How the Tekken team has been working for a decade to knock out lag

"10 years ago, we started to gradually change the base game," Tekken series producer/director Katsuhiro Harada tells Gamasutra. ""I think many games/genres will need to be fundamentally reevaluated."
"Even light, which is the fastest thing we recognize around us, can only travel the globe 7 and a half times in a second. So, if a person in Tokyo is playing someone in Brazil, even light would take 1/15 of a second (4 frames) to reach its destination, and the same amount to return. Even light experiences lag."

- Tekken producer and voice actor Katsuhiro Harada, speaking to Gamasutra about the practical realities of playing fighting games between continents.

The Tekken series of fighting games has been going strong for over two decades, and in a recent chat with Gamasutra series producer/director Katsuhiro Harada opened up about what it's been like to be a part of it since the very start.

The whole interview is well worth a read, especially the bit about how the Tekken team deals with the ever-present thorn of laggy connections; according to Harada, they've been quietly tweaking the game's core design for at least a decade to accommodate more players playing each other across continents, instead of side-by-side at an arcade cabinet.

"Game engines have enabled beautiful graphics and highly detailed environments but these advancements require more processing resources. This is the current reality, and will continue to be so. That’s why 10 years ago, we started to gradually change the base game," he said, noting that in the '90s many fighting games had moves that executed over as little as 3-4 frames. Tekken, by comparison, had longer moves.

"Early on, Tekken had some 8 frame moves, but these were later discarded, and the fastest move is now 10 frames. For a game in which the moves are 5 frames, it is more greatly affected by the lag induced from network, graphic rendering, and monitors. So, rather than judging lag by a set number, you really have to consider the game system and move properties in relation to this set number of frames of lag to really get a sense of the game itself."

"However," he continued. "A lot of people don’t realize this and become obsessed with a fixed number in itself. This is why Tekken started to get rid of the 8 frame moves 10 years ago, along with making other adjustments to the game system so that the architecture is less impaired by lag, as it couldn’t be helped."

Harada went on to acknowledge that this problem isn't solely the domain of the fighting game maker. 

"I think many games/genres will need to be fundamentally reevaluated to match the current generation eventually," he said. "Tekken 7 was actually the first fighting game in the arcade industry to have network battles between different locations. It was quite successful, but the game system had to be adjusted to make this possible. Several game producers have knocked on our door to ask how we did it, but were not surprised to learn that we had to make changes to the base game system."

Of course, you can read the rest of what Harada had to say about fighting game design and the history of the Tekken franchise in our full interview.

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