It’s cold at the recording studio at Bandai Namco’s offices in Irvine, California. Tekken 8 producer Michael Murray and I are mic’d up, waiting for the go-ahead from the production team. We’re talking about the weather in the different places we’ve lived, the two American fighting game majors we’re representing (I’m wearing an EVO shirt; Michael is wearing a Combo Breaker hoodie), and Tekken. Lots and lots and lots of Tekken. We spent most of the prior day playing and talking about Tekken 8, but it’s always a little different doing it in front of a camera, and we wanted to be prepared.
Michael Murray is uniquely qualified to talk Tekken; he joined Namco in 2001 because he loved the series. He started out in localization, which wasn’t really a thing at Namco at the time, and he’s been at the company ever since, working on Tekken the entire time. He started out on Tekken 4, but he also worked on several other games, including Ridge Racer, MotoGP, SoulCalibur II, and Ace Combat 4, among others. After spending several years doing localization, he started going to EVO and other fighting game events, where you might have seen him translate for long-time Tekken executive producer Katsuhiro Harada.
Michael has worn a lot of hats: he started working on Tekken in a design capacity during Tekken 6, and transitioned to it full-time by Tekken Tag Tournament 2, where he had his own mode to design. Michael did some marketing work after the merger with Bandai (while, I might add, still working on the games themselves), and started working as a producer in Tekken 7, a role he still occupies for Tekken 8. He also worked on Tekken: Bloodline, an anime adaptation of Tekken 3 that you might have seen on Netflix. That’s 22 years of Tekken, for anyone keeping track. While we were talking, he joked that he spends so much time with Harada that he often knows how he’ll answer questions before he actually answers them. Like I said, I couldn’t have picked anyone better to talk Tekken 8 with.
What follows is an excerpt from a much longer interview on almost every aspect of Tekken’s history and Tekken 8. It’s been condensed and edited for clarity. Don’t worry though; many of Michael’s other thoughts on Tekken 8 will appear in the rest of our exclusive IGN First coverage, running all through October.
IGN: Tekken has a long history of pushing technology forward, and Tekken 8 looks incredible visually. Can you talk about what you wanted to accomplish going into Tekken 8, and how you approached that challenge?
Michael Murray: So, I guess first, to touch on Tekken 7 a little bit: that was a big learning experience. You know, we released the game and supported it for five years. And we kind of had a little bit of a chance to test different things and see what resonates with fans.
Tekken 8 Fight Lounge Screenshots
And like you said, Tekken is a long-running series. So we learned many things, you know, such as people like villainous characters for guest characters, and things like that.
But also, towards the end, I think one of your favorite characters, Lidia, was added. We noticed that back in the day, maybe around Tekken 3 or so, a lot of people mentioned that they really love that we have real martial arts. So one of the themes was trying to bring that back in with Wing Chun and the Okinawan karate, etc.
But another key theme was that they picked up Tekken because fighting games were kind of a benchmark for what particular hardware could do at the time. Tekken especially was known for its graphics at the time, and SoulCalibur, and some of our other fighting games. So we really wanted to make sure that we had the graphic elements covered for this time.
Being on a new generation of hardware, it’s the first time we were on PlayStation 5, and Xbox Series X and S. So we want to make sure that everything really popped. And so it’s not just about having pretty 4K graphics, but the environments, the characters, the detail, the depth, all of that visually, that whole experience.
To achieve that, we actually threw out all the character models that we had from Tekken 7; we started from scratch. So all the characters, all 32 in a roster, were built from zero, which was quite entertaining because we’re doing the sculpting and everything from scratch. And so it was interesting to see kind of weird-looking Jin Kazama, at first, for example, it’s like, “It doesn’t look quite right!” Even though most of us had been doing this for twenty-something years, right?
And so it took a little bit of trial and error until, you know, the models were perfect. But then, once we showed off Kazuya, I think it was at EVO that year, We were like, “Wow, okay, we’re ready.”
Tekken 8 screens
And the fans just exploded with excitement over the level of detail and quality we had in the game models. And then I think now that people have had a chance to play the CAT and the CNT as well, and gotten their hands on the game, they say they see that, not only in the character models but the environments themselves. We were playing earlier, I believe you saw the New York stage that we had. Just the level of detail, not just how pretty it is, But, you know, the puddles on the ground and the reflections, all the different billboards and the detail there. I think all of that – the graphical level that we were able to attain for Tekken 8 – was one of the early goals we had, and I’m pretty happy with the benchmark we hit so far. I mean, obviously, Harada-san says, “We’re not done. You know, we can do more.” But I think what we have so far is pretty great.
IGN: As someone who lives in New York, the New York stage made me very happy because it looks like you could walk through the city and see some of that stuff. So obviously, there are huge advantages to leaving behind the last-gen consoles and focusing entirely on the new generation. Another big thing that people are excited about is that Tekken 8 uses Unreal Engine 5. What has UE5 allowed you to do that you couldn’t do before, and how hard has it been adapting that engine to make a fighting game?
Michael Murray: Well, there are various things. Some of them are user-facing. Some of them are more just development-wise. So, Tekken 7 was the first time we used an external engine. Up until then, it was always just our programmers you know, coding the game.
So when we made the switch to UE4 for Tekken 7, many people probably don’t know this, but [Unreal Engine] mainly just handles drawing the graphics. The actual mechanics of the game and all of that underlying stuff is done in our own proprietary code and scripting. And that’s also the case this time as well for UE5.
So all the enhancements that you see the graphics, the lighting, and the character models, and all that stuff making the game look pretty is handled by UE. But all the underlying game mechanics and things like that are still our technology.
That said, you know, in development, it does make it a lot easier, because before, when we were making past Tekken titles, it was mainly on PlayStation hardware, but if we wanted to port it, it was much more difficult than if you have an engine and makes it a lot easier to port to the different platforms you need to. So, it makes development a lot easier in certain aspects and the game a lot prettier, I guess you could say. But maybe not as drastic a change as a lot of people would think.
IGN: I think it’s really interesting that you brought up being able to more easily do stuff like porting. People associate engines with visual fidelity. But obviously, you all still had to do all the internal work to make Tekken work on Unreal. So I think that’s good for people to know.
Michael Murray: Oh, wait! There is one other thing. It’s quite interesting because UE is an engine that a lot of people are familiar with, I have noticed a lot of non-Japanese engineers are now joining the team.
Tekken 8 – Exclusive Screens
In the past, it would have been difficult to try to get them up to speed on our current game code and how we were creating the game. But now you can just say, “Okay, this person has experience with UE5,” and also for creating tools or something for the game. It’s much easier to take those tools over to other games because they’re imported into UE5. So, yeah, several development aspects make [Unreal Engine 5] more convenient.
IGN: We’ve talked about the visuals, but that’s something that people can see. What are some of the things next-gen consoles and Unreal Engine 5 allow you to do that players might not notice that adds to the game, and what is your favorite visual or technical touch in Tekken 8?
Michael Murray: I think it’s visible, right, but maybe what a lot of people don’t notice is the fine details in the graphics. So, you can do 4K. That’s a resolution, right? It’s more about the design of the stages, the atmosphere, and the character models, and Harada actually did a lot more direction in that area this time. He just was like, “There has to be a lot more detail. You have to fit it into a small space. It has to look spot on.”
So like, when I was talking about the reflections or just the atmosphere. I think when you played the New York stage, there were two variations. One of them’s the evening, and it transitions to night.
And so you go from this gorgeous sunset to the snowflakes falling at night, and the police car, the lights, and all of that stuff that’s going on. So just that kind of ambiance, I guess you could say; the atmosphere that’s created because of these small, minute details. And we’re bumping into the hotdog cart, which causes all this stuff to fall out of it. All of these little things alone aren’t something that stands out. But when they all come together to kind of create that atmosphere in the battle arena that you’ve chosen, I think it’s a lot more important than just the resolution of the graphics, per se.
IGN: It felt like every time I was playing a stage, I was noticing something new, especially with the New York stage. I was admiring the sunset, or I’m looking at the cars, I’m looking at the way the characters interact with the environment when they get hit. I think in some of the matches earlier today, you were playing, Nina, and we were both like, “Oh, her dress is dirty now.
Michael Murray: [laughs] Right?
IGN: This is also the first time Tekken is releasing on consoles before getting an arcade release. Can you talk about how that changed your design process or the way you approach development? Because that’s a huge change.
Michael Murray: Yeah, that’s a huge, huge topic.
So I know a lot of people, especially fighting gamers, you have like a certain audience with one installment. And you might have quite a different audience for the next. So I noticed a lot of people were playing Tekken 7 who had probably never played a Tekken before. So maybe they weren’t quite aware that Tekken usually had this pace where you release in the arcades first. And then maybe you would put it on consoles, but more often, there would be some kind of a point five installment update to the arcade. And then it would come to consoles, right, or console, you know, depending on the installment. [laughs]
So that allowed us to first create the core gameplay mechanics, the core roster, have people play that in the arcade, and then do location tests. And we’re talking about the arcade not only in Japan, and Korea, but when you had it in North America and Europe, etc, at the time.
So we could test the game and all these different locations, people were constantly playing it, and we were able to update the game. And then finally, you have to add all the content for the console version, whether that’s some kind of a story, a mini-game, or customization. So that kind of iteration was really important for us early on; getting the game really solid before we ported it to the console. So it’s quite a big deal that this time we start from the consoles, right?
And one thing that they kind of changed along the way, I guess you could say, was around the Tekken 7 era. Not everyone had arcades in their regions. So we saw that the arcade installment released in Asia, in Japan, but maybe not in the West. So we actually had to take arcade boards to EVO one year to give access to players who wanted to play the game, et cetera. So that model became not as viable as it had been in the past.
Another problem with that model was that when we started doing esports more, like a more cohesive league that we did ourselves, the Tekken World Tour, a lot of people were unhappy that Japan had had the game before because it was at arcades, right, and other people who didn’t have access until later had to play catch up.
So it’s quite important this time that everyone starts at the same time with the game, and it’s supported by esports, etc. But what this means is, we have to find another way to first build the game, the base, the roster, the gameplay mechanics. It has to feel completely new, different from 7, all of this stuff for just the core game. And then we also have to create all the customization and the bells and whistles that people expect from a console release, all at the same time.
So since we don’t have location tests, you know, we had to find different ways to go about it. Obviously, since it’s connected via the internet, we can pull data from like the CNT that we did recently, the upcoming CBT. We also took the game around in a CAT, the first iteration to EVO and Combo Breaker to get some hands-on time. So we replaced the location test with these big tournaments, and then the network, and were able to gain feedback from the fans on what they liked about the gameplay mechanics, the balancing of the individual characters, if the game is accessible, approachable, easy to understand, all these different things We had to change for Tekken 8 because it’s starting first on consoles. So it’s quite a big change.
IGN: It sounds like quite a challenge, not having that time to iterate and be like, “Okay, right now we can just focus on this. And later when we bring it to consoles, we can add story mode,” or “we can have fun mini-games,” like the returning Tekken Ball.
Michael Murray: It’s a challenge just to do what I just talked about. But when you consider that we’re not even reusing some of the models and brushing them up. But creating them from scratch, just even added more to that difficulty [laughs]. So it was really a huge challenge. And I’m just really impressed with the team and how they’ve been able to rise to the occasion.
IGN: To kind of change gears, another big part of Tekken aside from the tech is the story. Can you talk about what we might expect to see from Tekken 8’s story mode? Is it similar to Tekken 7’s?
Michael Murray: I think we’ve shown a little bit in some of the trailers about the story mode. And so people who have played Tekken 7 will kind of know a little bit of what to expect. It was a quite popular mechanic that we did previously where you had the CG movie that kind of sets the tone for the scene. In this case, the battle between Kazuya and Jin on the New York stage. I think everyone’s probably seen that in the trailer so far.
But then it transitions with no loading or anything, straight into the actual battles, right? And then with Tekken 7, while you’re playing through the story, it’s not just you know, fight CPU One, fight CPU Two, and they have a short exchange, etc. There are a lot of different CG scenes that kind of give a little bit more background into what’s going on with the characters.
You have little mini-games like Lars had. He could shoot a gun on one of the stages if you remember. So there are little things like that that change up the combat you don’t typically find in the head-to-head combat in Tekken 8. So that kind of stuff is safe to say in return for Tekken 8. Obviously, it’ll look a lot better. [laughs]
And the volume also has been increased for Tekken 8. I can’t talk a whole lot about some of the story content yet. But we can say that, you know, it leads off of Tekken 7. We saw that conclusion between father and son, Heihachi and Kazuya. and now that shifts to that kind of conflict between Kazuya and his son Jin and the surprise return of Jun after so many years.
We realized that some of the story arcs had been kind of left hanging and we tied some of them up in Tekken 7, but some cool things like that are in the story as well. Plus, you’ve seen we’ve been adding new characters throughout 7. And we announced Azucena as well. So seeing how these characters appear will be something to look forward to, I think.
IGN: It’s also interesting because Tekken has been about the Mishimas for so long and this generational conflict between father and son, father and son, and Tekken 7 kind of resolves part of that. And now Tekken 8 is kind of setting itself up to resolve another part of that, perhaps?
Michael Murray: [laughs] Perhaps, perhaps.
Do you think there might ever be a version of the Tekken story that moves beyond the Mishimas?
Michael Murray: It could be. It’s tough because the main protagonist of the story depends on who your favorite character is, right? We can’t make 32 different versions of the story. It used to be almost like that with old Tekken. You clear the mode, you get the ending. It was hard to tell who actually won the tournament because it depended on whose perspective it was.
But now it’s more tied into a centralized story with the story mode. But then we realized that people want to know more about their favorites. So we also have the character episodes that were in Tekken 7 making a return for Tekken 8. And those are some of my personal favorites.
Because I think when we look back at what made Tekken popular you know, we were touching on the graphics, the real martial arts; another was the comedy, I think. Tekken 7 had a really serious tone overall, but a lot of people miss some of the goofiness that happened with Paul or Law, you know? Law had the restaurant and he had to sell it to pay for his son wrecking the motorcycle, or Paul did something really crazy. So that comedic element makes a little bit more of a return this time around, especially in the character episodes.
IGN: Finally, just to wrap up this section about Tekken’s legacy, I’m gonna hit you with kind of a philosophical question. It’s been fascinating to watch the evolution of fighting games as a genre. Everything starts in 2D with Street Fighter and Mortal Kombat. And then there’s a bunch of 2D games, and then 3D games become the really big thing. Tekken, Virtua Fighter, Dead or Alive, SoulCalibur; even Mortal Kombat went 3D for a while.
And now we’re back to 2D games in what is pretty widely regarded as another Renaissance for the genre as a whole. And Tekken is kind of the last 3D game standing. There’s not much that has the level of continuity and releases as frequently as Tekken does. Can you talk about the series’ legacy, and why you think it’s been uniquely able to find this level of success?
Michael Murray: That’s a really difficult question! [laughs]
I think a lot of things made Tekken successful, and maybe they’re not necessarily because it’s a 3D fighter. I mean, a lot of it just boils down to the content. If you remember the old PlayStation days when you would actually be able to play games when the game was loading, or all the different minigames and all this stuff we had. So I think that was a big part of Tekken’s success.
But if you’re looking at a 3D fighter, I guess… the team didn’t originally intend it, but it really found a wide audience outside of Japan. And I think partway through, when they realized that, we started to cater a little bit more to that, especially after I joined the team were able to interact with the community a lot and see what they liked about the game and focus on the strong points that really resonated with them.
And I think that continually updating it, first in the arcade when they were everywhere. It was pretty frequent; once every three years or so, or maybe some kind of a point-five update to keep everyone interested. One thing I’ve noticed after being on the team for twenty-some years is that with each installment, it’s not like you have the same people playing throughout. You have a whole new audience pretty much each time. So if you don’t have a new update, you’re not going to keep generating newer and younger players to keep your player base healthy. So I think Tekken was successful in some regard, because we continually updated the franchise, and then also just making it widely available because I think it was one of our first franchises in the company to actually go multi-platform. And then, with Tekken 7, to take to the PC, because there’s a big audience there.
So I think these things are kind of what led Tekken to maintain its popularity. I think, also, trying to respect the legacy players as well. Because if you spend all this time playing Tekken, and obviously, some of your skills are going to transfer over to the new installment, which is good and bad. I mean, if it’s too similar to something you’ve done earlier, then it’s not a proper sequel, right, and you’re gonna lose your player base, and they’re gonna lose interest.
But if you throw everything away and start fresh, then they’re gonna be upset that they spent all this time learning how to wavedash or something like that, and they can’t use it anymore. So I think we’ve done a pretty decent job at striking a good balance between keeping those legacy skills and letting people enjoy that in later installments, while at the same time adding enough new stuff to keep them interested.
IGN: Obviously, Tekken 8 has changed a lot between the CAT and the CNT. And now the CBT is starting soon. What are some of the things that have changed from the CNT to CBT that you are excited for people to get their hands on and get feedback about?
Michael Murray: Right, so I think there are a lot of changes that people who’ve been following the game will be happy about. Obviously, there’s our brand-new Heat mechanic.
When I say Heat mechanic, there are several tied to it, right? Like the Heat Smash, Heat Dash, etc.
IGN: Heat Engagers…
Michel Murray: Right! So what we noticed was, Heat was supposed to be an access to all kinds of different tools that players can creatively use as they please. But it seemed to kind of settle into a pattern when the pro players started to play where they would launch someone and then do a Heat Burst right in the middle of a combo, and then continue with the Heat Dash to the wall, etc. So it looked like the combos were quite long and did a lot of damage. And it was just the same use in every case.
So we wanted to change it up a bit. So the way that people will be using the Heat Burst, and Dash is not the same, so we won’t be seeing those kinds of extended combos, or someone getting juggled for so long. And we’ll see people hopefully using it in other manners.
And the way that the Heat Gauge is depleted, etc, has changed a bit because of that. But also, when you do a Heat Burst… So like you were saying, there’s the Heat Engager, which you start by hitting your opponent with a certain move, and then there’s the Heat Burst, which you can trigger automatically, at any time.
When you trigger that, now you have armor, which you probably noticed in our fights where you would hit me with something, and then I would engage the Heat with that. And I would, you know, eat the attack with the armor, but then I would have Heat and access to all the tools that that has. So we’re hoping to see a little bit of difference in the way people start employing that in matches because of that change.
But then there’s a bunch of others, right? We saw that a lot of people were asking to be able to button map stuff to L3 and R3, and we were able to do that. So, you know, quick fix, and people are happy. So we added that.
And then also a big change to Special Style. It used to be you had square, triangle, cross, and circle, right? Each had maybe one attack each. But now we have the combination of directional inputs for some of those, which gives you more choices for the Special Style, which is a huge change as well.
We also realized in the CNT that people have a variety of different characters that they try out. And then they settle on a favorite for the test. And we looked at some of the character usage and maybe some of the characters that didn’t get as much play time as we’d hoped. And we kind of reevaluated them and maybe added a few techniques or revamped their mechanics a little bit to make them more interesting. So there are a few characters that have had some adjustments since then, as well.
IGN: So there’s quite a bit even if you’ve played the CNT to get in there and get excited about. Based on all the characters that we’ve played over the last couple of days, I have noticed some of those changes just for the characters I was playing. And it’s been a lot of fun to see what has changed with the Heat system and what’s changed with them. And I think anybody who has not played the CNT is going to come in and think it feels incredibly natural. And if you have played the CNT, you’re gonna be like, “Oh, that’s cool.” So obviously a lot to look forward to there for people, you know, new or old, to the Tekken 8 beta.
Michael Murray: And then, of course, the three characters that weren’t in CNT: Azucena, Feng Wei. and Raven.
IGN: And all of them feel good. It’s been a blast to play.
Michael Murray: And the stage! Ortiz Farm, right?
IGN: Yes! With the alpacas! And the wall launchers. Yeah, that stage is easily one of my favorites so far. And I’m excited to see the crazy stuff people are going to do with wall launches because I know it’s going to look awesome.
So, to kind of wrap things up: if you could say one thing to long-time fans or anyone looking to get Tekken about Tekken 8, what would it be? What would you want them to know about?
Michael Murray: I’d say first thank you for supporting Tekken 7 because that’s what made all this possible: to have such a great sequel to the game, and to be able to do all the things that we’re doing with Tekken 8.
So obviously that first, but then I’ve met a lot of people in my travels who ask, “What do you do?”
“I make Tekken.”
“Oh, I love that game! I played so much of Tekken 3 or Tekken 5!”
I want those people to try this game. The story is set in a way that we can refresh you and catch you up on stuff you may have missed. So even if this is your first Tekken, or maybe the first Tekken in ten years or whatever, you can enjoy the story. And I think the mechanics… there are some things that you’ll remember, it’ll become muscle memory, you’ll pick it up right away, and some things that’ll be easier to learn because of all the things that we talked about today. So I think now is a really exciting time to join the community, where that’s esports because of all the stuff that’s going on now; we were talking about Rew Major this past weekend, and also the finals coming up in New Orleans.
It’s just, I don’t know… I’ve been on the project for twenty-some years, I don’t know if I’ve ever seen this much hype around the game. I think it’s a perfect time to jump in. And I hope we’re making it quite easy to do that in Tekken 8, so I hope everyone will check it out.
IGN: When we interviewed Harada-san before the big reveal at the Game Awards, I asked, if he could throw any Tekken character into a volcano, who would he pick? And he gave a fantastic answer. So now I have to ask you: If you could throw any Tekken character into a volcano, who would you pick and why?
Michael Murray: Like Harada-san, depending on the day, I can think of several people I’d like to throw in there. [laughs]
But in Japan, we have this word called chūnibyō, which means like, you have this thing where you think maybe one day you’ll get hit on the head and you’ll wake up and you have superpowers like Jin Kazama, right? The team often laughs at me because I’m in that kind of category on the team. So if I respond well to something like this… Jin in Tekken 8, he’s got all of those elements. They’re like, great, we have that checked off. So with that in mind, I would say I would provoke someone to throw me into the volcano. So hopefully that would activate the Devil Gene, and then I would get the superpowers, That would be my answer.
IGN: That is a fantastic and very brave answer.
Michael Murray: If it doesn’t work out, I don’t know, but… [laughs]
IGN: At least you tried, right? And you have lots of upside if you get it right.
Michael Murray: Right?
IGN: I want to say thank you once again, to Michael Murray, producer on Tekken 8, and a longtime producer on Tekken, for sitting down with us and for doing this incredible interview.
Michael Murray: Thank you!