Interview

Koihime Enbu: Interview with Kouhei Nakamura

Koihime Enbu has been around for almost 10 years. At this start of the year, Unknown Games' fighting game celebrates the arrival of its physical release and a collector's edition for its latest version, Ryo Rai Rai. We had the opportunity to ask a few questions to its creator and producer Kouhei Nakamura.

It all started with Koihime Musou: an eroge/tactical game series which revisits the legend of the 3 kingdoms of China, except the characters were all turned into waifus. Do not be fooled by Koihime Enbus's chara-designs or its artistic direction! Wrongly considered an airdasher, it is a ground-based fighting game, all about footsies, and more subtle than it may seem. If you have never tried playing it, we recommend you give it a go.

Not only the game's gameplay can come off as surprising, its technical aspect too, indeed Koihime Enbu has under 2 frames of input lag: this is the best score recorded on WydD's scale, and it is even more remarkable considering it is the first fighting game ever produced by Unknown Games' mysterious team. Degica, the game's editor, had already made an interview towards the end of 2017 where we could learn about how carefully the game was crafted and the philosophy behind its gameplay: the need for players to have fun right off the bat, and the will of making it different from traditional 2D fighters. We still had a few questions in mind, so we sent them over to Nakamura-san.

What can you tell us about Unknown Games' history? Since when does the studio exist, who are the members of this studio?

We ended up forming Unknown Games specifically so we could develop Koihime Enbu. However, most of our staff are illustrators; only a handful work on Koihime Enbu.

What prompted you to make a fighting game, and why did you choose to adapt Koihime Musou?

It all began when we were asked to create a fighting game featuring Koihime Musou's characters. At first we were told to do whatever we wanted in terms of game design. As the game's development was making progress, we got numerous requests to make it more in line with other fighting games, to add airdashes, to make combos more spectacular. I could feel that if we were to take that direction, it would put us in direct competition with other similar titles. So, I looked at Virtua Fighter, a game I admire, to look for inspiration. I decided to make the gameplay more ground-based, with an emphasis on frame data to set a back-and-forth pace between the two players.

In many 2D fighters, you can block an attack and still be at a disadvantage. We wanted to remove that aspect so that the players could get into the strategic scope of the game more easily. We did that by simplifying things: if your move hits the opponent, you are at an advantage, if it gets blocked, the opponent gets the upper hand.

By doing this, we took down many of the barriers to entry that other fighting games have, specifically, having to learn mechanics which are unique to each game. We made sure that some fighting game rules were respected: for instance, you can't get grabbed while you're airborne, backdashes have invulnerability frames. That way, a new player can jump right into the action and experience the game's unique pace immediately.

Which engine did you use to make the game, and why?

We used our own engine. There is no particular reason for this decision, but it allowed us to learn how to build a fighting game from the ground up. During the development stage, we studied numerous fighting games, frame by frame.

The game features less than 2 frames of input lag. That is impressive, especially for a first fighting game. How did you manage to do it?

I made it a rule for myself that an action should begin on the following frame after a button is pressed. There is no particular technology behind this. The fact that we are not using real-time 3D is certainly a contributing factor. Another thing which might have played a rôle would be simultaneous button presses: if you allow for a slight delay between registering inputs, it can lead to some latency and that is why we preferred using more buttons.

Koihime Enbu Ryo Rai Rai just came out. Are you satisfied with how people are playing this new version of the game?

When a game gets updated, or whenever a sequel comes out, the gameplay changes and you tend to lose long-time players. With Koihime Enbu, I tried to stay true to the core gameplay with every update or extra feature. That means some updates may not seem very exciting; however it also means that even if a player were to drop the game and come back after a few updates, they won't be left feeling like the entire game has changed.

Thanks to Kouhei Nakamura, Jake Whitaker and Degica's team.
Thanks to Christophe Lopéré for the translation

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