It’s time for the second part of our interview with Arc System Works! As we mentioned in the previous article, this year marks the 30th anniversary of the fighting-game-focused company. We had a great opportunity to talk to Daisuke Ishiwatari of Guilty Gear, Toshimichi Mori of BlazBlue, and Minoru Kidooka, the CEO of the company.
While the first part focused a lot more on the upcoming BlazBlue: Cross Tag Battle, this time, we turn more to Daisuke Ishiwatari, asking him what’s next for Guilty Gear. The future isn’t clear yet for the series, as we do not know what’s coming after Guilty Gear Xrd REV 2. We discuss the latest patch for the game, development philosophy, and how Ishiwatari feels about the series’ direction; the others chime in with final comments.
First, make sure to read up on the previous article:
SRK interviews Arc System Works, Part 1: Ishiwatari, Mori, and Kidooka talk about BlazBlue: Cross Tag Battle & relations with US fans
The following conversation was live-translated by an ASW interpreter, and has been edited for clarity and length.
Woocash: Switching to Guilty Gear, I know there’s a patch out now, but fans are still eagerly waiting for the next thing. What’s next for the series?
Daisuke Ishiwatari: As for Guilty Gear’s future… I think, for the franchise, one of themes of it is preserving the feeling you’d get while playing the previous versions. But what that does at the same time, is it creates a prerequisite for new consumers or fans who want to join the community, it creates a large wall. One large theme that I have right now is that previously, I wouldn’t mess with that sort of fundamental feeling or structure of Guilty Gear, but I’m experimenting a little bit with how we can explore a way to kind of level the playing field for new fans who might want to be part of the community.
I don’t have anything specific to tell you right now, but it is a current theme of mine, and investigating and exploring what we can do to make everyone happy. As developers of the Guilty Gear franchise for so long, I think it’s safe to say we understand fully what Guilty Gear is and what it represents and what we want fans to feel when they play it. But in transitioning to the next era of Guilty Gear even, what we strive to do is making especially a lot of older fans feel when they first hold the controller is: wow, is this really Guilty Gear? Am I playing GG right now? But upon diving deeper, they realize: okay, this is GG.
So I think we want to go for a little bit of that freshness, and that’s kind of the [goal] right now.
Woocash: A little bit of old and a little bit of new?
Ishiwatari: Yeah, I’m really trying to go back to the origin, derive GG’s fundamental core and rethink how it should be presented. Not just the core of GG, but the core essence of fighting games in general, and rethink GG from that perspective.
Woocash: You’ve said before that the budget for REV 2 was one new character and one old character. Is this sort of philosophy still active for the future, bringing a mix of old and brand new characters?
Ishiwatari: I don’t know if I would necessarily confine it to one old/one new character, but of course, with any project, there is the issue of scheduling and budget. If I were able to do anything I wanted to, I don’t know if I would ever finish the game. So, with that in mind, I try to always create the best combination that I think fans want to see and enjoy based on the constraints I’m given.
Woocash: I have to ask, specifically, because many fans are asking about this (even though he’s not my favorite character, my favorite is Anji, I hope he makes it in!), but people really want to know about Order Sol and A.B.A.
Ishiwatari: Of course, the prerequisites of any further development is for the game to perform well in the marketplace. So as much as I want to say, hey, we’re going to put every single character in the game, but I think we really need to assess where it stands. As creators, I also want to present something in its best, possible, completed state, which doesn’t necessarily always mean having all the characters as much as possible. In Japan, Bridget is the hot pick right now [laughs]!
Woocash: I know that Ishiwatari-san is not the balance expert, but I still want to ask about the newest patch and its aim. Some people have sort of mixed reactions to it, and these are very early impressions; such as Faust getting many new things, Johnny getting new things while he is already considered a strong character, perhaps Answer is not getting enough, etc.
Ishiwatari: I think with any patch or update in a game that’s so sensitive and dependent on balance, there are going to be reactions when things change. Some may be very polarized, and of course, as you’ve said, I’m not super hands-on with the design of the balance of the game. That being said, the team that I work with that adjusts the balance and looks at all these elements, always tells me, “Wait for three months from now and see what people are saying.”
Immediate reactions are always going to be very polarized, but the balance team is always thinking about the long-term longevity of the game and insisting that we’ll see what the users say after three months — that will be the true determiner of how this patch is to be received.
With GG, of course there are a lot of subtleties and minuscule changes that can affect the game. I think that first impressions of a patch don’t always see the entire picture, so to speak. I think once the patch is out there for three months, people will start to understand the intent behind the balance changes, and what they were designed to do.
Woocash: Some companies, like Blizzard, when releasing a patch, do “developer commentaries,” short explanations along patch notes. Is there any thought to do something similar?
Ishiwatari: I think that a large part of fighting game community culture that we’ve grown up in and are developing is the aspect of discovery. As players play the game, they’ll uncover new elements. I think that there’s joy in that process of discovery. Maybe if the current climate is changing and what Blizzard is doing is the right answer, or maybe it’s about communicating to fans and giving them hints or something close to the answer while not taking away that joy of discovery; maybe there is something to be learned from how they are releasing patches and adding commentary to them.
Woocash: How do you gather feedback from players? I’m sure that’s easier in Japan, from arcades, but for example, what is a good way for US players to reach ASW to tell them something? What are your strategies? How can players convey how they feel about game balance and updates?
Ishiwatari: Currently, at least in the Japanese ecosystem, we use social media as a large source for collecting feedback; our development team is also very close to the top players in Japan, so we get a lot of feedback as to balance gameplay mechanics there. In terms of overseas feedback, I think that’s a large part of what ASW-America is designed and intended to do. I would actually like to ask the rest of my team at ASW about how that’s going to look if you go to the home page, talk to us on social [media], or on ArcLive [their Twitch stream]. There’s a lot of sources that can start building that channel of communication.
Mori: I feel the same way.
Kidooka: Again, going back to our conversation at the beginning of your interview, which is the entire purpose of ASW-America, I know a lot of these responses may seem a little fuzzy to you right now, but that’s because I think, to a large part, they are — we don’t know exactly how it’s going to behave, it’s going to be a creature of its own. Where the channels of communication are going to be built and how we’re going to interface with the fans is still to be seen. A large part of why we’re here and doing this interview is an extension of that intent. We’ll find out, so reach out to us on any channel and we’ll see where it takes us.
Woocash: We’re starting to see companies like Capcom bring out their old games in Anniversary Editions, and this is ASW’s 30th year. Are there any plans for something along those lines? For instance, there’s still a very active GG Accent Core community, but there’s no PlayStation 4 version. Fans would love to see that game specifically done in GGPO netcode.
Kidooka: As you mention, it is the company’s 30th anniversary, not so much highlighting or singling out one game, but it is important to have some kind of celebration of what ASW is. That might be Accent Core, but not necessarily. But the exact date of the anniversary is May 12th, so we would like to have something to present of some news by that point in terms of anniversary editions, etc.
Ishiwatari: Please stay tuned!
Woocash: A fan was asking about GG light novels. Are there any plans on expanding merchandise offers in countries outside of Japan?
Ishiwatari: In Japan, it’s easier to forecast the demand for these types of goods. The cost to develop a similar type of merchandise in the US still remains to be seen, and there’s a lot of research that needs to be done; we’re not sure if it will sell 10 copies or a million. So, it’s one of those things that we need to, again, feel out with the community and the audience and begin to hone in on what people want and [see whether] there is an opportunity or a way to bring some of those contents over to the US.
Woocash: One fan was curious — I guess they want some music recommendations! — they’re asking what are some recent music that you guys have been listening to?
Ishiwatari: Of course, I’ve been listening to a rock band, they’re not necessarily metal: The Struts. I don’t think they have a second album yet, but that being said, they’re a very melodic, old-fashioned rock ‘n’ roll.
Mori: Miss Android and Egoist. They’re a group that originally showed in the Guilty Crown anime. They’re starting to pop up more in real life too, and it’s a very interesting transition I guess.
Woocash: Open floor to you, what would you like to say to Shoryuken readers and ASW fans?
Ishiwatari: I rarely get the opportunity to come to the US, and most of the time that I do, I come for the purpose of media interviews or some kind of event. You know, it’s a very common thing to be asked, any comments for fans, and I always say the same thing, but I’m going to spin out of that mold for this. With the invention of BBTAG, it’s becoming more and more normal and acceptable to have a bunch of different franchises collaborate in one universe. You see that with all the superhero movies as well.
As an extension of this, instead of having one franchise and asking other people or making a game based on characters from one franchise, I think it would be really cool if there was some fighting game platform where franchise or IP holders would come to us and say, “Hey, please let our character join your fighting game tournament,” and just have this platform where characters would come to our door to participate. I think that would be a really cool format to create a fighting game.
And of course, my long-term goal with that is to have Family Guy participate some point.
Mori: With the formation of ASW America and celebrating BBTAG, going back to what Mr. Kidooka said about closing the gap between ASW and the fans and the community as the first step of that — not just with social media and everything that we’re doing — is ArcLive. We launched ArcLive broadcasts to interact with fans. So building upon these foundations and extending the channels in which fans can communicate with us as a team is really important to us. When I say building the community, I don’t want to make a community that’s very inward-facing and has a high barrier to entry. The idea is to share this with people and that is something I want to make sure is conveyed correctly and truly. It’s our intent to have people understand where we are as developers, and open the doors and have people join us and celebrate fighting games as opposed to having just a very tight-knit, hardcore community.
Kidooka: Marking the 30th anniversary of ASW, really looking back, we started out as a very, very small company, and I think it’s safe to say the growth was very slow. Here we are 30 years later, finally forming a US branch. I know I’ve said “stay tuned” many times throughout this interview. Now what I want to say with that is “Don’t stay tuned for the next one or two years,” but look at it as a span of long-term growth. Of course, BlazBlue and Guilty Gear are the flagship games of ASW, but there are many other games we are developing and many other areas we want to explore. In doing so, we also want fans to learn what ASW is and hear the story behind all the products. As a business, of course, it’s easy to say we work to make profits, and that is a part of what we’re doing, but more so than that, it is also to see why we create certain games, what we’re trying to do with this game. With the first ArcLive, we had Daisuke and Mori featured and interviewed, but I want to set up other developers and have the US community hear their story and perspective on what they think gaming is and why we’re developing certain games.
And that’s all, folks. Once again, a big thanks to Arc System Works for the interview and translation. Remember to refer to the Part 1 of our ASW interview, in case you missed it. And if you want to hear even more from Ishiwatari and Mori, read up on our Evo 2017 interview.