Tekken Arcade Title ScreenDecember of 2014 marks the 20-year anniversary of Tekken’s original arcade release. Tekken games have sold over 41 million copies (Wikipedia), marking it as the all-time best-selling fighting game franchise.

In 1993 I wrote an important report to Namco Ltd. in Japan. Namco needed to become a dominant player in the growing fighting game genre. And to be successful in N. America it would require elements that had not yet existed in Namco’s “beat em’ up” style games. This report served as the catalyst for the making of Tekken.

Joining Namco

My transition to Namco in 1993 was by way of Atari Games. There I was also a product manager, splitting time localizing Namco games (Namco then owned Atari) for the American market and working with original Atari products. Namco games had a movie-like production style that I always appreciated. When the opportunity presented itself, it was an offer I couldn’t refuse. Already at Namco were former Atarian’s, Frank Cosentino and Kevin Hayes.

Ridge Racer SD

Ridge Racer SD

Namco had just developed a new arcade hardware called System 22. The debut game was Ridge Racer, Namco’s answer to Sega’s revolutionary 3D driver Virtua Racing. Ridge Racer displayed beautifully rendered 3D polygons and Gouraud shading running at 60 fps. It was state-of-the-art and for its time, breathtaking.

In Japan, my point of contact was Kohei Teraoka from the Overseas Sales Department. Each day by fax and phone we communicated about the many games in development. I could not have wished for a better colleague.
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A Hole in the Product Mix

In America, Namco’s product lineup was becoming narrow and overly reliant on large driving games. Appealing to a wide range of players, they produced steady income and configurable cabinets (upright style to deluxe s/d) for different types of locations. But the market was becoming saturated, tastes were changing and I could sense a shift was coming. However, to their credit, Namco continued to push the limits of technology. Though at times not viewed as the operator’s best friend, they in large part advanced the industry to what it is today.

Fighting games began surpassing driving games as the core genre. Prior to Tekken, Namco’s “beat ’em up” games had little appeal in the US market. The anime-styled side-scroller button mashers Wonder Momo and Knuckle Heads, and the controversial Splatterhouse are relatively unknown games in America. Two games having a strong influence were Double Dragon by Technos (1987) and Final Fight by Capcom (1989).

Games that Shaped the Genre

I was involved in fighting games from the beginning. In 1994, Punch-Out!! (designed by Genyo Takeda) was very much a statement game. Its faux-3D style was years ahead of its time. Two of the most influential games in the genre was Karate Champ by Technos/Data East (1984) and Yie Ar Kung-Fu by Konami (1985). They originated the PvP (player vs. player) style of fighting game.

At Atari, I lobbied engineering to create a beat ‘em up type game. Despite research and evidence, morality outweighed a trending shift in the marketplace. And I can’t fault anyone for that, but it is what it is. I earned the nickname “Blood & Guts Momoda”. Eventually, attitudes changed and the team of Mark Pierce and Rob Rowe created both Pit-Fighter in 1990 and Guardians of the Hood in 1992. Of the later, I lobbied to equip each character with a small set of skill moves, but it was rejected. It would have become a hybrid button-masher and skilled fighting game. I remained confident a better game was waiting to be built.

In 1993, two important games hit their stride. Mortal Kombat II by Midway, and the iconic Street Fighter II by Capcom. Both sequels outperformed their predecessors. Not only was this unusual, but served notice of the growing popularity of the genre.

Mortal Kombat II Fatality

Mortal Kombat II “Fatality”

Street Fighter Screen

Street Fighter II “Hadoken”

 

 

 

 

 

 

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7 Responses to Tekken History: The Making of Tekken

  1. Stephanie says:

    How fabulous to be integral to this successful venture with your vision. I enjoyed this story. Great product manager!

  2. Geoff Glendenning says:

    Hi Jerry, great article!!! I loved Tekken at the arcade and launched it on PS1 when I was at Sony EMEA.

    Here’s the commercial we did back in 1996:)

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=apfJTKrHy10

    When Soul Edge, although I know it as Soul Blade, was released, I thought it was, and still is arguably the best fighting game. Not simply because it had the 3D freedom of the arena (Battle Arena Toshinden, which was an early PS1 release had this), but it was more that with practice you could actually block your opponents moves, not by accident, but because of the brilliant design and control.

    I believe that this genre is ready for a new lease of life!?

    Cheers. Geoff

    • Jerry Momoda says:

      Awesome commercial Geoff! That Yoshimitsu is one bad man! Nice technical work on Yoshimitsu’s sit spins.

      I’m partial to Tekken as #1, but you can understand why. Tekken definitely is ready for a “new lease on life” as you say. Been waiting for some true innovation in the category. Soul Calibur may have missed the boat by not capitalizing on “Game of Thrones”, but that was (and still could be) a window of opportunity.

  3. tekke_n_ostalgia says:

    Great read. In a bout of nostalgia I started to play Tekken 1 again and found it very enjoyable to play the characters with the moves that defined them then and now in many ways, and reading this and the recommended articles made me appreciate Tekken even more.

    Reading the text I noticed that you gave Marshall Law his name, do you maybe remember why that name in particular?

    • Jerry Momoda says:

      Thanks for reading! If memory serves me right, Marshall Law was originally named Forest. At the time, who knew there would be sequels? I suggested the name Marshall Law because it was a play on the term “martial law”. Quoting Wikipedia, “martial law is the imposition of direct military control of normal civilian functions of government, especially in response to a temporary emergency such as invasion or major disaster, or in an occupied territory”. I also thought of both U.S. Marshall (law enforcement agency), and a town marshall, the keeper of the peace in western movies. Familiar with the name Marshall used as both a first and last name, I thought it was perfect. And fortunately, Mr. Nakatani (producer) approved it.

      Mr. Ishii designed an absolute masterpiece. At the outset of joining Namco in 1993, I saw potential for a fighting game to compete with Mortal Kombat and Virtua Fighter. As I read the initial design document, and the four-button arms/feet concept, I thought it was brilliant. But if not for the System 11 3D hardware (less expensive version of System 12 and a precursor to PS1), I question if Tekken would have been as successful.

      Thank you for your appreciation of the game.

      • tekke_n_ostalgia says:

        Thank you for taking the time to respond!

        Law’s name always did remind me of Matrial Arts, and the word Law as “the one who rules”, or as “the one who is the best”, so “best martial art/artist”.

        Also, thank you for sharing this, yet another important gem in the lore.

        And their ability to also port it to PS1 hardware and fit all that onto a CD is amazing. So many stars had to be aligned and many people open minded for that to succeed, it boggles the mind.

        For me it was indeed the mix of unique characters that made me notice the game, and the controls that made me stick to the game.

        I remember recording VHS tapes of endings, and grabs as a compilation just to make the wait until next renting of PS1.

        To see Tekken grow into such a powerful title and to grow along side it as well is an honor.

        And I can’t even begin to imagine how awesome it feels to be there contributing, suggesting and deciding at the most crucial of the times for Tekken, well done sir! 🙂

        • Jerry Momoda says:

          Thanks for your comments and appreciation of Tekken. I’ll expand a bit more for you on the early development. Shortly after returning from Japan where I pitched the game concept, I received a key VHS tape. It contained a test, showing a rotating blocky human torso. Crude and not a game whatsoever, it affirmed that my presentation had an impact on management. Engineering commenced work on a project that would one day would become Tekken. Mind you, Namco wasn’t the first to the 3D game party. Sega had already released Virtua Racer and Virtua Fighter. Until Tekken, Namco’s 3D efforts were all in the high-end driving game genre. For a fighting game to sell in North America, it had to be sold in a standard upright cabinet. Better yet, it needed to be kit-able to reuse older game cabinets. Bottom line, price competitive so that it could be sold as a PCB with artwork. Namco delivered, and a battle for 3D gaming superiority would ensue.

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