It’s quite an exciting year for Arc System Works. The Japanese company (known primarily for their 2D fighting games) reaches their 30th anniversary this year — on May 12th, specifically. Furthermore, it also has been about a year since the establishment of the American branch of their business.
Those reasons, along with the impending release of BlazBlue: Cross Tag Battle, led to a press event in February. The biggest representatives of the company traveled to California to show the latest product. Shoryuken had an incredible opportunity to talk to none other than Daisuke Ishiwatari, the creator and director of the Guilty Gear games, Toshimichi Mori, the producer of the BlazBlue series, and Minoru Kidooka, the CEO of the company. It’s a rare chance to have all three of them in the same room and available for a conversation — which is part of an overall effort to improve communication with the media and non-Japanese audiences.
The following conversation was live-translated by an ASW interpreter, and has been edited for clarity and length. We talked about the US side of the company, and about BBTAG; stay tuned for the part two, which covers Guilty Gear and other topics!
[Feature image: Daisuke Ishiwatari & Toshimichi Mori, at Evo 2017]
Woocash: Tell us the story of establishing the American Arc System Works branch. How did that come to be?
Minoru Kidooka (CEO, Arc System Works): Over the years, there have been many companies that have helped us in the US, in game distribution and interfacing with the fans, but despite that, we still felt a distance between us, the developers, and the fans who are acquiring games and enjoying them. Really, a large part of what the US branch is trying to do is to really close that gap and communicate more directly with the US community, and understand what they are thinking and what they want from ASW, so we can continue developing awesome games.
Another reason is, we’ve been very grateful that Evo has selected our games to be one of the main tournaments hosted at Evo. What we always notice is that a lot of Japanese players make top 8, which is not necessarily the greatest feeling, because there is that gap that I mentioned earlier with consumers in the US and around the world. So we want a lot more variety, and for them to start hearing developer stories, and to understand what it is that we are trying to do and help them really nurture the community.
Woocash: Following up on this console and arcade gap, BlazBlue: Cross Tag Battle is pretty much the first ASW fighting game with a pretty much simultaneous worldwide release, and no arcade release. Can you expand a bit on this gap, and is this something that you will try do more with future titles?
Toshimichi Mori (BlazBlue producer): Yes, the entire concept for BBCTB was to have an equal starting line and when developing the game, we always had that in our minds. And the inclusion of RWBY characters as well adds to that, leveling the playing field of everything being equal. We personally at ASW would like to do this as much as possible moving forward.
As Mr. Kidooka mentioned earlier, all the ASW games really favored Japanese players, in the sense that an arcade release had a huge impact on them understanding the game, breaking it down sooner than everyone else around the world. Again, I really wanted to level the playing field and have everyone start from the same line.
I think there’s always been a general sense in North America, Europe, South Africa, and Asia that Japan comes first, and it will start trickling out to the rest of the world. We really didn’t like that feeling that’s now lingering in the community. Of course, we also want to preserve the arcade culture, which is a large part of what ASW stands for, but that doesn’t mean to say Japan or the arcade has priority. I think where we place the priority now is with all fans around the world, as much as possible. I don’t know how that looks yet across our entire library yet, but I want to preserve the intent of the fans first and then figure out how to work with arcades, trying to get everyone to be part of this movement.
Woocash: Can you talk about the BlazBlue: Cross Tag Battle English dub announcement? Why did the company decide to have English dub again?
Mori: In terms of BBTAG, with RWBY joining the cast, and of course, RWBY being developed by Rooster Teeth located in Texas, English is a large part of that franchise and property. We wanted the entire game to feel like it adapts both elements of that, so it’s in Japanese and English. That being said, of course, there was a large request from fans to have an English cast in BlazBlue again.
Having said that, recording voices in two completely different languages at a simultaneous release is inevitably going to affect the release date of the game. Internally, we’re still not 100 percent sure that completely localizing in two languages is the right answer at the expense of delaying a game for the fans. If BBTAG proves that dubbing was the correct answer, then that might affect our decisions moving forward. But it is an immense process to have localization across different languages, so we’ll have to see how that turns out moving forward, but we will do our best to accommodate the users that way.
I think where we place the priority now is with all fans around the world, as much as possible.
Woocash: Speaking of localization, are there any plans to bring BlazBlue: Dark War to Western audiences?
Kidooka: In terms of Dark War, this being one of very our experimental games with the social game space and ecosystem, I think social game culture is very different from region to region. This is an uncharted territory for ASW, and I think the first priority is going to be establishing some roots and understanding how all the games work in the Japanese space, then we can start looking at localization. But of course, it’s always in our mind.
Woocash: Mori-san was a little sad about Central Fiction not being on the Evolution 2018 main stage, but fans are dying to know whether there will be more support for this game. Is there anything planned for that game?
Mori: Yes, I am thinking about it, and all I can say right now is stay tuned, look forward to it. I think it’s, of course, very important to preserve the 1-vs-1 fighting culture as well, it’s been one of my themes.
Woocash: Going back to BBTAG, I wanted to ask about the DLC situation. Initially, when Blake Belladona was revealed at Evo Japan, it didn’t say that she was free DLC, but it was clarified later. Was it the plan from the beginning to have Blake and Yang as free DLC, or was it a reaction, a change of strategy based on the fan feedback?
Mori: Originally, it was the intent to have the characters be free and accessible to the user, but it was a mixture of both of those. As ASW, we participate in many events throughout the year, including Evo Japan, and with a lot of the fighting game communities popping up in different regions, we wanted to save some news for each region. It was the decision to announce the character and announce pricing structure [later], and we wanted to keep some reveal for each event, but this is a part of what we need to learn ourselves and grow as a company as well. I think we deconstructed the news too much to the extent that it was confusing for the consumer. That’s something that we need to look back at, and figure out how to better communicate while having some exciting reveal at each event for people to look forward to. We put the news out there, and I don’t think we fully predicted how the community was going to react at the time.
Woocash: In BBTAG, there’s an ETC tab in the character select screen. What’s the story behind that? Could this possibly suggest collaboration with more franchises?
Mori: To be perfectly honest with you, the ETC tab is simply where you pick a random character. When the interface was still in development, I told the UI designer that this is going to be mistaken, that it will give the wrong idea, but it ended up in the final version, and that’s where we are right now.
On a more serious note though, depending on how the game performs and how the users react to it, it is something we would look into, expanding the franchise library.
Kidooka: Again, back to the user and fan feedback, if we do see a strong demand or call for a certain collaboration, then that is something we’d like to explore. It is all about establishing those channels of communication between the fans and the developer. Mori-san added that of course, The Simpsons are on his wishlist to team up with [laughter], so we’ll see how it goes.
Woocash: Last year, there was a visit to Riot Games, the makers of League of Legends. Can you tell us about that?
Mike [the interpreter, who was actually at the visit]: We handle a lot of the ASW US interactions, so as far as the Riot Games visit, we set up a tour. A large part of what we wanted to do is to show ASW what we believe was the leading edge of the esports scene. So hey, these are possibilities, you’ve got a lot of strong characters, this is something we can start exploring to do in terms of the future of characters in the esports scene. That was the main goal. Of course, we met with some Riot people while we were there, but I think that’s about the extent of where we are right now, in terms of the Riot visit.
Woocash: So, esports research.
Mike: Research, yes.
Kidooka: To add on to that… we want to keep an open mind to different companies we can work with. I’m sure everyone’s talking about the most recent collaboration we did with Bandai Namco, in turn seeing how that turned out. I think the important thing here is to always create that interest in fighting games and show people that it is a very fun thing to watch and interface with. We’re keeping an open mind and if there is an opportunity for something to be had and exploring that.
Woocash: Is there any thought to do a circuit tour or a pro ASW tournament in the United States? Japan has ASW Fighting Game Awards, and Arc Revo.
Kidooka: Again, all I can say is “stay tuned,” but I do feel that it is a necessity to help nurture and build a community, make a story out of it. Even at the Fighting Game Awards, we had one US player [Grover], join a tournament to sort of expand the tour and the tournament outside of Japan — which again, is a big theme of what we’re trying to do with ASW America. We’ll see how that develops and takes shape.
This is only the first part of the conversation; check out SRK interviews Arc System Works, Part 2: Ishiwatari, Mori, and Kidooka discuss Guilty Gear and company strategy for the rest! Big thanks to Arc System Works for arranging and translating the interview.