Interview: Dead or Alive 6 director Yohei Shimbori

by Heidi Kemps,

2018 has seen a wave of new fighting game announcements, many of which are new installments in long-running, beloved series. One such game is Dead or Alive 6, the latest in the long-running 3D fighting game series from KOEI-Tecmo Games. The game's already raised some eyebrows, but not for the reasons you would expect: the fanservice has been toned down a bit to put an increased emphasis on realistic visuals and new-and-improved gameplay systems. Team Ninja's Yohei Shimbori is the mind in charge of DoA6's direction, and we had the chance to sit down and discuss some of the thinking behind the new game's changes.

Congratulations on the announcement of Dead or Alive 6! DoA5 had a pretty lengthy lifespan across multiple upgrades. What was the impetus for finally moving onto an entirely new game?

Shimbori: It's been six years since the initial release of DoA5. In that time, we launched a free-to-play version of the game that had a total of ten million downloads. With those sort of numbers, we really felt that the game's fanbase was expanding. The game engine within DoA5, however, was beginning to show its age. I decided that we needed a brand new game to expand the fanbase even more.

It seems like the F2P edition of DoA5 really helped the game get a wider reach. Do you have any plans for anything like that for DoA6?

Definitely! It's the biggest factor, I think. But if we would do a F2P version of DoA6… well, that's still something that's under consideration.

With that sort of success, I wonder why fighting games have been so slow to adapt a free-to-play model.

Yeah, I don't know either! I want to know why! *laughs* Maybe there are some company policies that prevent it for other games? Or maybe they don't even really need it. Community-wise, I still think DoA lags behind other fighting games a bit. It feels like the popularity of certain characters is greater than the game itself, so I think that had something to do with the F2P version's success.

What sort of changes are being introduced to the DoA6 engine?

Everything has changed! Graphics, animations, facial expressions, physics, online netcode…

Which changes do you feel are the most significant?

As a whole, the game itself hasn't changed too drastically. Going off what the longtime fans are familiar with, we've introduced a Break Gauge to execute new attacks. It's very conspicuous, so players can see when something big might happen – say, if a player has a full gauge – and it makes things more exciting.

Up until recently, you haven't seen a lot of things like gauges and super moves in 3D fighting games. I feel like games like Tekken have more subtle indicators that might be harder to notice, like when a character is in Rage. But now we're seeing them in DoA6 and Soul Calibur 6.

I think the pro players want to see as much information about their current situation as possible. For players like them, we want to give them as many details onscreen as we can. For beginners, however, especially if they're just randomly pressing buttons and seeing what happens – it's a very significant difference. I think that the break gauge and the newly-introduced “Special” button are going to do a lot for newcomers: when they see that the gauge is full, the button will do something cool to help them beat the opponent. There's a lot of stuff to learn: frames, combos… but learning about that gauge makes for a good jumping-off point. I think that it provides a good place to begin studying the game.

Can you tell us about the new character, Diego, and where he fits into DoA, design-wise?

I wanted to make this a character that would appeal to the Western audience, especially younger players. He's quite powerful, so he's a solid character for players who are just starting out.

There's been a lot of discussion about toning down DoA's fanservice elements for DoA6. How did you arrive at the decision?

I just wanted to make it a bit less… extreme, more natural, realistic.

Have you experienced any backlash?

There's a fair bit of negative feedback, but I also think there's some misunderstanding. Keep in mind, we haven't revealed everything about DoA6 yet. Don't be so down, fans!

I don't get the hate for Kasumi's new look, either. I think it's very sexy!

Yes! Isn't it? *laughs*

In DoA5, we had a fair few guest characters from different games. Are you open to having more guest characters appear in the game again?

No plans at this time. I want to craft the setting and story of DoA6 with the characters that were originally from the series.

Will we be seeing all the old DoA characters returning?

Hmmm…. *laughs* It's a bit of a secret! I can't really give a solid answer – some characters may or may not return. It's still up in the air. We're still finalizing the roster.

It's always a tough choice to cut a character from a previous game, because every character is somebody's favorite.

Yes, exactly. Sometimes I even have to consider cutting some of my favorites! It's not just about popularity, role in the story and character balance need to be considered as well.

What do you feel is the “essence” of the Dead or Alive series?

The most important thing is the beautiful female characters! Oh, and the stage gimmicks – the Danger Zones. And the Triangle system of strike-throw-hold. Those are the key elements of Dead or Alive!

Speaking of the Danger Zones, we've seen a few really fun-looking ones unveiled. How do you come up with new stages and hazards?

I have to admit that there's a bit of real-life experience involved in some of the ideas. I can safely say I've never been mauled by a tiger like in DoA5, however.

I would hope you weren't in an oil rig explosion, either!

Oh, of course not – but you've seen that sort of thing, right? I think, “Wow, that'd be cool to implement in Dead or Alive” when I see things that are funny or interesting. That's the fun part of being in development!

Then what's the not-fun part? *laughs*

The not fun part? Negotiating with my bosses! *laughs*

Do you have any final thoughts or comments for our readers?

I want everyone to look forward to the cool things we're going to reveal in the months leading up to launch. DoA6 is going to be a game for everyone from pro players to beginners, hardcore gamers and casual gamers, and of course anime fans! *laughs*

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