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Q&A: The State Of Soulcalibur's Wii Adventure

Namco Bandai's key Soulcalibur fighting game series is "expanding its audience" onto Nintendo's Wii with Soulcalibur Legends, and Gamasutra talks to producer Jin Okubo about the state of the franchise and whether third-parties are still at a
Namco Bandai's key Soulcalibur fighting game series is stretching its wings onto Nintendo's Wii with Soulcalibur Legends, the first ever title in the game's multi-release history not to be based around one-on-one fighting. But why would the firm want to change a relatively successful game formula? The answer, it turns out, is accessibility, and at the recent Tokyo Game Show, Gamasutra had a chance to talk to Soulcalibur Legends producer at Namco Bandai, Jin Okubo. Topics discussed include the state of the franchise, team-sharing between the separate Soulcalibur titles, and just why the action-adventure spinoff is coming to Nintendo's console. Let's talk about the state of Soulcalibur as a game series. Firstly, Soulcalibur IV is being developed concurrently on PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360. Are you cooperating with that team, or is your team off doing your own thing? Ever since Soulcalibur III, we've had pretty much what we call a "core team" -- a Soulcalibur core team -- and some of those key members are working simultaneously on both titles. Going back and forth. And while we have some dev team members that are working on both titles, doing double-time, we do have specific development members who are devoted to just one title. Some people working on one, and some on both. And, obviously, since some of the team members are working on both games, it helps to facilitate flow of progression between the two teams. So they're sharing technology and ideas, and trying to make sure that the Soulcalibur franchise, whether it be fighting or action-adventure, has some unity. Obviously, the Wii has lower technical specifications than the PS3 and 360, so how do you keep it consistent between the two projects? Well, obviously, regardless of the title or the platform they're working on, the team tries to get the most that they can out of the system. As far as graphics and things of that nature go, they're shooting for a certain quality, but what they consider more important than graphical power and processing power is the action, and how it conveys on the hardware that it's on. And the controls; how responsive, how tight, how intuitive they are. They feel that that is more of a defining characteristic to the game, that means more than whatever graphical prowess the system has. So, instead of focusing on what a piece of hardware can't do, they focus more on what it can do; what they can get out of it to make the experience as complete and interesting for the player as possible. For instance, on the Wii, which is the platform that Soulcalibur Legends is being developed on, they're trying to take advantage of the specifics of the hardware. For example, with the Wii remote, obviously the control is built around it. There are small touches, such as the fact that when you swipe with the Wii remote, the sound of a swishing sword plays out of the controller's speaker. Small touches like that. Can you talk about how you arrived at the decision to make the game for the Wii, as opposed to the platform that the new sequel of the main series is appearing on? When we were first thinking of which hardware we wanted to develop the game on, we weren't limiting ourselves to the Wii at first. We knew that we wanted to make an action game, so we basically sat down and our main objective was to expand the Soulcalibur audience, and open the game up to people who had possibly never played it before -- or maybe had heard of it, but were a little bit put-off by the complicated controls. So, we knew that the Wii had very intuitive controls, and was accessible to a wide range of players, including a lot of people who wouldn't normally play video games would play games on the Wii. Because it was much easier to pick up the remote than it would be to learn controls for a standard control pad. So, the team felt strongly that they wanted any player to be able to pick up this game and start playing -- whether they were a hardcore player or a casual gamer. The Wii remote, and the way it's set up are just so much more accessible. Also, with the Wii remote, and the actual act of swinging it around. Since Soulcalibur is based on weapon-based action and fighting, the Wii remote and its connection with swinging a sword seemed quite natural. We felt that that was a good way of having the players really immerse themselves in the game, and feel like they're connected to the characters because their movements are reflected on-screen with them. So, those are the main reasons. You talked about, just now, broadening the audience of the series away from the hardcore gamer. What would be the result of doing that, in your eyes? Would this turn into a series, or do you think that some of those gamers would maybe check out the fighting games? The team doesn't have any particular agenda, as far as wanting these new gamers to play subsequent titles that may come after Legends, or want them specifically to play Legends and then try the fighting games. Obviously, we feel that Legends is great for people who aren't familiar with the series, it's also great for people who are. It's an extremely accessible game. If we have gamers who play a Soulcalibur title for the first time -- and then, because the story is so well developed and the characters are so interesting -- if they enjoy that, then we would be thrilled if they pick up some of the other Soulcalibur titles and become more immersed in the world. The Wii is obviously extremely successful, but as with the DS, it's been hard for games that aren't made by Nintendo to succeed. You might see something like Wii Play having immense success, but some of the more hardcore games not having as much success. What do you think of the Wii market for your game? Obviously, it's known throughout the industry, and it's known by all gamers, that Nintendo has a high standard of quality for their hardware and their software. We recognize that, and respect that. And we know that a lot of players out there, if they see a Nintendo title, they can purchase it and they're guaranteed a good gaming experience. But that's not to say that other publishers that aren't just as good, just as exciting, and we feel that gamers aren't just going to look at a company name and decide based on that. We think that their decision is going to be based on the strengths of the game. How exciting it is, how well made it is, the quality and method that's put into it. We feel very strongly that we put a lot of work into our games, and that we can guarantee that if players take a chance and try out our games, they'll find them as well to be the level of quality that they find in the Nintendo titles. We feel that the strengths are based on the game itself, and we think that the gamers will be picking up on that.

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