In the boot of the factory: The early days of Tekken (Topic)

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In the boot of the factory: The early days of Tekken


One of the main Bandai Namco employees who was responsible for the creation of Tekken was Katsuhiro Harada. He became the face of the series and the leader in control of most of Bandai Namco. But Masanori Yamada, the main programmer of the first three parts, played a key role in the early games of the Tekken series. He was responsible for ensuring that the first Tekkens worked well on arcades and generally on the PlayStation. In a 2017 interview with the Sony PlayStation Blog, Harada called Yamada "a true genius of the 80s and 90s," saying that his work inspired PlayStation creator Ken Kutaragi. In honor of the recent 25th anniversary of PlayStation, Polygon recorded a documentary, during which they chatted with Yamada. He told them about the early days of the Tekken series and the PlayStation, and also how everything was done at the last moment. By the way, in honor of the same anniversary of the first PlayStation, read our material about the evolution of the console from Sony.

In the right place at the right time

Yamada joined Bandai Namco in 1988, where he developed arcade games such as the shoot-'em-up Dangerous Seed and the four-player fighting game Knuckle Heads. He also worked on several canceled projects.

In the early 90s, Yamada volunteered to join a new arcade-focused studio that Namco was planning to open in San Jose, California. But when the idea was canceled, he became interested in new console hardware. First he got his hands on the 3DO.

“I checked her work and I didn't like it, but then I heard that something interesting was coming,” Yamada says.


That rumor turned out to be Sony's PlayStation. Yamada was skeptical of the console until he saw it in person. “When I saw the console itself, I knew people would fall in love with it,” he says.

Yamada spent time each day carrying his work PC from Namco's Yokohama office to Sony's Aoyama office to take notes and study new equipment, and then report back to colleagues. Around the same time, he said, Namco became interested in developing a 3D fighting game similar to Virtua Fighter, and the timing nearly coincided with Sony's PlayStation plans.

One of Yamada's earliest memories of working with hardware was using a sample 3D model created by an artist at Namco as a test - a version of Cammy from the Street Fighter series and launching it on the PlayStation. As the textures and level of detail increased, he realized that the hardware was something special.

Yamada says that after a long study of the inside, he set out to surpass his competitors, including the early PlayStation fighting Arena Toshinden and Namco's own Ridge Racer, which was being developed on the same floor next to Tekken.


Yamada says that Bandai Namco has been releasing games in a short time because it has always used the most advanced technology in the industry. He estimates that the arcade version of Tekken took a year to create, with the PlayStation port taking another three months, while the Tekken 2 arcade took six months and the PlayStation port another six months.

The biggest problem, from Yamada's point of view, was that games needed to fit into the PlayStation's limited memory. Although the arcade versions ran on modified PlayStation hardware, they used 4MB of RAM, while the console versions had to fit in 2MB.

"It was quite fun," Yamada says, ironically calling himself a "masochist" because he enjoyed working with limited memory.

“I literally lived in an office. At that moment we were all told that we cannot go home without permission, even on weekends, ”he says. “When I wanted to go home, I said that I needed to go for new clothes. Going to sleep was not a good enough reason. ”

Despite the conditions, Yamada says that he liked the work and is proud of the results, noting that he was able to open up additional space in the arcade version and squeeze it in a very dignified way.

“She doesn't look any different after all, does she?” he adds.

At the last moment

Running on tight deadlines was a common thing for Tekken. Yamada recounts how the studio showed the original Tekken at the 1994 JAMMA arcade game conference in Japan, where Namco put the game face-to-face with Sega's Virtua Fighter 2.


Sony and Namco collaborated on System 11, a modified version of the PlayStation that wasn't as powerful as some of its competitors, such as the Sega Model 2, which ran Virtua Fighter 2, but was inexpensive and could help port games to PlayStation in an easier way. Tekken was supposed to be the first game on hardware.

Yamada is having problems with the latest hardware release and starting gameplay. Shortly before the JAMMA show, Ken Kutaragi [former CEO of Sony] visited Namco and realized that the game would not launch.

“He told me not to worry, because he will send an engineer to debug everything. He hooked Suzuoka [SCEI equipment architect], who was to get married the next day. He called his wife from a pay phone and said he would be late for tomorrow's ceremony. After this conversation, we did not sleep all night. He prepared four or five solutions to our problem, but at first none worked. There was one last option: he said that if it didn't work, then he didn't know what to do. When he took up his last chance, his voice trembled a little. He asked to start the game.

The next day we had Tekken, which worked great on the show floor. I still can't help but think of Suzuoki as a god, and I am also grateful to Kutaragi for sending him to me.


The Engineer received a special commendation straight from Kutaragi.

Also from this, Yamada recalls a time when the development team had to transport the disc to the Sony PlayStation production site in the middle of the night, although he cannot say for sure if this happened with Tekken 2 or Tekken 3. He says:

“We waited until the very end - until the very last minutes before being sent to print. I remember bringing the game straight to the factory. We finished the game at night and had to get final approval for the surrender. In the morning we got approval - it was about 3 or 4 in the morning, someone from the staff hid a bottle of whiskey and said that we should have a drink. Then our boss came and asked us to take the game to the factory, so we got into the car and headed towards Hamamatsu. Maybe I shouldn't say this, but we had too many passengers that we had to put in the trunk as we headed to Hamamatsu.

We delivered the disc, checked if it worked, and finally got production approval for us. I would not advise doing this, as it is dangerous. I'm surprised that we were allowed to do something similar that day, and I'm glad it ended without any problems. ”

PlayStation changed everything

Looking back on his work during the original PlayStation, Yamada, who still works for Bandai Namco, says he misses those days. In particular, the opportunity to work on something that was changing the industry at the time.

He thinks highly of Kutaragi, noting that when he had technical questions about PlayStation hardware, he was surprised when he answered them in person rather than through support.

“However, I think the way Kutaragi was was the reason they were able to release such modern hardware,” adds Yamada.


Kutaragi means a lot to Yamada. One day, Kutaragi got angry when he saw the original prototype PlayStation controller [which resembled a Super Nintendo controller] and threw it against the wall, smashing it. Throughout this time, Yamada kept one of the copies of that controller, feeling that it was something of historical importance. He even brought this controller to one of the documentary shootings, although he refused to show it on camera in order not to anger Sony.

Shuji Utsumi, a former Sony executive who was also present during the filming of the video, recalls the story differently and says that the controller was broken by Sony Chairman Norio.

“By chance, I was able to work closely with PlayStation. I'm incredibly lucky. It was incredibly fun and I would love to work on something just as challenging and innovative. The fact that we cannot make me a little upset. I am ashamed that everything remains the same. I think PlayStation changed the industry, ”concludes the developer.

The Topic of Article: In the boot of the factory: The early days of Tekken.
Author: Jake Pinkman