The always enthusiastic Street Fighter IV producer Yoshinori Ono is in demand. With interest in the fighting game now ramping up to dangerous levels due to the release of the arcade version in Japan, everyone wants their piece of the man charged with bringing the greatest beat-em-up series ever conceived kicking and screaming into the 21st century. At Leipzig Games Convention last week we cornered Ono-san and unleashed a few fireballs of our own, pinning him down on the upcoming console versions and scoring hot new details. What was his response? Find out right here...
VideoGamer.com: How big a problem will lag be for online play in the console versions?
Yoshinori Ono: Obviously lag will be a huge problem for online play. We're working on it. Compared to other games such as Virtua Fighter and Soul Calibur, they've got replay functions and so forth. It's quite difficult for 3D Street Fighter at the moment. In order to prevent the lag we're thinking about trying to balance it up at user interface level and input timing by using joystick or something like that. We still haven't got a complete plan as yet. We're still working on it. That's all we can say at the moment.
VideoGamer.com: Why did you make the decision to remove parrying for Street Fighter IV?
YO: I didn't want to create an entertainment video game as such. I wanted Street Fighter IV to be a tool for the people to use and enjoy themselves. I often use the analogy of a chess game. Chess can be played by the American or Russian champion, if you like. We can see them playing chess on live TV and so on. The parrying system is that level. It's quite hard for the vast majority to master. But chess can be played by grandpa and grand kids on a Sunday afternoon. I want Street Fighter IV to be a tool for everyone to enjoy, therefore deliberately I didn't include the parrying system. But you know we carried on with the focus attack and such. Basically we used the rule book from Street Fighter II because that was the most popular.
VideoGamer.com: Some critics have said the game is too similar to Street Fighter II. That is doesn't move the series forward. What do you say to those criticisms?
YO: Well, you know obviously there are subtle differences, wider screens and speed. But ultimately we wanted to create a sequel to Street Fighter II, so if someone says this looks just like Street Fighter II with glorified graphics, then that's music to our ears!
There is one other journalist in Asia, he is from Hong Kong. He said the same thing. He was poker faced. I wasn't sure if he was sarcastic or he meant to be positive, but when I said that's the word I wanted to hear, he just shut up, so he was probably being sarcastic. When you compare the two side by side, Street Fighter II and Street Fighter IV, obviously there are lots of differences. However the team focused on creating a sequel to Street Fighter II. So if people play it and then have the control feel of Street Fighter II, that's what we were aiming for.
VideoGamer.com: Will there be any special single-player modes on the console version, like an adventure mode?
YO: We said that Street Fighter IV is a tool, it's not an entertainment video game. Having said that we never really revealed the story of each character as such in the previous iteration. So in Street Fighter IV we put in a little bit of cut scene to introduce every single character before you play that character, so you know why they started to fight again, getting into trouble after the Street Fighter II time line. Then after the match or fight you will get a little bit more story as well. That is not included in the arcade version, only the console versions.
VideoGamer.com: What were the influences behind the new character designs? C. Viper almost looks like a SNK character?
YO: We sat down with the internal team and discussed what sort of character we should include. We did market research. There was no intention of having an SNK type character whatsoever. We picked the good parts of the different candidates and C. Viper was born. After that some users started to say that yeah she does look like an SNK character. For us it was not intentional. But we were impressed that SNK was one step before us, they had already done it. So that's what happened.
VideoGamer.com: There are rumours that the console versions will be released to coincide with the release of the new movie in March 2009. Is there any truth to the rumour?
YO: Our R&D team didn't know much about this timing! They are just put under pressure by those people sitting outside. So at the moment development time wise, we've just about managed to take on the arcade version on console. Obviously we have to balance the game and add on the other features for the console version. We're just working on it. We still don't know.
However, I also attended Comic Con in San Diego. A lot of users expressed their frustration that the arcade version is only released in Asia and they still can't put their hands on Street Fighter IV. I'm thinking as long as the game has the basic tool function for everyone to enjoy, we may be able to release it on the early side. We still don't know.
VideoGamer.com: Street Fighter IV will be the first Street Fighter game for a lot of people. Have you put any tutorial in the game to help them?
YO: Yes we do have tutorials in Street Fighter IV. But on top of that we just celebrated the 20th anniversary of Street Fighter this year. That means our history with this franchise, probably people who played Street Fighter II, they grew up, became a mother or father, they may be able to teach their children or niece, nephew how to play.
VideoGamer.com: There are a couple of console exclusive characters, why did you decide not to release those in the arcade version?
YO: We just didn't have the time! Going back to the chess analogy. One character is a rule that you have to master to enjoy the game. So if with the other games, where you get all the characters to select all over the screen, you have to master so many rules. That would interfere with the majority of people's enjoyment. 16 characters for arcade, we thought was just about right. Then plus Fei-Long and Dan. We haven't decided more additional characters for console yet, but probably we will. The console version will have a little bit more characters.
VideoGamer.com: What do you look for when deciding on a character to include in the game?
YO: Going back to the chess analogy once again, the arcade characters, 16 of them, I just thought we had all the chess pieces we needed. However for the console version, we wanted to include a wider audience. In order to attract those people, the character doesn't have to be new, but someone who is familiar from the past iterations, gives you a familiar control feel, or a brand new character that could be an introduction for new people.
VideoGamer.com: Will there be any console exclusive characters, like in Soul Calibur IV?
YO: Well this is just my policy, but I don't want to give an exclusive character for any particular console. And that applies to downloadable characters as well. Because it's not very fair, when you think about this as a board game or a tool. Hidden characters? If we're going to talk about hidden characters they won't be hidden any more!
VideoGamer.com: Will you release patches for the console version to help balance post-release?
YO: Well I suppose in the olden days we didn't have a word like patch. These days anything can be fixed with a patch. We used to release an updated version of Street Fighter, Super or that sort of iteration. We still don't know. We have feedback from the Asian territory where we already released the arcade version. Having said that, that's only part of the community we're talking about. We can't just hastily apply that to the market. We have to monitor the reaction from the community. As a result we may have to release a patch or we may have to release Street Fighter V! We don't know.
VideoGamer.com: Tournament players sort the characters into tiers. What tiers do the new Street Fighter IV characters fit into in your opinion?
YO: We still don't know which characters will be too strong. We really have to monitor the community for a year before we know. We've just started to hear a lot of people saying Blanka may be too strong. We're picking that up from blogs. If you remember Blanka was never in the spotlight in Street Fighter II. Now we're reading from the blogs they're saying 'our time has come!'. You can't really take them seriously, but...
Having said that we had an event in Tokyo and the first and second one were using Blanka, so probably their time has come.
VideoGamer.com: What are your favourite characters?
YO: I think I've mastered Ryu and Ken. But at the moment I like the speed of El Fuerte. A lot of people say Abel is a formidable character so I'm thinking about moving on to Abel. Abel is quite interesting. I've seen within the company a lot of people playing Abel. I've started to realise how to use Abel to beat up other characters. So if I can master it in the early stages I can put my hat on and go down to the arcade and beat everyone up. But after a couple of weeks I'm going to get beaten!
VideoGamer.com: Do you think the future of fighting games is on console and not arcade, given the rise of online play?
YO: Yeah, I do think that online will be increasingly important, especially in comparison to the arcade. A fighting game is essentially a fight between two people. You can stick two pads in front of one screen. But, if you get better infrastructure, especially in Europe, you know there are still some European countries that still haven't got that infrastructure in place yet, you can start to play with an opponent far away from yourself. Online will definitely be the future of the fighting game.
Having said that I don't think the arcade will die down either. You can see a good player on YouTube but at the end of the day you really have to see how the experts control it, so I always go down to the arcade and to the people and see how they play. So those people who are serious about fighting games will still go down to the arcade. Unless we're going to have an optical fibre and an additional camera on top of your head or whatever so you can see their hands moving, it's going to another decade or so!
VideoGamer.com: What is the story behind Seth and will he be a playable character?
YO: Do you want to play him?
VideoGamer.com: Er... yeah. I think so.
YO: You don't sound very interested!
VideoGamer.com: It's because I don't know much about him.
YO: Ah! I'm going to tell my team that we found one person who may be interested in playing as Seth, and probably we can tell you more about it at Tokyo Game Show. If I can recruit another four who wants to play that could be more persuasive, probably.
VideoGamer.com: In other fighting games you have a spectator mode, where you can watch other matches while you wait for your turn to play. Will Street Fighter IV have a similar mode?
YO: I'm thinking about it. It would be quite good. But it depends on how much capacity we would use within the infrastructure. So we haven't decided yet. Essentially the more people watching two fighting, that means the spectators are taking up the capacity of your play, so it might affect your play with lag.
VideoGamer.com: You've been quoted that it is possible for Street Fighter IV to come to the Nintendo Wii. Is that true? The graphics look very difficult to recreate on the Wii?
YO: It is doable. At the end of the day this is a 2D fighting game and I have no objection to doing it as long as there is a market for it. Going back to the chess analogy, this is a tool for people to play, so it's like a board game, the more the merrier. It's going to be a straight port of Street Fighter IV. We're not going to make it as a kids version or anything like that. But yeah, if we get money and resources we would love to do it.
VideoGamer.com: Is it possible to achieve the same graphical quality in the arcade version on the Wii?
YO: I've never worked on the Wii before so I can't say for sure. But we'll figure out something.
VideoGamer.com: Will you be able to chose the speed and handicap for Street Fighter IV?
YO: No. You're not going to be able to change the speed in Street Fighter IV. But handicap we're considering. Probably using a battle point, which is already in the arcade version, we may be able to work out the handicap. We still don't know yet.
VideoGamer.com: With the arcade version already out and the console versions coming out relatively soon. Have you already got a list of ideas for Street Fighter V?
YO: I'm not there yet. I can't really work on games till the sun goes down. I'm really in the middle of it right now.
VideoGamer.com: Ed Boon, the creator of Mortal Kombat, has been quoted as saying Mortal Kombat VS DC Universe will 'kick Street Fighter's ass'. What's your response?
YO: You know what, if they can turn the comic fan into a fighting genre fan, the more the merrier. If they can kick our ass, so be it, bring it on! We're in the same team as far as we're concerned so if they can do it, great.
VideoGamer.com: You're releasing Super Street Fighter II Turbo as a downloadable HD Remix on XBL and PSN. Might you do this with Street Fighter III, which never really took off in Europe?
YO: This is part of the reason why we wanted Street Fighter IV to include the wider community. Going back to the chess analogy, Street Fighter III was like the championship chess level. However we wanted to appeal to the grandpa grand kids Sunday afternoon chess game, that's Street Fighter IV. We never say never. Street Fighter III may become a digital download game. We don't know. Speaking hypothetically, Street Fighter V, when the market is ready we might opt for the other version of the game.
My dream is that Street Fighter IV will be like everyone's got it at home and when people gather it's like a party game, like a board game, like the Wii!
VideoGamer.com: That's great thank you for your time.
Street Fighter IV is out in Japanese arcades now. The Xbox 360, PS3 and PC versions are TBC.