Tekken Arcade Memories – 2010 Roundtable Interview

Tekken – 2010 Roundtable Interview

Taken from Arcadia magazine, this 15th-anniversary roundtable discussion saw Tekken series steward Katsuhiro Harada and several prominent community members discussing their history with and memories of each title, from the 1994 original to the then-recent Tekken 6: Bloodline Rebellion. Their conversation touches upon the series' rocky rise, user feedback, play style between regional cliques and more.

Katsuhiro Harada (Bandai-Namco Games)
A central member of Tekken Project, who started off handling sales and events during the days of Tekken 1 and 2, leading to the Tekken boom in the Shinjuku area. He's served as the main director and team leader since Tekken 3 and maintains that role to this day.
Tetsuya Shibuya (Tekken strategy guide circle "Manji Clan" leader)
A former writer for The PlayStation (Softbank), whose unique perspective on strategy and keen eye for detail won over many readers and left an indelible mark on the legacy of fighting game theory. Currently works for a certain game maker.
Yu Matsui (Groove Sync Co.)
A known high-level player since the beginning of the series and regular at Shinjuku's Playmax arcade, and a top contender in numerous tournaments. He was active as a core member of the Manji Clan, and currently runs a design company while actively raising awareness of digital game competition ('eSports"), both in Japan and abroad.
Shunsuke Bando (Namco Co. Ltd, "Jackiller" / "Tekken Bancho")
In the early days of the series, he made a name for himself as one of the Kansai region's leading players. Currently, in addition to his duties such as managing Namco-affiliated amusement venues and training staff, he also runs and hosts Tekken tournaments around the country as the "Tekken Bancho".
Yoji Ushizawa (Tristar Co. Ltd; former Gamest writer under the alias "GYU")
A former editor of the now-defunct Gamest magazine (Shinseisha), and current president of a production company that works on game-related books. During his days as a writer, he's been heavily involved with every game in the Tekken series, both professionally and in his private life.
Hameko (staff writer)
A familiar name to readers of Arcadia's Tekken series page; they attended as an observer.
KEN (staff writer)
Another writer for Arcadia who also attended as an observer.

In the beginning, a huge struggle?! Memories of Tekken

Matsui: Let us take a trip down memory lane, title by title. First up is the very first Tekken, which was released in December 1994.

Harada: A lot of people seem to think I was a player who made my way up the ranks, but in fact, I started from the very beginning as a Namco employee1. Namco had an arcade game called Knuckle Heads — it was far from being a hit, but it formed one of the roots of the Tekken project. After that, Tekken also released in arcades, but it was also a disaster. The first vow I made to my senior co-workers and colleagues was, "even if it takes us 10 years, we're going to make Namco's fighting games number one!". It was very rough going in the beginning, and working out there on the frontlines meant I felt it first-hand. I guess those of you in Shinjuku were holding on, but all around Japan, not only were people not fighting each other but the cabinets were no longer installed. My guess is that the vast majority of players only remember the home version.

Bando: Among those of us gathered today, I'm the only one who was in Kansai, and Virtua Fighter was overwhelmingly dominant at the time, while Tekken was… let's just say, it didn't compare. I also discovered Ushizawa-san through VF. (laughs)

Harada: Back then, VF was raking in way, way more income — to say their income was double ours would be an extremely conservative lowball. It was a really tough time.

Ushizawa: As it happens, I had a job making strategy videos around that time, but it was a struggle to wring even a single video out of Tekken's head-to-head game, so I ended up including footage of time-attack runs with Kazuya. The time attack aspect of your earlier games was quite interesting, I thought.

Bando: Personally, the most memorable part was seeing the bear appear as an opponent — I was a high-school student at the time, and I remember thinking, wow, this game's crazy!

Ushizawa: It was also neat how the names of the stages would appear on-screen like captions on a karaoke machine.

Harada: On top of that, some of them also had typos, so when we made the home version, we secretly corrected the captions. It wasn't until the home version came out that Tekken gained any sort of popularity.. we really went through it. I remember reading a Tekken guidebook released by some publisher, and on the strategy page, it had a section marked "anti-air techniques" (everybody laughs). Whaddya mean, "anti-air"?

Matsui: Hmm, well, nobody seems to have any fond memories of Tekken, so I guess we'll move on (laughs), but it's worth mentioning that the home version came out just 3 months after the arcade version.

A combo video for the original Tekken that might help contextualize the absurdity of singling out specific anti-air attacks in a game where leaving the ground spells certain doom for the airborne character (and where grounded characters, most vulnerable to aerial pursuit attacks, literally cannot respond in most circumstances).

An expanded competitive scene: Memories of Tekken 2

Harada: Even at this stage, Tekken was still struggling in arcades in terms of popularity and income, except for in a few select areas. The time-release characters did cause quite a stir, though.

Matsui: During the Tekken 2 era, I feel like there was a tournament being held somewhere every week.

Bando: It was around this time that the tournament scene started to form, and the Kansai vs. Kanto rivalry started to form. Back then, I feel like Kanto players were more about stoic competition, whereas the Kansai characters were more about flashy stuff and all-out brawling. At the time, I was from Kansai, so I was the designated heel.

Matsui: At the time, there were all sorts of different techniques, and a lot of rumours that were practically urban legends.

Matsui: Ever since the PlayStation version came out, the popularity of the game suddenly shot way up.

Harada: When all was said and done, the home version of Tekken 2 sold over a million copies in Japan alone. In fact, the audience for the Tekken series would increase dramatically in favor of overseas later on.

Bando: At the time, I remember being surprised that the home version was such a high-quality port.

Matsui: There was a rapid increase in the number of people practicing at home. Around this time, the end-of-year tournaments at Playmax (Shinjuku) started.

Ushizawa: My strongest memory from this era was Playmax's "Tsuwamono-tachi" — that thing where they'd hang up the faces and names of the top players with the longest track records on the walls of the venue.

Harada: Y'know, when those names went up on the wall, it had the magical effect of suddenly improving the conduct of all those players who were skilled but bad-mannered (laughs).

Matsui: It's curious how peoples' manners improved once they were acknowledged by the community.

Ushizawa: I played a lot of VF back then, and my impression was for VF, "strength = justice", but when it came to Tekken, it was more like "ingenuity = justice".

Shibuya: Ahh, those were the days, weren't they?

Ushizawa: That was around the time The PlayStation started published strategy articles, right? Personally, I think the reason the Tekken series went on to include so many different stances and techniques was due to the influence of Shibuya-toushu here (laughs).

Matsui: Shibuya's level of analysis during this era was truly extraordinary. He used to go missing-in-action quite a lot (laughs).

Ushizawa It feels wrong to heap so much praise on Shibuya-toushu (laughs), but the Manji Clan was amazing back in the day. Gamest, the publication I belonged to at the time, was basically focused on matchups and per-character tactics, and didn't dig too deeply into system-level analysis.

Shibuya: Compared to Gamest, our allotted page count was way lower, so covering a wide swathe of strategy in our articles was our primary goal — or to put it another way, we felt we had no choice but to take that approach.

Footage from a relatively recent Tekken 2 tournament held at Osaka's KO-HATSU arcade, in which players were limited to undisputed top-tier characters Bruce and Armor King. Bruce in particular was notoriously overpowered due to a wildly unbalanced gatling combo and deadly knee throw loop, and was quickly and commonly banned during the contemporary life of the game.

The Breakthrough Era: Memories of Tekken 3

Matsui: Looks like Tekken 3's up next. This game launched in 1997.

Bando: Tekken 3 was revolutionary. Eddie, Hwoarang, Xiaoyu…

Ushizawa: I was blown away when I saw Hwoarang. Whoa, he has different stances for left and right, this is awesome! (laughs)

Harada: Tekken 3 turned out as it did due to being in the works for a while after Tekken 2. The game was made by gathering together skilled members from all across the company, including lead members from different projects. That period was described as the "Namco vs. Dev Department Total War"—people were constantly leaving and joining the company, and because everyone was so strong-willed, people were quick to fight. Everyone was all, "I'm here to make a no-bullshit Namco fighting game!!!", and there wasn't a single day without a fight of some kind (laughs). We were raging all the time; it was like a warzone.

Ushizawa: This was the game that introduced delayed-input moves and the input buffer, right?

Harada: Right, and Tekken 3 was also the start of us properly considering the frame data for each move. That said, right after the game launched, I was thrown off-keel when one magazine published an article called "Ground Combo Special Feature" (laughs).

Ushizawa: While we're on the subject, Tekken 3 was set 19 years after Tekken 2.

Harada: We were motivated to completely overhaul the system mechanics and revamp the game from the ground up. There was also a collective urge to seriously reflect on the failings and shortcomings of Tekken 1 and 2, and worked with the thinking that, Tekken 3 is the beginning of real Tekken! Actually, the game wasn't even titled "3" at first; we had another title. I wouldn't dare to reveal that title now (laughs).

Matsui: Wasn't this the one where the story started getting all screwy?

Ushizawa: All of a sudden, the game went all sci-fi! That said, it was set in the future.

Shibuya: When I first saw Tekken 3's Yoshimitsu design, I was shocked, and it got a ton of buzz when we revealed it in the magazine. That was the first time when I thought, okay, Tekken's finally getting serious!

Harada: The game's content was extremely well-received by both users and the press. This was our first time feeling like, "alright, we've finally joined the fighting game club!"

Matsui: This was around the time certain contentious playstyles emerged, right? Machi (turtling), chicken2 and so on.

Ushizawa: Around that time, there was a "Manji Clan vs. Gamest" exhibition, and when our Gamest team played with our win-at-all-costs style and won, we were greeted with loud boos (laughs).

Bando We Kansai dudes had a real utilitarian style back then.

Ushizawa: Kansai and us, heels in arms! (laughs)

Bando: At the time, there were more than a few people critical of Gamest, which would post articles like, "this is the quickest path to victory!"

Ushizawa: Yeah, there were. There was an oft-repeated sentiment that "moving on from the moves recommended by Gamest is the first step towards becoming a free-thinking player" — in fact, that very phrase was printed on the obi of the guidebook The PlayStation published that was written by Manji Clan That really got under my skin, to the point where I called up The PlayStation's editorial department one time...

(everybody laughs)

Matsui: My impression at the time was that the most popular players were the ones who could be both no-nonsense but also play for the audience. In VF, new techniques were developed in the pursuit of strength, but in Tekken, it wasn't always about pure utility but also entertainment value.

Footage from a 1999 Tekken 3 team tournament held at Kyoto's a-cho arcade, featuring Bando playing Gun Jack.

Talk of the town! Memories of Tekken Tag Tournament

Matsui: Let's jump forward to Tekken Tag Tournament. This one came out in 1999.

Harada So, Tag… at the time, arcades were in a pinch, so there were discussions about whether we might somehow be able to rush out a new game. That's when we came up with the plan for "Tekken 3.5" — not "4", which wouldn't be ready in time, as we only had around 3 months to make the game. So, I came up with the concept for Tag in five minutes: I knew from working on Tekken 3 that we'd be able to fit another two characters into RAM, so five minutes later, bam, idea! Six hours later, I'd written the spec documents! It was really that simple. Now that I'm thinking about it, we had some people from Gamest look it over and add their two cents. The ability to remove the opponent's red health [via tag combo] was an idea suggested by Gamest.

Matsui: There are a lot of things to talk about… one thing that comes to mind is that this was the era when people were beginnging to talk about how strong Korea was at Tekken.

Harada: Tekken's popularity in Korea was crazy — it was like "Are you a Starcraft player, or a Tekken player?" Speaking of Korea, it seems that the players over there didn't understand the meaning of the "chicken mark", and I remember hearing, "there's this symbol… it seems to appear for really strong players, but it'll sometimes just randomly disappear, what's up with that?"

(everybody laughs)

Bando: How did that work?

Harada: Points are silently built up when the player does things like repeating the same move or performing evasive actions, and when they cross a certain point threshold, they gain the chicken mark. We assigned point values to moves that were especially strong in Tekken 3, so if you use those moves a lot, you'll get marked very quickly.

(everyone): I had no idea… mystery solved!

Harada: If you do Lee's Machine Gun Kick a few times in a row, you'll get marked right away (laughs).

Bando: It was right around this time when official maker-sponsored tournaments started to appear. I took part in the tournament finals held in Hakodate as a representative of Kansai, and for some strange reason, there was some sort of golf competition tied into the Tekken tournament, and the people playing in the golf event were able to enter the Tekken tournament. Isn't that wild? Even though these were nationals, there were old dudes there who'd clearly never played Tekken before (laughs) What's more, when I turned up to the tournament, Shibuya-san was there… this guy made the effort to pay a hefty transportation fee to the venue and, by greasing a few palms, was somehow afforded the right to participate in the tournament. Seriously! (laughs)

Shibuya: Oh yeah, that rings a bell! That sounds about right. (laughs)

Matsui: I was still active with tournaments and events during this era. When we held a kumite, we drew around 200 people.

Vintage high-level Tekken Tag Tournament play from Namco's Official World Tournament, held in late 1999.

A time of trial-and-error: Memories of Tekken

Matsui: Next up is… Tekken 4.

Ushizawa The game was first presented at New Pier Hall in Ota Ward, and I remember touching it for the first time and being completely baffled. (laughs)

Harada: What happened with that game was we developers went in with a determined attitude of, "we're going to listen to all the players' opinions!", so we did research at various arcades, looked around on the internet and used all sorts of other methods to gather as many opinions in as many ways as possible. It was like, "People say the Electric Wind God Fist is overpowered!"→"Nerf it!", "People say the constant backdashing is boring!"→"Let's alter the backdash!"… and that's how we ended up with that particular game. Now you see what we developers were thinking, right? (laughs)

Matsui: Human beings have a tendency to share negative opinions before positive ones, and it's those negative opinions that are often more prominent.

Harada: Back then, the dev side completely misunderstoon what it meant to "listen to user feedback" — we took their feedback too literally, and thus misinterpreted their complaints. At this time, we lacked the ability to discern the root of people's comments and what it was that they really communicating.

Ushizawa: Tekken 4 was a hodgepodge of ideas, and the game balance was also off the hook. Jin was obscenely strong!

Harada: Technically speaking, at least, this was the first game of ours that caught up to VF (laughs). We also really wanted to implement a card system, but after we'd devised something using a different physical medium, that plan went off the table and, for various reasons, it just didn't line up in the end. Afterwards, Sega kept telling us, "how'd you like to use our system in Tekken?", so from Tekken 5 onwards, we accepted the offer to use the ALL-NET system.

A massive movement! Memories of Tekken

Matsui: Shall we move onto Tekken 5? The live monitor setup was truly revolutionary. For my part, I thought it was very impressive. It was also convenient for event organisers.

Harada: I went into this game with the concept of "prioritizing pleasure above all else".

Ushizawa: Personally, this is an entry that I really enjoyed — it's the one that really taught me the fun of backdashing in Tekken. It seemed like games as a whole were becoming more complex at the time, and very specific "in order to deal with x, you need to do y"-style matchup knowledge had come to be required; however, in Tekken 5, the backdash was a viable response to many different situations, and I think that easy-to-grasp tactic was a huge boon.

Hameko: At the time, I remember noticing a lot of VF players taking an interest in Tekken and started dabbling with this game. I think it was an easy game for both newcomers and returning players to get into.

KEN: Around me, it wasn't just VF players but many 2D fighting game players who picked the game up with Tekken 5.

Harada: In that way, arcades are great for letting you clearly see what people are drawn to.

Bando: The vanilla version had a lot of issues, but the 5.1 version update sanded off the edges and made it easier to play.

Hameko: Speaking of updates, the Dark Resurrection (DR) revision was awesome. If you want to talk about "fulfilling the wishes of players", this particular era might have been the happiest time for Tekken and everyone involved.

Bando: My impression at the time was that T5DR was extremely popular, even in out-of-the-way places… I was in Kumamoto at the time, and the level of hype was incredible — seeing how excited they were, you'd never have guessed this was a rural area.

Matsui: One other thing worth mentioning is that this was when the games started implementing network functionality, ending the old "sell-and-forget" practice towards arcade operators, for which I think they were quite appreciative.

The first part in a video series distributed via Enterbrain's Famitsu Wave DVD, in which the host would attempt to win 100 Tekken matches in a row by boarding the Yamanote train and rolling dice to determine which stops to take and which arcades to enter. Incidentally, the host of these videos has worked as a producer and director on several recent Tekken games, including Tekken 8.

A generational shift: Memories of Tekken 6

Matsui: Let's talk about the next, and last, game: Tekken 6.

Shibuya: This game's very accessible. The number of young children playing has increased.

Ushizawa: The way combos commence and finish with conspicuous openers/eneders makes it very easy to understand what makes the game fun.

Matsui: I occasionally appear at eSports events overseas, and you'll quite commonly see players all over the world shouting, "hey! hey! heyyyy!" along with the aerial combos. From a spectator perspective, it's very clear when things are heating up. Tekken 6's new Rage system is also exciting, and when you see it activate you automatically think, something's about to go down! Bound combos and the Rage system were very obviously designed with a mind towards being spectator-friendly.

Harada: We're currently running a TV show in Korea using the latest version, Tekken 6 Bloodline Rebellion, and it's extremely popular — it's running on cable, but we're told it's the most highly-viewed program on all of cable TV.

Ushizawa: This is something I've been saying for a while, but I think fighting games need some sort of comeback element. Look at other genres of game: for example, in Final Lap, when you reach the final lap, the car behind you suddenly starts driving extremely fast, irrespective of where it was ranked, and when that happens it's like, "the real battle begins now!" (laughs) I think such elements are a necessity in games, especially fighting games, and I'm really glad for those added systems.

Matsui: In Tekken, the points of interest are extremely obvious.

Shibuya: Without elements like those, the player base won't expand.

The first season of TEKKEN CRASH, the Tekken eSports series broadcast on the now-defunct MBC Game cable channel in Korea from 2009. This show ran for multiple seasons across a few different iterations, including spinoff shows and versions based on other games like Street Fighter.

Final thoughts & "what Tekken means to me"

Matsui: I guess it's about time we wrapped up. Would you like to offer some parting words? How should we theme this… "what Tekken means to me", maybe? How about we start with the person who always seems to have something slick to say… Shibuya!

Shibuya: Give me a minute to think! Matsui, what's stopping you?

Matsui: I've founded my own company and gotten involved with all sorts of eSports activities, but if it weren't for Tekken, I'd have gone to a normal school, gone to work for a normal company and lived a completely different sort of life. In that sense, I suppose you could call it "life".

Shibuya: From my perspective, I guess Tekken is "the bridge to all sort of places". It allowed me to do a great many things, and live a free life…

Ushizawa: I've been following Tekken since the first game, and I've seen it continue to push the bleeding edge of expressiveness, although I can't say I ever expected it to still be around in 10 or 15 years' time. In the future, I'd like to see "what lies beyond".

Bando: For me, Tekken is a game that "created connections with many people". Thanks to this game, I've been able to continue connecting and working with all sorts of folk. I'm still active today, even. (laughs)

Harada: In my case, I've been working on Tekken since the very first game, so my own ideas have not only been reflected in the game mechanics but also the world and lore and many other areas. In a way, Tekken is a way of life.

The interviewees, standing at the location of the former Shinjuku Playmax arcade, now a karaoke spot. From left to right: KEN, Hameko, Shunsuke Bando, Katsuhiro Harada, Yoji Ushizawa, Tetsuya Shibuya, Yu Matsuda.

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  1. During his time as an events coordinator for Shinjuku Playmax, Harada often competed in tournaments under the handle "Shinjuku Heihachi".

  2. "Chicken" is used to denote tactics deemed "cowardly" by players of the day, which included evasive hit-and-run play, "abuse" of a small number of optimal moves, and even just the simple act of backdashing, and not the modern use of the term which is used to denote counter reversals.

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