Interview with Yasuyuki Oda, KOF XIV producer.

Famitsu magazine.



When did you join the company?

Yasuyuki Oda.
  • I originally joined SNK in 1993 and was placed in R&D Division 1 which mainly did the "Fatal Fury" and "Art of Fighting" series. I left SNK when the company went in its fiasco near the end of the 20th century. Then in 2014, I came back together with other ex-SNK staffs to work on KOFXIV. So in other words, KOFXIV is being developed by a team consisting of core ex-SNK staffs that've reunited as well as new excellent dev members.


So basically you were entrusted with the creation of "KOF XIV". How exactly did this happen betweem you and SNK Playmore?

  • It happened in 2013. The CEO back at the time suddenly flipped his switch or something and said "We're gonna take back our Number 1 spot in [fighting] games again!" (laughs). So that was the start of everything and everyone came around, and so we ended up with a team of old and new staff. The project went in full throttle in spring of 2014.


So that one word from the CEO got everyone fired up.

  • Right. Of course I told him "it'll cost this and this, and the development time will take as long as this", but he still said "We're still gonna do it!", so I went "OK then, let's go!".


So was it you that reassembled the former SNK devs?

  • Actually it wasn't me. There's a staff who's been in the company since the old SNK era and he's kept in touch with everyone all this time. He's the one who called them up.

That's a lot of drama, reuniting staff that've worked from the past.

Yeah, but because the skills and the environment for developing have changed so much during the years, we've called back the core members from SNK R&D Division 1 that are still active in the front line. Even up until now the KOF series has been in 2D, but this time we needed developers that had 3D skills.


Members of the core staff including yourself have been keeping up with the times after leaving SNK, leveling up your skillsets.

  • Correct. The members gathered (for XIV) have been around the industry this whole time, and they've got over a decade of development experience in consumer games and fighting games.


That's quite an amazing team. This time, the graphic have changed from 2D to 3D. Why 3D?

  • After leaving SNK, all the games I made were in 3D. Moreso, going from 2D to 3D is pretty natural when you consider the evolution in hardware, and we decided to take that path when thinking about things that are ahead.


There weren't any internal debate on whether things should go 2D or 3D?

  • It was already decided that we'd be developing for the high-end enviornment so it was never a debate. However, even though we've gathered good staff, we don't have the technology/knowledge base as SNKPlaymore yet [for doing 3D], and that's something we'll need to do building up from this project.

It was a bit surprising since KOF has always had a reputation of going 2D.

Back in our days, the Neo Geo had restrictiona and we only had the option of going by pixel art. But even back then, there were high-quality 3D games like "Virtua Fighter", and it was certainly something I wanted to try if we had a good PCB. 2D pixel art is still something that remains as a culture, and I know there's a lot of people that like them. I like them too. But on the other hand as a developer, there's always the unconfortable feeling that there's no tomorrow if you can't keep up with the times, the progress, and new technology. So it's a hard decision.


So those are the reasons behind going 3D.

  • Just to add on to that, this is personal opinion, but remember scanlines on CRT screens? Back in the old days, we'd say [to our artists] "add 0.5 of a pixel", and have them draw in the pixels by taking scanlines into account. But with the modern Full HD monitor, the pixels comes out too clearly and too perfectly that you can't have that same taste. I don't think that modern hardare and monitors go well with pixel art.

KOF XIII came out in 2010, so it's already been five years. As a new game, what's the concept behind KOFXIV's project?

First, we're focusing on the sharp character design that's always been a trademark in KOF. We've been around SNK since the old days when KOF was still called by its project name "Survivor", and we certainly remember the impact that KOF94 made in its debut. It was back when the fighting game craze happened from Street Fighter II and Neogeo titles like Fatal Fury and Art of Fighting were smash hits. Back in those days, pixel art with realistic more artstyle were mainstream. And then came along KOF, featuring characters with much a sharper, aesthetic look. It had an impact. Right now, KOF13 is pretty popular so everyone has the image of KOF = anime-ish, but back then, that was the image we had for the series.


Back then, KOF's graphics were different from other fighting games.

  • And another thing is character volume. Back when KOF94 came out, it was a time when having 16 characters was considered to be big. And KOF94 had 24 characters. I still remember being amazed, thinking to myself "man they sure were able to throw in a ton of characters", considering the hardware spec and development enviornment. I think that sort of astounding volume is what makes "KOF", so we plan to have 50 characters in the game. We're hoping that throwing in that many will be enough to surprise everyone (laughs).

KOF XIV screenshots.


The all-star feeling that KOF94 had was quite something. Nowadays, fighting games are getting attention as an e-sport. Is that something that's being kept under consideration for KOFXIV?

  • E-sports has widespread and there's a lot more people that are knowledgeable about fighting games compared to the old days. So we're putting in a lot of attention in KOFXIV's controls and balance to satisfy those kinds of people.


Are you keeping KOF98 and KOF2002 in mind when doing that? Those two games are well praised by hardcore players.

  • Yes, and of course KOF13 as well. Although let's be honest, when you play KOF98 now, you realize that its controls aren't really that great (laughs). We know that we need to keep things [for KOFXIV] at a good enough quality so that people can play it worry-free as a modern game. We're also keeping into account that it's for the PS4 this time, so it needs to be playable on a pad.


As a console title, are there anything in particular that's being kept into account?

KOF XIII main menu.
  • One thing that's certainly different from the arcade is the sound. In the arcades, it's noisy and you can't hear things too well. But at home, you can hear the acted voices that aren't even shouted out. Because of that, the character's actings and lines have to be chosen more carefully. Also, there needs to be more focus on the single player experience.


By that, do you mean better single player modes?

  • Right. Of course we'll be throwing in a lot of effort into the fighting game side for both online and offline mode. But I don't think people will really consider us to be SNK unless we have a good story mode. We also think that, the more that e-sports gets attention, the more important it also is to make a single player mode that compliments it.


Are there that many people who play the single player modes?

  • While we haven't actually taken statistics, it's certainly true that a lot of people play SNKPlaymore titles, thinking, "I want to play KOF but I don't want to seriously go head-to-head" or "I'm not really good at doing special moves but I still want to play". And we need to treasure such fans. 


Some fighting games are finally starting to get a substantial story mode, but the KOF series has always sort of had focus on storyline and characters since its early releases. That's probably why there's so many fans of the characters.

  • And of course we're focusing on the quality of online play too.


As a fighting game, online play is really important. Are there going to be any elements to compliment it?

  • Live streaming has become a part of gaming, so we want to throw in some mechanisms that'll compliment that. We can't say anything solid since we're still working on the game, but one of those additions will be the "Party Battle". You'll fight as a 3-member team where each player uses one character; up to 6 players can participate. We're still figuring out other fun elements that we can add in, like things that players can do while they're waiting for their turn.

That sounds like fun.

  • We might change it, but we're thinking of allowing same characters to be picked, so you can have a match of Kyo-Kyo-Kyo vs Kyo-Kyo-Kyo for example. It'll be truely chaotic (laughs)

For example, what do you have in plan that players can do while they're waiting for their turn?

  • It'd be fun if they can type in comments like Nico Nico Douga. Eh, not saying we'll do it! (laughs)


It'd be fun if there's a bullet hell of comments during the matches.

  • Texts have a more visual effect than voice chat, and it certainly gives a better appeal for live streams. 


Changing the topic, you said there's going to be 50 characters. Were there any criterias in the character's selections?

  • I can't talk in details, but we've had a draft for a roster that was nearly all old characters and another one that was nearly all new characters, and we took them and also put into consideration our market which has become pretty global. Either way, we wanted give the roster some regional colors. Teams by countries, teams by concepts like the female fighters team... until the game gets released, feel free to fantasize about the roster.

KOF XIV roster?


The popular characters like Kyo and Iori have already been announced. It seems likely by that flow that other staple characters in the KOF series may also be appearing...?

  • In selecting the characters, we've considered everything including characters that we knew that "everyone would be pretty happy if this character was in the game".


Do you mean that all 50 characters have been decided already?

  • Yes. They're solid.


What's the ratio like between the old and new characters?

  • I can't disclose that yet, but with as many as 50 characters, the popular characters might be in the game. That's all that I can say now (laughs)


Let's change the question. Are you adding new elements to the new characters to distinguish them from the older characters?

  • Well yeah. When we're to make a new character, we emphasize "adding in completely new element(s)" and "taking on a challenge". Back with the NeoGeo, we had to release a KOF every year so there simply wasn't enough development time and there was no choice but to take a conservative approach. But this time we have plenty of time, so the new characters will show more of our challenge. 


Can you tell us what sort of essence/elements you've incorporated into some of your new characters?

  • There's various things but for example, [some of them] feature a design that would've infuriated the designers if we told them to do it in pixel art (laughs)


You mean it's a design that was possible because you're going 3D? Like having a really wacky costume?

  • You can take it that way. It's certainly possible to do so in 2D, but it would be a considerable pain (laughs)


In some ways, going 3D has broadened the possibilities in designs. Have the designs [for old characters] been re-tuned when shifting from 2D to 3D?

  • Yes. If you design them with a 2D mind, they often cause issues when you make them into 3D. So there's been a lot of cases where where we've tweaked things numerous times while moving forward.


Personally, Leona looks completely natural in 3D and it actually sort of makes her look even more sexy. So have there been some characters that were easier than others to make into 3D?

  • Really muscular characters and characters that are deformed(simplified) tend to look good when they're in 3D. They don't cause problems, their shadows look good, and they look pretty three-dimensional. But KOF has a lot of slim characters, and they're pretty hard to shift to 3D (laughs)


In that sense, Chang must've been pretty easy to render.

  • Actually he was a headache. He was easy to render because his body shape is pretty unique, but he has accessories like his jingling chains.


Let's talk about the voices. You said that you're putting attention into voices and dialogues. Have you already decided on the voice actors?

  • The recordings are already done. Some characters have a different VA and some are still the same. Please stay tuned to more details in the future.


The Neogeo has a long history so there's a lot of fans that have memories about the voices. As far as the characters with a new VA goes, did you search for VAs that have similar voices?

  • Basically yes. We had to go through voice samples for 50 characters, and record the voices for 50 characters.. it was quite something (laughs)


We can certainly imagine. Did you basically use the same VAs for anyone that was available, and switched to new VAs for those who couldn't continue providing their voices?

  • It really depended on various reasons including the situation of the VAs. We certainly didn't switch VAs because of a single policy.


So you're not creating characters based on the availablity of their voice actors.

  • Yes. The game comes first, and then we pick VAs that are close to their images.


When it comes to fighting games, the motivation of players will certainly change depending on whether there's a huge tournament or not. Talking about a bit into the future, are there any plans to run a nationwide tournament once after the game's launch?

  • We don't have any solid plans, but once the game gets released I plan to ask my company that "we want to run a tournament like this!" (laughs)


Aside from official tournaments, do you also keep EVO and other tournaments in mind?

  • We'd love to see it get played at various tournaments including domestic tournaments and Evo. Realistically speaking, we need to start thinking about how to expand [to tournament events] worldwide.


Are there any elements/modes that have been implemented with e-sports in mind?

  • There isn't any game system with that sort of thing in mind, but we want to keep a good game balance. However, it's not fun if every character played the same, so if one part [of the character] is strong enough to be 10 points we'd tone down some other points for that character, and make sure its charasteristic stands out.


In fighting games, it's not too fun if all the characters played the same.

  • KOF is a game where you use 3 characters, so we hope that players would cover for the weakness of a character by picking another character to cover for that. That sort of thing is one of the strongpoints of a team battle game, but being able to use 3 characters becomes mandatory. So we need to tweak the characters so they're playable on the fly to a certain level. That's one of the differences from balancing characters in a 1-on-1 game.


With 50 characters, it seems like you'll be working on the balance until the very end. Will they all be playable on the game's launch?

  • Don't worry about that. You'll be able to play all 50 characters on launch. It's not going to be a game where you can only use a few characters at launch and the roster will gradually increase. Make sure you write that clearly (laughs). After all, it's not a KOF if doesn't have many characters.


It's pretty common for a normal fighting game to gradually get new characters together with version updates, but having 50 characters right on bat is certainly going to have a huge impact.

  • Having 50 characters at launch is something we'll be ussing as KOFXIV's selling point.


Will you have additional characters after launch?

  • We'll have to see about that once the game and its 50 characters are out. We don't have any plans yet. As we keep releasing more titles, it would be cool to release some characters like those from "Sasuke vs Commander" (laughs)


Will KOFXIV continue on as a series?

  • Whether to release verion updates for XIV or to release XV isn't decided yet, but we've been releasing each KOF story in trilogies, so we're looking at XIV's saga from a similar viewpoint.


This time there won't be an arcade release, meaning there won't be a loketest. Are there plans for any sort of hands-on event prior to launch?

  • In terms of game balancing, we'd like to gain feedback from players prior to launch by having an event or something. That's something we'll need to plan. 


Talk about balance, what do you think makes KOF's battle unique?

  • I think it's the mind-reading that takes place during the speed-paced battle. All fighting games aren't too different from each other when it comes to their speed of attack motions, but the moving speed of characters, the timings for cancels, hitstops, hit detections, reset timings, amongst other basic points in game systems makes a huge difference. So we're certainly keeping a lot of attention on that. Although when it comes to talking about "what makes a KOF", there's so many iterations of KOFs (laughs). But it won't be the type of fighting game that emphasizes "footsies". There'll be running and jumping; we want to bring the thrilling battle that makes a "KOF". 


Any last words for tne fans?

  • We're going crazy and fighting with a tremendous amount of data every day, but we're confident that it'll be a fun game so please look forward to more details. 

Yasuyuki Oda.

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