The Street Fighter series is one of Capcom's premier properties and one of the fighting genre's most iconic names. Almost a year on from the launch of its critically acclaimed franchise reboot, Street Fighter IV, the company is rapidly approaching the release of its next iteration for the series on the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3: Super Street Fighter IV.
In our previous hands-on with the game, we got to grips with the series' latest addition, the Turkish oil wrestler Hakan. While a grappler at his core, Hakan also sports an interesting oil-up manoeuvre, which increases his defence and attack stats and modifies some of his attacks. We also tried out the Street Fighter III characters that will be appearing in Super Street Fighter IV--Makoto, Dudley, and Ibuki--and found all three to be pretty close to their original styles (albeit without the earlier series' parry system).
We caught up with game producer Yoshinori Ono, the series' spiritual father, to chat community feedback, Street Fighter IV, and how getting cornered in a Korean bar brought about the nation's first fighter.
GameSpot: Street Fighter has always been a series balanced and tweaked at each iteration. Which characters will be receiving changes in Super Street Fighter IV? Who was too powerful, and which characters underperformed?
Yoshinori Ono: We have carried out tuning for all characters. It has been a year and a half since the arcade release and almost a year since the console release. In this time span an unbelievable amount of research and study has been done on characters and tactics. We are very surprised to the extensiveness of this, and many things we were not expecting were discovered as a result. However, for SSFIV I don't think anyone is too strong or too weak. I know there is the legend of overpowered Sagat and supposedly weak Vega (Balrog in Japan) and Guile etc., but these tierings really depend on the reviewer and their favourite characters. Also, although everyone talks about Sagat being too strong, I don't know any major tournament champion who uses Sagat. But I do admit the unique elements of characters are exploited at midlevel matches, and this has been readjusted in SSFIV.
GS: You've said that the additional content and SFIV's design mean you're not able to offer SSFIV as downloadable content. Would DLC have been your preferred method of release for SSFIV if you had had the choice?
YO: The game system is still the same in SSFIV, but we did not want to change the fundamentals because that would have meant we would be rewriting the rule book of the game. However, considering the number of additional characters, extra reactions for the existing characters, and the amount of auxiliary data, it just would have been too large for a DLC. It would have also caused an issue in terms of online player matching due to compatibility. So the decision was to release SSFIV as a packaged title, but considering how much new stuff we've implemented--it is more like [Street Fighter] 4.9!
GS: Which of the changes in SSFIV are a result of community feedback on SFIV?
YO: Majority of them I say. We heard the community on the character unlock issue, new characters, tuning direction, online features--I can go on with the list forever. Along with our Western Capcom offices we have gathered global opinions through official qualitative research, comments on Web sites, [social networking sites] like Facebook, blog articles, and anything that we could get our hands on. Although it still bears the number IV, I honestly believe this is a new title in its own right. Anything you didn't like about SFIV? You can rest assured that has been improved in SSFIV, because we really have looked into every aspect of the game. No way? Yes way.
GS: Tell us about Juri and her abilities. Why has it taken so long to add a Korean character to the roster?
YO: I heard from one of my seniors in the past that there was a plan for a Korean character due to the popularity SFII was gaining in Korea. However, the Korean government then had in effect strict limitations against the Japanese language and culture on media, including entertainment, and we never got round to realising the plan.
Since then, however, Capcom set up a subsidiary, Capcom Korea. When we released SFIV, Capcom Korea locked me in a nice bar and demanded that should there be an opportunity for another SF title it should have a Korean character in it. Although other fighting games already had Korean characters, Capcom Korea told me that there was no point unless there was one in the series that started it all, and this was also the will of the Korean fans. I had to agree so I was able to leave…
This is basically the full picture of why there wasn't a Korean character until this point and why we do now.
GS: Run us through the process for character selection. How do you decide who makes the cut?
YO: I believe fighting games are tools for entertainment, rather than the entertainment content itself. The most important part of an entertainment tool is the rules when using them. For instance, just because the knight is a cool piece, filling up the chessboard with just knights would ruin the game, and therefore the chessboard loses the purpose as a tool.
In IV, the rule writer is the lead planner. The director and the producer both work to discuss from different viewpoints the character selections, design, and the game direction with the development team. Some ideas are taken up, some are not. It's all about the balance, but it's impossible to get this right in early stages. During the development, we sometimes implement a test character and just play them. If they feel right, we'll work some more on the character. However, if that character was from a previous instalment, then the feeling has to be right as it was then, be it the speed, movement, response, and combos, so the need of testing throughout once again. Having passed all of the above, a character finally makes it in the roster. Many of my character suggestions and ideas sank deep down the sea of balance tests. This question is making me feel rather sentimental…
GS: Other than rebalancing, how else are you reworking the existing SFIV roster? New moves? New story?
YO: Storywise, it is set at the same time as SFIV. However, we've renewed all the prologues and epilogues for all the characters. We also took in a lot of comments from the community on this too, and I'm sure we'll please. There are some new moves for some characters as we felt this was necessary, as well as variations of existing moves as a part of the extensive tuning. However, the largest change is the selectable ultra combo. In SSFIV there are two ultra combos per character. Back in III we had selectable super arts, but this only forced the majority of players to pick just one style, and I regret it wasn't the best system. In SSFIV we have reflected the lesson learnt and made the two available depending on the way the player wants to utilise the character. We've cooked up SSFIV a lot spicier than SFIV. Bon appetit!
GS: We've heard talk of multiplayer lobby changes and team battle modes in SSFIV. What's new in online multiplayer?
YO: These days I often see team battles in Street Fighter tournaments, such as two-on-two, three-on-three, four-on-four, and such. I hear it's a similar story when a group of friends play an ad hoc tournament amongst each other. So, our plan was to allow exactly this online. You can either get together with friends and arrange this or enter into a team battle alone and play the arcade mode while you wait for the slots to be filled up. Of course, you can choose to watch your teammate's match, and if you liked what you saw, save it and watch it again later! Yes, the replay function is extensive and you can record, play, and even share match videos. The new feature, Replay Channel, displays the latest matches recorded from all over the world, and you can now truly enjoy Street Fighter playing or just watching 24/7.
GS: How are you going to address concerns about dividing the community because SFIV and SSFIV won't be compatible with each other for online play?
YO: As I said in my answer to your second question, we have anticipated this issue to come at the community's expense. We have tried to solve this by providing more than what DLCs could, at a relatively low price. We feel that SSFIV is more like SF4.9, and we would like the community to upgrade to this new title.
GS: Will there be a PC version of SSFIV? If so, will you offer additional features to the console release when it ships?
YO: I am aware Capcom Japan has received many requests from PC users. However, due to the development time constraints and resource issues, we have not managed to plan this yet. However, as developers, we don't want to leave those who love SFIV behind, and this is not limited to just the PC issue. We can only do so much, but we'll definitely keep on moving forward.
GS: You've mentioned a bonus for gamers who already own Street Fighter IV. What can you tell us about it, and is there any truth to rumours of aggressive trade-in value at retailers for gamers who want to upgrade to SSFIV?
YO: We'll be revealing this information shortly.
GS: Why have you brought back bonus stages? Will we see all the old favourites return? Can we expect new ones?
YO: I've been telling everyone that I wanted to implement the bonus stages since the early development stage of SFIV, but I couldn't make it happen. I even received some letters from harsh members of the community saying that I was a liar. I was one sad producer indeed.
However, I am no longer a liar. I do think a lot of people trace their memories of the SF series to the bonus stages. For SSFIV, we've picked the iconic car and barrel stages. If I have the chance, I would like to complete the roster and create a new one in the future.
GS: Yoshinori Ono, thanks for your time.