Alcohol and fighting games don’t mix. I learned that the hard way during publisher Tecmo Koei’s Dead or Alive 5 launch event last week, held at the posh Infusion lounge in San Francisco.
Somewhere between the pulsing trip-hop music and my second bottle of beer, I decided to jump into a friendly match against a fellow game journalist. Without hesitation, I chose DOA newcomer Rig simply because I thought he wore a cool-looking hoodie. Armed with nothing but vague muscle memories of playing DOA4, I stepped into the ring and … promptly got my ass kicked.
It still didn’t stop me from entering an editors’ tournament later that night, however. I didn’t fare much better with the Bruce Lee-like Jann Lee, but the one round I did manage to win was enough for me. And that’s when DOA5 just kind of clicked: All I wanted to do after the match was lock myself at home and practice until my thumbs were sore.
It’s the type of reaction Dead or Alive 5 director Yohei Shimbori loves to see. When he wasn’t bouncing back and forth through the crowd to eagerly watch the outcome of the DOA5 IGN Pro League finals, he spent his time in a small room, separated from the rest of the club by huge glass doors. It was there, away from the clinking of glasses and the din of passionate victories and failures, that I stole a few moments of Shimbori’s time for a quick interview (as translated by developer Team Ninja’s overseas producer, Peter Garza) about bringing back a proper DOA fighting game to consoles.
GamesBeat: How did Team Ninja decide it was the right time to bring Dead or Alive back after a seven-year absence?
Yohei Shimbori: It’s not that we wanted to wait seven years to bring it back. The team disbanded after DOA4, and that was a huge hit. Within those years, I, as one of the people who actually knew Dead or Alive and part of Dead or Alive 4 … we were able to slowly get a team together that knew fighting games and was strong and could make a strong fighting game and make a strong statement with DOA5.
GamesBeat: What’s the difference between making a fighting game for 2005 versus making one for 2012? Is there anything new that you have to consider?
Shimbori: I don’t think a whole lot has changed actually, from 2005 to 2012, from what fans want from a fighting game. They’re still looking for a variety of characters, well-balanced gameplay, and blockbuster stages. They’re really looking for that balanced, solid, fighting game experience, and that really hasn’t changed a whole lot.
One thing that has changed though is the introduction of the Internet. You get a lot of videos of people putting put up their own fighting [performance] on the Internet. You see the rise of tournaments, and seeing those videos go up on the Internet, [as well as the rise of] fighting games as an eSport, as a sport in and of itself. That has definitely changed in the intervening years.
GamesBeat: How do you balance the gameplay enough to please both old and new fans as well as professional players?
Shimbori: Pro players are looking for a solid fighting game experience. They’re looking for that balance, and they’re looking for that no-nonsense “If I do a move, I know what’s gonna happen” core fight. Non-core players, new users, and people who aren’t used to fighting games are looking … they’re not going to be as detailed-oriented as the pro players are, but they’re still looking for that “I want to have a little fun beating someone else up.” As long as they can get that, then what they’re looking for is to have more fun.
And we think about what kind of experience we can give to them, where they’re gonna get excited, or what they’re gonna have fun with. Trying to build those kinds of experiences for the new players is what we think about. And that’s sort of why we took the direction we did with the stages. So we have these huge blockbuster stages that are like fighting in the climax of a Hollywood movie. Stuff that you just look at, and it looks like fun and you’ll be like “Wow, ok that looks cool.” That kind of spectacle is something that appeals to new users and non-core users.
And it’s really balancing sort of that fighting game system with that spectacle and with that entertainment that really sort of sets DOA5 apart.
GamesBeat: Do you have any tips for players not familiar with Dead or Alive and who are jumping into DOA5 for the first time?
Shimbori: So for people new to DOA, we just want them to get in there and have some fun. Just start playing and having fun with what you’re doing. And once you want to step up from what you’re doing, jump online. We have an online training mode within the game that will help you fight without the worries of rank and grade and all that kind of stuff. So you can get in there and really find people who are good teachers to really help you level up your game.
GamesBeat: Do you recommend any particular characters for beginners?
Shimbori: Yeah absolutely. Jan Lee is a good character for beginners. You can use him to really figure out and get used to the core mechanics of the game systems, and you can [deal] damage from a lot of different areas, so he’s definitely a good character to start out with.
GamesBeat: Going forward, is Team Ninja hoping to put out future sequels of Dead or Alive on a more regular schedule and avoid another multi-year stretch?
Shimbori: Yeah, we definitely want to make more in the future. But I’m sure there are other things that we need to make before the next one comes out. I don’t think it’s going to be an immediate release of anything right now. But again, if there’s a ton of feedback from fans that want something else, then I’m sure we can step up the process a little more.