Street Fighter IV producer Yoshinori Ono tells us how Capcom’s going to put the fight back into the fighting genre in this extensive feature.
The first thing I thought about,” says Yoshinori Ono, the producer of Street Fighter IV, “was that I wanted to go back to Street Fighter II.” That’s a bold statement in the context of big game franchises, which despite their frequent lack of innovation are often all too eager to pay lip service to the same. It’s also a problem. Where do you begin reimagining a game that not only defined a genre, but to many minds hasn’t yet been bettered?
“You begin by looking at the foundations of the series, to try and create something inspired by the feel, the gameplay, the atmosphere and everything about that game,” insists Ono. Isn’t that a little dangerous? “Yes! I’m not aiming to create a game that will be better than SFII, but I suppose I am aiming to follow in its footsteps. SFII is like a bible – every time I play it, it inspires me to strive and try harder.”
Street Fighter IV was officially announced by Capcom in October, along with a trailer on the game’s official website. Within hours, the volume of traffic had crashed the site, and speculation was running rampant. The level of investment people have in the series is obvious, as supporters of 3D and 2D stylings became more vociferous, and occasionally vicious, about their desired interpretation.
moscallout“I couldn’t have betrayed all of the real Street Fighter fans, anyway. They would have killed me.”/moscalloutOno is adamant about the idea of a 3D Street Fighter: “No, I never had thoughts like that – in my mind if Capcom’s going to work on a 3D fighting game it should be a new IP, because it’s not Street Fighter.” Instead, SFIV is played on an entirely 2D plane, but with exceptionally animated 3D graphics. “I had a vision,” says Ono, “of SFIV’s look – a moving picture that would combine with the instant controls of SFII. There have already been discussions about whether SFIV will be 2D or 3D – in my mind, it’s both.”
But come now, in practical terms it’s purely 2D. “Look at the monitor screen,” insists Ono. “It’s flat. 3D games are simply creating an illusion of depth, and we have that. For a player, a fighting game in 2D is hard enough, and as soon as you add the extra dimension of depth it’s extremely hard, but 2D works: it makes it much easier to attack your opponent on a flat plane. I couldn’t have betrayed all of the real Street Fighter fans, anyway. They would have killed me.”
While saying all of this, Ono has moved from his chair to a monitor showing the game and back again twice, has drawn multiple characters in the air with his fingers and almost spilled a glass of water over his joystick. It’s all part of an infectious enthusiasm for the game. Later, when demonstrating a new move of Ryu’s, he gestures wildly before kicking the table hard in his excitement and pulling up sharply from the pain. After a brief grimace, he’s straight back into explaining his ideas and forgets about it.
Demonstrating an aspect of the Ken and Ryu face-off, a coffee cup and a camera are pressed into service as the two fighters, banging each other around a little (the camera – Ryu – wins a crushing victory). Ono’s entire being is composed of hand gestures at times, waving above and around his head, miming moves and opponents and almost reverentially transferring them to the joystick’s buttons. Then he quickly changes into full concentration mode.
And when playing, he’s rapid and aggressive, full of quick jabs, three-and four-hit combos and an infectious laugh at the absurd fun of masses of muscle knocking each other around. After his third win in a row he’s laughing: “Do I have to be softer on you?” The next fight sees us grab a narrow victory, before normal service is resumed with a devastating super combo. But we take our defeat with good grace. “You Europeans are more reserved than Americans,” says Ono, before laughing. “Then again, Americans are quite vulgar!” When we finally win a handful of matches, the grin remains in place, with shouts of “One more chance!” and jocular bows before: “OK, you’ve beaten me – now you’re allowed to ask some questions.”
There are so many possible approaches to the game it’s hard to begin, but one of the most unusual aspects of SFIV is that Capcom is taking an open-house approach to development, with some significant outsourcing. “It’s not for convenience, though,” Ono is quick to point out. “Those studios have people who’ve worked on a Capcom fighting game before. Obviously we’re controlling the game’s development, but some programming can be outsourced to people who have experience of these things – you can see that SFIV is a Capcom game all over: basically, we looked to get people involved who had made SFII.”
It’s another homage to SFII, and perhaps the greatest in terms of substance: “It was a critical time if we wanted to get all of these talents back together for a Street Fighter. If we hadn’t done it now, the chance may have been gone forever – so Capcom thought that the time had come. As a project manager I wanted to keep people involved who had been there from the start, and then by mixing it up with the input of the younger people within Capcom you might get something special.”