Exclusive: the minds behind Tekken 8 reveal how they made a masterpiece
What features would you say have wowed fans the most in early previews of Tekken 8?
That’s tough. Maybe the graphics, but then ‘graphics’ in one word doesn’t describe everything. It’s the level of detail we’ve put into the character models this time. People just think we copy and paste it, but we were building it from scratch, there was nothing there when we started. A lot of focus went into it. Granted, there’s 15 years [of history], everyone knows what Jin looks like. But then when the designer makes him again, it’s like: ‘That doesn’t look like Jin, that’s weird. It’s like a fake Jin.’ So, you’re trying to find that balance between the graphics and the story or the character while providing something new.
Obviously, the graphics and game engine are the first things people will notice - we put a lot of resources, time and money into it - but the story mode is impressive as well. It’s there for both veterans and newcomers to the series. The way the game eases you into it if you've never played it before is something that's quite iconic about Tekken.
You’ve got some fun new characters making their debut, too…
Right. And the new characters are going to be very popular. We’ve added a lot of new characters in the past for Tekken 7 as well, but this time, from the start, we have three unique characters – my favourite being Reina. We've been talking about her for a long time. We wanted a female character who's very strong and has this particular playstyle using electrics that’s pretty cool-looking. And I don't know if [Ikeda] did this intentionally, but Reina has my favourite colours, purple and black. She's one of my favourite characters that we've ever included from the start.
What do you like most about her moves?
Well, that’s another thing. Not only does she have electrics, but she has a lot of different moves from different characters... not exactly the same, but a different variation of them. When you play with the character, you’ll see that her combo damage is maybe not too high, but that’s because she has so many tools.
And Kohei, who is your favourite character?
Azucena. I love technical characters, and Azucena’s technique sees her go into this one stance that allows you to evade everything with taps, which makes you feel as if you’re much better than your opponent. She’s fun to play. Not just that, but her personality and the way that she’s portrayed in the game was something that we enjoyed creating. It was decided from the start that she would be from Peru. I love beautiful World Heritage locations and historic landmarks like Machu Picchu, and I wanted to achieve that. It was also fun to put alpacas in the stage. If you played Tekken 6, you’ll know there was a similar stage featuring sheep [Hidden Retreat] that had a unique soundtrack. And I wanted to do something similar this time with the alpacas [for Azucena’s home stage, Ortiz Farm].
What else are you excited for players to get to grips with?
One of my favourite elements of the game is My Replay And Tips. There’s a lot to learn when you’re jumping into a brand-new fighting game. I picked up Guilty Gear when Strive [seventh in the Guilty Gear series] came out and I didn’t know much about the game, so I had to learn everything. Normally, if I play against [Ikeda] and he beats me up on a fighting game really badly, I don’t know how to get better unless I go to look online, and I don’t know what to look for, right? But My Replay And Tips will tell you, it’ll stop the video in the middle of the replay and be like: ‘Hey, you blocked this attack, and you didn’t punish. The best punish in this instance is this.’ Or, ‘You got thrown in this instance, but if you would have pushed this button, you could have escaped it.’ Or, ‘You did an aerial combo, and it wasn’t that much damage; you could have done this one, and it was better.’
Which helps to keep players engaged...
Honestly, there are many hurdles in fighting games where people drop off. I didn't want people to say that about Tekken. We actually did an earlier version of My Replay And Tips during [Tekken] 7, in season three. Our goal has since been to help gamers become better at a fighting game when they don't want to put in the effort.
Let’s talk about the stages, which are almost like characters themselves in that they feel breakable, breathable and reflect specific personalities. How was it designing them?
There are many elements to each stage. As we use them in the story mode, I’ve been working on the motif of the situation that fits the atmosphere of the story. For example, in the Machu Picchu stage or a stage in a dojo in Vienna, I want to give a motif that fits the new character and makes an impression. I wanted to make the whole thing bigger, strategically using size and shape. Since Tekken 8 has such a robust story mode, all these stages are also the backdrop of a particular scene in this story, so the atmosphere must match the scene we’re trying to portray. But then, other times, it’s about helping the new characters make an impression, like the Paris stage for Victor [another new character] with a cruise ship in the river.
Yeah, when we're introducing a new character, they must catch up to the iconic characters of the franchise. So, creating a unique stage for them helps to show them off. And then, as you said about it being breakable, there's also the other side to it from a playstyle perspective, of what the shape is, if it's small or large, and then also the gimmicks, whether we use blow-breakable walls or break the floors, and how that changes the stage dynamically in the gameplay.
With Ghost Mode, state-of-the-art AI learns your moves, allowing players to play against themselves or a copy of their friends. How was it working with AI and how do you think this will open up things for players?
When Tekken 8 was first developed, there was a unique engineer in the team who was doing technology-based research separately. The engineer showed us what the ghost would be like. I was really surprised. The reason is that the AI we’ve had so far, even if we’ve played a few hundred or a thousand games, it didn’t do the kind of movement we imagined. But I think you can really see the new AI when you experience it. It’s amazing that this one remembers and reproduces playstyles immediately on the spot. Everyone will be surprised and think it’s fun.
By using it well, I can experience fighting against myself, which I can’t experience in the real world. I can experience getting stronger by fighting with myself, fighting against a ghost that reproduces the habits of people that are completely different from the CPUs. Until now, if I lose in a real match my heart breaks and I quit. By playing against your ghost it’s a fun experience, it creates a good effect, and it’s something that we’re building step by step.
I used ghost mode and it didn't take me long to get beat up by myself. It can be a humbling experience!
[laughs] That itself is what caused us to think this could be something really entertaining, as you’re going to want to become better as a player so that you can make your own ghost stronger. And if you’re playing against an AI ghost character, it plays like a human opponent, but somehow, it doesn’t feel as bad losing to a human opponent.
Which returning character do you think will impress fans the most?
I think Jun Kazama is the one that surprised me the most. It’s the first time in decades she's returned to the canon story and that's something the fans have been asking for. But not just for the story but her playstyle as well. She's been redesigned based around Kazama power, a certain type of power she has that affects her techniques. And that’s the same with Asuka Kazama, who has a similar moveset. We had to redesign her to feel unique to that.
For me, I would say Devil Jin. People are surprised that he's still in it, but also, if you play him – and he's my main character, obviously – he's quite different. So, one of the game designers on the team changed it up a lot with the way that Devil Jin is played – his button inputs, all these things have been changed. Previously, he hadn't really changed drastically between games, but this time, he still has his main moves. He's got a lot of new stuff and new ways to play.
Can you expand on Devil Jin’s new changes?
Yeah. He’s got this one technique where he’ll shoot kind of chains out, and then he’ll go into this fly stance. And from this fly stance, he has this kind of mix-up of moves. So, a lot of that’s changed because if you’ve played Devil Jin before, it was quite technical with some of the combos, the filler in that you had to do, like forward-forward-left kick, and you had to cancel it and stuff like that, where now it’s just left kick only and more streamlined, I think he’s more approachable. So, on the one hand, it’s annoying personally that I put all this time into learning Devil Jin, and it was difficult, and now he’s made it easy! But I think that a lot more people will be tempted to pick him up and find out what a cool character he is.
And in a nutshell what did your working relationship look like together?
I’m the barometer. So, if [Ikeda] shows me the design of it and if I go: “Oh my God, that’s fucking awesome,” he’s like, OK, that’s approved.
With Heat, you're giving players the option to choose a power and combo boost in whatever moment they want. This makes it more of a tactical battle, no?
Good pick up.
I think that’s the most important thing about Heat. It can be used differently from Rage. I wanted to make Heat as a way to start a new attack. Tekken 8’s battle concept was aggressive. We wanted to make aggressive attacks and create a chance to win the match. We wanted to use this as an aggressive system. With fighting games if two players are equal, it’s sometimes hard to go on the offensive, but now you can say: “This is my chance to go on counter.” And so, this is really designed to make you feel like having fun by attacking your opponent.
I was going to say something similar. I like overpowered characters, but they have flaws. For example, Akuma in the Street Fighter series is very strong but has low health as a trade-off. So, to me, heat is a time when you get access to these really powerful techniques or tools. But players aren’t using it for the whole match, so it doesn’t break the game. It’s like a limited time. So, for Devil Jin, he has access to certain techniques, and then he’d be able to launch a laser beam. If I could do that anytime, obviously it’s too strong and wouldn’t make it into the game, but heat lets you do that briefly, and it’s fun [laughs]. It’s about your timing. When you want to define a match. It’s your time.
In Arcade Quest, players can create an avatar to meet other players in a gaming arcade. It’s a real love letter to those places.
That’s what it is! [laughs]
The more we go online, the less we are in these spaces, so it's a nice touch, virtually at least.
Yes, we were especially conscious of the fact that the arcade in Kobe was gone. We wanted to recreate that arcade in the game. During the development of Tekken, the number of places gamers could gather, including in Japan, was decreasing. We wanted to provide a place for Tekken 8, but we wanted to solve the problem of not having a place to gather. That's why we created Arcade Quest and Tekken Fight Lounge. We wanted to create a place where players and communities can meet and have fun together, and we wanted to create a place where they can go to every day. It is indeed a love letter to arcade culture and that the West especially declined much quicker than Japan and Asia.
When we were developing the game, it was right during the COVID situation, so people weren’t able to go to real events or tournaments and all that stuff that they used to love. A long time ago, you’d go to the arcade, and someone would be there. And when you find someone with a similar skill, you keep playing because it’s fun. We wanted to give people that same motivation to keep playing, just like the arcades do.