This Darkstalkers interview with planner Junichi Ohno and Capcom producer Noritaka Funamizu was originally featured in Gamest magazine in 1994. While not especially long, it goes into some nice detail about the new game mechanics, the unusual characters, and the developers’ efforts to differentiate themselves from Street Fighter II. I’ve also added a selection of concept art (most from the All About Vampire mook series, also by Gamest) which I don’t believe have been shared online yet!

Darkstalkers 2 interview (1995)
Kinu Nishimura interview (2001)
Akira Yasuda interview (2003)

Darkstalkers – 1994 Developer Interview

originally published in Gamest magazine

Junichi Ohno – Planner
Noritaka Funamizu – Capcom Producer
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—I think the biggest feature of Darkstalkers is that the characters are all monsters. What made you want to make a fighting game like this?

Ohno: One reason, as you can probably guess, is that we wanted to create a new, different style of versus fighting game. In the midst of our brainstorming, someone proposed, well, why not make it all about monsters then? With monsters, we wouldn’t have to create brand new characters from wholecloth, and we could use famous monster characters that people would already be familiar with.

—And monsters would allow you to create brand new special moves too.

Ohno: That’s right. We were really wanting to make something different from the Street Fighter II series, a brand new fighting game.

—For the new monster characters, how many different candidates were there?

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Junichi Ohno, ca. 1995

Funamizu: We were considering monsters from all over the world. In the beginning, there were a lot of yokai (traditional Japanese monsters), but we trimmed that number down because we realized most international players wouldn’t be very familiar with them.

There were a lot of weird monsters in the beginning, too! There was an old man who was dressed head-to-toe in a salaryman’s outfit. There was a nurikabe yokai—it couldn’t move and was always in a guard state, so the planners said it would be easy to finish because there wouldn’t be much animation!

Ohno: There was an Invisible Man too. The only thing the player would see would be his gloves floating there. It was another one where we wouldn’t need to draw many graphics… (laughs)

—Now that you mention it, there are a lot of weird characters in Darkstalkers: Zabel, Bishamon, Anakaris…

Funamizu: For characters like Anakaris, we came up with a lot of weird special moves for them after seeing their initial concept art. Normally you’d expect projectile attacks to come at you horizontally, for instance, but thanks to the help and co-operation of the programmers, we added ones that fell from above. Strange stuff like that—basically we tried to do the opposite of what players have come to expect from a fighting game. Royal Judgment was another one, where we were just brainstorming and it was like, “that would be an awesome move to have…” but then (to our surprise) the designers actually went and made it!

—Bishamon’s “hane ha” is another very strange one.

Funamizu: Yeah, we thought it would be cool to have a move that could be chained into a different move, and that’s where hane ha came from. We didn’t want to put in a lot of anti-air attacks in Darkstalkers, but we needed something, so we added kien zan. We thought it would be interesting to have anti-air moves that could only come out under certain conditions, but I wonder what players thought?

—Anakaris and Bishamon are really unique characters, I loved them. Not many people will use unusual characters like that, but those who do get sucked in tend to make them their mains. They offer something you can’t find in other fighting games, I think. Moving along, in terms of the gameplay systems, Darkstalkers also features new mechanics not found in Street Fighter II, such as guard canceling and link combos.

Ohno: The so-called “link combos” came from our thinking that it would be nice if you could cancel normal attacks. In the beginning, you only had to press two attack buttons simultaneously, and then the combo would be performed automatically. We called it “touroku” (registering/buffering). Ultimately, though, we found that way too boring. It was lacking something. So we changed it to the timing-based system that you see today.

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The “nurikabe” yokai that almost made it into Darkstalkers. On the left is an Edo-period illustration, while the right is a more humorous imagining from Gegege no Kitarou.

—The link combos take awhile to get used to, but once you can do them consistently it feels really good. I remember that same feeling when I first learned special moves in Street Fighter—you felt a great deal of accomplishment when you could finally pull them off.

Ohno: Yeah, but I kind of feel like we went a little too “hardcore” with the link combos. It’s something I’ve re-considered now.

—How did you come up with guard cancels?

Funamizu: The guard cancel system was very difficult to fine-tune. At first, they were very easy to perform, but that ended up over-penalizing and disadvantaging the player who attacked—basically any time you guarded, you could turn that into a guard cancel for free. We ended up making them much harder to do—now, if you don’t properly read your opponent’s attack, they’re not easy to perform.

Ohno: It ended up creating a big skill divide between players though, in terms of those who can and those who cannot do the guard cancels.

—The super meter system is also very different from Super Street Fighter IIX.

Ohno: We had a lot of ideas about the super meter, about how it should be filled, and how it would be used. One idea was to just use the SSFIIX system, and another was the way we ended up adopting for Darkstalkers. Another early idea was to have your normal special attacks get more powerful when the gauge was full. There were a lot of other things we thought of, too, but obviously you can’t do them all. I have a feeling they might make their way into our future games though. That’s all top secret for now though. (laughs)

—The fact that the meter starts to decrease once it’s full seems unique to Darkstalkers.

Ohno: That was done because we wanted the fights to be more varied and exciting. This way, you can’t just wait around forever while your gauge is full.

—Another difference from Street Fighter II is the way throws work after you get up from being knocked down. Unlike SFII, in Darkstalkers, doing a counter throw when you get up is no longer the optimal strategy. Why did you change this?

Funamizu: There were a number of things that bothered me about throws in Street Fighter II. For that reason we tried to create a brand new system for throws in Darkstalkers. Now there’s a narrow timing window in which to make throws—you can’t just press a button and throw instantly. And if your opponent evades you or you mess up the timing, characters have a “whiff” pose when they miss the throw.

Overall though, the throw system we ended up with doesn’t feel too far off from SFII, but in the beginning of the development it was totally different. The timings were stricter and it was far easier to “whiff” a throw… but then it had the reverse of effect of being too hard to grapple anyone, so gradually we loosened it until it felt closer to SFII.

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Two special moves for Bishamon that ended up getting cut (click to expand). The one on the right was a rapid attack move like E Honda’s Hundred Hand Slap.

—Graphically, too, Darkstalkers feels very different from any game Capcom has made previously.

Funamizu: We knew we wanted to go in this direction, graphically speaking, from the very beginning. We increased the efficiency of our coloring workflow with Darkstalkers, and thanks to that, we were able to free up extra manpower which we spent on more animation frames for the characters.

—Did previous Capcom games really take that long to draw, then…?

Ohno: The problem was that each designer had their own subtly different way of handling shading. Reconciling all the discrepancies would end up taking a huge amount of time. By simplifying that, we were able to free up more time to work on the movement and animation patterns.

Funamizu: Before we actually commit anything to pixel art, we make very detailed drawings on paper. Compared with SFII, Darkstalkers has about 4 times the amount of animation and hand-drawn sheets.

—It must have been tough drawing so much by hand.

Funamizu: No, actually, the more detailed our pencil drawings are during that conceptual stage, the more quickly the pixel art conversion goes. If I had to guess, I’d say we spent more time simply trying to come up with interesting moves and actions in the first place.

—Do you need to be conscious of the Western market and audience too, when you’re putting the finishing touches on the character drawings?

Funamizu: We do pay some attention to American animation, but not too much, honestly. The atmosphere and mood of the graphics in Darkstalkers came more from our desire to do something brand new, as Ohno mentioned above.

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The 12 frames of animation in Victor’s standing HK. I highly recommend reading this excellent write-up from 2010 which analyzes Darkstalker’s animation in-depth.

—Moving on to the character voices… what are they actually saying?! Take Bishamon when he loses, for instance… it sounds like “hoe hoe!” to me.

Ohno: He’s saying “Onore” (“You bastard!”). Yeah, there’ve been a lot of cases with people mishearing the voices in a weird way. Demitri’s special “Chaos Flare”, for example, has gotten a lot of funny interpretations. People heard it as “sanbai kaeshi” (“triple payback”) and “genmai rice”.

Funamizu: People also heard Morrigan’s Soul Fist as “Pork Pits”!

—Hah, our editors heard it that way too.

Ohno: One of Morrigan’s winning lines is “Mata denaoshite oide” (“Come see me again”) right? The staff ended up hearing that one as “atari torinaoshite oite” (“fix your hitboxes!”).

—Atari, as in hitbox?

Ohno: Yeah. When a special move hit in a weird way, or seemed to be too strong, the staff would hear it that way. It ended up being a kind of goading encouragement for the balancing staff—after a long day spent trying to balance everything, when they’d be ready to call it a day and go home, suddenly they’d remember that line from Morrigan: “fix your hitboxes!”

—Do you have a final message for all the Darkstalker players out there?

Funamizu: I’ve noticed people getting angry about how easy it is to win just by repeatedly throwing someone. I’ve been concerned about this, and worried that it will start to suck the fun out of fighting games. Anyway, I hope people play Darkstalkers in a more generous spirit and don’t just try to go for cheap wins.

Ohno: If you keep practicing the link combos and guard cancels, I guarantee you’ll get better at them. Please keep trying! It will definitely level up your enjoyment of Darkstalkers once you master them.

—Thank you for your time today!

Bonus Concept Art Selection

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Concept art for Phobos’ stage. The line art was considerably more detailed than the final version, with Phobos’ pose here more reminiscent of the Jomon dogu figurines his design resembles.

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Concept art for Felicia’s stage. Unsurprisingly,
the “SEX CAT” billboard didn’t make the final game!

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Playful illustration (by an unnamed Capcom designer) of Phobos and Felicia. Capcom’s designers were always fond of everyday, “homey” scenes of their genre characters.

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Illustration of Bishamon as a human with his wife, and the two kids in a kamakura (igloo/”snow house”) that appear in his stage background.

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Short manga written by one of the designers. Top panel – Morrigan: “I’ve finished my work for the day, so I was thinking I’d try a little cooking. Bouillabasse Paella… hehehe” Demitri: “Seafood, mm. Housewife training? Heh, I knew you were a woman deep down.” Bottom Panel – Demitri: “Whaaa!! Th, the seafood! It’s still alive…”

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This manga, in contrast, was written by a fan and selected for inclusion in Gamest’s “All About Vampire” mook. Title – Garon and Felicia. Top Panel – “Hey, Garon! Can I ask you something?” Garon: “What?”
Mid Panel – Felicia: “That hole in your pants, for your tail…” Bottom Panel – Felicia: “Is it wide open like that when you’re human too?” Garon – “SHUT UP!”

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An illustration of Phobos done in CG by Capcom staff.