When it comes to 2D fighting games, there are three big names -- Capcom, SNK, and Arc System Works. Capcom's Street Fighter is exacting and relatively precise, while its Marvel vs. Capcom series is controlled combo chaos. SNK's King of Fighters series is the anti-Street Fighter, stringing combos together with fetishistic precision, occasionally crippled by infinites and game-breaking combinations.
Arc, meanwhile, has been going in its own direction with Guilty Gear and BlazBlue, two very popular fighting game series that draw on anime for their look, and a love of the combo for its systems. It's the youngest child in the major 2D fighting game family, combining the combo-heavy nature of MvC, with the cancels and many gauges of KOF, along with its own, very distinctive flair.
Though it's easy to analyze them as building upon what has come before, an exacting attention to detail has ensured Arc's games have a style all their own. Even if the characters were reskinned, any fighting game fan would instantly know an Arc game simply by feel.
The company takes pride in its characters, making them diverse enough to appeal to different players not only in terms of their play style, but also their look and extensively detailed backgrounds. Distinctive characters -- whether you're talking look, feel, or gameplay design -- are its hallmark.
We spoke with Arc system Works programmer Tatsunori Ishikawa and CTO Hiroyuki Masuno to find out what makes the company's games so singular.
What, to you, makes a good fighting game? Guilty Gear and BlazBlue have a unique style, and you're obviously trying for a unique direction.
Hiroyuki Masuno: It's certainly the case that, with titles like Guilty Gear and BlazBlue, we have a certain Arc System Works kind of direction and we aim to pursue that throughout development.
Tatsunori Ishikawa: I think it's part of the producer's goals to take that unique sort of anime "look" and have that reflected in the games -- the idea that you have this corral of anime characters that you're able to personally control.
When it comes to the system itself, what do would you consider the most important components?
TI: In games like these, which you could call "combo" games, control response becomes very important -- that very quick and responsive feedback you get whenever you press a button. That's what enables players to do things like cancel combos and make things feel exciting and fun along the way -- that sense of excitement as you link combos together. That, plus the anime look, is what I think defines us.
With that kind of combo-heavy gameplay, it seems like the game gets increasingly complicated with each iteration. Does that concern you, or do you prefer to focus on the hardcore fighter fans?
TI: No; instead of that, I think we do aim for a system that even light users can take the reins with. "Combo" games like these look difficult at first glance, but like with Capcom's Street Fighter II, once you try them out, they're not as difficult as even some much simpler games. With BlazBlue, we have Stylish Mode, where you can just press the buttons rapidly to perform combos -- the purpose of that is to give beginners a way to better enjoy the game.
BlazBlue: Continuum Shift Extend
Capcom has implemented that, too, especially in the portable versions of their games. Do you think people who use those modes eventually graduate into really digging in to the game's more complex systems?
TI: Well, in the first [BlazBlue] game, Calamity Trigger, you had the Easy Special feature that worked along similar lines, and with [sequel] Continuum Shift, there was an Easy Mode, but with Continuum Shift 2 it's become Stylish Mode. It lets you break out combos by pressing a button repeatedly. So you have the Special button, the Normal button that you have to bash on, the Drive button, and the throw button, and that forms the control system for this mode. That then enables an assortment of moves to be pulled off with a single button.
How do you design a tutorial to get out of this easy mode and help people understand how to get deeper into the combos? That's always been a difficult thing for fighters.
TI: The home version of BlazBlue comes with a tutorial mode, the sort of thing that starts out with how to walk and continues on with how to execute moves, guard, do throws and so forth. There's a popular character named Rachel, and she walks you through it, and the way she's set up allows for her to be a good gateway character for players just getting started with the game. That, and there's also the Challenge mode which lets you test out and learn characters more readily.
So the idea is that if you're just starting and you find all of it a little difficult, you can jump right in with Stylish mode and experience how the basic flow of a combo-based fighting game like this works. That enables you to see the special moves at your disposal, and then you can use that combo mode to step up your game and get into normal play. The goal of this design is to get players up to the point where they're able to take on other real-life opponents.