Famitsu.com interview with Arc System Works – Feb 20, 2020 issue

Pieces of this interview were sprinkled in the Granblue Fantasy Versus interview in the Feb 20th issue of Famitsu, but the whole thing was posted on Famitsu.com – it’s a doozy!

The three people interviewed about the development process of GBVS are:

Anbe Hideyuki (Anbe) – development manager of GBVS

Sawada Hideaki (Sawada) – Art director of GBVS

Sekine Kazuto (Pachi) – Lead battle planner

Graphics meant to recreate the mobile game

Famitsu: The quality of Arc System Works’ graphics are so high, that many skyfarers (Granblue Fantasy fans) were shocked. Was it hard to create this level of quality?

Sawada: Hmm. GBF‘s character designs were definitely not optimal for use in an action game. Their hair is too long, they have a lot of capes that flap around, it was all very very hard to animate. At first, we thought we wanted to simplify the character designs, but after further consideration we realized that the skyfarers would not be happy if the characters weren’t moving embodiments of Cygames’ characters. So we decided to stay as close to the original character designs as possible.

Katalina 5H in motion

Famitsu: So you chose the hardest road for the sake of the fans.

Sawada: After we made that decision, Katalina was the first 3D model we made and animated. That was the first time we thought “We can do this”. We focused on being even more faithful for all the characters who came after her.

Famitsu: Katalina has a long cape, she must have been very hard…

Anbe: Katalina’s one of them, yes, but so many of the characters have very long, wavy outfits on, so the entire staff had a tough time working on those animations (pained laugh). And, because we were making a fighting game, they had to move at 60 frames per second. Right up until they were done, we were very worried that they wouldn’t move properly.

Famitsu: So why did development and animation start with Katalina?

Sawada: For our first character, we wanted one with very traditional moves. Out of the cast we decided on, Gran and Katalina were the most traditional character archetypes, and we knew that Katalina was going to be the more difficult of the two to make as a 3D model. That’s why we started with her.

Famitsu: So you knew a good amount of the cast from the beginning?

Sawada: We had already decided on certain fighting game archetypes. We wanted a speed character, we wanted a grappler, that kind of thing. Lowain wasn’t in the lineup from the start, though. We knew we had to limit the cast a bit, and when it came to making sure the cast had good variety and a unique touch, Lowain was the first name that came to our minds.

Pachi: We thought that the SSR characters in the lineup would be the most memorable, but we thought that including some SRs and Rs in the cast would make things more fun. So when we thought of a character we could use to spice up the cast, we thought that a lot of players would understand why we picked Lowain.

Famitsu: His announcement was a surprise, but the fans definitely understood (laughs)

Pachi: There are a lot of fighting game players who say “I don’t want to do what everyone else does. I want to do my own thing”. I’m one of those, (rueful laugh) and we thought Lowain would be necessary for players like that. Plus, all of the characters we’d chosen were ikemen types, and very serious in the main game. Adding Lowain made it easier to add lighthearted jokes to the game.

Sawada: Adding Lowain to the cast provided a ton of variety to the pre-fight chatter. The dialogue between Lowain, the comic relief, and all of these straight-edged characters provided some much-needed chemistry to the game, and I hope people watch as many of them as possible.

“Yes, please. Step on me.”

Famitsu: GBF fans should definitely check those out. What did you focus the most on when making these characters?

Sawada: The game has a lot of characters who wield swords, but we spent a lot of time giving them their own styles and personality in their animations and moves. For example, GBF‘s main character Gran was designed as a reckless shounen manga protagonist, and we put that into his animations. Katalina’s the other standard type of fighting game character, but her sword techniques are much more refined and practiced than Gran’s are.

Famitsu: So you’re saying you spent a lot of time thinking about how each character would fight, and put a lot of their personality in each animation?

Sawada: Yes. Percival is another example, he’s always imposing in each of his frames of animation, and always fighting at his own pace. When he’s defeated, we made sure you could see how displeased he is.

Storyboards for Percival’s walk cycle, which notes just how high he needs to hold his head so he can constantly look down at his opponent.

Famitsu: Even the way Percival walks is very Percival-like. You can feel the kingly nature of the man.

Sawada: Our first priority was making sure skyfarers would be happy with even the most basic animations for each character. For Percival, we wanted to make sure his walk cycle had a kingly aura, so he always walks with his chin up. In GBF we got the impression that his chin is always up, so we spent a lot of our development time positioning his chin during his poses. We really, really wanted to make sure his chin was always up.

Famitsu: Who was the hardest character to bring together?

Sawada: The traditionally beautiful characters were really tough to pull together. Percival’s 3D model would occasionally fall apart when you moved his face even a little bit. Every single frame, we would have to adjust his eyes and his nose, to make him look more like his GBF versions. Cygames was very particular about this, and asked for a lot of re-dos.

Anbe: But it only took tiny adjustments for Cygames to make it look just like the Percival from GBF. I guess when you work on GBF that long, you have some kind of secret sauce that you can use to work magic. Cygames provided exactly the right kind of supervision, and we learned a lot from them.

Sawada: On the other hand, Ladiva required very few re-dos. And Vaseraga, with his face hidden in a helmet all the time, didn’t have any re-dos at all (laughs)

Famitsu: Huh, is that so? (laughs) Moving on, we’d like to ask about Abilities and Skybound Arts. How were these made?

Sawada: In every fighting game, you need long-range “projectiles”, and “anti-air” moves that hit airborne opponents. There were a few abilities from GBF that we could use in this game, but there were characters who didn’t have those, so we had to come up with new ideas that fit the characters. We made storyboards with the thought “Since they’re capable of doing this in the world of Granblue Fantasy, this would be perfectly reasonable for them to do” and showed those to Cygames to get their OK.

Famitsu: Tell us the process that went into that.

Sawada: One example of our original moves is Gran’s “Reginleiv”. In the anime, Gran once attacked with the power of Proto Bahamut in his sword, so we conceived it as a move where he borrows the power of Bahamut to fire a projectile. Since Proto Bahamut shows up in his Super Skybound Art, and when every character eats that attack they all react in ways that we spent a lot of time working on. Please take a look at those too. Especially Lowain and Ladiva, their reactions are a lot of fun (laughs).

Lowain and the bros about to meet the business end of Proto Bahamut

Pachi: Gran’s Super Skybound Art, “Catastrophe”, is really cool. When Lyria summons Proto Bahamut, you think “This – this is definitely Granblue Fantasy!”

Famitsu: Any other original abilities that you spent a lot of effort on?

Sawada: Ladvia’s Super Skybound Art was born from Sekine (Pachi)’s love of professional wrestling. The reason that the referee’s count on her Super Skybound Art goes to 2.99 when it doesn’t finish the round is because Pachi insisted “It has to be 2.99, it just has to be” (pained laugh)

Pachi: As far as I know, there’s never been a fighting game that has a referee appear, count to 3, then appear in your win pose after the fall, so I pushed really hard to have it in our game. That’s what led to Ladiva’s Super Skybound Art. When I presented the crazy idea of a referee leaping out of nowhere to count to 3 to Cygames, not only did they approve the idea, they drew the referee for us. And in Ladiva’s introduction trailer, that ref not only appeared, he actually narrated the whole trailer (laughs). They not only approved our stupid idea, but they latched on to it and were able to improvise with us. By the way, when the Super Skybound Art fails to kill, the count randomly stops on numbers like 2.92 and 2.97, too.

Famitsu: That’s where a lot of love and effort went? (laughs)

Pachi: One of our company’s trademarks is the weird and funny animations in our fighting games. We were making very serious and straightforward characters like Katalina and Gran, but when time came to work on Ladiva and Lowain, we went “NOW it’s our turn!” and we were so excited (laughs). My love of pro wrestling, and Ladiva’s back story, gave me tons of ideas. Her Skybound Art, the Maximum Love Bomb, let us work on a lot of fun reaction faces as the cast ate the dropkick. Even Percival makes a really funny face, so I hope you enjoy all of them.

Sawada: In a fighting game, you have to be able to show characters at their lamest along with their best. If they’re all painful to look at, the game gets kind of unenjoyable, so it’s better to make these moments as comedic as possible.

Anbe: Ladiva’s abilities and skills were pulled off really smoothly.

Pachi: It was really easy to design her as a grappler. Percival’s Lord’s Strike move is really memorable to me, too. When he lands Zerreissen, the camera zooms in, or when he uses Traumerei to power himself up, his animations change – we spent a lot of time on the camera work for him.

Sawada: Our game is supposed to be a simpler kind of game, so it felt a little more difficult to work with the camera. But we focused on a few moves, and made their animations much more impressive than the others.

Pachi: But if we put too much into those animations then they become hard to see, so it was really hard to strike a balance between the moves looking cool and the moves being easy to see and understand.

Famitsu: After all this talk about Percival, we’d like to ask you about more of the female cast, and what you focused on for some of them.

Sawada: We spent a lot of time making sure Metera was sexy. Her victory animation involves her giving the fallen opponent a kiss, because we thought she should give her defeated opponents a little present.

Anbe: Metera has an unlockable costume, too. The game’s out now, I think I’m allowed to say that (laughs)

Famitsu: Tell us more!

Sawada: In GBF, Metera’s costume shows a lot of skin, so Cygames’ idea was to adjust it for expansion into foreign markets and for esports considerations. So, we gave her some hotpants in her default outfit, and adjusted her outfit to lower the amount of skin shown. However, if you clear RPG Mode, you can pick her original outfit – this works for Zeta, too, you can get her original GBF costume in GBVS.

Anbe: A lot of the development staff said “We want to keep it!” and we complied.

Sawada: The lead modeling staff said that “Adding more cloth to Metera’s outfit makes her not Metera anymore. Fans of the original won’t be happy.” and wouldn’t budge (rueful laugh). But when we were discussing esports, we said “We might not want to add too many more characters who show that much skin”, so we added the original outfit as a bonus.

Pachi: FKHR (director, GBVS and GBF) wanted to keep Zeta and Metera’s original outfits, didn’t he?

Sawada: He did. When he saw the design sketches for Metera, he wrote some really sad comments. He wrote in red:

“It is with much regret that…”

(All 3 laugh)

Famitsu: So it was FKHR and the lead modeler who led the charge to make the staff’s wishes come true.

Pachi: Aside from that, we wanted to make sure to represent Metera’s ability to fly. So we made her unique action, Zephyr, a double jump.

Sawada: In this game, Metera’s the only character who can fight in the sky like this, so it made her much more unique.

Famitsu: Speaking of unique actions, Percival’s X-Seele must have been difficult to replicate – in the original game, it makes the opponent unable to gain Charge Turn dots.

Sawada: When it came to Fear, we already had animations for each character falling on their backsides, so the idea we went forward with is “he knocks them on their asses and creates an opening in their defenses” as the basic idea.

Pachi: We thought that people would understand the character falling back to represent fear, but we had to think a lot about how he would do it. As Sawada said before, our game’s supposed to be a simpler style, so we needed a good and easily understood way to represent debuffs from the RPG. In GBF, Fear makes you unable to gain charge turns or charge meter, so we thought it might be good to make it so you don’t gain Skybound Art meter. The problem is that it’s hard to represent. To make it more easily represented visually, we made X-Seele a throw, and made it one you can follow up with attacks after Percival knocks them down.

The work to adapt the original game

Famitsu: We talked about Gran and Ladiva’s Super Skybound Arts already. Are there any other Skybound Arts or Super Skybound Arts that you’d like to highlight?

Sawada: My favorite is Charlotta’s Super Skybound Art, Noble Execution. In GBVS, we have a lot of standard human-sized characters, and then the tiny Charlotta. Since Charlotta looks like a cute little girl, there’s no way we can make her attacks or abilities look cool – they all end up looking comical. That’s part of what makes Charlotta a fun character, but we wanted to show her gallant and brave side, too. That’s what we focused on for this one. Noble Execution looks really cool, but then she says “Todome de arimasu!” and its’s super cute – we were able to make her look cool and cute at the same time.

Anbe: Lowain’s very unique, too. His Super Skybound Art isn’t an attack at all.

Sawada: Yeah. His Skybound Art calls in his friends, and his Super Skybound Art has Yggdrasil come in for the save.

Pachi: When we decided that Lowain was going to be part of the cast, we definitely wanted to make sure his bros Elsam and Tomoi were there too. We confirmed everything with the animation designer, and when they said “we can do it” we went ahead with it. But it was way harder than we expected (pained laughs). A lot of hard work went into the Skybound Art. At first, the HPA was just going to be a standard rush attack, but it’s pretty fun to be able to control them directly, right? And so we added more moves for them to use while they’re in the HPA.

Anbe: We ended up with really fun abilities that brought out the character of Lowain, but the animation designer told us “Please, make Lowain the only one like this.” (pained laugh)

Sawada: But I think that made Lowain an amazing character. With his Super Skybound Art, you can control Yggdrasil, and so you can play the wacky character while also getting a cute girl in the deal.

Famitsu: Whose idea was it to put Yggdrasil in the game?

Pachi: At first, we were going to give every character the ability to summon a Primal Beast. But there were some characters this didn’t work for, and it stretched the limits of GBF too much. So we scaled it down to just characters like Gran and Katalina, whose primal beast attacks made the most sense.

Anbe: By the way, Katalina’s Ares was taken from GBVS first, and put in GBF. But before she could appear in GBF, skyfarers found her in the GBVS closed beta test and it went big.

Famitsu: Oh. (laughs) So Lowain’s ability to summon Yggdrasil is a legacy of that original design?

Pachi: I remember presenting “Lowain’s Super Skybound Art has him turn into Yggdrasil, and he fights as her” to Cygames, but I don’t remember why. Thinking back on it, I wonder how crazy I must have been (laughs)

Anbe: Lowain can summon Lady Katapillar with his Abilities, so the extra work we had to do for him really added up.

Sawada: If you play online coop with two Lowains in RPG mode, the screen just goes crazy. Just how many characters are there? (laughs) I highly suggest fighting Colossus Omega with Yggdrasil, it looks like Destroy All Monsters in there.

Pachi: We put a lot of work in those RPG Mode bosses, so I want people to enjoy them. Colossus was always going to be a boss in the game, and after we started making Proto Bahamut for Gran’s Super Skybound art we thought “this is going to work.” So we asked Cygames to upgrade to Colossus Omega… because Colossus Omega is so much cooler than Colossus, don’t you think? (laughs)

Famitsu: We do! (laughs) Other than the characters and bosses, was there anything else you worked on or suffered for?

Anbe: Cygames was very insistent about their backgrounds. We learned a lot from them. The hardest one for us was the Port Breeze stage. This was the first stage we made, but it took a really long time before they approved it, so it was not finished for a while. (pained laugh) Our staff went to theirs and asked, and was given a course on “this is what Cygames backgrounds are like”, and they taught us new techniques and methods. So the quality went way up. The blue Port Breeze sky, the floating clouds, the grassy plains, we think we were able to realize the stage concept.

Sawada: The Grandcypher Deck, Albion, and some other stages change between the first round and the final round. For the streets of Albion, it starts out raining and gloomy, but it clears up in the final round. There are a few stages that change with the characters fighting, as well. On the Auguste beach, you can see Lunalu get excited when Lancelot and Percival are fighting each other.

Lunalu relaxing at the beach

Pachi: We think GBF fans can have fun just looking at these backgrounds. But the stages get so busy when you’re fighting that you don’t have time to look at them, so please take some time and enjoy them in training mode.

Sawada: My favorite background animation is in the Grandcypher Deck stage. The stage starts in dock, and by the final round you see the whole sky unfold before you. It has a very RPG-like feel to it – like you’re going on a sky journey.

Lunalu, when Lancelot is fighting Percival

Secrets of the Hooded Figure

Famitsu: From talking to you, we can tell just how much you love GBF. How much do you play GBF?

Anbe: Pachi, don’t you play all day at work? (laughs)

Pachi: I do my job! But I do it while clearing quests on auto (laughs)

Anbe: When we were taking the train to Cygames, you were playing GBF the entire time, that was great.

Famitsu: Can you show us how you’re doing in the game, Pachi?

Pachi: I’ve cleared the Pride of the Ascendant and Ultimate Bahamut Impossible solo. Recently I’ve uncapped 3 Cosmos weapons, and I’ve unlocked 4 Evokers. I think I’m at the lower end of the top ranks, but I got my start as a game magazine writer, so I really like going deep into game strategy.

Famitsu: So all that game experience, that’s how you can come up with all these original-but-faithful moves.

Pachi: I want to adhere to the GBF backstories and character descriptions as much as I can, so I play a lot of GBF. However, I only started around the 3rd anniversary, so there is one person at Arc System Works who’s been playing longer than I have, and is even better than I am.

Sawada: You’re talking about the woman in the UI Design team, right?

Pachi: Right. As far as I know, she’s been playing the longest at ASW.

Sawada: You know Lancelot’s win pose, where he offers his hand to the defeated opponent and smiles at them? That exists because we asked that UI designer what Lancelot could do for her that would make her happy, and we implemented that. And that’s why Lancelot has more different facial expressions than everyone else.

Pachi: There are a lot of GBF players here at Arc System Works too, not just me and her. We can get a Dark Rapture raid group together in the company. We have to keep up with GBF, or we won’t understand the latest developments in the game.

Sawada: It’s important for us to understand the most popular trends in GBF. Belial’s popularity led to us putting him in GBVS, too.

Famitsu: We were surprised when you announced that Belial will be a playable character in the game. How’s development coming on the DLC characters?

Sawada: We’re developing and adjusting Chaos Bringer and Narmaya right now, since they come out first. Our players want us to bring out the cutest and coolest parts of the female characters, so we’re working hard to make sure we meet their expectations on Narmaya.

Famitsu: Chaos Bringer is a fairly mysterious character, does that make him harder to work on?

Anbe: To be perfectly honest with you, Chaos Bringer was a character that Cygames created because we went to them and asked “we want the strongest boss character you can make.” But we couldn’t just have a character pop out of nowhere and just be the strongest ever, that wouldn’t really fly. So, in order to set him up for GBVS, Cygames had him first appear in “What Makes the Sky Blue”.

Sawada: The moves that Chaos Bringer uses were thought up jointly by our team and by Cygames. We took note of what he does in GBF, so it wasn’t particularly hard to work on him.

Anbe: The story in our game plays out like a sequel to “What Makes the Sky Blue”, and has a lot of original art, so we hope the fans enjoy it.

Famitsu: Any skyfarers who haven’t played GBVS yet should check it out, then. Do you have any messages for GBVS players?

Pachi: For those who have never played a fighting game before, or haven’t played in a long time, I recommend starting with RPG Mode. In RPG mode, you can learn how characters fight while enjoying a nice little adventure, so it’s perfect for new players and returning players.

Sawada: The best part of fighting games and action games is the ability to take control of your favorite character. We think that the barrier of entry is much lower in RPG mode than Versus mode, so people who really love the characters might enjoy that a lot. The lobby function is also useful as a communication tool between fans.

Famitsu: So all of you recommend getting used to the game through RPG mode first?

Pachi: Well, most fighting games have very unfriendly single player modes. The titles that we’ve worked on, we’ve tried to make strides in the right direction. This time, we’ve made the single player mode even gentler on players than before, in the hopes that they will want to go into versus mode.

So, we thought that if we made a single player mode that was like the campaign mode of FPS games, people would be able to dive into it and get invested the game’s world and setting. Plus, it would be a waste of GBF‘s setting if you didn’t get to fight against giant Primal Beast bosses (laughs).

Famitsu: So that’s how RPG Mode as born?

Anbe: At first, we didn’t think we’d fill out RPG Mode with as much content as we did (pained laugh). We talked about wanting a mode we could keep adding on to, and we thought of it as an extension of the versus mode. However, we got really fired up during development of the game, and ended up with RPG Mode. This game essentially has the content of two games, so we hope that GBF players enjoy it.

Pachi: True. On top of the story of RPG mode, we put a lot into RPG mode for people who want to collect weapon skins.

Famitsu: Those weapon skins are really unique. You can change Ladiva’s masks.

Pachi: Because Ladiva fights barehanded, she would normally get new gloves or gauntlets, but we figured we would work the wrestler angle and give her masks. It ended up breaking some of the logic of the game, though (laughs)

You’re going to be seeing this Ladiva in your nightmares. You’re welcome.

Famitsu: How did the weapon skins become part of the game?

Sawada: It started when the development team said “Hey, Gran can hold Lancelot’s weapon and fight” and showed us. We said “That looks cool”, one thing led to another, and we made it a feature.

Pachi: We added a lot of weapons to make skyfarers happy, like Zeta’s Gisla skin, and there are a good number of joke weapons that we didn’t show off before the game was released. There are a lot of gags and GBF jokes in those weapon skins, so I hope you enjoy them.

Famitsu: Those weapon skins seem like they’ll be a hit on social media.

Pachi: You can use RPG mode weapon skins in Versus mode, so I’d like people to collect those weapon skins and use them. In GBVS, we don’t just have the Ability button, but you can also use Technical inputs to use your abilities. You can also use our Guard button or hold the directions away from your opponent to block, to make our game easier to play for beginners to the fighting game genre.

I think we made a game that’s very good as an entry model for fighting games, that both beginners and veterans can play. I hope a lot of people enjoy it.