Arc System Works has a great history with fighting games; aside from the iconic Guilty Gear series, you may recognise the Japanese developer from its work on the likes of BlazBlue, DragonBall FighterZ, Granblue Fantasy Versus and many more besides. And with its fighting game artisanship comes some impressive accolades – Guilty Gear Xrd -Sign- was the first fighting game available on PS4 and laid the foundations for a generation of impeccable fighting experiences to come.
With the launch of Guilty Gear Strive later this week, the developer is treading the same ground again. “Xrd -Sign- was also the first fighting game on PS4, so in that sense, this is a familiar experience to us,” says development director Katano Akira when we ask if there’s more pressure on the studio as they work first game with a dedicated PS5 release (Mortal Kombat 11 was more of a port). “It isn't quite pressure, but it is difficult during development that we don't have other titles to look to as examples.”
Luckily for the studio, there’s not too much work involved in getting the game primed for a release on PS5 as well as PS4 – Arc System Works has always been known for its deft hand when it comes to modifying engines to suit its vision, and the last decade’s worth of Guilty Gear titles have been roundly praised for their stunning anime-inspired visuals. In Xrd and Revelator, these visuals were realized via a heavily modified Unreal Engine 3. But with Strive, we’re heading to the next level.
“Thanks to UE4 support, we were able to develop the game without much difference to the PS4,” says tech programmer Yuuki Kawakami. “Guilty Gear Strive runs at 60fps – even on a regular PS4 – and has a light processing load, so we did not make any particular optimizations for the PS5. The optimizations are generally made via UE4.”
Critics and consumers alike praise the Guilty Gear series for its flashy visuals; stunning animation sequences that’d make even the most creative and bombastic anime director blush. Whether it’s tracking shot zooming up super-powered secret agent Giovanna’s muscley thighs to land on her face as she nuzzles into the wolf that lives on her shoulder (don’t ask), or a quick snap of the camera to the singular eyehole, poked through a paper bag, that troubled savant doctor Faust uses to see, practically every animation in Guilty Gear Strive is hypnotic. It’s impactful. And it’s all intentional.
“Our team thinks of the visuals we want to produce first and works to that end through trial-and-error, rather than thinking of the engine's features,” says Akira when we ask about the process of fitting this game together in Unreal Engine 4. “UE4 made it possible for us to effectively make use of various camera effects.”
Arc System Works isn’t afraid to rummage through the depths of its development toolkit and manually tweak animations and models in order to get the results it wants; whether that’s modelling and scripting an ‘afro’ effect for all characters (yes, really) or sculpting their faces into a pained expression that comes out when they’re slapped in the shin by Dr. Faust’s wheelchair, there’s a lot of specific detail in this game that the developers have – evidently – poured their hearts into.
It’s no secret that the development process of Strive has been long and taxing for Arc System Works; the developer was hit just as hard by the Covid-19 pandemic in Japan as other studios around the world, and as a result, Strive has been delayed a few times. Yamanaka Takeshi, producer on the game, says: “We have changed our approach to include a model of both pre-release and post-release development, including events like tournaments. This makes it quite a long haul for the staff who are involved from the very start of a title!”
The upside? This has given the devs more time to focus on making the game a success, and has given the studio longer to consider the game-as-a-service model Strive will support from launch. ”When we are developing for the Guilty Gear series, we are always working under high pressure,” says Akira. “This is because we want our flagship title to be the best game possible and for as many players to enjoy it as possible.”
And, in order for it to be the most successful game it can be, the developers have implemented something fans have been asking for since the PS4 days: rollback netcode.
“It's gotten harder [to engineer and implement rollback netcode],” says Takeshi Nazawa, lead programmer on the game. “This was our first time working on rollback netcode, and it was quite a challenge. Over the years, and especially during the pandemic, the need to be able to provide an experience as smooth as possible has become more and more important. This means the rollback netcode is something very important, which inspired us to try harder.”
By all accounts, it’s worked. Over the course of two betas and a slew of pre-launch events, Guilty Gear Strive has been roundly praised for its netcode – lauded as stable, fair and robust. Traditionally, fighting games tend to buckle under the pressure of a worldwide simultaneous release, but it looks like Arc System Works has done everything it needs to keep its fans – and its developers – as happy as possible during what could have otherwise been a very difficult launch.
Guilty Gear Strive releases on June 11 on PS4, PS5, and Steam.