A tale of souls and swords, personally told — at the biggest gaming event of the year.
Much of the excitement from fighting game fans at E3 2018 was focused towards the soon-to-be-released SoulCalibur VI. The title was available to play not only at the Bandai Namco booth in the South Hall of the LA Convention Center, but also within the Xbox Experience at the Microsoft Theater — and players, pros, and media members were lining up to fight on the Stage of History.
Shoryuken was invited by Bandai Namco to sit down and interview SoulCalibur VI producer Motohiro Okubo to discuss the title’s development, and how it hopes to be the most complete SoulCalibur experience to date.
Austyn “Lazybones2020” Roney: I attended Bandai Namco Entertainment’s Fighting Game Dojo panel previously at the Coliseum, and a lot of the discussion was about bringing Tekken and SoulCalibur to new audiences. How was SoulCalibur VI adapted with that in mind?
Motohiro Okubo: In the early planning stages of SoulCalibur VI we had a lot of discussions and debates internally in the team, and we wanted to really understand and focus on what made the SoulCalibur franchise so attractive to fans. We discovered the way you swing a sword, how satisfying that feels, the eight-way run mechanic, I feel these are the things that really make these games attractive.
And of course, I think a lot of the core existing fans can really understand that. And in the terms of developing a new audience, I think the game has been designed in such a way that it forgives button-mashing, to a degree.
And in addition, we have a new battle mechanic called the Reversal Edge. I think it’s safe to say that most of the time a beginning player would lose to a more experienced player in a landslide. The Reversal Edge gives newer players a chance to stand on the same stage and have mind games with a more-experienced player.
Lazybones2020: Speaking of the more-experienced player, were there any major changes to the game that are geared towards esports?
Okubo-san: In terms of the competitive scene, SoulCalibur — the entire intellectual property — was at the edge, and internally there wasn’t really a climate to where we were looking into sequels. When we set out to develop SoulCalibur VI, we didn’t want to make something for the sake of the esports community, we wanted to develop something that captured the essence of SoulCalibur.
That doesn’t mean to say that it can’t hold its own on the competitive scene. Very early in development, we worked with many high-level players to create this battle mechanic and ensure it was balanced and competitive.
Lazybones2020: You talked a lot about the eight-way run and the weapons defining SoulCalibur as a franchise, how do you balance these aspects to ensure they lead to an even playing field?
Okubo-san: A lot of that has to do with the heritage of the SoulCalibur franchise, there has been a lot of information that has been passed down over the years. In SoulCalibur V we got the battle mechanics to a very high level of polish.
What we were trying to do, going back to what I mentioned earlier about the essence of SoulCalibur — swinging weapons, freedom, tempo, quick response — merging that with the high level of battle polish from SoulCalibur V, that was the philosophy of SoulCalibur VI.
Lazybones2020: How has the development cycle and post-launch support for Tekken 7 influenced SoulCalibur VI‘s development?
Okubo-san: I actually had the pleasure of being a producer on the console version of Tekken 7 as well. Having seen both Tekken 7 and SoulCalibur, I can really see both sides, and know how I want to differentiate between them.
Even in terms of development, after Tekken 7 started to wind down, we were able to take a lot of our base members from the Tekken team and apply them towards developing SoulCalibur. What we learned in terms of Unreal Engine 4 while developing Tekken gave us a lot of knowledge when developing SoulCalibur. For instance, there was an input patch that we had for Tekken 7 that we already have built into SoulCalibur.
Lazybones2020: Considering the last entry in the SoulCalibur franchise — not SoulCalibur V, but SoulCalibur: Lost Swords — was built with free-to-play aspects, was there anything that was learned from that game model that made its way into SoulCalibur VI?
Okubo-san: With Lost Swords, we learned a lot about what the fans want from the SoulCalibur franchise, and one of the biggest things we saw was the character creator, how much people loved that and how much people loved sharing what they have created, this very personalized warrior, if you will. And although I can’t go into too much detail at this moment, in SoulCalibur VI we will have a character creator in some form.
Lazybones2020: I want to ask about Grøh and his design, and what role he fills in story and gameplay. As a side note, it was very interesting to see that after his eye patch breaks off during combat, he has a very regular eye underneath! With a few scars of course.
Okubo-san: In terms of Grøh I could go on and on forever about his design and how he came to be, but for SoulCalibur VI we are taking the timeline all the way back to SoulCalibur and SoulCalibur II, revisiting the story between the SoulCalibur and Soul Edge because we think it deserves to be retold. In doing so, we added new perspectives, new characters, and new episodes affecting what happens — and Grøh is going to be a part of that.
As far as the design as a character goes, in SoulCalibur VI, we watched a lot of movies and extracted the scenes we thought were really really cool; we had this long string of cool scenes from different movies — and of course there were a lot of my favorite movies in there as well — and it really informed the kind of movement, costume, and even his weapon, the double saber. A lot of that is derived from these various movie scenes.
Lazybones2020: Is there any film in particular that had the most significant influence?
Okubo-san: I don’t want to get into any sort of legal trouble due to copyright, but if you play Grøh enough I think you will be able to tell “Okay, this is probably from this movie, and I think he really likes this director.” [laughs]
Lazybones2020: Speaking of new characters, Geralt from The Witcher was a big surprise, but still a natural fit for the SoulCalibur universe; what brought him in and how did that discussion go with CD Projekt Red?
Okubo-san: Early on in SoulCalibur VI’s development we knew that the guest characters were something fans have come to expect from the SoulCalibur franchise and we wanted to deliver on that promise and surprise. Taking the timeline back to SoulCalibur and SoulCalibur II, we really valued the world setting and backdrop of the SoulCalibur universe, whatever character we were going to bring in as a guest needed to fit in very naturally.
We discussed with our foreign marketing teams and our internal development teams as to what character might fit this requirement, and Geralt was on the short list of candidates, and we have a really positive working relationship with CD Projekt; when we presented this idea to them for this collaboration they were very supportive, and I am thankful for that.
Lazybones2020: How has the feedback been at E3? Have you gotten any new feedback that you have not gotten before? E3, this stage, this presence, how has the reaction been?
Okubo-san: Here we are — it’s day three at E3 and I have had the chance to talk with many members of the media and players on the floor, and I am very thankful they are playing the game. With all the feedback they have, it seems people are reacting positively to SoulCalibur VI.
It was quite a challenge on the onset, the idea of merging the quick, responsive speed of SoulCalibur II and the battle polish of SoulCalibur V, the distance, the spacing, the mind games. The fact that the merge is met with a positive reaction and that people are understanding what we are going for instinctively, I am really happy about that.
There are members of the battle team working really late at night in Japan right now making the final adjustments before the release date. I almost feel bad for taking all of the praise I am getting — I wish there was some way I could transfer that to them, and let them see what I am experiencing right now.
Expect more announcements from Okubo-san and Bandai Namco as the race towards the release of SoulCalibur VI nears the finish line. SoulCalibur VI releases on Xbox One, PlayStation 4, and PC on October 19, 2018.