Far from being seen as the revolutionary step forward for videogames that was Sega’s Virtua Fighter (1993), Namco’s Tekken (1994) appeared as the flashier alternative to those who found VF‘s measured pace and extreme realism off-putting. Tekken was closer in spirit to the action found in Capcom’s Street Fighter II, and featured an entirely different control scheme to Virtua Fighter‘s – a four button setup, with one button assigned to each limb. The character models weren’t as blocky as Virtua Fighter‘s, and the characters were a much more eclectic mix than those found in Sega’s game. Iconic imagery – Paul’s skyscraper haircut, King’s jaguar wrestling mask, Yoshimitsu – flew in the face of VF‘s careful repackaging of familiar archetypes. Interestingly, the most radical addition to the VF cast, Siba, had been cut prior to the game’s release. An Arabian fighter swathed in robes and sporting a huge sword may seem like a classic stereotype, but compared to Akira, the gi-sporting, headbanded Ryu-knock who replaced him, Siba seems outrageous. Tekken took the archetypes, like the wandering martial artist looking for the true fight, and gave them a darker, more sinister spin; the wandering vagabond became a bitter, cowlicked revenger, the strongman became a mohawked robot, the primary female action hero became a villainous assassin. The fighting was full of special moves and unrealistic, over the top feats, in stark contrast to Virtua Fighter’s focus on realistic combat and real-life martial arts styles.

The Tekken cast.

Perhaps the only area in which Tekken strove for realism was the background stages. As far back as the first Street Fighter (1987), visually impressive hand drawn backgrounds had become a staple of fighting games, and they were often based on real landmarks – SF1 features Mount Rushmore, for instance. But Street Fighter II had featured colourful backgrounds specifically tied to each fighter, each featuring theme music which subliminally served to strengthen the appeal and individuality of each of the characters. It worked – you’d encounter wild jungle beasts in Brazil and boxers in Vegas. Mortal Kombat (1992) featured a series of backdrops taken from its impressively realised backstory – the setting started off as a mysterious, Eastern-flavoured island, and as the game progressed, the fighting took place in front of increasingly menacing scenery. The game’s third stage features a visual teaser of the game’s penultimate boss character, and while the first stage sees you fighting in front of passive monks; by the end you’re battling for the tournament’s grandmaster, who patronisingly applauds the winner of the bout.

Mount Rushmore, Street Fighter (1987)

The essentially story-less Virtua Fighter featured none of this, instead showcasing a variety of pretty, yet generic areas in which to mix it up. It was clear that minimal attention had been paid to the backgrounds, and fair enough too – the fully realised 3D characters were what you were there to see, and making them fight was a close second. Tekken took a different path, setting each of its fights in a different location around the world, promoting the idea that it was a world fighting tournament, and that its competitors were from all over the globe. Unlike Street Fighter, the fighters weren’t tied to their specific countries (but this would change in Tekken 2 [1995]). Instead, the stages would cycle through randomly, but each featured their name at the bottom left of the screen, so as to add to the feeling that you were kicking a dude’s ass on a beach in Fiji instead of in the furthest reaches of a dank arcade on the wrong side of town. Also unlike Street Fighter, the backgrounds weren’t hand drawn; the designers used the considerable technology powering Tekken to create backgrounds that were considered at the time to be ‘photorealistic’.


Let’s today take a look at those backgrounds and see how they compare to their real life counterparts.