Tekken 8: The Exclusive First Interview with Katsuhiro Harada - ‘A Turning Point’
In a room high above downtown Tokyo, Bandai Namco Entertainment general manager Katsuhiro Harada is getting ready to show off Tekken 8. He’s exchanged his customary sunglasses for a face mask as the game’s debut trailer plays on a television next to him.
Describing the trailer as it plays on loop, Harada explains how the scene – which depicts series mainstays Kazuya and Jin battling amid rain, lightning, and crashing waves – sets the mood for another climactic moment in the long-running series.
“Tekken 7 kind of showcased a showdown of the two Mishimas, but it was Heihachi Mishima and his son Kazuya. Now we've kind of progressed down the timeline so that you're seeing the face-off again between father and son, but different characters: Jin Kazama against his father, Kazuya Mishima,” Harada says.
Announced earlier this week, Tekken 8 picks up one of gaming’s longest running soap operas for a new generation of consoles. Fans are speculating on the nature of the imagery peppered throughout the trailer, and Harada is happy to provide some answers while withholding others.
“You can see the chain effect where it then breaks and then forms into Tekken 8 – 8 portion for the logo. We didn't just do that because it looks cool, but there's actually very strong story elements that are tied to that,” Harada explains “This kind of chain motif has been seen in the past with Devil Jin, for example. This is because Jin's not only really conflicted because of his Mishima roots in the bloodline, but also Devil Gene within him and how it kind of takes control over his life. So showing the chains break away is kind of showing Jin becoming free of all these things that are restricting him. He's forced to kind of face those elements of himself, but at the same time to face part of that which is his father in this kind of showdown.”
But it’s Tekken 8’s transition to Unreal Engine 5 that has Harada most excited. To Harada, the entries that have done the most to push a console’s hardware have always been the most successful. He talks at length about how “all the models and everything from Tekken 7 have been totally discarded,” leaving everything to be rebuilt in Unreal Engine 5 from the ground up. He points to the rain and sweat rolling down Jin and Kazuya’s faces, and describes how it’s different from its predecessor.
“Tekken 7 had something that appeared similar; that when the character fell down or during the battle, they would appear to be sweating or something. But that was just a parameter in the game in how it was displayed. This is actually the first time that we're taking rain and outside effects and having that effect of rolling down the characters models. And not just that, but when they fall down on the ground, their clothing gets dirty as a result. So you can see the kind of results of the battle on the character models,” Harada says.
Over the course of a 90 minute exclusive interview with IGN, Harada talks about working with Unreal Engine 5; discusses pressing questions about accessibility options and mechanics (though not rollback netcode, which he feels is too early to talk about), and where the story goes from here. He also talks about the state of fighting games in general and why he thinks they’re in a better place than many people think.
Continue onward for the full interview with Harada along with two new exclusive screenshots for Tekken 8.
IGN: You’ve made a lot about Tekken 8 being on next-gen technology. Can you tell me about what it's been like to use Unreal Engine 5 for the first time, getting to grips with it? You were talking about the real time reflections and the rain rolling down and everything, but talk to me about some of the more subtle aspects of working with Unreal Engine 5.
Katsuhiro Harada: It's a very difficult question. From a developer's perspective, not just for us, but developers in general in the industry, it's different from the end users' impression, where kind of like an iPhone 4 was being used up until a certain date and then, "Okay, now the iPhone 5 is out, it's awesome, it's brand new, everything works so much better." That's kind of the impression that your average user has when this new Unreal Engine 5 comes out. But in reality, it's not that case at all. It's like it's a continuing process. Obviously, we didn't just start developing a game on UE5. UE5 was announced quite some time ago, but we haven't seen games for it yet.
So we started on UE4 and gradually started porting certain elements of the game over into UE5 and also confirming the results. Like, “Okay, oh wow, the graphic level on this particular area improved greatly.” And then other areas as well – the things that are important for a fighting game: the response time…those kind of things are stuff that we've been porting out into the game and then figuring out what to expect in that area as well. And we’ve been working closely with Epic to figure out how to optimize some of those processes for input. So we're just starting and it's going to continue from now on.
IGN: Can you talk to me about the early planning phases of Tekken 8? What were the discussions in the room with the team?
Katsuhiro Harada: Yeah. I mean, obviously, as you can see in the trailer, the graphics are something that we really focused on. And I know that sounds kind of trite, but if you look back at the franchise and see where it did well – like Tekken 3 on the PlayStation 1, maybe Tekken Tag Tournament on PS2 – there was the variety of modes and the gameplay that people liked, but an important aspect has always been the kind of graphics people can expect on new hardware. And not just from a certain segment of the community or audience, but from PlayStation fans in general, from casual players to hardcore fighting game enthusiasts. Everything was about the graphics at first.
During the PlayStation 1 days, just to have a game at that time be in polygons and make it look like a showpiece of technology, was something that really drove the audience for the game. And we felt that after all these years, that's something that hasn't changed. So we really decided what we wanted to do with the graphic benchmark of the game, what the tone of manner was going to look like visually. All of that stuff was one of the first things I think we discussed at the beginning of the project.
IGN: As we head into Tekken 8, I'm wondering if you can share your perspective on where Jin and Kazuya are right now as characters?
Katsuhiro Harada: Tekken’s story has always been about the Mishimas and their blood feud, and Tekken 7 showcased Heihachi Mishima and Kazuya and the showdown that took place there. And that finished with that installment. So now we're showing everyone a pinnacle of the story from the start of the campaign, but this is showing the remaining Mishimas, the two of them, the only ones left, and then you've got Jin Kazama and what he's trying to achieve.
So whoever wins this is going to have a huge impact on the fate of Mishima bloodline, which is a turning point for the franchise if you look at it that way. We've always up until now had all these different characters in the Mishima clan fighting each other in many storylines, and it's always been unclear how it would play out. But with Tekken 7 you saw some conclusion to some of those pieces, and now you're left with this main showcase between [Jin and Kazuma]. So we feel that it's going to really create a turning point in the series for people who witness it.
IGN: Team Kazuya here.
Katsuhiro Harada: [laughing] It's interesting how even the fan base is quite... It's divisive, whether you're in Camp Kazuya or Camp Jin. A lot of people throughout the series, they love those villains that Tekken does quite well, so are big fans of Kazuya. But at the same time, Jin has his loyal supporters. I got a lot of feedback from the fans that they weren't happy about Jin almost being a villain in Tekken 6. So people feel strongly one way or the other about these two.
IGN: How did you feel about the reaction to the Rage system in Tekken 7? And will Rage Arts and Rage Drive be returning for this entry?
So regarding rage arts or rage in general, we first added the Rage system, and then like you're saying, Rage arts, et cetera, were added for Tekken 7. So initially when we added Rage, there was a lot of backlash because people thought 3D fighters have combat mechanics built in where if you're getting damaged, you get some kind of meter that builds and allows you to do more attacks. Where before Rage was implemented, Tekken didn't have anything like that, so people thought that 3D fighters should not have that kind of stuff – that the only way to win was by being better than your opponent. And what was seen as a comeback mechanic was not very popular at first when people found out about it.
Fast-forward to Tekken 7, and we have the Rage Arts, Rage Drives, et cetera, and people had that same kind of opinion, where they don't think it fit. But maybe three months after the game was out and people had had time to digest it and play enough matches, the opinion drastically changed to, "Hey, this is actually a good addition to the game. It makes it more exciting both to play and to watch." So from that perspective we feel that it worked out quite well for [Tekken 7]. Regarding [Tekken 8], that's something that, unfortunately we can't talk about what's going to happen with the game mechanics today. That's something that we hope people will look forward to at a later date.
[W]hoever wins this is going to have a huge impact on the fate of Mishima bloodline, which is a turning point for the franchise if you look at it that way“
IGN: Will there be an arcade version before an updated console version like previous Tekken games or will it go straight to console?
Katsuhiro Harada: Unfortunately, for the platforms, we can only talk about the ones that are announced right here. PS5, Xbox Series X|S, and Steam. What we can say is that this is the first time in the history of the series that we've announced a console version first. So that in itself is quite notable. And that's all we can say at this point.
IGN: The trailer seems to imply expanded slow-mo during the actual game mechanics, not just at the end of the round. And I'm wondering if you can comment on that?
Katsuhiro Harada: That's something we can't really comment on decisively because actually we had points of slow motion in Tekken 7 outside of what you were mentioning – where you have low health, et cetera – it just wasn't as pronounced so people didn't notice it as much. It looks cool to have slow motion during the matches, but you can't just put it in whenever you want to, because it looks cool…it gets in the way because it slows down the tempo, et cetera. So there's a really fine balance that you have to achieve, and that's something that's not been fixed or locked in yet. So we can't say either way at the moment.
IGN: I know it's still early, but a big question that is being asked by a lot of fans is, how much customization can we expect? Something on the level of say Tekken Tag Tournament 2, that kind of thing?
Katsuhiro Harada: So that's an interesting topic because I was just joking that I should have never included customization. It was included for [Tekken 5] and I didn't think that it was going to be such a thing until after it was released and everyone just really took to it. Like you said, [Tekken Tag Tournament 2[ and even Tekken 7 had a lot of options, but people still want more. We brought up that the people who want more sometimes build their own mods and customization is even crazier. So it's just amazing how much people are really into customizing their character.
I have a theory that fighters like Street Fighter and others usually have just set skins because they saw what we have to do to develop customization and how intensive it is on resources. They're like, no, we're not going to do that. That's my theory.
IGN: How satisfied were you with the guest characters in the previous installment?
Katsuhiro Harada: We were quite happy with the results. When we first announced guest characters, the fans were just so shocked, both good and bad. But just that reaction that they got from first seeing it was really satisfying. It was ultimately a win for us because they did quite well. It was a win for the fans because they got something brand new and different for the series, and it was a win for the IP owners because they saw what we made and they saw the reactions from the fans and they were really happy about the results of it. So I think everyone in general, all around, was quite happy with the guest characters and how they turned out for Tekken 7.
There was one drawback. The president of our company, [Yasuo Miyakawa]... it was his first time ever going to EVO in Las Vegas. He had one of those box areas, the VIP seating, and we were watching the first match of the game. Normally I would sit next to him and explain the players, the characters they were using, the strategy, et cetera.
But it was funny because at that same time, just out of the blue, [Yasuyuki Oda], who used to work at Capcom…he was at our VIP area and he sat down with the president and said, “Hey, I'm Oda, nice to meet you.” And then he sat down and instead of me explaining what's going on, he was pointing out Akuma from Street Fighter, Geese from the SNK series, etc. So he was quite entertained to see that, but it was like, wow, that's one of the things you have to watch out for with guest characters I suppose.
IGN: Is this something you could see yourself doing again for Tekken 8?
Katsuhiro Harada: We’re not talking about wanting the guest characters to hang around for Tekken 8, but in general – not even just for Tekken, but in general – it is something that we are really happy we did because it's good to get that kind of motivation from working with some new material and also just the connections that you make with other people in doing so.
I brought up that working with Oda-san from SNK and how we had him on our panel at Comic Con one year and that building those relationships is also a really cool part of working with other companies. It's obviously something that we enjoy doing, and if the fans enjoy it, it's something that we would consider again. That's as far as we can go.
IGN: You recently worked with Sakurai-san to put Kazuya to Smash Brothers. What was that experience like and did it have any impact on Tekken 8?
Katsuhiro Harada: So working with Sakurai-san, you mentioned collaboration on the character Kazuya, but actually, Bandai Namco Studios, when they were developing Smash Brothers… Sakurai-san was there all the time, just normally coming to work, I guess you could say. So we knew quite well what to expect and his personality. And even that said, we were also surprised when it came time to make Kazuya for Smash Brothers, because we thought since we're the experts at Tekken, maybe he's going to ask what's the points that I need to definitely get right to make this feel like Tekken, but actually that wasn't the case. He had already had his own thoughts about what makes Tekken "Tekken.” So it was surprising but also refreshing to see that he came in and didn't ask questions, but said, "I've played a lot of Tekken and studied it, and this is what I feel is important for the game," right off the bat.
So that was quite a shock, I mean in a positive way. But then also it made us think that he has all these characters from other different franchises and games in Smash Brothers, so to know so much to a deep extent about all of these different IPs to be able to do that… he's probably the only one that could properly make that game. In creating Tekken series we always look at various different fighting games or other games outside the genre and think about what to maybe draw from that experience. But he just went so much deeper on all of them, we thought there's still a lot we can learn ourselves from different products outside of Tekken by looking at his example.
IGN: As you prepare to release Tekken in 8 onto PS5 and Xbox Series X, Street Fighter 6 is also coming out. What is the state of fighting games in general in your opinion?
Katsuhiro Harada: Well, that's an interesting question because fighting games are maybe the most famous for the period from mid-late '80s up until the end of the 20th century…Some of the younger players now have this impression, although inaccurate, that the fighting game audience has shrunk because there are fewer titles, but that's not necessarily the case. We used to have a lot more middle sized fighting game titles that came out back in that time that maybe you don't see that particular group anymore. It's gone mostly to a lot of much smaller indie titles that are doing maybe 2D fighting games or something like that, or just these huge IPs like Tekken and Street Fighter.
So it's not like Tekken or Street Fighter or any of the big ones are selling less copies. Oftentimes they sell more. It's just the impression of some of the fans that that is the case. And then there's other changes in the genre as well from a business model perspective. A lot of these titles were in the arcades, and then gradually we saw some titles that would not do an arcade release and would just go straight to console. So there was that shift of how do we go from an arcade game where you're putting in a hundred yen…to selling a console version. It's a full package that has everything that entails.
So there was that change that happened, and then now we're seeing... I’m quite interested in what's going to happen with [Riot Games’] Project L. Maybe there's another shift in the way fighting games with its business model. I don't think they've said yet, but they typically do free-to-play titles. So if they do that with Project L, how that will change writing games is something I’m quite interested to see what happens.
IGN: It seems like this is such a big moment – you called it a turning point in the story, and you can see it in the tornadoes and the waves and the ships crashing to emphasize that. Can we expect an expanded story mode, especially since that has become more common recently?
Katsuhiro Harada: So that almost falls into something else I’m not allowed to talk about. The more we talk, the more details that we can't touch on come out. But I guess what I can say at this point is that Tekken 7 had a story mode and the game was really well-received from the fans and sold, I think, 9 million copies. We're almost going on to 10 million soon. So I would say that something that was highly evaluated in the previous installment isn't something that we're looking to shrink. Not just the story mode, but any other mode or option. The fans expect that what was there is going to be better in the sequel, we hope, and we realize that and we're trying to live up to those expectations..
IGN: What has it been like working with the PS5 versus the Xbox Series X versus the PC in the course of developing this game?
Katsuhiro Harada: It's unfair that they're so capable…I’m a huge PC gamer. I actually like to build my own PC. So for me, building a tricked out PC and having that graphical edge or performance edge to play a game is always something that I like to experience. So one of the things that’s quite surprising was just how capable both consoles are for such a low price point compared to building a PC. So that's why I said it's unfair that the consoles are that good at that price point.
Sony State of Play: Tekken 8
IGN: When you say that you are rebuilding everything from the ground up, that's really ambitious and I'm wondering what are the pitfalls that you're trying to avoid to ensure that this goes as well as possible?
Katsuhiro Harada: There's risks and pitfalls, but also areas that we have a lot of confidence in. For example, one reason we felt confident to just make the graphics from scratch is that we have so many veterans on the team. Most people have been on the series for 10 years or more – many even 20 years. So everyone has a very thorough knowledge of Tekken and what makes it great and what makes it pop with the fans, but also enough experience to avoid the more common pitfalls…But then no matter how much of a veteran you are, there's always that fine balance that you have to break things in order to create something new. So how much you break and how much you rearrange the parts and build it into something new is always a recipe that no one really has a clear cut answer to.
For example, if we don't break it enough, then people will be like, "Okay, it's not a brand new game, it's Tekken, a new season or a 7.5 or something." If we break it too much, then you might take away some of the elements that people enjoyed from the franchise. So it doesn't matter how much experience you have, that's always a very difficult task and no one has the answer to it. Which might sound strange because many people think the players have the answer, but they don't. They just react to whether they like or don't like something so they don't have the answer. If they did, it would be very easy to just go ask everyone what they want and to make it.
That said, it is very important to gather feedback as much as possible from a variety of different groups, but what you do with that feedback is actually more important. So it's very difficult.
If we break it too much, then you might take away some of the elements that people enjoyed from the franchise. “
IGN: There's been a movement toward making fighting games more accessible. For example, Street Fighter 6 added easier commands so more people can play fighting games. I'm wondering what your take is on that heading into Tekken 8, especially given that Tekken is such a technical series.
Katsuhiro Harada: The first thing I should say is that this is in relation to a one-on-one game, a fighting game. Not a multiplayer or versus game. If you're just talking about on paper, of course, if you make the controls simpler, it should be more accessible. But that it is just removing one step and you're still going to hit a brick wall eventually. Because once you take away that execution or the inputs or whatever you want to call it, you're still going to not be able to be a better opponent. For example, there’s Othello, which I think you call Reversi in English – the black and white chips that are on the board. That's very accessible. There's no difficulty in placing them; it all comes down to strategy. But if someone's better than you, they're going to beat you anyways. You're still going to have those emotions of being happy when you win or sad when you lose.
So when you take away the execution, you're just moving them there, but they still aren’t going to be able to beat someone who's better than them unless the game is based more on luck or something like that. But that has other problems because then you're not able to win off your own skill. It just comes down to chance.
So it's quite difficult to mention it that way because I guess it is good for everyone if inputs are easier. But people don't realize that that's just going to put them at the next step where they still have to sit down and learn how the game works and then strategies and all of that. That just taking button inputs – making it simpler isn't going to make you better at the game.
IGN: So from what I'm gathering, you don't intend to pursue accessibility features in Tekken 8?
Katsuhiro Harada: No, I didn't say that. It’s just my feelings on a topic that's often discussed by the community. For [Tekken 7] we did actually use those kind of inputs. I don't know if you recall, but the Rage Arts… there's commands to do it normally, but you can do it with just one button on the console version. There's also more simplified commands where Electric Wind, God Fist or some of these more popular moves that require commands, you can do with just one button. You can actually use R1 to shift between different moves with one button. So we already had those features in Tekken 7. What we're doing in Tekken 8 we can't talk about.
However, I’ll also say compared to other fight games, one thing that's different in Tekken is that there's a lot of freedom in the timing of the inputs. Paul has this step where he goes, and then when you push the right punch, he does the Death Fist. The player can actually change the timing on when it comes out depending on when they input it. That's something that adds more freedom to the players moving in the game. So if that were dropped in favor of having more simplified inputs, that would actually take away some of the freedom. So that's something that's different from other games. That's uniquely Tekken. That is a challenge to think about.
IGN: When you look back on almost 30 years with Tekken, I'm just wondering what kind of emotions that leaves you with and how that leaves you feeling as we head into Tekken 8?
Katsuhiro Harada: It's changed over the years. I mean, when I first started it was more about creating something that I liked or improving and making it better to match what I thought it could be. And then part way through there was a period where I wanted to show everyone around me that I knew the most about fighting games and I loved that genre more than anyone else, which sounds kind of juvenile now, but at the time I felt quite strongly about that.
But then over the years there were more opportunities to travel abroad to various shows or tournaments. With the internet being so big now, it’s possible to easily interact with the fanbase and the community and to gather all this feedback and their opinions about what we've made.
Then I drifted towards having to live up to those expectations that everyone's built up regarding the franchise. For Tekken 7, it felt like my life’s work…it could have been the last installment, so I had to make it the best it could be. But then it was released and it did really well and now it's like Tekken 8's got to be even better than Tekken 7 so there’s no regrets from me or any of the staff on the team. It's something we constantly talk about – this could be it, so you better give it all you have.
IGN: You talk often about how this is a story that's been almost 30 years running now. Have you imagined an ending to it? Do you have an ending in your head?
Katsuhiro Harada: I actually had the ending kind of plotted out in '96. I was writing down the story and thinking, okay, we'll probably have one more after this one and, this is how it's going to be wrapped up. But then as I was making it, I thought that games could be made really quickly. I think the quickest I’ve ever made a new game is maybe in six months. So I thought if I could make a lot more installments at a higher pace, then we'd be finished. But then it turned out development stretched and then you just had a longer period between games that it took more time than I thought.
In the meantime you have all these new staff joining in partway through who come up with new ideas for that particular installment, which puts the ending off even farther. So it just grew from there. So the ending, I didn’t see it taking this long to get there. I had one back then, but it's just gradually grown along with the series. If there's an end, it’ll be when I’m buried, whenever that is.
Another thing that's kind of weird is how it works on your psyche. Once we got the Guinness for the longest running story, then you kind of think, okay, well I want to keep this – I don't want to let any other game take over that record. So we have to make the story continue.
Tekken 8 is in development for Xbox Series X|S, PS5, and PC. It does not yet have a release date.
Kat Bailey is a Senior News Editor at IGN as well as co-host of Nintendo Voice Chat. Have a tip? Send her a DM at @the_katbot.
This story originally appeared on: IGN - Author:Kat Bailey