One of the industry’s most talked-about games in recent months is King of Fighters XII. The hardcore fighting game wowed back at E3, but has drawn all sorts of scorn since its preemptive launch, due to spotty online play and a relatively small cast. The King of Fighters, though, is an established series that is worth taking an in-depth look into. With that, yours truly had the chance to talk with Shane Bettenhausen from Ignition Entertainment, King of Fighters XII’s publisher, to discuss the problems the title is having, potential solutions and the future for SNK fighting games.
MyGamer: Let’s talk about the most important issue first…will we see another netcode patch for The King of Fighters XII, or is the game’s netcode just done at this point?
Shane Bettenhausen: Well, first we had the day one patch and since then, we’ve been monitoring the games' performance. We've been looking over all the comments on our Facebook and our forums have been passing them along to SNK-Playmore. We do think that further enhancements to the netcode are required. We’ve given them a very exhaustive list of not just latency issues, but bugs and other considerations. Everything the fans are asking for, we are passing along. As for when a patch could happen, we can’t say. Discussions are ongoing, literally, right now. One of the problems is the differences between the American and Japanese netcode situation
MG: Yeah, that’s always been a bit of a problem for online-enabled fighting games. Games that are ported straight out of Japan like Street Fighter IV and, worse, Super Smash Bros. Brawl can only play well when you have proximity to your opponent.
SB: Yes, we’re aware, for example, of Blazblue using GGPO, and we would definitely look to use that middleware for future fighting games if possible because it eliminates a lot of the problems from traditional Japanese setups.
MG: How receptive has SNK been to fan feedback?
SB: You know, so far it has been pretty positive. We are definitely going to see an additional patch to fix the glitches first. We know there’s a specific Raiden versus Elisabeth glitch that’s really bad, almost like Guile’s handcuffs from Street Fighter II. I think we’ll see that fixed very soon. For the latency issues, we’re looking for a way to get it strategically done, and we're looking to change up how matchmaking is done. A lot of the problems come from the matchmaking. A lobby can be running pretty well and then a player with bad ping can come in and it really hurts the game and you can’t kick them out. Luckily the fans have been really quick to post these problems, and we’ve gotten an amazing amount of feedback. It’s also really hard because so much of the testing happens on these closed networks. It’s not exactly like a real online environment, so when Pandora’s Box opened on Tuesday or, even worse, last Friday, we needed to play a lot of catch-up and do a lot of damage control and we quickly needed to find out what really needed to be done.
MG: So how much of a catastrophe was that early release by retailers, with everyone jumping street date?
SB: Yeah, I was afraid that would happen with Gamestop’s distribution into the east coast. But this was particularly bad because of how a PS3 patch was really necessary, and it didn't get fixed until Monday. Over the weekend, I was at Comic Con and I was getting a lot of personal hate mail and I wasn’t able to combat that. But by Monday, the patch came out and we’re still not really content with the way things are right now. We’ve been having lots of meetings with SNK, I was in one right before this and I’m probably going to go right into another one when I’m done and I just wanted everyone to know. Also, a lot of Japanese publishers don’t really know the sheer size of America, and how you can fit several Japans into one California. And in Japan, everyone has really nice internet connections, so an internationally-released online game is something that’s really ambitious for SNK.
MG: In terms of the PS3 versus the Xbox 360, I’ve heard a lot more negative feedback about the PS3 version than about the Xbox 360 version. Is the PS3 version just not going as well, or what?
SB: From the tests I’ve been doing on the retail version, the lag really has been better on the Xbox 360. I’m not sure if the environment for the Xbox 360 online is just more stable or if there are just PS3 users in more locations around the world, which brings bad lag. But on the Xbox 360, I have had games that, more or less, play full-speed and you pretty rarely get a really, really bad connection. But because the fighting audience is largely on the Playstation, I think that version probably has a bigger audience on the whole. We’ve been quickly working with SNK to make the changes because with a game like this, pinpoint accuracy matters and it’s like you have say “oh, my fireball will come out in five seconds from now if I do the motion.” So yes, fixing the PS3 online play is our number-one priority in terms of lag because right now. The 360 version is definitely a little bit better and we want to make sure gamers have the same experience across platform. Really, we wish it could have been right from day one, but you look at a lot of other games like World of Warcraft, where there were a lot of problems. So hopefully the fans will be patient as we quickly try to push this through.
MG: On both the Facebook page and in general, there has been a lot of talk about downloadable characters. No other actual serious fighting game has tried to do it. The only games that come to mind for me are UFC 2009 which had Gamestop-exclusive characters, and the Naruto video games on the Xbox 360. But that’s it. If it does end up happening, how would it go down? Would we have to pay for it?
SB: Well, those discussions are still ongoing. There were plans in place for downloadable content, and what we had planned was not characters, but more bonus material and different kinds of things. But based on the user feedback, SNK-Playmore is opening up a bit to other kinds of downloadable content. In terms of pricing, that’s still to be determined, but considering the glitches and lag problems, if they were to add something substantial, be it a stage or a character, there is a good possibility that it could be offered for free. I can’t confirm that yet because we are still in talks, but from my perspective I would like to give something back to the community for their patience. Again, it’s an ongoing discussion, but what the fans want is what we want. But once again, it's still ongoing. I think in the future, though, it’s a new frontier and we will be seeing paid downloadable content like stages and characters in a lot of fighting games. I think it’s exciting that fighters are back, but I think the Japanese companies in general like negotiating with online play in America, and we’re all kind of along for the ride.
MG: Not to hate on the fans but I, personally, kept up on King of Fighters XII news before it was released and I knew that there would only be twenty-two characters in the game and there wouldn’t be a story mode and because of that, I think that KOFXII has been getting a lot of baseless hate. Every King of Fighters game, ever, has had a different cast each game and it’s just weird that people are coming out of the woodworks for not having theirs.
SB: I agree, you look at a game like King of Fighters ‘98 Ultimate Match or King of Fighters 2002 and they have, like, ninety characters and some fans will ask “well why can’t THIS game have ninety characters?” and it’s because in the other games, they just reused sprites. A lot of my different characters didn’t make it and I was bummed but I think the roster is quite diverse and there are a lot of good characters in there. If people realized how much work went into doing all this 2D animation, they'd think differently. It’s pretty insane how they make these sprites. Had it been a 3D game, they COULD have just reused different models, it could have had more characters, but that’s the exchange you have to make for 2D. You just can’t realistically expect seventy or eighty characters to just happen.
MG: Yeah, when Street Fighter II HD Remix was coming up, UDON, who did the sprites, was posting up how big of a problem they were having throughout the development process and how they had to change how many colors they shaded each character with, and how they had to keep redrawing parts of the sprites because Ryu’s veins kept moving around, for example. So it just makes sense that SNK would have to have a relatively small cast for a fully-redrawn 2D game.
SB: I totally agree. I even heard that UDON had to outsource and get a bit of help just to finish the art for HD Remix, so as far as I know, everything was handled internally by SNK, which took four years. I think most people are just frustrated because their certain character isn’t there, whether it’s Shermie or it’s Mai or it’s K’, I think people just want what they want. And it’s really different here. There are twenty-two characters here that have great animation, possibly the smoothest I’ve seen, and I just think there are some squeaky wheels who are like “there aren’t enough characters in this game.” But even if you look at another competitive title like Blazblue our roster almost twice the size of that. So I just think that a lot of people are mad because whoever they want isn’t there. It’s not like SNK doesn’t want to bring back everybody, it’s just a matter of time. Even with Mai, they just kind of pulled a Street Fighter III. Even though everyone wanted her, they kept her out. (Editor’s note: this is a reference to how the first two versions of Street Fighter III, New Generation and Double Impact, surprised fans by not including leading lady Chun-Li)
MG: That reminds me, back when King of Fighters ’99 was first coming out, SNK was planning on taking out Kyo to make K’ the uncontested hero.
SB: But you can’t kill Kyo. But you know, a lot of fans are also not liking how Iori is so different. They really changed his moveset and we’re getting a lot of hate. So we’re sorry, but characters do change.
Make sure to read Part 2 for more insider info from Ignition’s Shane Bettenhausen. Next up, we’ve got Samurai Showdown: Edge of Destiny, the future of video game marketing and, of course, some more King of Fighters goodness. You can also check out our King of Fighters XII review, written by yours truly.