It's interesting that a common thread there was that the way people communicate contributes to the popularity of fighting games. People can of course play together, but with the expanded ways to communicate that we have online, the fans can find each other. That's kind of the sense I'm getting. And I think you feel that helps contribute to the health of the genre, and also the ability to play online. So you really think that communication is the key to keeping the genre healthier right now?
DI: Right, and there are also things like voice chat that can enrich online play. At any rate, Japan's unique in that it's a small country with a relatively high number of arcades and people who use them.
One of our biggest challenges moving forward will be to bring our games to the consoles so we can market them in countries where this isn't the case.
I think that a lot of people want to create a game center type atmosphere for the online modes of console games. I remember that Itagaki, the ex-head of Team Ninja, was saying that with Dead or Alive 4 on the Xbox 360, he wanted the online mode to be like an arcade -- to bring back that feeling -- and I think that a lot of people have nostalgia for that. Do you think that's important? Especially when in Japan, you can still go play Battle Fantasia right now against somebody. I played Street Fighter IV with a friend the other day here, but I can't really do that in America.
DI: I just think with the current technology making reliable online play unattainable, really replicating the game center atmosphere is out of reach. We're not even sure it's possible for two people in different countries to physically manipulate the controls in a way that would give 60th-of-a-second precision. The gameplay in Guilty Gear 2, for example, was designed with some amount of lag in mind.
In the fastest 2D fighters, there are moves that take only one to three frames to complete. Played online, quick action like that will produce different results on each player's screen. In Guilty Gear 2, the fastest attacks take at least 13 frames to land, which is enough time to ensure both players see the same result.
This is serviceable, but it doesn't provide the instantaneous response of an arcade fighter. It is something we want to work on, but we just don't know if it's going to be possible yet. It's a problem that won't be solved until the technology advances.
TM: I think the general opinion among Japanese fighting fans is that bringing the precision of the arcade to online console play is impossible. I'm not sure of the situation in other countries, but fighting fans here place a huge amount of importance on fair play.
We're talking about people who won't be satisfied unless they know they're playing under exactly equal circumstances with an equal chance of winning. First and foremost, we have to be able to assure the people that play at a level where each of the 60 frames in a given second matter, that the game is fair.
I think Western gamers are maybe more interested in freedom of choice, ease of play, and eye-catching appeal. Creating a way to play online that meets both those sets of needs seems impossible to me. That's the way I see things right now, anyway. Instilling that sense of "fair play" on a home network will be really difficult, given the current situation.
DI: We don't really have a sense of how popular fighting games are in the states, so it's tough to know how much demand there would be for accurate online fighting. We know the FPS is king there, and also that Soulcalibur, which I personally think is junk, has a big following.
It doesn't seem like fighting games will ever be as popular as they were in the '90s, but it does seem that things are on the upswing, all the same. I think Street Fighter IV might affect things too, to remind people why 2D gameplay is good. I think part of it is that [Capcom SFIV director] Ono-san is very particular about the fact that they wanted to retreat from the ideas of Street Fighter III, which was very hard to understand, and return to something more like Street Fighter II. The game is deep, but very easy to play on a basic level.
What do you think about the situation, with fighting games coming back? Are you happy to see it? Things are changing. Fighting games will probably never be as popular as they were, but if things keep developing they can return to some degree of popularity, but it may not be the same world that you started out in, in terms of the way fighting games could be.
DI: Well, taking Street Fighter IV as an example, it actually has more gameplay elements than Street Fighter III did, it's just that parrying in the older game was really tough. But if you say, "Oh, well III would've been much better if they'd only fixed the parrying," I actually think the opposite is true.
The important thing is the existence of that "wall" I mentioned earlier. If you're going to include a hundred different techniques a player has to master, the important thing is whether you can give them the motivation to do so or not.
With Street Fighter III, and I did have fun playing it, but having all your attacks parried when you can't manage to do it consistently, frustrates a player more than it motivates them.
My point is: a game that's easy to understand isn't necessarily shallow, and a game that's complicated isn't necessarily deep. And I think that's an interesting question: how do you decide how to balance that?
TM: This reminds me of something I've been thinking, and it actually relates back to the last question. I'm not trying to pick a fight with Capcom or anything, but with Street Fighter IV, they made a big deal about how the game was designed to be accessible to people new to the genre.
I remember when I first read that in an interview, I was like, "What? How can they say that?!" I thought maybe I was seeing things. I think they need to take a second look at the list of moves for that game before they make a claim like that.
Sure, people like us who work with games, or fans of fighting games can do a hadouken or a shoryuken without thinking much about it, but for somebody just getting started? Those moves are pretty tough! You can't expect new players to just whip those moves out every time.
To fill your game with moves like that and then emphasize how simple it was for beginners to pick up seemed irresponsible to me. Street Fighter IV is not a game geared toward people who've never played fighters before. If they were really interested in making a beginner-friendly game, they should've made included a few impressive moves a player could do with the press of a button.
Which leads me back to game balance. A while back, someone brought up chess, a game where you have to think a couple of moves ahead, if you can manage it. I think the same sort of thinking can work well in fighting games. I always want a player to use their head as much as they use their hands, balancing a need for both strategy and quick reflexes.
DI: One thing I hear from players, and something I never want to lose sight of -- while understanding that game balance is something we can only use our best judgment on, it can't be boiled down numbers or formulated -- is the phrase "This game rewards effort."
JM: Right. That a game doesn't betray you for really spending time with it. Which is to say, if a game has that going for it, people will continue to play it, even if it's complicated.
It's sort of like Arc System Works' philosophy, then.
JM: Actually, it's a compliment that we get mostly from fans of our games.
DI: And I want to make sure I continue to deserve comments like that.