Tekken 8: Rebuilding Tekken in Unreal Engine 5 + Tekken’s Legacy – IGN First

It’s cold at the recording studio at Bandai Namco’s offices in Irvine, California. Tekken 8 producer Michael Murray and I are mic’d up, waiting for the go-ahead from the production team. We’re talking about the weather in the different places we’ve lived, the two American fighting game majors we’re representing (I’m wearing an EVO shirt; Michael is wearing a Combo Breaker hoodie), and Tekken. Lots and lots and lots of Tekken. We spent most of the prior day playing and talking about Tekken 8, but it’s always a little different doing it in front of a camera, and we wanted to be prepared.

Michael Murray is uniquely qualified to talk Tekken; he joined Namco in 2001 because he loved the series. He started out in localization, which wasn’t really a thing at Namco at the time, and he’s been at the company ever since, working on Tekken the entire time. He started out on Tekken 4, but he also worked on several other games, including Ridge Racer, MotoGP, SoulCalibur II, and Ace Combat 4, among others. After spending several years doing localization, he started going to EVO and other fighting game events, where you might have seen him translate for long-time Tekken executive producer Katsuhiro Harada.

Michael has worn a lot of hats: he started working on Tekken in a design capacity during Tekken 6, and transitioned to it full-time by Tekken Tag Tournament 2, where he had his own mode to design. Michael did some marketing work after the merger with Bandai (while, I might add, still working on the games themselves), and started working as a producer in Tekken 7, a role he still occupies for Tekken 8. He also worked on Tekken: Bloodline, an anime adaptation of Tekken 3 that you might have seen on Netflix. That’s 22 years of Tekken, for anyone keeping track. While we were talking, he joked that he spends so much time with Harada that he often knows how he’ll answer questions before he actually answers them. Like I said, I couldn’t have picked anyone better to talk Tekken 8 with.

What follows is an excerpt from a much longer interview on almost every aspect of Tekken’s history and Tekken 8. It’s been condensed and edited for clarity. Don’t worry though; many of Michael’s other thoughts on Tekken 8 will appear in the rest of our exclusive IGN First coverage, running all through October.

IGN: Tekken has a long history of pushing technology forward, and Tekken 8 looks incredible visually. Can you talk about what you wanted to accomplish going into Tekken 8, and how you approached that challenge?

Michael Murray: So, I guess first, to touch on Tekken 7 a little bit: that was a big learning experience. You know, we released the game and supported it for five years. And we kind of had a little bit of a chance to test different things and see what resonates with fans.

And like you said, Tekken is a long-running series. So we learned many things, you know, such as people like villainous characters for guest characters, and things like that.

But also, towards the end, I think one of your favorite characters, Lidia, was added. We noticed that back in the day, maybe around Tekken 3 or so, a lot of people mentioned that they really love that we have real martial arts. So one of the themes was trying to bring that back in with Wing Chun and the Okinawan karate, etc.

But another key theme was that they picked up Tekken because fighting games were kind of a benchmark for what particular hardware could do at the time. Tekken especially was known for its graphics at the time, and SoulCalibur, and some of our other fighting games. So we really wanted to make sure that we had the graphic elements covered for this time.

Being on a new generation of hardware, it’s the first time we were on PlayStation 5, and Xbox Series X and S. So we want to make sure that everything really popped. And so it’s not just about having pretty 4K graphics, but the environments, the characters, the detail, the depth, all of that visually, that whole experience.

To achieve that, we actually threw out all the character models that we had from Tekken 7; we started from scratch. So all the characters, all 32 in a roster, were built from zero, which was quite entertaining because we’re doing the sculpting and everything from scratch. And so it was interesting to see kind of weird-looking Jin Kazama, at first, for example, it’s like, “It doesn’t look quite right!” Even though most of us had been doing this for twenty-something years, right?

And so it took a little bit of trial and error until, you know, the models were perfect. But then, once we showed off Kazuya, I think it was at EVO that year, We were like, “Wow, okay, we’re ready.”

And the fans just exploded with excitement over the level of detail and quality we had in the game models. And then I think now that people have had a chance to play the CAT and the CNT as well, and gotten their hands on the game, they say they see that, not only in the character models but the environments themselves. We were playing earlier, I believe you saw the New York stage that we had. Just the level of detail, not just how pretty it is, But, you know, the puddles on the ground and the reflections, all the different billboards and the detail there. I think all of that – the graphical level that we were able to attain for Tekken 8 – was one of the early goals we had, and I’m pretty happy with the benchmark we hit so far. I mean, obviously, Harada-san says, “We’re not done. You know, we can do more.” But I think what we have so far is pretty great.

IGN: As someone who lives in New York, the New York stage made me very happy because it looks like you could walk through the city and see some of that stuff. So obviously, there are huge advantages to leaving behind the last-gen consoles and focusing entirely on the new generation. Another big thing that people are excited about is that Tekken 8 uses Unreal Engine 5. What has UE5 allowed you to do that you couldn’t do before, and how hard has it been adapting that engine to make a fighting game?

Michael Murray: Well, there are various things. Some of them are user-facing. Some of them are more just development-wise. So, Tekken 7 was the first time we used an external engine. Up until then, it was always just our programmers you know, coding the game.

So when we made the switch to UE4 for Tekken 7, many people probably don’t know this, but [Unreal Engine] mainly just handles drawing the graphics. The actual mechanics of the game and all of that underlying stuff is done in our own proprietary code and scripting. And that’s also the case this time as well for UE5.

So all the enhancements that you see the graphics, the lighting, and the character models, and all that stuff making the game look pretty is handled by UE. But all the underlying game mechanics and things like that are still our technology.

That said, you know, in development, it does make it a lot easier, because before, when we were making past Tekken titles, it was mainly on PlayStation hardware, but if we wanted to port it, it was much more difficult than if you have an engine and makes it a lot easier to port to the different platforms you need to. So, it makes development a lot easier in certain aspects and the game a lot prettier, I guess you could say. But maybe not as drastic a change as a lot of people would think.

IGN: I think it’s really interesting that you brought up being able to more easily do stuff like porting. People associate engines with visual fidelity. But obviously, you all still had to do all the internal work to make Tekken work on Unreal. So I think that’s good for people to know.

Michael Murray: Oh, wait! There is one other thing. It’s quite interesting because UE is an engine that a lot of people are familiar with, I have noticed a lot of non-Japanese engineers are now joining the team.