Interview with Guilty Gear Series General Director Daisuke Ishiwatari

At ArcREVO America 2019, GearNuke had a chance to sit down with Guilty Gear series General Director Daisuke Ishiwatari. We discuss New Guilty Gear, why the controls have changed, and what fans can expect from the story mode.

Guilty Gear XRD Sign’s initial launch trailer has over 1.6 million views to date on YouTube. New Guilty Gear has had 1.2 million views and it’s been less than 6 months. What it’s like to experience that level of enthusiasm for the new title?

Absolutely, it was definitely surprising to see that enthusiasm, but what was more surprising than just the number of plays on the first launch trailer was the second trailer is actually over a million views. The rate at which people are engaging with this is really astonishing and all we are doing is really just staying inside our space and working really really hard to bring these to you guys. It’s definitely surprising.

Visually New Guilty Gear looks stunning, and I’ve heard lots of early conversations that it might be the best looking fighting game we’ve ever seen. I know Sakamura-san is the Art Director on this title as well as XRD. What type of conversations did you have about the look of the game because it looks different, yet still Guilty Gear?

First, I want to start by saying that we work really closely of course and right now how we are arranged in the office is that he sits directly in front of me so it’s not so much meetings or let’s go book a conference room, as much as lets have a you know “Hey, how is that thing going?” So it’s a really very type of, casual interaction that we can have with each other. With XRD we were very careful to make 3D look as 2D as possible. So A lot of our reference material and things we would be comparing it against would be just animation, 2d animation, anime that type of thing. Whereas with the New Guilty Gear, we are very conscious to use movies as a reference. We want to respect the 3D and make sure it does have that 3D-ness to it. So we’ve been looking at a lot of movies as opposed to anime.

So as far as Xrd,  at GDC, a presentation was done talking about how it took approximately 2-3 months per character to create them and how that time lessened as the development went on. Is it the same with New Guilty Gear, is it taking about that much development time per character?

So I think that was when Junya did a presentation at GDC. So when he says about 2-3 months, he specifically was talking about just the modeling part of it because it takes around, give or take, 6 months to finish a character completely. So even the modeling part of it can vary depending on the complexity of the character. All in you’re looking at around 6 months. So one big change with the new guilty gear is that we want to freely move the camera around in the space and then if you notice a lot of the angles is very dynamic, the camera is constantly moving. So we had to recreate all the models for that. So with the Guilty XRD models, actually the way we designed them is they are kind of thin if you change the camera angle, they are designed to look good from a certain angle, but not all angles. So when the camera is moving the way it does like in the New Guilty Gear we had to re-think how the models were created.

Team Red worked on XRD and Team Red is now working on New Guilty Gear. Is it the same individuals from that Team working on it or is it a new team?

So with the exception of Sakamura-kun, there is a quite a shift in the teams as well because as you know we develop Granblue Fantasy: Versus as well as Dragon Ball FighterZ so with those, a lot of the people who have the know-how from the XRD team moved into those teams to kind of spread their knowledge and then give those games its look. So Team RED actually has a lot of new members with the exception of Sakamura.

So when you take a look at Dragon Ball Fighter Z, Guilty Gear and BlazBlue Cross Tag Battle, and then you take a look EVO, Arc System Works has had more titles represented than any other publisher over the past few years but it wasn’t always that way, it was dominated by another publisher. How does it feel knowing that many of your games are in some ways defining fighting games as we know them today?

I actually never thought of it that way, that I’m defining this generation of fighting games but what I do kind of feel and notice is that as esports continues to grow it’s not, I’m a fan of this company or a fan of that franchise or this brand we need to kind of cooperate both the community and the companies developing these games because the users are very fragmented right now, the fans are very fragmented. You’re a Street Fighter player, not a fighting game community member. I mean you could be both, but it’s not like a very collective feel right now. It feels very fragmented. So I think we need to make an effort to kind of help infuse that and bring the communities together really.

So talking Esports for a moment, within Esports you have these two different models, the grassroots, community model that’s more bottom-up, and then the Esports corporate conglomerate top-down model if you will. Which model would you like to see more of?

So, of course, as a company our goal is to grow and build the community as strong as it can be, but I completely respect that with the types of games that we create it kind of came from grassroots…a lot of the fighting game communities all over, not just in Japan but everywhere in the world, they come from a very grassroots background. So we want to respect that and we want to help them grow. I think our job is to bring it more towards the sort of, I don’t know if conglomerate is the right word, but bigger companies involved sponsored type events we need to help create those platforms and those situations where the players that came from these grassroots events can gather. 

BlazBlue Cross Tag Battle, Dragon Ball FighterZ, Granblue Fantasy: Versus all have very different approaches to a more simplified control scheme. How did you decide upon the more simplified control scheme of New Guilty Gear? Did you look at those games, did it develop organically through conversation? How did you arrive at where you are today?

So I think this is true for a lot of Arc System Works fighting games, but unless you are somewhat familiar with fighting games and more specifically Arc System Works fighting games its kind of hard to follow what’s going on on the screen. So you might look at a screen, look at a match for a few minutes and wonder what’s going on, what’s the situation. And it’s a very fast-paced type of game. So our biggest goal with New Guilty Gear wasn’t to make the controls easier by any means it was to make it easy to watch, that was a very high-level concept. So the viewer, they could just sit down in the middle of a match and know this guy is on offense, this guy is on defense, this guy is kind of feeling the pressure right now, he’s under pressure, you could tell that by watching the screen. That was a big part of the game. So making the controls easy might have been a derivative by-product of that, but that wasn’t necessarily what we set out to do. And I think the most important thing was to preserve the identity of Guilt Gear which is really letting the players and their imaginations come up with new combos, new set-ups and giving them the tools to be able to do that.

Even with things such as the Gatling system changing or the way you use Roman Cancels changing, players will still have the same depth they have always had with Guilty Gear, just in a different way?

Absolutely. I think depth is a very key factor and sort of flavor of Arc System Works fighting games. We sort of simplify the viewer side of things and as a result, the mechanics and the controls that the players are going to experience that depth is something that we absolutely want to preserve and we are actually in the middle of looking into how we can make this game really really deep.

When I see the wall break transitions, I noticed the player who was taking damage gets pushed far back to the other side of the screen when they land. Was that designed as sort of reset, so that the player is able to get out of a difficult situation? What was the thought process on this?

So, definitely the wall break mechanic, I think traditionally a lot of Arc System Works fighting games once someone’s back is on the wall it’s a very disadvantageous situation. There are certain characters in certain games where someone can combo you all the way to KO from a wall setup and that’s just not very graceful, it’s not very pretty in terms of what the players feel and what the viewers are seeing so that’s one point and the other is of course if you are on the offense and did the wall setup and were able to carry your opponent all the way it feels a little unfair that there is just a simple reset by the wall breaking so we are still, of course, wanting to respect the person who was on offense to have some kind of advantage after the wall break.

When watching the stream, with the change to some of the mechanics, it appeared that managing the RISC gauge is something that will be very important for players to be cognizant of during a match. For a new player coming into the game, is that something they would need to be focused on?

The RISC gauge is certainly an important aspect of the new mechanics but we intentionally designed it in a kind of very unobtrusive way because we don’t want people to be looking at the gauge and playing the game. It’s of course designed to be fun, with or without the RISC gauge. So maybe a certain level of player would be minding that but it was intentionally made a little hard to see, a little less obtrusive. A lot of the characters have a lot of firepower in this game. And part of this design is to give players who might not be as good at fighting games a fighting chance in different circumstances so we don’t really want people to be constantly focused on the RISC gauge but it is an important part.

A lot of the visual cues you see on screen, for example, the timer when you Roman Cancel,  are designed for new players and possibly esports as well to make it easier to see what’s going on?

I wouldn’t say we were necessarily conscious of it being played in esports situations but it’s more a first-time player. The first time they see this game, and it’s still in development, but we intentionally made the interface very simple because when there is an overwhelming amount of items on the heads up display, gauges,  it looks very complicated and looks like there is so much going on that the player might not be interested at first glance. So it’s supposed to be very welcoming at first glance.

Story modes have become a big part of fighting games in recent years. Guilty Gear has lore going back two decades. So what’s the plan for the story, will it be a new story since the game is new or will draw from that previous lore?

So while the game itself has been refreshed alot, just the look and a lot of other elements of the gameplay, the story is not yet over. So I want to give some conclusion to Sol’s arc and his storyline and his life so it will be a continuation of where he left off after REV2.

So I wanted to talk a little about games as a service. The newer model you see with some games like Street Fighter V or Tekken 7 is a base game followed by multi-year support via Season Passes. Historically, Arc System Works has done XRD Sign, REV and REV2. Are you thinking about a games as a service type of model?

We are very aware of that business model and I can only answer that question by saying that we are really good  I think at making games but in terms of selling the games we haven’t really figured that out just yet. We’re still looking into a lot of different options.

Having been associated with fighting games, what is something that makes you say “Wow, that’s cool” or “I really like that idea?”

So it’s going to be outside of gameplay. I have to give Tekken a lot of credit and respect for how they were able to get the community so involved and how the service-based model is working for them. I think that’s really amazing and that makes me go wow, that’s really cool.  If you were to strictly talk about gameplay though it’s Street Fighter 3rd for me. And I think I haven’t experienced and emotion that, really kind of exceeds that yet when I first saw that game.

I was sitting in here today and I had a chance to see JTB come in and play new Guilty Gear. I saw them laughing, playing and genuinely having a lot of fun. Was there any thought as you were designing the game to, for example, is this change we’re going to make fun?

The simplification of fighting games I think isn’t necessarily when people are watching people play to engage with them to make sure they are having fun. That doesn’t mean to say complex games aren’t fun. I think there are definitely complex game mechanics that if you get into it can be really engaging and fun. But I think where it stops being fun is where you don’t have people around you that are the same level as you. So one thing we are really conscious of right now is how do we fill that gap, bridge that to make sure there is still an element of fun even though the skill level might be kind of different.

One of the things we see a lot recently in fighting games is guest characters. Is that something that could work with Guilty Gear generally speaking, or is it so different that even if it was from within Arc System Works, like BlazBlue, a guest character just might not fit in with Guilty Gear.

So this is something that I decided a long time ago and I think I’ve mentioned in some interviews, I can’t remember when or where, I do not have any plans to put in guest characters until Guilty Gear’s main storyline has been concluded. That doesn’t mean to say I don’t want to, and in fact, I really do want to, so if the story is concluded in this version then it’s something we will certainly consider…it’s something I would like to do myself.

Danial Arshad Khan

Founder of GearNuke.
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