented a four button system – three for attack and one button centered around a character’s specials, or drives. This set up allowed new players to feel as though they could create combos, or entertaining attacks, quickly and easily without feeling intimidated.
Intimidated is a key word for fighters – and possibly one of the biggest barriers for entry. So the second component we wanted to implement was a really thorough suite of tutorials. You wouldn’t just put someone who’d never driven a car before into a Ferrari and say – ‘off you go’. The same’s true for fighters. There’s so much jargon surrounding fighting games, so many techniques – you need to teach players what these mean, how they work.
For that reason we divided BlazBlue’s learning tools into two parts – a huge tutorial that’ll teach you all about things like cancelling, teching – all these important techniques – but also the very basics of movement, jumping and dashing and their benefits. We also included a separate mode called ‘Challenge’ where we introduce practical combos and slowly guide players to the really advanced stuff.
IG: What is it about 2D fighters that interests you so much? Have you thought about creating a 3D fighter?
GE: We like to make games that appeal to anime and fighting fans. It’s our view that to produce the best results, 2D is the best medium. 2D artwork allows for levels of warmth, and a certain artistry that 3D games can not match so it. It’s not that we see 3D as bad – it’s a different approach – like paining or photography. Different disciplines are good for different things. If we were to explore 3D, it would be for a different kind of game.
Arcana Heart 3
IG: What do you see as the next step in the evolution of fighting games?
GE: As a genre – the parameters for fighting games are quite narrow. Unless you branch out into multiplayer fighters like Power Stone or Smash Bros, there are inherent limitations to the rule-set. Two players fight – one wins, one loses. That said, we feel there is still a huge amount that can be done within the confines of that – crucially, how can we find new ways to entertain?
With BlazBlue we really wanted to develop a universe, a story and really robust characters within that – we wanted to appeal as much to the anime crowd as the fighting game fans. Likewise, we wanted to look at introducing interesting new systems to a fighter – which is how the Drive system came about – trying to create interesting ways for a character to fight, or giving them unique tools that can really change up the experience of the traditional fighter and offer players something they genuinely hadn’t seen before.
IG: How difficult is it to compete against the likes of Street Fighter, Tekken and King of Fighters?
GE: We all benefit from the growth of the fighting game scene, if one fighter does well and people enjoy it, it opens the door for them to try another fighting game. Our goal is less about competing – but doing what we believe in and doing it well.
People who chose Arc’s fighting games expect something different, something innovative – a fighting game that is not only going to challenge them, but is going to offer them something that they’ve never experienced before with interesting characters that have very different fighting styles from the more traditional fighting games. Ultimately our goal is entertainment – we just want to focus forging our own path and delivering on that goal.
IG: BlazBlue, Guilty Gear, Arcana Hearts and Battle Fantasia all feature a cast of interesting (sometimes bizarre) characters, how important are the characters and their personalities in a fighting game?
GE: It’s crucial. We approach character creation in a number of different ways – sometimes we have an idea for an interesting fighting style or system and build a character around it. Other times the character design comes first, or a story idea, and then the fighting system for that character comes later – the important thing for us is that each fighter offers something very different from the others in the roster. Each character should be like a game in themselves – something to explore and master.
With BlazBlue we put a huge amount of effort into the characters back stories, how they fit into the universe and try to layer those details and personalities in to the fighting itself. We feel it’s important for a player to have some kind of emotional attachment to the characters in the game.
Battle Fantasia
IG: Will we see another Battle Fantasia? That is a great game.
GE: Thank you – we’ve had a lot of positive feedback about Battle Fantasia. People seemed to really like the character design – and many have gone so far as to suggest we should try an RPG with those characters. At the moment though we have no plans for another Battle Fantasia right now. That’s not to say it couldn’t happen, we’re just very busy with a number of other projects…
IG: Are you looking at creating other franchises, or are you concentrated on improving your existing ones?
GE: Well, Toshimichi Mori (BlazBlue’s creator) has always said that he wanted BlazBlue to be a trilogy, likewise Daisuke Ishiwatari has said that Guilty Gear will make a appearance at some point, so in that respect you haven’t seen the last of our main franchises…
IG: Are you looking at developing games for the Wii U? If so, which franchises are looking to bring to the system and how are you looking at making the best use of what the console has to offer?
GE: We’ll always consider new technology, of course – but we have nothing to announce at this moment in time… 

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