This week we welcome SNK legend Nobuyuki Kuroki to Arcade Attack! He’s helped bring to life some of our favourite SNK fighting games and over 20 years later has returned to the company with even greater success! A lot of you will have seen the teaser trailer for the new Samurai Shodown (Samurai Spirits) game but I’ve included it below for those of you who haven’t. Needless to say, it looks amazing!
Thanks again to Keisuke Nishikawa at SNK for making the interview possible and also for the translation. Enjoy.
What inspired you to become an artist and did you always want to work in the video game industry?
Since I was a child, I loved plastic models, anime, manga and video games. I did not intend to become an artist but more naturally became one.
First of all, I wanted to get a job linked to art since when I was a student so I decided to go to the art school.
To tell the truth, I wanted to become a manga artist. But I gave up my dream because I realised that I was not talented in it.
In those days, there was no internet or SNS as today and there was not much information about the video game companies. That was why I had no idea to create the video games.
However I found the requirement list for SNK on the bulletin board at my school by chance.
How did you get the opportunity to work at the amazing SNK?
When I visited the SNK office, I saw the pinnacle dot artworks and those looked amazing. Another reason was the existence of Art of Fighting.
Well, all factors of Art of Fighting such as the artwork, sound effects, music, gameplay and so on were totally my taste.
I was like “Okay…this is just really cool…” .
I still remember the moment when I saw Ryuuko Ranbu first time.
I’d never experienced shaking my hands with huge excitement for anything like that, except Art of Fighting.
And then, I thought that I would like to work for this company which developed this fantastic masterpiece.
What was the first SNK game you created artwork for and how do you reflect back on this title?
My first works were to create the character artworks for the muscular men at Yuri Sakazaki’s stage and geese for Art of Fighting 2. I just managed to handle what my senior colleagues at the office said to me.
I was an assistant for Art of Fighting 2. But I finally I worked on Jin brothers for Fatal Fury 3 on my own. I really managed to work on these characters whilst feeling like “What am I supposed to do? How should I do this?” That is why I strongly still remember those days. The artworks I worked on at the time make me feel a bit awkward when I see them now. But I got how difficult it is for the artists to create the original characters from zero.
What are your main inspirations when you are looking to create such iconic and high-quality artwork for a game?
It may sound like a common story but, I’ve always got a huge influence from the films, manga or video games which I encounter at the time.
Apart from those things, I love to see the art from other countries ever since I was a child.
I used to watch western cowboy films with my father because he was a huge fan of John Wayne. And also I was crazy about the fantasy genre such as Dragonlance and The Lord of the Rings.
I sometimes watch the old films or fantasy arts and still gain inspiration from them.
As an art director, what are your main responsibilities that help SNK to what it is today?
Not only my work for the company as the art director, and to make our fans happy with it but also to create high-quality graphics.
For the goals, the first thing I always keep in my mind is to train internal staff members.
Without increasing the number of art directors, developing multiple titles is difficult and we cannot create the artworks which we show to the world with self-confidence without raising up staff’s skills.
We know that we need to improve SNK’s 3D graphic techniques more.
We have a lot of things which we have to learn. But I believe that you will see how our internal staffs are growing up with our latest title Samurai Shodown!
My goal is to create artworks which surprise everybody each time we announce the latest titles.
Art of Fighting and the Fatal Fury series have become legendary franchises, did you ever expect it to have the kind of status that you see today compared in the 1990’s?
When I started to work at SNK, Art of Fighting was already a big title. For Fatal Fury series, we were thinking of that this title would be another big title in Japan.
To be honest, I had no idea how much the Fatal Fury series was a hit in other countries until I had a talk with foreign media or fans from other countries when I took a business trip to participate in KOF XIV’s event.
How do you make sure the art style and animation is correct for each character you have worked on?
When we worked on Art of Fighting or Fatal Fury, all staff were great rivals to each other. We’d thought that we should surprise other colleagues first before our fans!
However they like, how should say, eccentric tastes. I am not sure whether our fans would have the same taste as our colleagues!
You have worked on so many classic fighting games. Out of all the characters, do you have a personal favourite?
Well, there are many choices, but if I can pick up only one, it will be Terry Bogard.
The King of Fighters XIV is a success and been chosen in just about all fighting tournaments worldwide. In fact, it’s been enjoyed by countless gamers repeatedly. How does that make you feel as a director on how well it’s doing and for the SNK?
I would say that for our fans, we at SNK have worked harder on developing the game with KOF XIV. We feel that fan expectation for SNK is always increasing and it inspires us as a dev team a lot.
Also we are really glad to see that a number of our fans enjoy our games, from the bottom of our hearts.
Every time we watch the gameplay by the KOF top players, we think like “Wow, the characters we created can be moved like that!”
On the other hand, there are unfortunately some parts which we could not achieve what we wanted with our techniques at the time, to be honest.
Is there a particular piece of artwork within your SNK back catalogue that you are most proud of and can you explain?
In the era of NeoGeo, it was Garou: Mark of the Wolves. I was in charge of the most parts about the characters in the game.
I proposed the characters should take a different direction than previous Fatal Fury series. I believe that we created one of the highest quality-animation in the NeoGeo fighting games.
Not only me but also all staff who worked on Fatal Fury or Art of Fighting made used of their all past experiences on this title.
In addition to this, I cannot say the details but… another one will be Samurai Shodown!
What was your exact role on Garou: Mark of the Wolves and do you feel we will ever see a release of the long-awaited sequel?
For the 2D fighting games, we kick off the artwork with the start pose for the animation. This part will be one of the most important works. In this process, most of character’s design is fixed as. And then the background artwork will fit around the character’s artwork.
This process becomes the first pose for all animations. If the quality is not reached at this stage, the quality of the title itself becomes bad.
I created 9 characters’ poses and checked and directed for rest of the other characters.
For the character animation, I created Rock Howard and B. Jennet by myself. And I reviewed or helped my colleagues for rest of other characters’ animations.
How close was the sequel in development and were you involved in this project?
Yes, I worked on the sequel too.
Regarding Garou: Mark of the Wolves 2, the animation work was almost done. It’s really a shame that the project broke down.
If we could use a lot of our fans requests, I think we could show GMOW2 not in 2D art style but in 3D. Our dev team wants to think about it, someday.
I don’t know why the project got derailed but I think that it was probably due to the bankruptcy.
What advice would you offer anyone looking to work in the video game and art industry?
You can train and gain the skills after you start to work at a company.
However, your unique ideas come out from what you experienced.
To create brand new characters is absolutely difficult and you can come up only from your experiences. Even if any experience which looks not directly linked or totally different, it could bring great influences for the animations or artworks.
I always give juniors my advice to experience anything which you think interesting for your hobby, sports, trips or so on.
How do you reflect back on your time working at SNK and did the company change a lot throughout the years?
26 years already have passed since I jumped into the videogame industry. If I didn’t experience 7 years until SNK went bankruptcy, I don’t think I would continue to work at SNK like this. I am truly grateful that I experienced a lot of valuable things during those times.
I came back to SNK in 2014. When I came back, I didn’t think that there was a huge difference with the old SNK. But now I feel the company has changed in a good way.
What are your top three video games of all time and why?
Fatal Fury, Diablo 3 and Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare
Fatal Fury impressed me a lot and naturally brought me to do this job.
With regard to Diablo 3, I can’t stop talking about this title haha… But I just was amazed by this title with its vast dedicated content from the beginning to the end. Also this title is good to get rid of some stress for me!
COD series is the title which made me to recognise the turning point for the video game. I did not believe like “Is this film or video game? How could we create something like this?” Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare is my favourite title which I played for the second longest time. First one is Diablo 3!
If you could share a few drinks with a video game character, who would choose and why?
Terry and B. Jennet. I feel like that I’d even forget small concerns or complaints if I could have a chat with them.
Adrian & Anthony