If you have pre-ordered the Virtua Fighter OST Vinyl and don’t want the interview spoilt that can be found in the liner notes of the included booklet, please stop reading now!
WHETHER YOU ARE AWARE OF IT OR NOT, you probably have some sentimental affiliation with one of Yu Suzuki’s games. Mr. Suzuki is one of the most influential game designers of all time–not only in Japan, but worldwide. He began his career with SEGA in the early 1980s, designing 2D games that looked and played like early 3D. He created games like After Burner and Hang-On, which contributed never-before-seen technology to the arcade scene and, later, the home console market.
In 1993, under the SEGA AM2 team (which Suzuki-san founded and led), the world was introduced to Virtua Fighter, the world’s most realistic fighting game to date-and, most importantly, the first fighting game presented entirely in 3D.
We had the opportunity to interview Mr. Suzuki about Virtua Fighter’s development, and were kindly provided with a variety of high-definition archival assets from the SEGA team. Please enjoy this unique look into the early 1990s: a time of explosive technological advancement, and the dawn of 3D.
What was your role in bringing Virtua Fighter to life?
I was involved as a planner, programmer, and director.
What led to the formation of the SEGA AM2 team?
The working arrangement at SEGA at the time was not particularly suited for development, so we created a sub-department called Studio 128, where we worked on game developments under a different management system/ structure.
This sub-department had later become The Eighth Research and Development Team (第8研究開発部), which eventually became AM2 (Amusement R&D2).
By the way, the reason why we used number 2, 8, or 128 in the team names was because I liked binary digits.
Virtua Fighter was initially released in 1993. What was the initial reaction to the game and its graphics?
“Those dolls look like cardboard boxes and they are actually moving!” The game was completely different from other conventional games, so it was received in many different ways.
The graphics were composed of triangle and quadrangle surfaces, but the actions of characters were very realistic. No one had ever seen anything like that before.
What was the state of 3D gaming in 1993?
As we witnessed the releases of Virtua Racing and then Virtua Fighter 1, we had reached a pivotal point where many of us wondered whether the 3D approach in game design was just a transient phase or if it was going to be an actual trend.
We began utilizing the Texture Mapping technology with Virtua Fighter 2. That’s when we had become confident that the 3D game design was going to be a trend.
What motivated you to try and develop a 3D fighting game?
It was always my dream to express soft objects in 3D, ever since I was a student. The amount of calculation (computing) and difficulty in expression increase incrementally from buildings, cars, human body, to nudibranch.
Since we were able to express car movements in Virtua Racing, the next game to create had to be one where players could control human bodies.
I chose martial arts as the game theme because it requires a number of people to play other sports like soccer or rugby.
Do you remember how the game was received? In Japan? Worldwide?
It was epoch-making.
Virtua Fighter is considered the first polygon-based fighting game. What were some of the challenges of making Virtua Fighter 3D?
The amount of computing the game required was incomparably larger than the 2D games, so we spent a lot of time on speeding up the program.
There wasn’t such a role as Motion Designer before Virtua Fighter. We had a hard time figuring out which section/department should provide resources/talents who would take this role.
Since we only had the 3D CG board which only allowed flat shading, the only option we had then was to create everything with triangle or quadrangle polygons, except for the scrolling backgrounds.
Because 3D fighting games didn’t exist prior to Virtua Fighter, how did you wrap your head around the concept of a 3D world with 3D mechanics?
Earlier in my journey of 3D-game development, | was already determined to tackle human body expression after I achieved the car-movement expression. I tested it (human body expression) with the pit crew in Virtua Racing, and was planning to move on to the human body expression next.
In the 1980s, you were designing 2D games that simulated 3D. In what ways did real 3D technology broaden your design capabilities?
In the 80s, the process we took was to internally conduct 3D calculation, and then output with the pre-selected sprite in the last step.
Once we installed the 3D motherboard, we were able to express the last step with 3D flat shading. Although this shift had temporarily disabled us to pursue picturesque expressions, it enhanced accuracy of spatial positioning and perspective-based expressions, which essentially improved the game’s expression to a new level.
In what ways do you think Virtua Fighter laid the ground-work for future games? For fighting games?
If we think of 2D as the first generation of fighting games, I believe that Virtua Fighter was a work that celebrated the beginning of the second generation fighting games.
There are no special powers in Virtua Fighter. Many players refer to the game as “grounded in reality. Why did you decide to base the game in reality instead of adding supernatural elements?
It’s because I was confident that we would be able to effectively generate powerful expressions without having to rely on superpowers or tools (weapons). I knew it was possible to do that, if we leveraged accuracy in relative positioning, perspectives, as well as liberal camerawork.
This kind of approach was unheard of at the time. I had a feeling that this approach would differentiate Virtua Fighter and have it stand out from other games.
The characters in Virtua Fighter are iconic. Three decades later, all of the original characters are still in the franchise. How did the team develop these characters, and how did you decide to give them all a story and background?
The background stories made it easier to emphasize each character’s individuality. We also wanted to develop character IPs, so we set up the game in a way where spinout stories could be created.
How did you foster a creative environment at SEGA that was conducive to the creation of so many iconic soundtracks, including Virtua Fighter?
When I first started working at SEGA, the sound team was quite small. So, I helped the team to expand. I wanted them to be able to deliver the music they created to the actual audience. I helped to create an environment where they have their own recording and mixing studio where they could focus on creating high-quality music.
I once had a dream to become a rock guitarist and I was part of this college band. I always wanted to do something with music. I’ve seen so many people who gave up on music because they weren’t able to make a living out of it. So, I tried to build a sound team where I could help musicians and composers do what they love.
What kind of approach did you take in directing the soundtrack production?
I always had a strong desire to include full, high-quality soundtracks in the games I created. Virtua Fighter was one of the outcomes.
Virtua Fighter had many different characters like Sarah, Jacky, and Kage. I remember requesting the sound team to create a unique track for each of these characters, based on their stories and characteristics. For the character who used the Sui-ken fighting method, I wanted the music to have a Chinese atmosphere, so I asked the team to use Kokyu (Chinese Fiddle) and Chinese scales in the composition.
Jacky and Sarah were from England, so we had the idea of creating tracks that sounded like British Rock. I made detailed requests for tracks that backed up each character, like, “I want the tempo to be this fast” or, “The track should be in the 8th note feel.”
Who is your favorite character in Virtua Fighter?
I am fond of all characters, but if I had to choose one, it would be Akira with Bajíquán (Hakkyoku-ken) fighting style. I traveled to China to meet an old master because I wanted to convey the truth of Hakkyoku-ken and its spirit/philosophy through this character.
What’s one thing you would like people to know about Virtua Fighter that they may not know already?
The amount of calculation (computing) needed in order to have characters fight each other in 3D setting was exponentially large. This made me wonder whether it’s Virtua Fighter or a rocket’s course correction at atmosphere entry that required more optimization.
END OF INTERVIEW.
Many thanks to Miles Prower (Stuart) of Shenmusings for providing this interview with us from his own purchased copy of the Virtua Fighter OST, whilst we wait for ours to arrive!
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