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A Ridiculous Interview With Street Fighter 5's Yoshinori Ono

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Producer is joined by Matt Dahlgren to discuss big changes to Capcom's flagship franchise.

At Paris Games Week, Street Fighter 5 producer Yoshinori Ono revealed a new character: Dhalsim. Although the Indian yoga master is a seasoned cast member, his latest iteration is very different from previous incarnations, both visually and mechanically.

Reinvention is a key ethos driving the design and development of Street Fighter 5. Although the changes are most tangible in the new characters and fresh mechanics, the newest entry in Capcom's fighting series is also making some big pivots, instigated by changes in the way competitive multiplayer games are played and monetised.

After his appearance on stage during Sony's PlayStation press conference, GameSpot spoke to Ono, along with brand director Matt Dahlgren, and discussed the recent betas, post-release content plans, microtransactions, and more.

At the press conference you announced Dhalsim. Can you discuss what the process is for selecting characters for the roster? What’s important to you when picking?

Yoshinori Ono: We have a lot of discussions about who we want to add and what form they will take if they are added. For Dhalsim for example, he’s a returning character, but he’s also got a new look, his techniques and moves are new, and he’s been rebalanced. We try and pick people in a way that there’s a balanced selection of characters so the players have a level playing field when they want to get started.

You also teased a few post-launch characters. What stage of development are these characters in? Fans will ask why they aren’t just being added to the launch roster.

Matt Dahlgren: Street Fighter 5 in itself is a 16-character game. The characters that are going to be released as post launch content are not finished yet. They’re actually going to be released once they’re finished. So, we’re still working out the cadence on how quickly that’s going to happen, but what we’re working towards internally is about one character every two months. So we’ve been able to map out that we’re going to have six within the first year and plan to continue to build after that.

So there will be a second wave of new characters?

D: Yes.

Internally, do you have a set limit for the number of characters you plan to include in the game? Or will there be new characters for the life of the game?

D: I think we’re just going to watch how things progress. We don’t want to get too far ahead of ourselves. We do have very ambitious plans for Street Fighter 5 and a very long term strategy. We’d like to continue as long as we can, but we’ll have to see how the product does.

You’re working closely with Sony on Street Fighter 5. Does that mean balance changes either for gameplay tweaks or as new characters are added can be more reactive, instead of being staggered the way they were in SF4?

D: Definitely. For the first time in franchise history we’re going to allow all balance adjustments to be available free of charge, so we’re treating it as a platform. If you purchase the game, you’ll be able to upgrade to the content throughout its lifespan and you’re never going to be punished if you take a break from playing the game.

You’re never going to be forced to purchase an upgrade pack or another disc-based product ... We wanted to respect the early adopters and take care of them throughout the lifespan of the game.

Street Fighter 4’s Focus mechanic was pitched as a way to introduce more casual players and give them a tool to hold their ground. Do you think Street Fighter 5’s V-Trigger mechanics, and the gameplay variety it creates, make the game more of a step back towards the hardcore crowd?

O: Starting from scratch has been a key concept for us because Street Fighter 4 had a seven year lifespan and it was iterated on continuously throughout that period. We wanted to draw a line under it, because if we didn’t there would be no reason to release a new game, we could continue iterating. The fans wouldn’t be satisfied with that, they’d feel it pointless to call it Street Fighter 5.

So we wanted to reset that, we have got aspects of the game that are being tuned to allow people who are not hardcore fighting game players to get into the game. But we’re also including depth through the V-System, which is going to be the kind of thing that hardcore players can get to grips with and get better at using over a period of years. We’re really trying to aim for both the hardcore and casual crowds.

Can we expect modes similar to SF4’s Trials to train newcomers and will post-release characters be integrated into these kind of modes? Arcade Edition was missing character specific Trials for new additions it introduced.

O: I can’t say much in response to that before this guy [points to Dahlgren] physically restrains me and tells me to stop. But I’ll say that I am confident that we will meet and exceed fan expectations.

Arcade and Story mode didn’t explore the lore of Street Fighter as well as they perhaps could have. With games like Mortal Kombat serving as a shining example of how a fighting game story can be done well, are you’re looking to improve on your offering, and are you looking at MK for ideas or inspiration?

O: You can find your answer to that question in the expression on my face right now.

Pictured: Ono's expression, and translator Patrick Shields
Pictured: Ono's expression, and translator Patrick Shields

Could you explain a little more how Fight Money works and address discussions that you’ll inevitably introduce microtransactions for cosmetics?

D: We’ve revealed new details on how players can earn Fight Money. The first is by completing daily goals, which can be something like getting five wins in ranked mode, or executing 30 special moves. It should be something that’s fairly easy to accomplish to get the bonus, and it also rewards players that are continuously engaging with the game. Rather than build a system that requires players to grind for hours on hours, we’d rather just have them come in on a regular basis and complete a daily goal.

The other philosophy we have with the system is we want to encourage players to experiment with the variety of characters. So another way to get Fight Money is to level up individual characters in the game. Levelling up won’t affect gameplay balance, just lets players know how much time has been spent perfecting a specific character. But with those two combined you can get a sense of where we’re going with the system.

It’s a system that is supposed to create long-term engagement with fans and allow them to really work towards getting content for free in the future. We’d like it to be an achievable task for just about anyone.

Do you plan to introduce paid cosmetic items?

D: For cosmetics, the game will have a mixture of paid and earnable content. There will be cosmetic DLC, some of it will be earnable with Fight Money, some will be earnable with just Zenny.

So there will be content available exclusively through paid transactions?

D: Yes there will be. [Note: Dahlgreen later clarified that none of this content will impact gameplay, it will be purely cosmetic.]

What is your message to Street Fighter fans on Xbox One?

O: [Laughs] There’s plenty of time to save $300 before the game comes out. The PlayStation 4 is at a very attractive price point at the moment. [Laughs]

Click image to view in full screen
Click image to view in full screen
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You’ve held multiple betas and each of them encountered significant issues. What has the takeaway from that been for you, and should fans be worried about the launch of the full game?

O: As you said, since we started we’ve obviously had an initial rough patch in getting people connected and fighting. That’s very much the purpose of the betas, to get these things worked out before the game hits shelves and people are asked to pay for it.

We’re very pleased and grateful that fans have stayed with us for the whole time. It’s the first in the series’ history to hit the consumers hands without any kind of arcade version. We don’t have the chance to put it in arcades in a limited test and get feedback in the way we would have done in the past, so we’re getting very valuable feedback from seeing all the different players and play styles they’re using [in the beta].

I think we’ve seen, as each beta phase has continued, we’ve been able to identify the rough patches--whether it’s our net code or the way we’re connecting to PSN. It’s really helped shine a blacklight on those issues for us, so we can focus on them. By the time we’ve hit the weekend on each phase, I think it’s reached the point where people are matching and enjoying the game.

[The feedback from players] has been positive, because people initially had doubts when the game was announced. We’re pleased to see that has been washed away, so it’s been reassuring. It’s going to be a great experience.

Do you feel confident in saying it will launch will a smooth online experience?

O: We’ll do our absolute best.

Am I right in saying that this will be the only Street Fighter game released this generation?

D: This is the only disc you’ll need to own. You can upgrade to all the content throughout its lifespan. You’re never going to be forced to purchase an upgrade pack or another disc-based product. We’re focused on the initial release right now, but we do have a long-tail strategy. That could be different bundle packs, or starter packs for other people, time will tell. But we wanted to respect the early adopters and make sure we take care of them throughout the lifespan of the game.

What are the chances of getting Skullomania in Street Fighter 5?

O: Aaaaaaahhhh. I get a lot of requests for Arika’s Street Fighter EX characters. There are issues around using characters from EX that would bore you to hear about. So I’ll just say that it’s not easy as it might be, getting characters from another game, unfortunately.

Pictured: The laptop screen
Pictured: The laptop screen

The game has a long-term strategy, we’re going to be bringing content to it for years to come. I’d say never say never, who knows, 2019 or 2020 may be the year of Skullomania.

Every year is the year of Skullomania for me.

O: Hold on to the hope you have, but be ready for disappointment.

There is no disappointment in being a Skullomania fan.

O: Do you actually have questions on that laptop screen you've been looking at?

No, I was just looking at a picture of Skullomania…

O: Oh my god.

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