There's something special about Street Fighter. No other game, it seems, can have a preview event quite like the one I popped along to last Friday. At Maya, a smart club set underneath the busy concrete pavements of London's West End, Super Street Fighter IV, the upcoming fighting game sequel to Street Fighter IV, wasn't just being played, it was being played. And by those in the know, no less. Guys from across the UK who play Street Fighter with the kind of skill only obtained after years of finger-breaking practice. But they weren't the draw. Oh no.
The draw was Capcom's Yoshinori Ono, the man responsible for Super Street Fighter IV and indeed the iconic franchise itself. Here, in a wide ranging interview with VideoGamer.com, conducted as "K0s" and "Hadokens" ring loud in the background, we delve into all things Street Fighter, past, present, and future, and emerge from the rubble with food for fighting game thought.
Q: How does it feel to be the man in charge of one of the most iconic game series in the history of the industry? Do you feel the pressure?
Yoshinori Ono: As you know Capcom has many iconic IPs, but many of them were sealed for the past decade. So in the end it is the fan base that has made the noise and made it possible for us to start on the work. I'm really happy and appreciate people's support.
Q: What were you most satisfied with and what were you most unsatisfied with in Street Fighter IV?
YO: The most satisfying point I must say was when I went on a media tour to several different countries, there was one country where the customs officer knew about the game, and he knew me. He stopped me and started discussing Street Fighter IV. At that moment I knew that this person had been playing Street Fighter II and had been yearning to play the latest instalment.
Now, the most unsatisfying point must be the fact that those people who had been playing Street Fighter II have not fully come back to it yet. So what I called the "daddy age" hasn't really picked up on it yet. I'm trying to spread the opportunities for people to see Street Fighter IV in the way of iPhone Street Fighter IV and such, and hopefully more of those players will come back to it.
Q: Before Street Fighter IV was released, the fighting genre wasn't as popular as it had been in the past, but Street Fighter IV has put the genre back on the map. Were you surprised by the game's success?
YO: I understand that fighting games have always been fun. I wanted to recreate the feeling people used to have when they were playing Super NES Street Fighter II. I rather deem the fighting game as more of a fighting tool, rather than a game. I was pleasantly surprised by the passion people still have for the franchise. I really appreciated it. I deem all the fighting game fans part of a large community, part of a huge class. My analogy is I wanted to do an alumni meet up with all the fighting game fans from the late Eighties and early Nineties. Street Fighter IV was an invitation to all the alumni to come back and meet and have fun.
Q: Super Street Fighter IV introduces ten new characters - two brand new, the rest returning from previous Street Fighter games. What is it about the returning characters that led you to decide they were right to feature in Super?
YO: Back in February when we launched Street Fighter IV, we heard many voices from loads of different fans saying, 'why isn't she in this?', or, 'why isn't he in this?'. There was such a massive outcry for some particular characters. Then I realised there was so much demand for these characters. But unfortunately then Capcom hadn't approved for a sequel to Street Fighter IV, so it only had to be taken in as comments from the community. But because Street Fighter IV was such a success, the company approved for just one more sequence after Street Fighter IV. Rather than overdoing it like in the past with Turbos and Supers, just one Super is acceptable.
Then the team obviously wanted to pick the most popular ones, but some of the popular characters didn't actually fit Street Fighter IV in terms of philosophy and the actual rulebook of the game. We wanted to make sure that we picked the popular characters but at the same time fit the Street Fighter IV directive. Those eight characters that were picked were the ones that matched both popularity and propriety.
Q: Some fans have questioned why the gameplay rebalancing hasn't been made available for free in a downloadable update, and why the new characters haven't been made available as downloadable content. What do you say to that criticism?
YO: My team and I are well aware of the networked, download era we're in, but when we first decided to make Super Street Fighter IV, we weren't going to put so much in this game. But now that we have ten extra characters, and when we thought about what the users really wanted, we just had to add so many more different modes, and in the end the addition became so big it just had to be a disc update. I understand some fans don't like us making this decision. As a token of goodwill I'd like to say this is why we're not releasing the game as a full price disc. I fully think it's worth full price, but as a token of goodwill to the fans, and to say this is an upgrade of what they already have, we've gone for a slightly reduced price range. I hope that will satisfy the fans.
Q: You mentioned Capcom has given approval for just one Street Fighter IV spin-off. Does that mean Super is the last Street Fighter IV game we'll see? If that's the case, what's the future of the franchise? Have you begun to think about where you'll take it in the next year to two years?
YO: I'm well aware of the mistakes the company made in the past, so I don't intend to accept, even if Capcom orders me to make Hyper Street Fighter IV or Ultra Street Fighter IV. But what I can do is if there is a need to update the game in the form of a patch for rebalancing, then that can definitely be done through DLC, or just a download patch. Perhaps we could release a patch that's called Super Street Fighter IV 2011. That would just have the latest updates, but not a new package. Just to set a new regulation for the game.
Does that mean we're going to Street Fighter V straight away? Now I'm not sure about that just yet, because with Street Fighter IV and Super Street Fighter IV I don't think we've managed to pick up all those people who've never played fighting games. We've managed to pick up some of the people who used to play Street Fighter II, but not all of them, and I don't think we've managed to pick up those who've never played fighting games. So what we would like to do is lower the entry barrier for those who have never played the fighting genre before so we can convey that fighting games are a good tool, a good fun thing to have per family. That's what I'll be thinking about in the next few months.
Q: You say you'd like to broaden the appeal of Street Fighter. Microsoft will release Natal very soon, and Sony will release the PlayStation Move very soon. Can both of those motion-sensing technologies be used with Street Fighter to broaden its appeal? Have you begun to think about how motion-sensing can be incorporated into the fighting game genre? Will we see a download patch that will allow us to play Super Street Fighter IV with Natal and PS Move?
YO: I've been interested in motion-sensing for a while, ever since Wii was launched. But I don't think it fits the way Street Fighter is played at the moment. It does broaden the appeal to casual users simply because of the instinctive controls, but it just doesn't quite fit an intricately balanced game such as Street Fighter. Now, there is a possibility of doing something called Street Fighter Fit, or Street Fighter Exercise, that is more suited for motion-sensing games, but that would obviously be a slightly different-themed game.
What I mean by broadening the appeal is that where hardcore players are at the moment, with all their hyper super techniques, that seems to isolate themselves from the rest of the players. What I want to do is connect those people and casual players together so that the progression is a bit more continuous than it is at the moment, where a few of the elitists deem their skills amazing and don't want to play with other people.
Q: Finally, would it be possible for new characters to be made available as DLC, and if so, would Haggar be one you would consider?
YO: Technically, it's completely possible. If I hear many voices of people saying, 'come on, update the game in 2011, add a character or two', I could. But in that case I wouldn't put Haggar in, it would be Hugo!
Super Street Fighter IV is due out on Xbox 360 and PS3 on April 30.