King of Fighters ’94 – Developer Interview
This developer interview with the KOF’94 development staff first appeared in the All About KOF’94 mook. It covers every character in the game, with humorous anecdotes about their design and backstories. Midway into the translation, I realized that some of the information here had already been translated for SNK’s official homepage; however, only part of it was translated, so there should still be new info to enjoy here.
In the beginning of the development, we didn’t think a lot about Terry Bogard. But then Fatal Fury Special was released and Terry’s badassness in that game made him really popular with our staff, and suddenly he became a character that we focused on and took the time to get right. Everyone on the staff worked really hard to ensure we didn’t damage his image from Fatal Fury.
Which reminds me: I remember how 2 hours before we had to submit the final version of the game for the mask rom production, one of the people responsible for balancing the game made some last minute changes to Terry. He changed his standing strong punch so that its second hit could be cancelled, which made Terry even more powerful than he already was!
There was also a lot of arguing about changing Terry’s win pose, but we decided it would be something new for people to enjoy in KOF’94.
Compared with his original version, there’s a number of minor changes with Andy. This goes for all the characters we borrowed from other games, but we worked hard to make sure we stayed faithful to their original image.
Probably the biggest change for Andy was his special move Chou Reppa Dan (Super Sonic Swirl). When KOF’94 was released this move was brand new, and so strong and cheap. It was easy to perform, always hit, hard to avoid… on top of that it did a ton of damage! It was just absurd.
Of the Fatal Fury characters, Joe saw the biggest graphical update. Joe makes a big toothy grin during his win pose, and at first we made it even larger, with more teeth missing! It was amazing… but of course, after considering the feelings of all the Joe fans out there, we thought it looked both too sad and too scary, so we asked the designer to fill those missing teeth back in. There was a secret rumor at SNK that Joe’s face in his win pose looks like actor Yuji Oda… what do you think?
People have been waiting forever for us to bring back Athena! So you can imagine the pressure we felt making her. We spent so much time and energy on her that the other developers started to criticize us for our “Athena Favoritism.”
We often hear complaints from fans who wanted her to have her original sailor suit uniform. The reason we didn’t use that outfit is because of our concerns for the overseas market. And we thought it might look like we were pandering too hard with the fanservice. But we did include a little bit of fanservice, maybe, in her animation when she enters the battle.
Also, one of the designers said that during a planning meeting, he tried to explain Athena’s poses by making them himself! But he looked so silly, no one really got it (sadly, he was really trying to be serious…!)
Compared with Athena, designing Sie Kensou was relatively easy. In Psycho Soldier, as a character Athena pretty much stood out and entirely overshadowed Kensou. “This is our chance!”, we thought, and we tried to make him a cool character who would be popular with women in particular.
We often get asked, “Why does Kensou speak in an Osaka dialect?” But he’s talked like that since Psycho Soldier. Yes, that’s right—he’s had a longer career even than Robert Garcia!
Also, as for his win pose, at first he had a much cooler expression, but after thinking about it, we changed it. I remember there was a veritable storm of booing from the female developers… it didn’t stop for quite some time!
The designers decided, once they knew they were making another FTG game, that this time they wanted to include a brand new “drunken fist” style character. Chin is the character who fulfilled that dream.
We knew early on that Athena and Kensou would be in KOF’94, and to add one more character from Psycho Soldier, we created Chin Gensai as the master who taught Athena and Kensou kung fu.
We wanted to make him appear like a complete master of the drunken fist, and we were thinking it would be difficult to convey that atmosphere in a character. Luckily we had a designer who’s specialty was drawing old guys, and he delivered way above what we were expecting!
That designer was so focused on all these quirks and peculiarities of old people when designing Chin, that for some time after, every character he drew looked like an old man!
From the start our idea for KOF’94 was that it would be an ensemble cast of popular SNK characters, so we knew that any new characters we created would have to rival them in style! We put a lot of time into designing Kyo. In fact, we spent so much time on his design that his personality and character remained a mystery until the final stages of the development. Even the name “Kyo Kusanagi” wasn’t decided till the end. Do people know how difficult he was to make?! By the way, he was originally called Sho Kirishima.
But thanks to all those troubles, we came up with the idea that his ancestor was a practitioner of the Kusanagi Fist style, which he used to defeat the legendary Yamata no Orochi. According to Kyo’s designer, Ashita no Joe and Devilman were influences too.
Benimaru was modeled after Jean Pierre Polnareff from Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure… as such, for a long while the developers called him by that name instead of Benimaru. His design went through a lot of changes and experimentation too. For example, at one point he wore a tank top t-shirt.
Also, in his win pose he says “san kyuu!” (thank you) in that funny voice. When Benimaru’s designer first heard that voice, it was so far from his original image of the character that he got enraged and couldn’t do any work for the rest of the day.
Which leads us to a question we often get asked: is Benimaru gay? My answer is, he’s a man’s man. He loves women, if I had to say. Maybe he’s a little narcissistic as well?
We wanted to make a judo fighter who used cool throws, so we made Goro. Early on, there were some complaints about his geta sandals: “Isn’t it weird for him to be fighting with geta?” But the planner insisted, ignoring everyone’s objections and making Goro wear them.
About Goro’s moves… during the development, the distance at which he could grab you for a throw was bizarrely wide. He could grab anyone and get them locked in repeated throws—he was definitely a contender for strongest character. But after balancing things out, we made him a little too weak, so that now he’s known as something of a joke, a toothless lion… sadly.
Goro’s design retains a lot of the designer’s personal “quirks.” His curt, taciturn win dialogue and the funny explosion sound when he wins a fight were all added at his designer’s explicit direction.
Boxers have been kind of played out as fighting game characters, so our goal with Heavy D was to create a unique type of boxer character that’s never been seen before. At first his body wasn’t so hulking. At some point in the development we stopped and noticed how much bigger he was than the other characters! But by then it was too late to make changes, so we just had to go with it.
His name comes from an American rap group, but we thought using it directly might entail some copyright problems, so we added that exclamation point to the end. By the way, his cat Puu was named after one of the designer’s cats, which has the same name.
The idea was a “basketball player martial artist”, and we based his image directly on the large black man Hakim from Bruce Lee’s movie Game of Death. The initial design was a little plain, though, so we spruced him up. But his ability to use karate is a remnant of that first design.
Originally, we planned to make Lucky Grauber a black man who was obsessed with Japanese culture, but as his design got updated and we added his American clothes and appearance, it no longer made sense for him to be a Japanophile, so we dropped the idea.
His designer complained that because his body was so big, designing his clothing was more complex. The designer said he was jealous of the other developers who got to work on small characters!
Brian is one of the oldest characters. We had had a rough idea of his character long before starting KOF’94. Initially, he wore a helmet and a chestguard with bolts sticking out all over it, but we removed those and simplified his design. We had that idea first, so when we saw ADK’s similar football character Johnny Maximum from World Heroes 2, everyone was shocked!
One of his special moves is called “Dash Screw Body Press”, but among the developers, we called it the “Dash Gamera.”
Also, Brian is supposed to have no experience as a fighter, which is why he never has a straight leg in any of his kicks.
In the first stage of the development, we wanted to add another “criminal” character to Chang and Choi’s team, which would have been the “Prisoner Team.” But due to various circumstances, we added Kim instead and made it the Korean team.
This was also criticized at first, with people saying, “hey, isn’t it weird for Kim to be on a team with these two criminals?” So we came up with the idea that Kim is trying to rehabilitate them.
By the way, as for how Kim initially met Chang and Choi… one day, Kim happened to be watching the news on TV and saw that Chang had broken out of jail. Kim thought to himself, “I must teach him a lesson!” and went out into the town in the middle of the night in search of Chang. Also, it was then that Choi tried to attack Kim, but he had the tables turned on him by Kim, and Kim ended up making Choi a member of the team too.
Early in the development he was a far more brutal, villainous character, but once we teamed him up with Kim, we mellowed him a bit.
His first design had him in your typical striped prison clothes, but creating all the graphics with that kind of a striped pattern was too difficult, so we changed his outfit to plain white cloth with a skull and crossbones mark. But that also turned out to be no good, so we went to the even simpler “tunic and chains” design.
For Chang’s super move, Wild Ball, the designer was totally out of ideas and only tried this move out as a kind of last-ditch attempt. But it got a good response from everyone so we left it as his super. By the way, in Chang’s backstory, he learned this move by watching and imitating Kim’s Phoenix Kick.
Choi is KOF’94’s big novelty character. His early design was too close to Freddy from A Nightmare on Elm Street, and we knew that would be a problem in the overseas market, so about a month before the mask roms were due we changed his outfit to something more plain, and added suspenders. It was a lot of trouble for his designer.
I remember the first time we saw him on the screen, and we saw him do his rolling attacks… everyone thought it was so funny, they were literally rolling around the floor laughing!
The designer who created Choi is actually the same person who created Kim and Chang. Everyone, and I mean everyone, unanimously agreed that this developer’s face looks exactly like Choi (he claims he looks more like Kim, but…)
Heidern was originally conceived as a “cold-blooded killing machine”, but as his designer wrote the details of his backstory, he couldn’t help but sympathize with the character, and so he provided him with a tragic past. Personally, Heidern has my favorite ending of all the characters.
When his super move Final Bringer was finished, it looked so outrageous that everyone on the staff was coming up with their own explanation for it: “Oh, Heidern must actually be an alien!” or “No, he’s a sorcerer!”
By the way, obviously Heidern despises Rugal Bernstein, the man who took everything that mattered from him: his men, his wife and child, even his own right eye. But what did Rugal think about Heidern? I asked that question to one of the planners, and he responded: “Well, Heidern basically was just in the wrong place at the wrong time when he crossed paths with Rugal… and Rugal just swatted him like a fly, kicked him aside like a rock in the road.” Cold-blooded!
Clark and Ralf are from the Ikari Warriors series, so naturally you’d expect them to be shirtless, with their signature bandanas, right?
Well that’s just how our early designs looked! But our bosses at SNK ordered us to update their designs to look a little more modern, and this was a FTG game after all, so we made some minor adjustments and settled for the design you see today.
Also, we were thinking about a special attack where Ralf would throw a grenade. We even had the graphics done for it, but some people thought the explosion looked a little weak, and that it was kind of unfair to allow grenades in a martial arts tournament. So we abandoned the idea.
At the beginning of development, the only differences in designs for Ralf and Clark was one had a hat and the other had a bandana, but Clark later got a pair of sunglasses to become the character he is today.
Clark basically looks a lot like Ralf, but since the designer in charge of adjusting this character worked on his hit accuracy, action speed and attack strength, their combat style is where the true differences between the two can be found.
At first, people thought Clark and Ralf were the weakest of all the characters. But if you look at them a little more deeply, they can actually be quite strong.
While we were planning KOF’94, we heard the news that Yuri Sakazaki would be a playable character in Art of Fighting 2. When we saw her in action, we knew right away: she has to be in our game!
After thinking it over, we decided to remove Big Bear from King’s team. We were having some memory-related problems with him, anyway. Then we realized we had a team with 2 women on it—so why not go the full distance and add Mai Shiranui, for an entirely female team? So we removed Billy too, and the all-powerful Women’s Team was formed.
According to her designer, Yuri also has some bosom animations—though it’s not as dramatic as Mai’s. Also, that designer spent a great deal of care on Yuri’s calves (her designer is a woman, by the way).
Mai—the character who’s taken the world by storm!
How did she achieve such fame? One day, Mai’s designer asked me if they could add some more animation for Mai’s resting pose (aka “neutral” pose, when the player isn’t taking any action). I thought we still had a little extra memory left (in fact, we did not) so I quickly said “Go ahead.”
When the designer came back with that “swaying bosom”, it was so amazing that it left us awestruck, jaws agape. By the way, we had to censor that animation for the overseas console release.
King, Billy, and Big Bear were originally going to be the “English Team,” but for the reasons explained above, that team never came to be.
We decided to remove King’s older super move “Surprise Rose,” for various reasons. We were struggling to come up with something new, when King’s designer added a move that he had created just on a lark, but everyone really liked it, and that became her new super move.
King’s signature animation, where she gets defeated by a special move and her shirt rips off, was also included in KOF’94. The designer for King went into the data and made some very weird changes to the color of her bra…
It’s pretty cheap how many more special moves Ryou (and the other Art of Fighting Team characters) has than the other original characters. He was clearly overpowered. Because of that, I remember how balancing him for KOF’94 took the most time out of all the characters.
We couldn’t just start erasing his moves, so instead we tried to make them much weaker. I think we didn’t go far enough though—he still feels too strong…
Also, there’s many spectators watching the match in the Mexico Stage, but do you recognize any of them? Temjin… Mickey Rogers… Lee Pai Long… Richard Myer, Geese Howard…
Robert also had a lot of graphic changes for KOF’94, compared with his original character. Of the many characters in KOF’94 with slim builds, Robert got the biggest slimming down! During the planning phase, we wanted to make a team with Ryou, Robert, and Yuri, called the “Ultimate Young Style Karate Team.” But with Yuri going to the girls’ team, and other changes, we eventually added Takuma instead.
Takuma, from Art of Fighting 2, looks similar to Goro Daimon, so to distinguish him we gave him a martial arts uniform for his upper body.
Takuma is able to combo off his Super Strike Gale, but originally this was a bug. We tried taking it out, but he was too weak without it: “I don’t know… if Takuma doesn’t have this, he’s kind of… um…” So we re-added it again! Thanks to that decision though he became a pretty cheap character. So I kind of regret it now.
Overall, I remember having far less difficulties with the Art of Fighting characters compared with the Fatal Fury characters. I’m actually having a hard time remembering any big problems we had with them!
The planners love villains, and their initial concept for Rugal was to make the biggest, baddest, most evil villain imaginable! With Rugal I feel they really gave us a great villain, and he’s my personal favorite character. When I wrote the backstory between Heidern and Rugal, I could feel a strange tension and excitement welling up in me.
Our first idea for his character was that he could learn any move that he saw just once. He was supposed to be the cheapest bastard ever, but we dropped that idea because we didn’t have enough memory to execute it right. Such a shame!
We also get asked a lot about the name of the black panther in Rugal’s stage, but we never really gave it an official name. Amongst the staff, we called him “Rodemu”…
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