SNK Playmore is one of the primary Japanese console and arcade game companies still working in the pixel realm, choosing 2D over 3D for the majority of its properties, and continuing to build a cult following in the West for its products such as the Metal Slug and King Of Fighters franchises, which are being released more aggressively on consoles of recent, often in compilation or multi-game packs, by SNK Playmore USA.
Recently, though, SNK has been branching out into still other arenas, with a number of 3D projects in the works, and several tentative forays into the online markets, for example with the apparently cancelled KOF Online and Metal Slug Online projects. SNK's most successful step into the world of 3D has been the KOF: Maximum Impact series, keeping the popular gameplay of the firm's flagship fighting series to some extent, but transitioning the visual style to three-dimensional.
Therefore, for this exclusive two-part interview, Gamasutra spoke to two very different personalities within the SNK umbrella about different elements of the company's continued expansion. The first is Takeshi Kimura, senior chief, Overseas Marketing Dept. with whom we speak about how SNK views the Asian (non-Japanese) market, and what opportunities exist in the region. The second is renowned King of Fighters illustrator and KOF: Maximum Impact 2 producer Tatsuhiko Kanaoka, better known by his pen name Falcoon, with whom we discuss technique, tools, and influences or lack thereof.
|SNK's classic Metal Slug series|
Takeshi Kimura, SNK Overseas Marketing
Gamasutra: What is interesting for SNK about the Asian market outside of Japan?
Takeshi Kimura: Actually, the Asian market has a lot of King of Fighters fans, and we’ve built the market there since the arcade days. In China, for instance, if you go to most arcades you’ll find that they’re about 70% SNK games. So since we’re doing well in the arcades there, we have a lot of fans waiting for consumer games. So we want to go full on into Asia.
GS: The online market is quite big in China, do you have any plans to go into that field?
TK: We know that the online market is growing fast, and would like to do something there in the future, but we’re still in the planning phases right now – not sure if we’ll move into that market or not. We’re doing market research right now.
GS: Would you ever consider publishing the work of Chinese game makers in Japan or the west? IGS, specifically, seems to have a very similar style to SNK.
TK: In terms of consumer stuff, of course we have to do our products first, and then maybe we’ll look at others’ content.
GS: A lot of developers are shipping some development overseas. With this interest in the Asian market, would SNK ever consider that?
TK: We want to keep control of our products in-house, as that’s the best way to keep up the products’ quality. So not at this time.
GS: Do you have any plans to develop games specifically for the Asian market?
TK: We would like to at some point, but right now Asian fans really like Japanese products and culture. They want the package in Japanese, manual in Japanese, they want everything to be in Japanese, or Japanese style. Japan is cool and popular in China, and right now it seems like they don’t want anything else.
GS: Will you be bringing online console linkups to Asia, as you have in Japan and the U.S.?
TK: For PS2 in Japan, we’re using KDDI for online distribution. So for Asia, we’re basically waiting for that to spread out, and won’t be making further initiatives. Unfortunately the only country in Asia that uses this network is Korea, and we haven’t expanded there yet. It’s true that online demand is very strong, and we’re doing it offline in Asia already…we know that fans are waiting for us.
The classic 2D King Of Fighters series, re-released.
Tatsuhiko 'Falcoon' Kanaoka, SNK Producer/Artist
Gamasutra: So how did you get started as an illustrator?
Falcoon: Well I first joined SNK as a designer, just doing pixel work for various games, like King of Fighters for instance. But while doing that, the higher-ups asked if I'd move to illustration... so it was basically requested of me.
GS: What tools do you use for illustration?
F: I only use Photoshop.
GS: Do you ever use pen, or traditional art media?
F: Only when I'm not doing it for work…but even at home I use a tablet and Photoshop on my PC.
GS: Where do you get your ideas and inspiration?
F: I look at books, movies, sometimes game magazines, but more than anything I like to create from my own mind. If I have a reference before I make something, I'm worried I'll get too influenced.
GS: How do you deal with artist's block?
F: Hmm, I can't say I really have that. Of course there are some times when I can't really envision things creatively, but when that happens I just do more rudimentary work, or practice. I have plenty of jobs to do, so I can't say I ever get into a classic slump. I also produce KOF: Maximum Impact 2, so I rely on that to get me through non-creative periods.
GS: What would you like to improve about your own illustration work?
F: After I became a professional, I became most concerned with selling the games I was working on. So really, I want to create package artwork that people will want to buy when they see it, especially for my own projects.
GS: Do you play many games yourself?
F: Not really now, but since I make fighting games at work, if other fighting games come out from other companies, I have to play them, and see what kind of feeling they have. SofFighting games are what I play the most, but it's purely for research.
GS: When designing characters, how do you know when you're finished?
F: Before I draw a character, I write down the characteristics. Like the battle style, what they like and don't like, their gender, what country they're from, and what nationality they possess. Then after several months of thinking about that, I have a lot of ideas about the character in my head. Then I conceptualize the character in my head, and the character starts to come alive for me, gradually. So putting it down on the paper is the easy part. I don't think "oh, this should go here, or this should go here," all of that design is done in my head beforehand.
GS: What other illustrators do you admire?
F: None! It's not that I hate other illustrators, I just consider them competition. In the past I had a bunch though! But eventually I realized that wasn't healthy for me, when I became a professional illustrator. I think it would influence me too much. Sometimes I'll see a nice image, and think "hey, that's well done!" but I don't bother to learn the name of the artist.
|A sample of Falcoon's recent art.|
GS: When you started out, did you draw from life, or from photographs and images?
F: At the very beginning, when I was really bad at drawing, I drew from books and magazine images I saw. Then I gradually began to draw from scratch. Then if I get stuck and can't figure out how something should move, I'll study a reference book, but I never drew straight from other material after that. And of course I've been influenced by all of the illustrations, books and magazines I've seen before.
GS: Do you have future aspirations outside of illustration and production?
F: There are tons of things I'd like to do, but for now, I have to do anything the company hands me. Outside of the company, I'd like to do a few things too. I'd like to try to make an RPG, or a PC game…a fantasy or MMO. Right now I don't have a lot of freedom. I'm free within the constraints I'm given, but I don't have totally free reign to create. I'd like to find some new way of designing games. I'd also like to make comics, maybe movies, and I'd love to design costumes for movies too.
GS: Do you prefer working for just one company, or a variety?
F: Well who knows what shape the future will take, but of course I'd like to work with other companies. I don't really care about the company's name, or the size, I just want to work for people that really want my artwork, and really need my help. I'd like to be in a situation where I can decide exactly what I want to do.