What do you think of other combo-heavy games? There's Skullgirls; that's very much based on Marvel vs. Capcom 2, but it's another very combo-heavy game.
TI: With that subgenre of fighting games that's combo-heavy, it's very important that the process you go through from practice to being able to do everything is a great deal of fun -- that you're developing yourself. I've only been seriously involved with combo-oriented fighters for about six years, but for me, it's really fun and addictive to go through a well-designed curve like that until I'm at the point where I'm beating players who were at it before I was.
I think part of the fun of Continuum Shift at the start is the player having the ability to just press the buttons to get a taste of all the sorts of moves you can do in the game. He can't beat another human player that way, but against a CPU that's at the level of Stylish mode, he can. It's not fun for the player if he does nothing but lose from the point he starts the game.
With Stylish, the CPU level is down to the point where it's plausible for the player to finish the story mode. Once the player gets used to the game through that experience, then he'll be able to take on human opponents. There's always the impression that combo-based games are harder to learn because it's difficult to see how moves connect with each other, but I don't think that this game is as rigid with those rules as others.
Can you talk about your animation process? SNK does 3D models that they draw over, but Skullgirls does it all hand-drawn.
TI: We work the first way, with 3D -- well, first we come up with concepts for each of the moves the characters would be capable of, then we build those motions based off of that with 3D models. These motions get converted back to 2D, and then we engage in pixel-level cleanup and fixing to come up with what you see in the game.
Do you think that's faster or more efficient than the old hand-drawing type of way?
TI: I think there are cases where doing it all hand-drawn might wind up being faster in the end. Using 3D models, however, makes it easier to maintain an even visual balance across every move from every character. The backgrounds are 3D, too, and thus it's important the characters seem natural against those backdrops -- something that the 3D model approach also helps with. So it may take more time, but I think it's still a more efficient approach to getting better results.
I like 2D art a lot, so I'm happy you've made the choice, but why do you choose to have it be 2D in the end instead of just polishing up those 3D models you make?
TI: I think that's just been a part of the flow of our game history, starting with the first Guilty Gear. It's something that people expect from us at this point. There are tons of 3D fighters these days, but it's not as if the market is demanding every one of them to be 2D. That's the philosophy our producer takes to it, and one of the aims of BlazBlue was to retain the nice things about pixel art while taking the whole package to the next level.
Well, I'm glad that you're protecting 2D.
TI: (laughs) Well, a lot of players still enjoy that style. If you went fully 3D -- like with Street Fighter IV, presenting a 2D style with 3D graphics -- then that's inherently not going to be the same. That same animation style won't work, for example -- there are players who really enjoy looking at each individual frame of animation.
The UI in your games have always been excellent and stylish. It's been the case all the way back to Arc's visual novel games -- is that something that naturally evolved from that era?
HM: That's something we've almost forgotten about at that point. (laughs) The visual novel era. I think there are fewer people who know about that than don't.
TI: It's true that we pay special attention to the UI, to the point where we have artists specializing in that sort of thing. We do make an effort to not just take the simple approach, but to really pay attention to the transfers from section to section and make everything look nice. It starts with the graphic team's requests for the programmers, and then [BlazBlue series director Toshimichi] Mori, at the top of the project, checks that and decides how much of it is practical to implement.