Ars talks fighting games with Guilty Gear creator Daisuke Ishiwatari

A little over 20 years ago, when Daisuke Ishiwatari created , popular fighting games like or tended to have a similar premise: gather the strongest warriors in the world and pit them against each other in a test of skill. Daisuke wanted a fighting game that was less grounded in the real world and reflected the wilder possibilities of manga and anime.

( was less grounded in a literal sense, too: characters could practically fly about the screen with mid-air moves, later leading to people referring to this style of anime-based fighters as “air dashers”.) His vision was a war-torn future, full of magic, man-made bio weapons that turned on their creators (the eponymous Gears), and a diverse cast of heavy-metal-inspired characters players could choose from.

games are both very difficult to master and also very rewarding for those who put in the hours of study. If fighting games are music, is jazz, free form and technical, allowing players to improvise and develop their own styles and personalities. It’s beautiful in motion but difficult for outsiders to follow, and the hardcore reputation has led to many feeling intimidated about learning or following the games.

In summer 2019, a new game was announced, and Daisuke began hinting that this time around the game would be simpler and more accessible. He wanted more players to pick up the game, more people to be able to follow along with tournaments and play. That perhaps comes as welcome news for those curious about the game but put off by the effort required to learn. The long-time player base, however, expressed consternation. Was the game they know and love going to be dumbed down? Was the freedom of expression they adore going to be removed?

Last weekend’s ArcRevo World Tour in Irvine, California, was the final stop of a world tour for and other Arc System Works games. There, the public got a first hands-on with a beta the new game, titled . I played a few sets but not enough to give detailed impressions (look for that in a later article when I get more time with it). I did get to sit down with Daisuke and talk about where he sees the series going, how to balance making the game accessible for new players while still keeping the hardcore happy, and what he thought about the state of fighting-game netcode.

You can watch the announcement trailer below, featuring the first six characters revealed for the game, and get a sense for how the game looks in motion (in a word, gorgeous) before reading Daisuke’s thoughts.

Guilty Gear

So, for me—and this is gonna be kind of fighting games in general, and I think is definitely part of that—in the PlayStation One era it was really kind of an extension of action games. And in fact internally we would call games like fighting games, what we know of them as now, more of like a battle tool. It’s like a tool, a programming tool, specifically for the battle portion of something. But nowadays, I really feel fighting games have turned into a tool to connect people and to make friends. So like here, the reason I am able to come to the US right now, we have people from around the world gathered here trying to make friends and building a community. So I think it’s a tool to connect people, especially with the Internet and networks evolving the way they have. So that’s kind of what I think keeps it fresh for me.

Guilty Gear

I wouldn’t necessarily say what I’m doing is related to the arcade’s performance. Really what it was for me was when I went to a lot of overseas events because of rising popularity. I saw a lot of fans who were, of course, not Japanese. And then these fans would then come to Japanese events and meet other people. And then the way that they were making friends to me was really kind of the purpose and the big motivator of what I felt this was a tool to connect people, not necessarily what was happening with the arcade.

Guilty Gear

So especially for the existing characters when we consider the balance, like with Sol or Ky, I think people have a way they imagine they’re supposed to be played, a way that they feel that they’re designed to be played. And when we make a completely new like this one, I think we need to both shift and kind of reset that mindset. So it kind of opens up the possibility of, well, maybe Sol could be played like this, or maybe he’s more of a character that would do those type of things. With a new game, it’s a reexamination of all the existing characters and then adding other ways to play the game in addition. So that’s how we maintain over-all balance.

Street Fighter III

So incidentally, is one of my favorite fighting games. And I wouldn’t necessarily say we’re going to that extent. Kind of the approach for this is, let’s say you take Ryu, the protagonist of the story, something we imagine a lot of the players are going to pick. And he was kind of really based around his shoryuken [Ryu’s dragon-punch uppercut]. So the idea is, well, what if we take that away from his tool kit? And I’m sure most of the conversation would be “No, it’s impossible, etc.” But at least posing those questions and seeing what they might lead to is kind of the process we’re going through.

Guilty Gear

That might frankly go a little bit beyond my understanding of human psychology [laughs]. What we are are creating is a very honed and a very fine-tuned game, stuff for the true mania of the world. I think the people who are able to follow that development and evolution are the ones who are naturally attracted to it.

“The high-level concept is to make it look easy, make it easier to spectate. But by no means does that mean that we’re shaving away level of depth.”

I think in a lot of interviews and when we speak with the public, the words “simple,” or “simplified,” or “accessibility” have been tossed around a lot. That’s not necessarily the intent of the development team. I think that’s just, in the limited language and vocabulary that exists, the only way that we were able to describe what’s actually going on. That’s certainly not the dev team’s intent or my intent. I think it’s very important to kind of understand the difference, which we feel like we really do, in terms of what makes our games different from other company’s games. So, the high-level concept is to make it look easy, make it easier to spectate. But by no means does that mean that we’re shaving away level of depth. That’s not our solution to make it easier to watch. That’s a big topic of discussion for the development team.

Guilty Gear

Because we’re dealing with a video game, I believe that it’s impossible to convince someone or pitch someone strictly verbally to bring them onto the side of playing . I don’t think there’s any amount of explanation or pitches that’s going to work. My suggestion would be, as they walk past, they see the game play. And they’ll want to play it. I think that the old style of Arc System Works games and how we made them would fail in that department. Especially because it’s overly complex, the HUD is overwhelming, you can’t tell what is happening on the screen. A large part of our current development philosophy is simplifying it for the spectator. Making it look really fun, and that’s the thing I think that’s going to attract players.

Guilty Gear,GranBlue Fantasy VersusDragon Ball Fighterz

I think there are a lot of people who just by looking at a game, with it being a fighting game, will say nah, I don’t do fighting games. You really can’t explain it to someone and expect them to want to play something. It’s kind of related to the previous question as well. My job is, I feel, is to show people that it’s accessible. It’s like, “Oh, well, I think I could do what that guy just did on the screen.” So while they’re spectating, give them the perception that “Oh, this is more possible than I thought it was.”

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