Bandai Namco’s Tekken franchise has been a staple in the arcades since 1994 and on home consoles since 1995 (debuting on PlayStation). But over the 3D fighting game’s illustrious history, each of the development teams created their own engine for each game.
Michael Murray, game designer on Tekken 7 at Bandai Namco, said the gap between submitting spec docs to programmers to seeing something up and running took quite some time. With Tekken 7, which debuted at arcades in Japan back in 2015, Bandai Namco elected to use Epic Games’ Unreal Engine 4.
“The shift to PC-based development and UE4 allows us to devote more time to designing gameplay elements and balancing the game,” said Murray. “It also makes it easier to bring the game to multiple platforms.”
Murray said since the graphics engine of the last game in the franchise, Tekken Tag Tournament 2, was based on Tekken 6, the development team had to scale the graphics down a bit to accommodate four characters on screen at once.
“We wanted Tekken 7 to stand out graphically,” Murray said. “This was the first time the team used Unreal Engine 4, so it took some getting used to, but everyone will notice the differences in graphical quality with Tekken 7 when it first hit arcades compared to the more recent update of Tekken 7 Fated Retribution on which the console version is based. Many stages also feature changes in weather or time between rounds. So far, the game’s visual look has been well received.”
Producing a visually stunning and engaging experience was essential to the project, which runs at 60 frames per second in 1080p, but when it comes to the all-important gameplay, leveraging the strengths of Unreal Engine allowed the developers to spend more time balancing and less time building.
“The biggest benefit of UE4 was being able to display the game on-screen relatively early on, so that we could spend more time on implementing and balancing new gameplay mechanics,” Murray said. “UE4’s physics helped with floor break and wall break implementation for added impact, and the graphic level overall improved greatly, which was one of our major goals at the start of the project.”
In addition to the improved visuals, Bandai Namco wanted to make Tekken 7 more entertaining to watch as a spectator. He admits that since Tekken is a 3D fighter, it traditionally hasn’t been as over-the-top as 2D fighters in which characters can throw fireballs, teleport and fly. Tekken was entertaining to watch if you knew its mechanics, but not necessarily to someone who was seeing it for the first time.
To counter, several new mechanics, like Rage Arts, deliver added depth to the gameplay, but also make it easier to notice when something critical is happening in the match. One addition in particular that has added to this is the super slow-motion effect that occurs when one of the fighters is low on health. The effect happens in real-time and the actions slows down, increasing the tension and drama at the end of the bout, drawing out the time it takes for viewers to see if there was a match-ending blow or not. Murray said this has proven to be extremely popular at tournaments this year.
The PC, Xbox One and PlayStation 4 version of Tekken 7 will actually be the third iteration of the game using UE4. Bandai Namco released the original game in Japanese arcades in 2015, and then offered an upgrade with Tekken 7 Fated Retribution in 2016.
“Tekken 7 in the arcade was mainly a chance to add quite a few new characters, implement Rage Arts and also tweak the game in the Unreal Engine 4,” Murray said. “Another main challenge was implementing network play between arcades, a first for a fighting game.”
Murray said Tekken 7 Fated Retribution allowed the team to add another level of polish to the environments, using the added experience with UE4 gained when developing Tekken 7. The game also gave us a chance to test the implementation of Street Fighter character Akuma in the arcades.
“Since he has fireballs, a dragon punch, hurricane kicks, a Super meter, EX moves, and Focus Attack, he is drastically different from all of the other Tekken characters, and he was definitely the most difficult to balance,” Murray said. “However, it is very satisfying to hear feedback from Street Fighter players on how intuitive he felt in our game. One of the biggest concerns a lot of players had when Tekken x Street Fighter was announced was how we would handle fireballs in our game, but no one really brings that up any more, which is a good indicator of how natural the inclusion of Akuma feels.”
The console version of Tekken 7 gameplay will be based on the arcade version, but there are a few new characters that will debut on this version. In addition, the Story mode in which the game transitions seamlessly from computer-generated movie to in-game cinematics to actual gameplay is going to be a key feature that is new to PC and consoles.
“Tekken Tag Tournament 2 wasn’t a numbered sequel like Tekken 7, so there was no progression of the storyline in that installment,” Murray said. “A large portion of our fans were eagerly waiting to see what happens next with the story, so we wanted this to be an important part of Tekken 7.”
UE4 makes its Tekken 7 console debut on June 2, 2017, but you can check out the story trailer above right now.