Summer of Street Fighter II – 1991 Developer Interview

Summer of Street Fighter II – 1991 Developer Interview

This Street Fighter II developer interview originally appeared in vol. 62 of Gamest, about six months after the initial arcade release. By that time, Street Fighter was exploding in popularity in both Japan and abroad, and the fighting game scene was starting to find its footing. This interview mainly focuses on that early community aspect more than development secrets (though there’s a couple new gems too).

—How did the Street Fighter II development get started?

Okamoto: We started out wanting to make a fighting game. The game we finished then, however, was not Steet Fighter II. It was Final Fight. We originally titled it Street Fighter 89, but then all of the players complained that this wasn’t Street Fighter. So ultimately SF89 became Final Fight, and we started working on a separate sequel to Street Fighter. In that sense, Street Fighter II is a game that was made by the players.

—Did you play the original Street Fighter?

Nishitani: It would be impossible to make a sequel if you didn’t understand the appeal of the original, so yeah, I played it quite a bit.

—Was there good communication between the planners and programmers?

Nishitani: Sometimes it’s hard to convey what one is thinking through writing alone, so follow-up was often required and there were miscommunications at times.

Ueyama: I think Nishitani was very good, though, at distinguishing between the really important stuff—the things that had to be done—and the stuff that didn’t matter so much. That made it easier.

As for programming challenges, one area we struggled in was the stage backgrounds and trying to use parallax scrolling to evoke a sense of 3D. I was afraid it wouldn’t turn out well, so it was actually the very first thing I worked on.

—It can be hard to notice in the middle of a fight, but yeah, if you look closely those backgrounds have an impressive depth and presence. Street Fighter II has become a huge hit now. Did you anticipate it blowing up like this?

Nishitani: No, personally, I didn’t think it was going to be this big. I mean, it has six buttons, and the controls are complicated… so I thought it would be hard for the average person to get into. That’s why, actually, we made various adjustments to the game balance so that even if you couldn’t do the more complex moves like hadoukens or shoryukens, you still had a chance at winning. We wanted the matches to be close. When you and your opponent are both low on life, a single good move can turn everything around—we tried to make it feel exciting that way, and I think we did a pretty good job.

This is an ad for an early Street Fighter II tournament held in Japan on 8/6/91. Gamest, who was responsible for much of the early promotion of SFII, sponsored the tournament with the official blessing of Capcom. Prizes included a mountain bike for 1st place, a portable CD player for 2nd, and a walkman for 3rd. The entry fee was 1000 yen (about 10 USD) and was limited to the first 512 applicants. It mentions that cosplay is encouraged and welcome, and that the Capcom devs and Gamest editors would be on-hand to play exhibition matches as well. [click to expand]

—I’ve heard that Street Fighter II is very popular outside of Japan, too.

Okamoto: America is amazing. The size of the crowds that gather around the cab are so much bigger than in Japan. They never play single player either, it’s all versus matches, one after the other. American cabinets are all upright (standing), and I’ve seen it where if a good player keeps winning, someone will come bring them a seat. They hold tournaments that run for a set number of hours, and everyone pays a single entry fee to get in.

—America is the place where *real* street fights take place, after all.

Okamoto: One thing about the Americans, if a second player joins in without permission and then proceeds to whoop the other player, no one ever gets mad. It’s not like that in Japan.

—Nishitani, did you play any versus matches in America?

Nishitani: I played several matches, yeah. They’re crazy strong over there though. They seem to always prefer to attack instead of guarding, which can take you by surprise. I lost a lot. I was even beat by Zangief!

Okamoto: After returning from America, only one of us could say he’d “powered up” and improved at versus fighting. Everyone said playing over there was like a rookie baseball player who goes to the big leagues for the first time and gets smacked around.

—Which characters do they like to play in America?

Nishitani: Generally speaking, they can’t do the more complex moves. Shoryukens are out of the question. So they go for the characters with simpler moves, like Chun Li, Blanka, and E. Honda with his hundred-hand slap. When I played, I’d pick Ryu or Ken, and they thought those characters were weak so they’d play really aggressive. Then I’d perform a shoryuken and suddenly and they’d be shocked. “Whoa! How’d you do that! Show me!” If you keep throwing out shoryukens your opponent can’t get close. In those situations I could win. (laughs) It was funny, once they remembered my face, they would jokingly groan, “Not this guy again… Don’t join my game!”

—I heard there’s a 3-button version of Street Fighter II in Taiwan… is that true?

Nishitani: Yeah, there was. SFII uses a custom control panel, as you know. But in Taiwan they don’t like those. They don’t mind if there’s fewer buttons, as long as the game is playable. From what I heard, by pressing a combination of buttons you can perform the other attacks. Like pressing two buttons at the same time, I mean. Unfortunately that means some moves can’t be performed at all, though.

It’s a popular game in Taiwan too. They seem to prefer Street Fighter I/II and Tenchi o Kurau (Dynasty Wars) to Final Fight. It makes sense, being the home of kung fu and all.

This report from Gamest gives a great sense of how different the early fighting game scene was in Japan. Held at a local game center in Kanda on 5/18/91, it had only 20 participants, with a fairly even spread: three players each for Chun Li, Guile, E. Honda, and Ryu, and two each for the remaining roster. The final five contestants were three Chun Lis, one Guile, and one Zangief.

To everyone’s amazement (since he was considered the weakest character), the Zangief player won–he’s smiling in the left picture there while making Zangief’s fingers-up win pose. In the lower right picture one can spot Zenji Ishii, the famous and influential senior editor of Gamest (many of the early arcade interviews featured on this site, including this one, were conducted by him!)

—Were there any moves or characters that you had to abandon during the development?

Nishitani: For Zangief, there was his headbutt move. It still remains now as a normal attack, which you can perform by jumping straight up, then holding up and pressing punch. Originally though, he would toss his opponent up into the air, then headbutt him from below as he fell back down. For various reasons we couldn’t include it though.

—If that ability had been left in, I bet Zangief would have been a lot stronger.

Nishitani: At one point Zangief was actually the strongest character. Now that strength exists only in legend…

—How was he strong?

Nishitani: In our planning docs we’d written that he had high defense, but it was way too strong… no matter how many times you hit him he just wouldn’t die, and on top of that, he dealt a lot of damage too! What would usually happen is that the matches would time out, and most of the time he’d win that way. So we made him a little weaker, but I’m afraid we overdid it. We really wanted all the characters to be equal in strength.

Ueyama: Chun Li was very strong too.

Nishitani: Chun Li had a back attack.1 It was one of the close-range attacks, where you pressed forward and mid-kick, I think. She did this quick little jump over her opponent and would appear behind them and kick them.

Ueyama: It was like one of Poison and Roxy’s attacks from Final Fight.

—I see. Why did it get cut?

Nishitani: Because Chun Li turned out to be too strong overall. She was already so fast, and giving her that attack just put her over the top. We wanted to try and balance it, but we ran out of time and just cut it instead.

Dhalsim was also incredibly strong. We toned the damage of his attacks down, but before that they dealt normal damage and were also very fast. His punches and kicks were as fast as Ryu and Ken’s, so you couldn’t dodge them at all. His hitboxes didn’t extend to the tips of his limbs either.

—What do you think would have happened if you’d just left those characters as strong as they originally were?

Nishitani: If we had left all the characters that strong, then players would have been able to cheese each other, or use one cheap move over and over to win. That wouldn’t be very fun so we changed it.

—Shimomura, which songs did you write for SFII?

Shimomura: I wrote almost all of them by myself. I wrote the music in my image of each different country, and also tried to make it match the backgrounds.

—When your life gets low, the songs get faster… is the tempo getting faster?

Shimomura: Ah, yeah, actually I wrote them all as separate compositions for that purpose. At first they only asked me to write one song for each stage, but later I said “it would be cool if the tempo got faster during the fight” and they liked the idea. Unfortunately it meant writing twice as many songs for me.

The voice acting for Street Fighter II. As explained below, E. Honda’s classic “dosukoi!” like (which you can hear around 5 seconds in) was actually voiced by a foreigner.

—I feel like Dhalsim’s theme is especially weird.

Shimomura: I have a CD with Indian and Pakistani music, and it made me think “wow, there’s music like this out there too…” and that inspired me and helped me sell it to the team. I may have gone a little too far though.

—It’s surprisingly popular, and manages to get stuck in your head. You also used tsuzumi drums for the Japanese theme.

Shimomura: I figured adding those would make it sound more Japanese. Personally I’ve always loved that fusion sound, the kind of music that’s great to listen to when you’re driving around.

—The voices have received a lot of praise too. Who did those?

Shimomura: We asked people at Capcom to perform them, and got about 30 different employees to record their voices. It was kind of a chaotic jumble, and we selected the best ones from those recordings… but at this point I don’t know anymore who voiced who.

The English voices needed to have correct pronunciation, so we asked some non-Japanese people to do them. Oh, and that reminds me—E. Honda’s “dosukoi!” line was voiced by a foreigner too.

—Wait, that wasn’t a Japanese person?!

Shimomura: Yeah. And we didn’t end up using it, but we also tried having a man voice “Spinning Bird Kick!” in falsetto. We had a lot of people audition that one though, and ended up choosing something different. (laughs)

Yoshiki Okamoto

Nickname: Kihaji
Gender: Male
Role: Producer
Loves: strategy games, women, booze
Hates: men, smoking
Born: 1961
Hometown: Ehime
Height: 170cm
Weight: 63kg
Blood Type: O
Sign: Gemini
Hobbies: healing wounds with my spiritual aura (I’m yet to succeed)
Current Desire: to be hospitalized

Quick Self-Intro: I was raised in the countryside, so I hardly ever saw any video games, and I thought game centers were just places where delinquents hung out. But when I visited the city, there were so many game centers, and they were bright, cheerful places no less—I was well and truly taken aback.

I’ve been with Capcom since it was founded, and have worked on many titles, but these days I’m not down there in the trenches anymore.

Akira Nishitani

Nickname: NIN
Gender: Male
Role: Planner
Loves: delicious food, arcade pcbs
Hates: onions, caterpillars, grotesque things, vague things
Born: 1967
Hometown: Tokyo (near Saitama)
Height: 170cm
Weight: 61kg
Blood Type: O
Sign: Virgo
Hobbies: anything interesting, collecting pcbs
Current Desire: to take a long, relaxing trip around the world

Quick Self-Intro: I’ve been interested in gameplay since I was a young kid, and I often went to the rooftop department stores to play games there. Once the Invader Boom exploded, I became obsessed with the game centers, but one day my school banned us from going there and I had to stop abruptly. However, after a year I started suffering from withdrawal, and I began going again. I quickly became re-addicted. From that point on, without fail I played games everyday (seriously though—the only time I took a break, I think, was when my school took a field trip to the mountains).

While in school, I worked in secret for a certain magazine, and after graduating, by a strange twist of fate I ended up getting hired by Capcom. People would tease me that I was “the lowest-paid man at Capcom”, but I did my best nonetheless. I made the most of those lowly years, and helped out on various titles. “Easy-to-Play Game Design” was my slogan then.

“What is ‘gameplay’?” Trying to answer this question is my life’s work. It’s an area I’m always studying and thinking about—and not just for video games, but also the “games” we play in everyday life.

Shinichi Ueyama

Nickname: SHIN
Gender: Male
Role: Programmer
Loves: takoyaki, salmon chazuke
Hates: shrimp, crabs, natto
Born: 1967
Hometown: Osaka (in the countryside)
Height: 177cm
Weight: 72kg
Blood Type: A
Sign: Taurus
Hobbies: all things fun, creating things, music
Current Desire: to take a nice relaxing trip somewhere

Quick Self-Intro: I’ve always had a healthy interest in games, and spent a decent amount of time at the game centers.

When I encountered my first computer, I was blown away. “I didn’t know something this cool existed…!” That world swallowed me up. I was originally moving in the direction of information processing, but once I learned console games were also made with computers, I decided to join Capcom. Now I understand how computers can be used for play, and with that mindset I strive to make interesting, fun games for everyone.

Yoko Shimomura

Nickname: Pii
Gender: Female
Role: Music & Sound
Loves: art, music, strawberries, melon, sushi, games, shopping, conversation… ah, the list could go on and on
Hates: bugs that make me break out the insecticide
Born: 1967
Hometown: Osaka
Height: I haven’t measured lately
Weight: I haven’t wanted to weigh myself lately so I don’t know
Blood Type: A (no one believes me)
Sign: Libra
Hobbies: Long phone calls
Current Desire: to beat Street Fighter II, and completely veg out on video games

Quick Self-Intro: I’ve been learning piano since I was very young, and I always had a strong belief that “music is the only path for me.” When it came to games, though, I only knew about stuff like card games and board games. But my whole life changed when I played the Famicom for the first time. “Whoaaa! This is soooo fun!” The next day my arm hurt so bad from playing too much that I couldn’t play piano.

I used to turn my nose up at game centers, saying stuff like “those places are sketchy”, but now I find myself heading down to Minami (a business district in Osaka), rolling up the sleeves on my fashionable clothes, and marching right into the game center (I’m still the same upstanding young lady, mind you).

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  1. This became the “Neck Breaker” and “Crane Leg Drop” in later games.

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