Katsuhiro Harada Preserves Tekken's Arcade Spirit
Tekken's godfather explains his teams dedication to Japan's continued arcade cycle.
While Street Fighter is typically regarded as the most popular fighting game franchise, Tekken stands alone in terms of pure sales. As of 2013, the series had moved over 42 million units worldwide, with the third installment alone contributing 8.3 million in sales. Of course, Tekken was already hugely popular before that, but what attributed to the massive surge around Tekken 3? One could most certainly argue that Katsuhiro Harada had something to do with that.
As something of a godfather to Tekken, this enigmatic figure assumed the mantle of director on Tekken 3 — but his support of the franchise began much sooner than that. As an employee at Namco before their merger with Bandai, Harada was required to work in one of the studios many game centers to learn the arcade business firsthand. His dedication to hosting fighting game tournaments, not just for Tekken but also titles like Street Fighter, Fatal Fury, and more, earned him an award for outstanding work just six months into his tenure.
“I would often give feedback to someone who entered the company at the same time about what they should do with Tekken before the game was even released,” Harada told us through senior Tekken designer Michael Murray. “The award allowed me to state what I wanted to do more freely than other people. At that time, a core group of staff left to go to Square about that same time, which gave me the opportunity to say, ‘I want to go into development, I think I could make a pretty decent fighting game.’”
Since then, Tekken’s presence in the competitive community has grown by leaps and bounds, with Bandai Namco themselves providing huge pot bonuses to events like Evo, Final Round, and their own King of Iron Fist Tournament. Harada is far from surprised with these developments.
“Before eSports became the buzzword that it is today, fighting gamers had their own local grassroots tournaments where they would borrow a gym or something and do it on their own accord. That level of competition is something we anticipated,” he explained. That said, prize money was something that never factored into their predictions, as fighting game competition survived for years without major financial support, and they were also pleasantly surprised to see offline events grow even after the advent of online play.
Teaching the Community
This puts the latest installment, Tekken 7, in an interesting position. Although it landed in arcades last March, it never moved to home platforms, and little has been said about the future of its upcoming Fated Retribution. Japan’s arcade scene may not be as strong as it once was, but it’s booming compared to the wasteland that is North America. Still, the title’s appearance at Evo 2015, played entirely on cabinets, showed that American competitors like Jimmy “Mr. Naps” Tran have what it takes to keep up with their Asian counterparts.
“That [success] probably has to do with the franchise returning to its one-on-one roots,” Harada said of the Evo results, noting that Tekken Tag Tournament 2’s focus on utilizing two characters and tag mechanics likely gave players with regular access to arcades a bigger lead in learning their complexities.
“Because [Tekken 7] has sort of returned to that base system, with more approachable elements like Rage Arts, it’s easier to understand the mechanics and pick it up once you have your hands on it,” Harada continued. “It’s really because the game’s been refined. For example, how to get off the ground was something that stumbled a lot of people previously because there’s so many choices and so many ways to do the wrong thing, but we’ve made the choices simpler. Before, people would lose without knowing why they lost, where now, when you lose, you have an idea why. You just made the wrong decision. It’s easier to approach.”
With that in mind, the Tekken team is always looking at ways to help beginners learn the ins and outs of their series, but that might not always call for tutorials or the like. “Fans also create a lot of content to try to teach the community how to play the game,” Harada said, and specifically mentioned being impressed by one project in particular that allowed players to learn Tekken through an interactive YouTube video.
“My thinking now is [that educating] doesn’t necessarily have to be in-game. Maybe that’s not always the best way of teaching someone. There’s watching videos, teaming up with a friend online and having them teach you; there’s many ways to go about it. It’s something we’re still thinking about, and perhaps we can do something to facilitate that and make it more effective, like an online training mode.”
The Arcade Lives On
While their decision to stay true to the arcade cycle may upset fans missing out on Tekken 7, improvements like those described above are made possible by these releases. Many fighting game developers have eschewed arcade releases for various reasons, but Bandai Namco Entertainment feels the benefits outweigh the drawbacks due to the sheer number of cabinets at their disposal.
“For Tekken, luckily, we’re still able to have a healthy arcade version and recoup the funds for developing it,” Harada explained. “Sometimes, western gamers say it’s an outdated business model, but what people don’t realize is that that phase allows us to polish the game and make a more complete package when it does come to consoles. We also get a large bit of profit, more than most people would probably realize. Those funds don’t go into our pockets--they pay for all the fancy bells and whistles of the console Tekken that people love, like additional characters, beautiful cinematic movies, and more. We’re able to do that because of the profit we get first from arcades. So if we were to develop from scratch just for consoles, it would be much more difficult.”
Of course, no one can tell what the future holds. While Bandai Namco’s model has allowed the Tekken series to remain consistent and receive frequent updates, Harada is always focused on what is best for every particular title during development. Whatever the case may be, there’s no doubting his team’s dedication to keeping Tekken on the forefront of fighting game competition for the foreseeable future.
“For Tekken 7, we chose to release in arcade first and polish the game in the standard Tekken cycle, but is that always going to be the case? Maybe not,” Harada said. “We might have to reevaluate that decision with any possible future installments.”
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