*Before the world ends in a few days with the coming of the new year, I’ve created this thread to share with all of you a retrospective on a retrospective.
The below article is a 10-year-old interview about our favourite 20-year-old game. More accurately, it’s a piece on SF2 through the eyes of the man who was in charge of creating SF2. It’s a spotlight on the man who shaped the very first* real *fighting game: the game that crystallized the genre, the one that defined and represents how we’ve thought of fighting games ever since, and how we think of fighting games today.
It’s from the magazine Electronic Gaming Monthly, June 2001, issue number 143, Canada edition pages 96-97.*
Akira “Street Fighter II” Nishitani
Gamefather of the Fighting Genre
What’s it like to create the first really innovative fighting game? We talk with Street Fighter II’s lead designer about punching pads, pioneering joystick motions, perfecting Ken’s power uppercut, and getting Blanka just the right shade of green.
**B**ack in 1990, three years after the initial Street Fighter had hit arcades, Akira Nishitani--then a lead designer at Capcom Japan--was told to start sketching character designs for a sequel. Little did he realize it would become the first and most popular fighting-game franchise in the world. "We were told that Street Fighter was having a good response in overseas markets," he tells us, "but I wasn't satisfied with many aspects of the [first] game. I wanted to play as a character that best suited me, and there weren't too many games where you could choose your player at that time. That was my initial motivation." Out came the pencils and sketchbook, and the classic look of Ken and Ryu were created first. "They are the main characters after all," he says. Next came Sagat. Then came the obsessing over details. Discussions about every nuance of Street Fighter II--from joystick motions to the look of the characters--continued for days. "Blanka's concept was a ‘wild boy’ from the very beginning,” Nishitani says,” so his look wasn’t very different from how it is now. He had much lighter and natural-colored skin at first. Then, someone suggested, ‘Let’s make him more butt-kicking!’ and he ended up having green-colored skin [laughs]!” As for everyone’s favorite sumo, Nishitani explains that “Honda was literally a normal Sumo at first. Then I asked the designer to make him look more Japanese, and he got a Kabuki-style make-over and yukata kimono.” Despite all the new characters, there’s still only one fighter for Nishitani-san: “My favorite character is still Ryu--I’ve been using him for over 10 years!” The plan wasn’t to craft a simple rehash of the original game. For start, some of the Street Fighter arcade units came with punching pads: analog cushions that caused more damaging attacks when whalloped with force. “I [initially] wanted to use those buttons for Street Fighter II so bad,” Nishitani says, “but there were problems such as the maintenance, the cost...so the idea was turned down.” Nixing the whack-a-mole-style buttons created a more intricate game, however--one in which artful joystick wiggling and combination attacks took the place of puffy-button mashing. “If we chose the [punching pads], the series might not have lasted this long,” Nishitani says. Of course, some of the first game’s features did make it into the sequel. Nishitani’s favorite is his preferred characters’ flagship flourish: “Ryu and Ken’s uppercut,” he says. “If you are a man, go with a Dragon Punch [laughs].” Then came more innovations. “The button combinations are really the fun factor, but some people have difficulty with them,” he explains. “So I came up with the idea of charging or tapping as a new input method.” And although these ideas created a new gaming genre, Nishitani still wasn’t satisfied. “Even when Street Fighter II was finished, I still tweaked it,” he says. “That ended up as SFII Dash [Championship Edition]. But after Dash was released, I still wasn’t satisfied. I think that’s the way it is for developers.” Even during the early stages of SFII development, Nishitani knew he had an addicting experience on his hands--especially as precious programming time was spent playing the game instead of fine-tuning it. “We were playing two-player mode all night long for over 100 matches consecutively,” he says. That didn’t stop the team from losing sleep over the game’s chances. “This may not be easy to believe, but there was no custom for Japanese gamers to play against strangers in arcades, so I thought a two-player game might not be successful in Japan,” he says. And he was initially correct--it took 12 months for the two-player fighting-game craze to catch on. But when it did, Street Fighter II kicked off a decade-long run of competitive play and paved the way for many more multiplayer games--as well as almost every fighting game you’ve heard of.
Where is he now?
After the frenzied success of SFII, Nishitani stayed on at Capcom, intent on perfecting the fighting engine he helped create. Working on the seminal X-Men: Children of the Atom was just one of his fondly remembered tasks. Then he left Capcom and established a company called Arika. “Now I make more games,” he says. “Remember that name: Arika!” One such game was the realization of the Street Fighter engine in three dimensions: Street Fighter EX. Nishitani isn’t happy with how games have progressed–he’d like to see more innovation. And at this moment, he is developing a game called Diver for the PS2 at Arika. “Remember Diver!” he says.
What makes this creative mind tick?
“Titanic. I was almost crying in the movie theatre, but the film also has an action element as well–that’s why I liked it.”
“Mostly I listen to game music.”
“I used to enjoy a lot of meat and beer, but perhaps because of my age I now eat lighter meals—Japanese, like mother used to make. No more half-cooked onion!”
“Crazy Climber, from Nichibutsu, is the best, most innovative game of all time. The idea of climbing a building and the two joysticks for control is so original. I haven’t seen any other game surpass that in my opinion.”
What is your motto?
“Life is a game.”
Are you happy with how your video games have progressed?
“Street Fighter has evolved and diversified. If you compare SF to a man, he could be a middle-aged and austere guy. So I think it’s about time for him to take a break!”
How would you like to be remembered?
“I’d be happy if someone remembered me by starting a story with “there was this huge video-game freak…!”
Lost World, Mad Gear, Final Fight, Street Fighter II, Street Fighter II Dash (Championship Edition), X-Men: Children of the Atom, Street Fighter EX, Street Fighter EX plus, Fighting Layer, Street Fighter EX3 (plus many others in a consulting or supervisory role)
*Note from deadfrog: Akira Nishitani (“Nin”) is not to be confused with Akira Yasuda (“Akiman”), who was also a designer and additionally an illustrator for SF2 as well as many other Capcom games. These two men are listed as Planner, the highest title in the credits for the original arcade version of SF2 World Warrior. Supposedly, as the game’s design began to solidify, Akira Nishitani focused primarily on how the game would play while Akira Yasuda focused primarily on how the game would look.
Happy Holidays, SRK! :)*