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Guilty Gear developer celebrates 25 years of 'somehow' staying in business

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Minoru Kidooka is a pretty modest man. You have to be to run a company like Arc System Works , an outfit known best for hardcore arcade 2D fighter games like Guilty Gear and BlazBlue that are obviously more labors of love than serious money-makers. Producing games like that takes dedication; doing so for 25 years takes unfathomable amounts of it.

"You know, there hasn't been much," Kidooka said when Famitsu asked him if his company has had any major adversity since he founded it in 1988. "When we built this company 25 years ago, it was an age where you could make pretty much any game and it'd sell all right. Even a software house with just a few people based in a room in your apartment could get by well enough, as long as they could handle the work the bigger makers gave them. So in the beginning, I didn't want to manage a company so much as I was an engineer and this was the way that I got my work."

Arc spent its first few years as a subcontractor handling support work on dozens of different Japanese console games, most of which it was never even credited on. Eventually, Kidooka got sick of it and decided he had to get into the publishing business. Why? "Because it was really best if we could do what we wanted to do," he replied. "It's a bit lucky, because when I first started thinking 'You know, I'm getting tired of just being a developer,' it was 1993 and the first PlayStation had just been announced. Sony was fielding publishers, and I showed up at their presentation and wound up being a devkit right there. It really went that smoothly. So a lot of the reason why I'm here today is because SCE built a structure that let small outfits compete from a financial and environmental perspective."

Kidooka hasn't been afraid to explore the cutting-edge of the industry, or, at least, as best he can with a company which consists of only 87 people. Arc released over 30 games in the past 12 months, but only one of them, a 3DS adventure that sold around 10,000 copies in Japan, was a retail title. The rest were all downloadables, most on the 3DS, and even Kidooka admitted that that wasn't so great for the bottom line.

"As the industry overall has moved toward a business centered around DLC and free-to-play," he said, "we've been ahead of the curve on downloadable software, and we're in the arcades, too. Thanks to that, we managed to somehow get through this past year. Still, the fact that we could at least keep ourselves going without relying on retail software meant that, while it wasn't a great way to kick off our 25th anniversary, we proved that we can survive through changes in business models and revenue models."

The next year or so is going to be a lot busier for Arc, which (according to Kidooka) will be releasing new retail games at the rate of one every two months. Chief among them is the PlayStation 3 version of BlazBlue: Chronophantasma, which is debuting in Japan this October alongside a new BlazBlue anime series. "It's going to be all about BlazBlue from the autumn forward," Kidooka noted, "and hopefully we can keep that energy going among gamers for the new Guilty Gear coming next year. [Guilty Gear director Daisuke] Ishiwatari is really working hard to push beyond the skills they've cultivated over the past 15 years and express the game in a new way. It's something that looks like 2D graphics; 3D visuals that won't disappoint fans, and it's something I hope you look forward to."

(Why has Arc focused on 2D for so long, by the way? Do they have some kind of secret to it that other companies don't? "No, it's just something that we have to push through," Kidooka replied. "There's no great secret that we have; we just push ourselves to the brink to improve on it. We don't have any animators, so we make 3D models, develop motions, and use those to draw and color the 2D visuals. Part of it's because we want to focus on 2D fighters, and with 3D it's hard to depict really crazy moves, like characters' arms stretching out, and it's hard to have really anime-like graphics. To have those sort of cut-ins and so on, we have to stick with 2D to some extent. I suppose it's something larger publishers don't want to touch because you can't have an explosive hit with a 2D fighter. That's probably why we're just about the only ones left after 15 years of making Guilty Gear.")

Outside of these new titles, Kidooka freely admitted that he doesn't have any grand scheme for the next generation of consoles, cloud computing, or anything else, really, apart from making good games and staying in business. "People like Ishiwatari and [BlazBlue director Toshimichi] Mori have been doing what they want to do for the past 25 years," he said, "and Arc System Works has followed behind that work. So for me, all I have to do is set it up so they can continue to have a sort of free environment where they can do what they want. Also, everyone talks about the cloud and virtual online spaces these days, but I don't want to forget about the idea of people playing in the same place. We'll take advantage of online technology, but I want to continue making games that take advantage of the kind of communication that's always been there."