While there’s not exactly a shortage of documentation and discussion regarding the meteoric rise and fall of Capcom’s fighting games in the 1990’s, but it’s always interesting to hear the insights of someone who started as a fan putting coins in arcade cabinets to working on the games for a new era.
Japanese publication Oricon News recently held an interview with Street Fighter 6 Director Takayuki Nakayama, which we’ve translated into English, where he speaks at length about what made Street Fighter 2 such a success and why the genre came close to dying off in less than a decade.
According to Nakayama, he was drawn to the “stunning visuals” and unique controller setups in arcades that you couldn’t get on home consoles of the era. Couple that with the social aspect of arcades, and you’ve got yourself the perfect stage for Street Fighter 2 to take over everything.
“Besides the beautiful graphics and ease of communication with like-minded people, the fact that it cost 100 yen to play once was a big factor,” said Nakayama as translated by our own Nicholas “Majintenshinhan” Taylor. “I think the idea to make a fighting game where you can keep staying on as long as you keep winning was brilliant. If you win, you can keep playing. To keep playing longer, you have no choice but to become stronger.
In order to get to play longer, I would play against the CPU on my own at first, and when I was about to lose, my friend would challenge me on the other side so we could keep playing. Back then, there was no internet, so there was also a culture of finding strong players and watching their gameplay to get better yourself.
“We’d talk about those things between friends as well. The more you think about wanting to play the game, the more the game becomes intimate to you and you start loving it even more, I think”
Before the console versions came out, Street Fighter was only available in arcades, so even during school hours I’d keep thinking about it all the time. “What do I need to do to defeat Guile?” and things like that. We’d talk about those things between friends as well. The more you think about wanting to play the game, the more the game becomes intimate to you and you start loving it even more, I think.”
The decline of 2D fighting games is often attributed to the death of arcades around the world in the late ’90s, but Nakayama goes into more detail for why that was and where developers dropped the ball.
“The first reason is that the specs of home consoles grew further and further. Games like Resident Evil and Final Fantasy, where graphics and the experience were the main focus began being released,” said the SF6 Director. “This meant that players who valued these aspects moved on from arcades to home consoles instead. And a bit further down the timeline, mobile devices became more advanced and you could start experiencing games in the palm of your hand as a convenience.”
“I think that Street Fighter 2 was incredibly fun and was just too complete that it became very difficult to replicate. Many attempts were made to “evolve” this formula, but they would inevitably lead to the perception that they were simply more difficult, making it harder for people to latch on to them”
There were of course franchises like Tekken, Mortal Kombat and Soul Calibur, which focused more and more on that home console experience, and reached great success doing so in the PlayStation 2 era, but Capcom’s attempts would all fail to have the same impact they once had until the company gave up on them entirely.
Nakayama partly attributes this to the developers’ needs to “evolve” Street Fighter 2’s winning formula, which may have actually just driven more people away.
“Also, I think that Street Fighter 2 was incredibly fun and was just too complete that it became very difficult to replicate,” said Nakayama. “Many attempts were made to ‘evolve’ this formula, but they would inevitably lead to the perception that they were simply more difficult, making it harder for people to latch on to them.
Since the mid ’90s, fighting game developers came to terms with that they had to make their commands more common and more simple. “We need to change course so that the doing of the move itself isn’t what’s impressive, but that the strategy of when exactly to use the move is the impressive part” was the general approach at the time. At the same time, there were difficult inputs, hidden moves and speeding up of the games themselves which probably made casual players think “looks difficult” and spread that notion.
But more importantly than that, it’s a game that lives and dies with player experience, so for players who felt “I’ll start trying this” and then losing, they would often end up feeling “Maybe this just isn’t possible for me”. And every loss is very heavy. This is the eternal problem with fighting games, I think. While the overwhelming exhilaration of those moments where your hard work finally bears fruit is amazing, there are those who never quite reach that. They never manage to build up that immunity to the heavy feeling of losing.”
Nakayama and his team at Capcom have been hard at work trying to bring Street Fighter back into the forefront of not just fighting game fans, but video game players as a whole by trying to capture the more modern sensibilities with an apparent wealth of single-player content and new ways to play that the series hasn’t done before.
Another big push from them is the inclusion of the Modern and Dynamic control schemes to help get new players into the action faster while staying at their own comfort levels, which you can read more on Nakayama’s thoughts on their inclusions here.
Whether or not Street Fighter 6 is going to truly going to capture the explosive energy of Street Fighter 2 for a new age remains to be seen, but the amount of interest and excitement the game has already brought in is hopefully a sign of good things to come.