These two interviews cover the development of the original Guilty Gear, an idiosyncratic and extremely ambitious 2D fighting game released exclusively for the PlayStation by Arc System Works, a veteran studio that heretofore worked primarily and almost solely on un-credited work-for-hire projects.

Developed by a small handful of newcomers dubbed “Team Neo Blood” and led by the visionary Daisuke Ishiwatari, Guilty Gear’s aggressive heavy metal aesthetic and maniacal, forward-thinking mechanics quickly cultivated a passionate fan base and led to several sequels and spin-offs across various genres which continue to test the limits of animation, visual identity and player-led character expression to this very day.

Guilty Gear – 1998 Developer Interview

originally featured in The Playstation magazine

Hideyuki Anbe – Main Programmer
Daisuke Ishiwatari – Producer (and Graphics/VA)

—How long did the Guilty Gear development take?

Ishiwatari: Once we got down to the actual development work, it took about a year and a half to complete. It was a very long interval, though, from the time we finished the planning docs to the time we started development.

—You were still students then, right?

Anbe: Yeah.

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Ark System Works’ Hideyuki Anbe (top) and Daisuke Ishiwatari (bottom, 1998).

—How did Guilty Gear get started, then?

Ishiwatari: Well, at the time we wrote the initial planning documents, the decline of 2D versus fighting games had not yet begun. And I personally felt like there was not a single fighting game out then that had truly “cool” characters in it, though I had been a fan of the original 2D fighting game, Street Fighter II. Anyway, feeling dissatisfied, I started drafting the plans that would become Guilty Gear. Arc System Works then publicly announced it, along with the characters, but there followed a very long period where nothing happened… eventually we reached at point at the company where we had a software development environment capable of handling it, and that’s when the real development finally started.

—What in the world was going on during those blank years?

Ishiwatari: The truth is, it was due to stuff going on at Arc System Works… (laughs)

—The fans must have been waiting.

Ishiwatari: Indeed they were. The people who have been waiting expectantly since the characters were first announced, now that’s some incredible patience. (laughs) Which I’m grateful for.

—I think May originally had an axe at first. Were there any other major changes to the characters? Or to the gameplay, of course.

Ishiwatari: I don’t know how many of them I’d call “major”, but two things we prioritized in this development were prediction (reading your opponent) and strategy/tactics. And in those two regards, Guilty Gear went through some major updates. As the development went on we slowly ironed out the various inconsistencies. Also, in the beginning Potemkin actually had an axe. That’s how he was when we announced him, but ultimately we removed it.

—Were the characters modeled after anyone?

Ishiwatari: There’s not really anyone I can point to and say, “there!”, but there’s a manga called Bastard. I loved that kind of a world, and thought it would be awesome to create a game with a similar light fantasy setting… and from there a lot of different ideas came to me.

—The big selling point of Guilty Gear’s gameplay are the Instant Kills and Sakkai (Killing Realm). Were these planned from the beginning?

Anbe: Yeah, that was the big selling point. It seemed weird to me that despite wielding these deadly weapons, no one ever died from a hit. Actually, as our experimentation and tinkering continued, Ishiwatari and I eventually came to a decision that we didn’t need the Instant Kill mechanics after all. But by that point it was too late to make any major revisions, so we ended up with the systems you have now.

—According to what I’ve heard from players, some like the Instant Kill mechanic, some don’t care for, but both sides share one thing in common: they both think it’s good that this wasn’t released in game centers. If you inserted your 100 yen and then died in 2 seconds flat, you’d be livid.

Ishiwatari: When we presented the initial planning docs, we had planned to develop it not only for the Playstation, but for other platforms too, like the N64, the Saturn, and even the arcade. That’s why, you know, I realy gave the whole Instant Kill system a lot of thought. It only took on this particular form once it was decided that Guilty Gear would only release for home console.

—Did you always know there’d be 10 characters?

Ishiwatari: Yeah. 10 was a good compromise, by my reckoning. I first drew a variety of different characters, then selected the ones I thought would make cool fighting game characters. To tell you the truth, there were some unprecedented, never-before-seen-in-a-fighting-game characters in there too, like this one “Space Cop” character. (laughs) His outfit looked like Space Sheriff Gavan, and I called him “Gaikokkaku Caravan” (Exoskeleton Caravan). I reallyyyy wanted him to be in the game.

—Why did you call him that?

Ishiwatari: He had these claws attached around his waist area. He was going to have these very dynamic moves and abilities.

Anbe: Unfortunately he didn’t match the atmosphere we were going for, so we removed him.

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From another pre-release feature, a look at Millia’s original knife-centric design referenced in this interview; at this point, her relationship with Zato-1 had not been established.

—The characters have some unique weapons that we’ve never see in a fighting game before. Like Millia’s hair, or Zato’s shadow.

Ishiwatari: Yeah, we came up with Zato’s character and fighting style very early in the development, and it was with that idea in mind. As for Millia, back when we first announced Guilty Gear, she fought with knives. She had knifes hidden in every nook and cranny, and that’s what she fought with. At some point we started talking about her and realized her character was kind of underdeveloped, and that was when we decided she’d fight with her hair instead.

—Were you directly inspired by, or particularly conscious of, any other fighting games?

Anbe: Super Street Fighter IIX, and Tekken, maybe. Of all the fighting games I’ve played, I absolutely love the tackles in Tekken. If there had been room for the animation pattern, I had wanted to include graphics that showed the characters tumbling and rolling when they got hit, more dynamically like in Tekken. It wasn’t a case of not having enough memory though—the animation patterns were just too complex. Our graphics compression routines weren’t up to snuff.

—Can you tell us about the hidden character, Baiken?

Ishiwatari: I think you can figure some of this out for yourself if you watch May’s ending, but Japanese people are special in the world of Guilty Gear. And when the first gear appeared, the first attack took place within the Asian region, because they instinctively sensed a danger from that race. Now Japan no longer exists. There were some survivors, though, and Baiken is one them. For that reason, you could say she’s actually a very important character for the story.

—It seems like there’s still a lot of secrets to uncover in the world of Guilty Gear… do you plan to explore those in a sequel?

Ishiwatari: At the moment, I’m not thinking about it. The backstory we wrote has enough for a trilogy of games, but right now I don’t ever want to make another 2D fighting game! (laughs) If I did, I’d want to make something brand new, with nothing carried over. We may end up using the Guilty Gear world in some other media form, though, I can’t rule that out. Whether that will be a game or not, remains to be seen.

—Is there anything you wish you’d done differently in Guilty Gear?

Anbe: We have had some complaints about the difficulty. Players saying it’s too hard and they can’t beat it.

Ishiwatari: But according to our debuggers, who were some highly skilled fighting players, the game was balanced. I guess we shouldn’t have trusted them. (laughs) I think Guilty Gear is actually pretty easy to beat, once you learn some of the game’s tricks and techniques.

Anbe: We got some feedback from the European version that I remember too. We gave them the ROM, and they played it and reported back to us. They wrote (in English) that “I can’t beat Millia no matter what I do. Your game is not possible to beat.” (laughs)

—How did you choose the voice actors?

Ishiwatari: There was a certain VA I was deadset on using for Sol Badguy. Unfortunately, his fee was so high, that if we hired him we wouldn’t have had enough money for the other voice actors. So sadly, I gave that dream up.

—Please give a final comment to our readers.

Anbe: Please don’t call us to complain. (laughs)

Ishiwatari: If what most players get out of Guilty Gear is just a simple, fun, refreshing 2D versus fighter, then I’m good with that. Then if it captures your interest, try giving it a closer look… I’m sure you’ll find in Guilty Gear a deeper game that’s worthy of your time.

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From the Japanese Guilty Gear Complete Bible strategy guide, several unused and in-progress illustrations of the original Guilty Gear cast. (click to expand)

Guilty Gear – 1998 Designer Interview (pre-release)

originally featured Dengeki Playstation

—To start things off, please tell us what your roles were on the Guilty Gear development.

Anbe: I did the system programming. I also helped out here and there in a lot other areas.

Ishiwatari: I did the planning and illustrations, and I created the world.

—At the initial planning stage, did you already have the gameplay system all figured out?

Ishiwatari: No, our first drafts actually called for a normal fighting game. But Anbe thought that would be boring, and he said it wouldn’t sell either. So we revised our first plans, aiming now for a fighting game more focused on being a fun and exhilarating experience.

—What were some of the main things you revised?

Anbe: Let’s see… if I go into too much detail, we’ll be here all day, but you know how in most fighting games today, if you dash towards your opponent, as soon as you run into them, your character just suddenly stops? But in reality, of course, if you ran into someone like that you’d slam right into them. Well, there’s a lot of broken “game logic” things like that, which people just accept because it’s a video game, but we tried to revise as many of those things as we could.

Ishiwatari: In fact, you know the unique Instant Kill system? There was a lot we weren’t satisfied with.


Chip Zanuff’s Instant Kill move; unlike later games, the original Guilty Gear required players to land a specific universal move in order to trigger the Sakkai state, as indicated by the red-tinted background, during which the player could then enter a follow-up input to perform the Instant Kill.

—You told us before how at one point in the development, if your Instant Kill attack missed, you’d lose 1/3 of your health. Are you talking about that mechanic? 1

Ishiwatari: Yeah. It just didn’t feel realistic for you to lose your health like that for no reason, so we removed it. After that we tried a bunch of different ideas but we couldn’t settle on something we liked.

Anbe: Right before the deadline, we tried changing the Sakkai (Killing Realm) by making it so if you missed, you could be thrown by your opponent. But it was buggy, really buggy. Nevertheless, we were trying to get it to work right to the very end, before Sony’s final check. (laughs)

Actually, Sony sent our “final” ROM back to us 7 or 8 times. But each time they took it for review, in the meantime we kept adding new things… it started to look like a completely different game. By the end, it was a real hodgepodge. We’d added so much new junk, we suspected some of the basic gameplay systems might not work anymore. (laughs) Anyway, incorporating and checking all that is what caused the release date to get pushed back.

—When I saw the credits, I noticed that you appear to have done some of the voice acting as well…?

Ishiwatari: Ah, yes. I did Sol Badguy’s voice. Anbe actually did a character too.

—Which one?

Anbe: Potemkin. Though I doubt anyone will be able to tell.

—The other characters are all voiced by professional VAs, so why did you handle Sol and Potemkin yourselves?

Ishiwatari: There were a number of reasons, but I had originally wanted to ask Koichi Yamadera to voice Sol. It ended up not working out though. By then, VAs had been assigned for the other characters, so we couldn’t make adjustments and the task fell to us.

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Baiken’s idle animation; her original look was much grungier than the Baiken seen in modern Guilty Gear games.

—You couldn’t have just asked a different VA…?

Ishiwatari: Well, that was an option too, but I felt like if we couldn’t have Yamadera, I might as well just do it myself. Now I kind of regret that choice, it was a bit impudent of me.

—By the way, is it true that you were still a college student when the development began?

Anbe: No, not exactly. Ishiwatari graduated before me. When I was a first year student, my professor called me to his office one day and showed me some programming he’d been messing around with on the Playstation, which was fascinating to an amateur like me. Before college, though, I had zero programming experience. (laughs)

—And yet you ended up as the main programmer…?!

Anbe: Yeah, it was very… rough. When I first joined ArcSys there was no one to teach me or explain anything. And I had only been going to my college classes for a year… so you can imagine how it was, being asked suddenly to make a fighting game with no programming experience at all. I didn’t know what to do. Everyday felt like fumbling around in the dark.

—Are you a FTG player yourself?

Anbe: I am, but I probably play more 3D fighting games than 2D. In fact, my first response when I heard we were making Guilty Gear was, “Huh, really? A 2D game?” (laughs) But I guess Guilty Gear reflects my opinions about other 2D games’ shortcomings, things I’d do differently, and so forth.

—Do you plan to take on a 3D game next?

Anbe: I’m not sure. I can’t give any details yet, but I am thinking about it for our next game.

—Finally, for all the players out there, what do you want them to take notice of with Guilty Gear?

Anbe: Hmm, well, to me it’s an incomplete mechanic, but I would say Sakkai (Killing Realm). I hope players make use of all the other little mechanics too.

Ishiwatari: Personally, I want players to hear the music. Guilty Gear may have been made with a small team, but I can say with confidence that it’s a worthwhile fighting game. Please give it a try!

In addition to directing, designing, illustrating and animating much of the original Guilty Gear, Daisuke Ishiwatari also wrote and performed much of the game’s music and continues to compose music for the Guilty Gear and Blazblue series to this day.