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'We Focused on Making the Best Fighting Game'

November 22, 2001|SCOTT STEINBERG | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

As creator of Tecmo's "Dead or Alive" series of fighting games, Japanese designer Tomonobu Itagaki thinks he knows what fans want--realism, emotion and lots of depth. "Dead or Alive 3" is one of the headliner titles for Microsoft's Xbox game console. Itagaki, who also serves as executive officer and general manager of Tecmo's creative division, discussed building head-to-head brawlers.

Question: Why do you think semi-realistic fighting games go over with fans so much better than "Mortal Kombat"-type fantasy?

Answer: Interesting observation. While we all use video games as an escape from reality, there must be a part in us that longs for something that we can relate to.

Q: Any reason why the "DOA" series has been so acclaimed?

A: Success is simply an outcome of the development team's hard work. If anything can be said about the "DOA" series' success so far, it's that we didn't focus on being successful. Instead, we focused on making the best fighting game.

Q: "Tekken 4," "Virtua Fighter4" and "Dead or Alive 3." Three top contenders, but only one will emerge victorious.

A: Without a doubt, "DOA 3" will be victorious as a game that has the best game play, best graphics and best-looking characters. I hope I can also win the sales battle.

I've created this game to touch the heart of all levels of gamers. Even people who have never played fighting games before will be having a blast in a few minutes. Expert gamers will quickly realize the depth of this game, and they'll be playing hours on end, only to scratch the surface.

Q: Huge mainstream acceptance has eluded the "Dead or Alive" series. Will this be the year things change?

A: I certainly hope so. It's true that, since the "Ninja Gaiden" and "Tecmo Super Bowl" days, Tecmo has not had a mega-hit title. This year with "DOA 3," everything is looking up in terms of being in the right place at the right time.

It's always great to have mutual respect between a third-party publisher and a platform provider like Microsoft. In today's competitive game market, it's almost impossible to create a mega-hit title without a group effort.

Q: What was the most impressive display of real-life fighting you ever saw?

A: Because of what I do for a living, I've observed thousands of fights, both live and recorded. I can't pick one specific fight, but whenever I see fighters' emotions projected through their eyes, whether it's confidence or fear, I get excited because I know they're not acting. It's the real thing.

Q: Do martial arts films capture the spirit of combat as well as "DOA 3"?

A: I'm a big fan of old Hong Kong kung fu movies. In the movies the spirit of combat is a portrayal of the vision of directors. You either get it or you don't. With video games, the gamer plays the role of both fighter and director to alter the story's ending. This is what makes the fighting game experience so fulfilling.

Q: You must have a few fighting game favorites?

A: I really don't at this point. After playing "DOA 3," other fighting games feel outdated.

But when "Virtua Fighter 4" comes out on console, I'd buy it with my own money. I personally know and respect a lot of guys who are working on that project. Besides, I learned a lot from their previous work on the "Virtua Fighter" series.

Q: How much time, effort and manpower does it take to put a game like this together?

A: First of all, our day is not 9a.m. to 5 p.m. On average, my team members all work 20 hours a day, in many cases seven days a week during the crunch time, which can last as long as six months. Altogether, I have about 150 guys working day and night.

Q: Is "DOA 3" the finest Xbox product you've seen? Or has something else impressed you?

A: I honestly think "DOA 3" is the finest fighting game across all platforms. I see many Xbox first-party titles that are pretty impressive. In fact, I'll be buying "Halo" as soon as I can get my hands on one.

Q: What have you hoped to accomplish with this project?

A: "DOA 3" should position Tecmo as a developer-publisher that best utilizes the capability of Xbox. Personally, "DOA 3" will be a milestone in my game development career, but I'll continue to strive to create ultimate games for the gamers.

Q: Considering you make violent games, should people be scared to meet you in a dark alley?

A: My favorite pastime is to go home and play Nintendo games with my little daughter. Does this scare you?

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Scott Steinberg is a freelance writer specializing in video games. He can be reached at steinbergs@hot mail.com.

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