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King of Fighters 15 devs talk about the struggles of creating the latest game – and their favourite characters

In which we talk about the graphics, developing through Covid lockdowns, and new characters added to the game.

With the release of King of Fighters 15, SNK has let out into the world yet another entry into one of the most historied fighting game series in the games industry – and one I like quite a lot! It was great to sit down, during an intense month filled with exciting games flying out from every direction, and play a classic fighting game.

However, to simply pile KoF 15 on top of the stack of other titles that make up the series would be missing out on much of what makes the game special! At the surface level, the game contains plenty of fresh new additions to the series, including new characters and a total netcode overhaul. But if you look deeper into the context surrounding the development and release of the game, you’ll know it was creating in the midst Covid-19 lockdowns – a tumultuous time for any developer – but especially for one that produces games rooted in arcades and social events that revolve around meeting up in person.

As such, I had the chance to chat with creative director Eisuke Ogura, project supervisor Nobuyuki Kuroki, and chief producer for the KoF series Yasuyuki Oda about all this, and more, to learn about their thoughts on development on KoF 15, some of the new parts of the game, and what we can expect from the future.

Eisuke Ogura

Q. What were your inspirations for Isla? It’s clear she has a distinct style with graffiti and modern art as a major trait - was any specific person or artist a reference?

Isla doesn't belong to an organisation or cause. She's free. What she does have going for her is she takes a lot of small things to heart. That's the character I wanted to make. Compared to the world, these issues don't add up to much, but to Isla, they represent a huge reason to fight for. We took these abstract concepts of a personality and were able to forge Isla's design from them. She wasn't based off any person in particular.

Q. The other addition to Team Rival - Dolores - is another eye-catching new character. What was the inspiration for this character, and to what extent did their african background play into their design?

Well for starters, Dolores is deeply related to Kukri plot-wise, and so her design had to fall in line with his. You can see how her control of holy soil is similar to that of Kukri's sand. We didn't have a specific form of traditional garment in mind when designing her, but that we wanted her to be both refreshing and cool, while also beautiful enough to set her apart from other characters.

Q. As a longtime fan of KoF, I was happy to see Krohnen resemble certain past characters. Talk me through how the team came to this distinct look for the series’ new shape-shifting arm character?

Krohnen, originally from NESTS, is being hunted down just for having survived its fall. Interestingly enough, he finds pleasure in life hunting down other fellow NESTS survivors. Now he's grown his hair out, and his special glove is in dire need of repair. We designed Krohnen while wondering what someone would look like after countless days on the run, living in solitude. His armour acts as a restraint to suppress the overwhelming power emanating from his machine arm. Additionally, his machine arm can freely transform into various weapons. With these details in mind, we aimed for Krohnen to become the embodiment of the word 'power'.

Q. As the creative director, how was your job made harder by Covid-19? What challenges did you and your team have to overcome?

Because everyone is working from home, things like gathering everyone for a meeting or visiting someone's desk for a chat are long gone. It's honestly kind of stressful not being at a desk or around actual hardware. Also, the companies we enlist to help with assets have changed greatly, so things aren't exactly moving along schedule smoothly.

Q. With KoF’s transition to 3D in KoF 14, in interviews it was said that the team needed to work more with 3D to reach the quality they wanted. KoF 15 looks better – so has the game now reached a level of visual quality the team is happy with?

Thanks for that. Graphically, we were able to push through various issues and achieve things not possible with KoF 14, so KoF 15 is leaps and bounds more impressive looking. There's always still more that we can improve, but I have to commend my team for overcoming the many obstacles to get where we are now.

Q. When playing KoF 15, what characters are in team Eisuke Ogura?

Of course, the new characters to KoF 15 - Team Rival! Please finish story mode with both Team Rival and Team Hero for me, even just once!

Nobuyuki Kuroki

Q. In previous interviews for KoF 14, the team was still learning how to work with 3D and as such you said in interviews that this would get better with time. Are you now happy with how KoF looks in 3D?

You can see a huge graphical bump continuing from SNK Heroines, to SAMURAI SHODOWN, to where we are now with KoF 15. I think visually KoF 15 is in a good place, but after development, there are always things we need to reflect on. So, I've never been 100% satisfied with any game I develop. I don't think this will change in the future, either.

Q. Covid-19 has of course led to many drastic issues in game development. In Japan, with Arcades being closed, it must have made it impossible to do location testing for KoF 15. How did development change in response to Covid restrictions?

Speaking honestly, I felt blindsided when I first had to work from home. Reaching out to staff online is kind of a pain, and explaining visual things like art via text or voice is just painstaking. But, like all things, we can learn to adapt to our surroundings, and right now development isn't necessarily hindered much by the change. Maybe our staff also learned a thing or two about good writing, so there's that.

Q. With many amazing arcades sadly closing as a result of Covid, and even now physical events being impossible to attend safely, do you see SNK creating games like KoF 15 and future titles with home / online players as the primary audience?

I first became interested in SNK through playing at arcade centres, so hearing about them closing recently really breaks my heart. I'm fully focused on KoF 15 at the moment, and so I can't say for sure about things in the immediate future, but I do wish to try and do something new for a change. Can't say what, though. Just going to have to wait and find out!

Q. Is, or was, there a particular arcade that the SNK team would go to and play in? Is it still around? Are you excited to head there once it’s safe to do so?

Unfortunately, the arcade I used to frequent closed down. Once things with Covid-19 settle down, I'd like to head to Namba and play in the arcades there.

Q. While other fighting game series have received simplified inputs and other features meant to help new players get into the game, I was very happy to see classic inputs when I played the beta! Why has the team at SNK decided to stick to their guns rather than following suit?

It's a continuation of the series, and we had fears that if we changed the controls too much, then it'd be considered a different game - something like a spinoff. We also thought that it wouldn't be a good idea to greatly reduce player movement/attack options in combat. However, besides that there's a combo system beginners can use by just rapidly tapping attack buttons, so they can also enjoy the game as well.

Q. When playing KoF 15, what characters are in team Nobuyuki Kuroki?

Only one team? Damn, this is tough… I'd have to say Terry, Iori, and B. Jennet.

Yasuyuki Oda

Q. This is the first KOF game to have worldwide open betas before launch! What was your reaction to the people worldwide trying out KoF 15 early?

I think the reception has been overwhelmingly positive. There were some issues with the online modes earlier but we were able to fix them by the second beta test. I hope everyone will enjoy the game when it comes out.

Q. Worldwide fans have of course been asking incessantly for netcode improvements for their fighting games, which KoF 15 has added! What are your hopes for KoF 15 now that more players will be experiencing the game at its best online?

I hope the game takes off for players both online and offline, and for more tournaments to come back.

Q. The SNK World Championship was sadly cancelled in 2019 due to COVID. Do you see a similar event happening for KoF 15 in the near future? Or has Covid stopped that happening, too?

Our hands are kind of tied still due to Covid concerns, but it's something I'd like to consider moving forward.

Q. How has Covid affected the development of KoF 15? In what ways did it make your job harder, and how did development have to change to adapt?

We had some difficulties adjusting working from home, but now everything is fine. I think we'll be operating on a hybrid system in the future.

Q. In a lot of ways, KoF 15 feels like a classic fighting game. With many other developers looking to drastically alter their series for new players (Guilty Gear: Strive), why is it important that SNK and KOF stay true to their arcade roots?

Each title has their own goals, and I think it's good to stay varied on this front. KoF is, out of all the other SNK fighters out there, very combo-oriented. (Compared to say, SAMURAI SHODOWN or FATAL FURY)

Q. When playing KOF XV, what characters are in team Yasuyuki Oda?

For 15, I often play as Shun'ei and Meitenkun.

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