Super Puzzle Fighter II Turbo – 1996 Interview

Super Puzzle Fighter II Turbo - 1996 Interview

In this 1996 interview, taken from Studio Bent Stuff's All About Super Puzzle Fighter IIX guidebook, several key members of Capcom's arcade team discuss the making of their all-star versus puzzle game, offering insight into the genesis of the project, selecting the characters, applying their fighting game expertise to a new genre and more.

Noritaka Funamizu (General Producer)
Assumed the role of General Producer, also overseeing the home versions
Katsuhiro Eguchi (Planner/Designer)
Responsible for planning and graphics production. A rookie planner whose first work was Puzzle Fighter
Naoto Ohta (Planner)
A rookie planner who made their debut with this game, who mainly took charge of the game system. Their dev handle is "___".
Hiroaki Kondo (Sound)
A sound engineer who loves the Sharp X68000 computer. Their dev handle is "X68 Kondo".
"Giu" (Programmer)
Handled the main program. Their representative works include Cadillacs & Dinosaurs and Mega Man: The Power Battles.

―So, about the development of "Su-puzzle"…

Funamizu: "Su-puzzle", you say? (laughs)

―Oh, do you call it something different? Come to think of it, is there an official abbreviation for the title?

Eguchi: I thought "Su-puzzle" was okay, so I told the public relations team to go with that, but my colleagues all told me they don't like it. (laughs)

Funamizu: Internally, we all refer to it as "Puzzle Fighter", and there was a time where we simply called it "Puzzle" (laughs). Ultimately, "Su-puzzle" is fine.

(L-R): "Giu", Hiroaki Kondo, Naoto Ohta, Katsuhiro Eguchi, Noritaka Funamizu (1996)

―Incidentally, how did you come up with the full title, "Super Puzzle Fighter II Turbo (Super Puzzle Fighter IIX)"?

Funamizu: The titles for our games are usually made up by our general manager, [Yoshiki] Okamoto, and they're usually some sort of pun: titles like that are easy to remember, and also easy to abbreviate. This time around, Okamoto suggested "Street Hunter" (laughs), but that struck me as a little hokey.

Eguchi: The first title suggested was "Street Hunter BOMB", and from there we had candidates like "Street Puzzler II", "Pazu-reet Fighter" and "Gem-kko Fighter"…

Giu: ...and right at the bottom, "Gems", plain and simple. (laughs)

Ohta: Even people within the company were like, "if it's -II Turbo, then what happened to I?" (laughs)

Funamizu: All that said, the title can sometimes determine whether a game does or doesn't succeed, so I think we hit on something good this time.

―Please tell us how you came to make "Su-puzzle".

Funamizu: Every year, we hold a game pitch contest for newcomers. Eguchi submitted a plan for a puzzle game, but the person grading the pitches said, "this sucks" and nearly threw it in the trash (laughs). I salvaged it, mixed it with Ohta's ideas ideas for an original puzzle game and commenced development with the simple idea of seeing where it went and possibly releasing it if it seemed interesting. However, before we'd solidified the contents of the actual game, the graphics just started piling up, and it turned into a huge ordeal. (laughs)

―What was the big hook you envisioned for the game during the planning stage?

Eguchi: The characters, definitely. The characters from our fighting games have only ever been utilized within that genre, so I thought if we could chibi-fy them and find various other applications for them, the audience would react accordingly.

Funamizu: I'd always wanted to make a game like this that really emphasized the appealing traits of the characters, so the "all-star" concept was present from the very beginning. Elements like super-deformed takes on the characters and having characters meet in a "dream match"-type scenario are difficult to pull off with more serious games, so we decided to try it with a puzzle game. At first, people told me, "this isn't the sort of thing Capcom ought to be doing", but I thought it would open up avenues for the future, so I gave it the okay.

―Looking at the final game, I think you've established what you were aiming for ― focusing on the appeal of the characters, and building a game around their popularity.

Funamizu: I think this game proves that, as with light novels and manga, if the designers find a groove and are able to produce really appealing characters, than the games themselves can be produced along similar lines.

―Was it difficult to select the 11 characters that appear in the game?

Ohta: When we ran an in-house survey, we also had older characters like Pure and Fur from Capcom Quiz World 2 listed as candidates. However, our newer characters ended up being more popular, so we narrowed our selection to fighting game characters and chose the ones we thought players would most enjoy seeing in the game.

Funamizu: I came across a manga starring an all-female cast of Capcom characters and thought it would be interesting for us to make something along those lines, but I was told it was a no-go (laughs). Then, I thought it might be possible to do within the context of a puzzle game, so the initial plan with this game was to also choose an all-female cast, but we have a lot of popular male characters too, so…

―At one point, there was a rumor that you could play as Mei-Ling (Lin-Lin). For whatever reason, Demitri was also rumored (laughs).

Ohta: Mei-Ling does appear, but only as a single graphic.

Eguchi: We decided early on that Mei-Ling wouldn't be playable. The role I envisioned for her was for her to bop around happily in her ofuda form.

Hsien-ko's sister Mei-Ling exists as a living paper talisman, and her Puzzle Fighter incarnation playfully animates alongside her sister as she fights. Mei-Ling does make a cameo in her human form in a specific ending, hence the rumors about her being playable; amusingly, she was added to later home ports as a hidden playable character, but remained in ofuda form.

―Were there any other candidates you can mention?

Eguchi: Based on our internal survey, we were torn about Cammy from Super Street Fighter II Turbo and Linn Kurosawa from Alien vs. Predator, and there was also consideration given to adding some sort of old-man character… for the sake of variety, such characters probably should've been added, but…

Funamizu: Dhalsim also seemed like an interesting pick, but we weren't confident we could recreate his various animations, so we took him off the table. We haven't drawn a lot of SD characters before, so we prioritized characters whose movements could be drawn without too much effort. Thanks to that, there are a lot of animations that look like they were designed on a whim. (laughs)

Eguchi: After all, the designers are more particular about the characters than anyone else, so even if we don't ask for anything, they'll dump a ton of animations on us. (laughs)

Giu: Even with Mei-ling, they just handed me the data and when I loaded it up, I was like, "where did this come from?!" (laughs)

Funamizu: Our company tends to draw a lot of detailed, realistic characters, and it turned out that lot of the designers had privately been waiting for an opportunity to draw characters in this style, but were reluctant to say so.

―It seems like this ended up being a nice release valve for many of the staff, then?

Funamizu: Yeah, it became their day job. (laughs)

―What about the three secret characters?

Eguchi: Devilotte was a character that would suddenly show up in Cyberbots, so I wanted to maintain that for this game. As for Akuma, "Su-puzzle" is based on a fighting game, so it made sense for him to be the final boss…

Funamizu: Shouldn't it be M.Bison, then? (laughs)

Eguchi: I was split between the two, but I ultimately thought Akuma would be easier to depict as a SD character. As for Dan, given that he's a total chump, I asked if it'd be OK for him to appear so that he could show up at the end to immediately get his butt whooped, and and everyone agreed (laughs).

―How did you determine the drop patterns for each character?

Ohta: To begin with, we decided to give Ryu and Ken horizontal and vertical patterns, respectively; for the other characters' patterns, we tried to put them at various points between those two. Also, because power gems were popular, we made sure to center Chun Li's pattern around them. In the beginning, Sakura was very weak due to her pattern dropping two layers of the same color, and Morrigan, whose pattern used 2x3 clusters, was also weak. On the other hand, Donovan's pattern was too jagged and therefore too strong, so that had to be changed… we made many, many changes in order to adjust the balance.

Funamizu: In the end, this game went through as much balancing as one of our fighting games. After making all these delicate balance changes for versus matches, we then had to work on the vs. CPU component, which put us right against the clock.

―The power of Akuma and Devilotte's attacks is lower when they're being used by human players; is that because their drop patterns are too strong?

Ohta: Yeah ― at first, they were reduced to 50% power, but that was too weak, so we adjusted it up a little. To be completely honest, the programmer Okada did it himself without asking permission. (laughs)

Funamizu: He's the programmer for the Street Fighter Alpha (Street Fighter Zero) series; for the longest time, he'd been saying to me, "let me do a puzzle game!", so when development started on this game, we had no choice but to include him.

Giu: It felt like the programmers and designers ran riot over this game, with the rest of the project being dragged along behind them. (laughs)

Ohta: As for that specific adjustment, I remember Okada going up to Giu and saying "Giu-chan, 50% seems a little too weak, 75% might be better" and Giu-san replying, "okay, let's go with that, shall we?", and I was just sitting there listening like, "o…kay?" (laughs)

―When I saw shown the "Su-puzzle" screens early in development, I told Okada-san, "I like it!" and he seemed very pleased.

Giu: After that conversation, Okada came to me with a guts pose like, "he said it was cool!" (laughs)

English-language how-to-play cards for the arcade cabinet, including a dropset chart for the eight default characters. Interestingly, while it's not shown here, Devilotte's dropset chart is displayed in game, but it's not accurate to her actual dropset ― in a comment made elsewhere in this guidebook, one of the developers alleges that the misleading chart was actually a deliberate allusion to Devilotte's own brattish nature, meant as an easter egg for devoted fans, but one has to wonder...

―Did Marvel Super Heroes inform the decision to use "gems" for blocks?

Eguchi: No, there's no connection there. Traditionally, puzzle games have featured blocks that blink and flash out of existence, and I thought it odd that other games hadn't more deeply explored the concept of destroying blocks, seeing as the basic premise for most puzzle games is to make blocks disappear; I really wanted to express the pleasurable feeling of shattering something solid, so we were planning on using something with a hard image from the start.

Ohta: Just shooting bullets in a shooting game is fun, so by the same token, we wanted to make a puzzle game where simply erasing the blocks was fun in and of itself. Also, when I saw moves in Alpha 2 like [Sagat's] Tiger Blow and [Sakura's] Shouoken that inflict a lot of rapid hits, I thought it would be nice to have a similar feeling clearing blocks, so I made them disappear quickly, one after the other.

―The sound the gems make when they break is also really nice.

Funamizu: I told the sound designer not too get too carried away because he had another job on the horizon (laughs). The quality of the samples has also improved.

Kondo: I was put in charge of "Su-puzzle"'s audio in between the release of the arcade version of Alpha 2 and the home ports, so the less time I spent on "Su-puzzle", the more time I'd have to work on the home version of Alpha 2, but when I actually saw the game running I was like, "well, I have no choice but to go all in." (laughs)

―You recorded a ton of voice clips for this game, didn't you?

Kondo: Speaking strictly in terms of volume, it definitely tops all other Capcom games; including the grunts and so on, there are around 400 voices. There are voice clips that only play after six-chains, and the programmer was like, "nobody's ever going to hear these!" (laughs). There are also a lot of little in-jokes for people who know all the references, like the characters saying their victory quotes from their original games.

ーAre there any voice clips that made a particularly big impression on you?

Eguchi: The one that got a lot of attention within the company was Morrigan's "atama warui ko ne" (laughs) ー at first, she'd say that every time she won, and it made everyone so mad (laughs). We eventually ended up tuning it so that it wouldn't play too frequently.

Kondo: Some of the voice clips will only play if you achieve big chains, so I'd like players to strive to hear those. Also, when we originally had the game out on location test, it was using temp voices taken from Alpha 2, so one day, I decided I wanted to swap out all the voices with new ones and see what kind of reaction they'd get.

Ohta: Everyone had their ears pressed to the speakers that day! I was the person in charge of swapping out the arcade board for the location tests, so every time I'd do it I'd make sure to turn the volume up a little louder, but when I'd come back the next day the volume would be turned back down. I was fighting a hidden battle with the clerk at the game center. (laughs)

Giu: Speaking of the location test, when I was playing the game on location, someone suddenly cut into my game and when I looked over to see who it was, it was Okada-san (laughs). He was like, "I wanna take on the strongest dudes around!"

Funamizu: He referred to himself as "The Emperor". He used to lose a lot (laughs).

Exploratory sketches drawn during the process of establishing the game's visual style; as you can see, these initial takes weren't quite as SD as those seen in the final game.

ーWhen you asked the voice actors to read their lines, did you ask them to perform with a different image than that of the characters' original fighting games?

Kondo: The actors were, more or less, all the same as those from the fighting games, but when we'd tell them, "these are SD versions of the characters", they'd instinctively perform the lines with a childish affectation, so it became tricky to maintain the image of the original characters while incorporating an appropriate amount of "SD-ness". To give one example, the original takes for Ken made him sound around five years old. (laughs)

Eguchi: Getting the right voices for their kiai was especially tough. Even the voice actors themselves would give me worried glances after every take, hoping they'd done okay.

Kondo: This was my first time handling Devilotte's voice, and we had a lot of trouble envisioning how she should sound.

Eguchi: That said, the voice actor, Yayoi Jingiju, was very enthusiastic and would ask, "How about this?", and when I'd ask her to improvise a few takes, she'd just keep going until I told her to stop (laughs). She even told me, "I wonder if work is supposed to be this much fun".

Kondo: I arrived in Tokyo the day before the voice recordings were scheduled to start, but they still didn't have a script ー I spent the day in the hotel, thinking up lines until morning, and then I went down to a convenience store and printed out scripts to give to all the voice actors. I really cut it fine.

Eguchi: When Yuko Miyamura, who plays Chun-Li, walked in and said hello, I was happy to hear her look at the script and say "oh cool, it's Chun-Li!" (laughs) I think it was fun for everyone to be able to hear lines that the original version of the characters wouldn't say. When I'd think up lines like Dan's "kujekinai-ssu!", I'd be like, "this is it!" and get excited, all by myself. (laughs)

Kondo: Don't forget to mention Morrigan and Dan's unison "yoyossu!"

Funamizu: Go easy on the "yoyossu!" (laughs).

ーThe win quotes are also fun, aren't they?

Eguchi: They're full of parodies, some of which are so inside that nobody will get them (laughs). There were two directions on the table for Donovan: a very serious route, and another one where he'd just dote on Anita the whole time (laugh). In the end, I stuck to his original image and went in the serious direction.

Ohta: The win quotes caused me a lot of trouble. They came right at the peak of the middle of production.

ーWhy did you add the intermissions?

Eguchi: Seeing as the characters were being pushed to the forefront, we wanted to offer another level of fan service beyond the moment-to-moment gameplay. I came up with a few ideas and showed them to the programmers like, "this is funny, right?" (laughs)

Funamizu: I'd be happy if someone decided to cosplay Morrigan dressed in a school uniform, or in Chun-Li's outfit.

Puzzle Fighter's goofy intermission animations.

ーHow does the amount of animation compare to a fighting game?

Ohta: There are only a few actions per character, but I think there are more animation patterns per action: their headband might move slightly, for example, or there might be animations that only play after a certain amount of time has passed. At the planning stage, I'd go to the designer with an outline of an action and ask them to animate it, but when I'd be show the finished animation, I'd often be surprised to see it was twenty frames long… and then the programmer would see it and be even more surprised. (laughs)

ーDid you ever think of having the characters in the middle of the screen fight like in a fighting game?

Eguchi: At first we were thinking of recreating the authentic combos, but we axed that idea as it would've required a huge amount of data.

ーSo you were thinking of having the characters punch and kick along with the puzzle chain?

Funamizu: We'll get to that next time, in Super Puzzle Fighter Alpha 2. (laughs)

Ohta: The original combo idea was conceived as part of a project that predated "Su-puzzle". The contents of the game system couldn't be said to be in their current state until half a year before launch, at most, and prior to that point we'd been doing trial and error every single day to nail down the basic systems. There were systems we created and abandoned within the space of a day.

Giu: I couldn't begin to guess how many programs I wrote. (laughs)

ーThe BGM is more or less arranged from existing songs, but is Devilotte's them an original composition?

Kondo: At first, the plan was to arrange the enka-esque Super 8 theme from Cyberbots, but given that that was a Super 8 theme and not a Devilotte theme, we decided to go out on a limb and write a new theme.

ー"Su-puzzle" has some unique game systems, like power gems.

Eguchi: I didn't want to make a game with just one way to play, so we came up with a system that lets players create chains, and those beginner players who can't create chains can have fun just creating and breaking power gems. We want everybody to be able to enjoy themselves.

ーWas the system for offsetting counter gems also meant for beginners?

Giu: In the beginning, there was no offsetting and the characters would be able to guard against counter gems, but the games were ending too quickly…

Ohta: There are games where players win and lose based strictly on technique, but this time, we were aiming for something a little different, since the focus of the game is on the characters.

ーWhy do simultaneous clears score higher than chains?

Ohta: Power gems were one of the big hooks of the game, and if the chains were too strong, it'd be possible to win by simply using strategies like Harada Stacking, so we intentionally weakened the power of chains… but, we did end up strengthening them a little from there, too. Incidentally, when two pieces are in a 2-chain, they'll generate two rows of counter gems, and when three pieces are in a 3-chain, they'll generate three rows of counter gems.

"Original" and "Shin" versions of the "Harada Stacking" build, which involves stacking quickly along the edges of the field and relying on the cyclical rainbow gem drops to arbitrarily generate long chains, in a manner akin to Puyo Puyo's "frog stacking" tactic. According to an account elsewhere in the book, certain players almost came to blows when this tactic was employed during a location test.

ーAs far as Capcom's concerned, it seems that as long as the game's fun, you're not particularly worried about genre, are you?

Funamizu: That's right. That said, while puzzle games might be easy to make, they're no fun at all if you don't make them well. Okada would make puzzle games as a hobby, and they'd be dismissed with comments like "boring!" or "quit wasting time on this while you're supposed to be programming Alpha 2!" (laughs)

Kondo: When we were making Alpha 2, I put in an odd input on the test screen, and when it brought up some screen I'd never seen before, I realized it was one of Okada-san's puzzle games. (laughs)

Funamizu: We'd named them things like "Okada Test" and "Columns-dama" (laughs). Anyway, Okada enjoys thinking about the AI routines of the CPU, and I think he did well on that front with this game, too.

Giu: I didn't want the CPU to cheat by, say, changing what pieces it gets in real time, or by speeding up to win. We wanted people to think about winning and losing in general terms, and not to specifically worry about being beaten by the CPU. What's more, the computer stacks pieces with no reference to what's in their next queue, so it's actually holding back a little.

一Eguchi-san, Ohta-san, did you join Capcom because you wanted to make fighting games?

Ohta: I've always liked fighting games, but I wasn't particular about wanting to make them. Rather, I wanted to work on genres that didn't yet exist. Once I joined Capcom, I learned the fundamentals of what makes games fun, and I realized there was no reason to rigidly cling to one genre.

Eguchi: Funamizu interviewed me during my job interview and I told him stuff like "I can't do a shoryuken!" and "don't expect me to have much to offer to fighting games" (laughs). Puzzle games are a genre where you have to be extremely clear about how to play and how to win, and they seemed like they'd be fun to make, so the only pitches I submitted to the rookie contest were puzzle game projects.

一Did you make use of your fighting game expertise while making "Su-puzzle"?

Funamizu: I think it helped with the competitive aspect of the game. I often use the term "taisen tool" with regards to fighting games, but given than this game is also a "taisen tool", I think it's important that the game be fun to play against other people, and that the visuals match up to the way the game is supposed to make you feel. In "Su-puzzle", making huge power gems is fun, and shattering them feels fantastic; shooting things is fun in shooting games, hitting things is fun in fighting games and destroying blocks is fun in this game, and I think that's something inherited from that prior experience.

Ohta: What makes people happy in this game is making a huge comeback and winning by erasing a ton of gems in a pinch, or by winning with a super combo finish.

Eguchi: We may not have had any puzzle game know-how, but if you approach it as a "taisen game", then the feelings it imparts are the same as a fighting game.

Funamizu: Cool, huh?

Eguchi: Whoa, he said it out loud... (laughs)

一Are you planning a sequel to "Su-puzzle"?

Funamizu: Well, maybe when we've forgotten what we went through with this one. Even if it ends up being a hit, that doesn't mean we'll make another one as a matter of course.

一So, are you planning to port the game to home consoles?

Funamizu: That depends on the response from players, I guess 一 if you want to play it at home, write to us and let us know!

一Finally, do you have a message for our readers?

Giu: I want you to play so loudly that you draw a crowd!

Ohta: At the very least, give it a shot and see if it might win you over.

Eguchi: Our aim was to make something accessible to those who've never played puzzle games before, so I hope that everyone from women to children enjoy it.

Kondo: The characters all have a ton of voices, so I hope that you'll memorize them all as you play.

一As usual, Funamizu-san gets the last word.

Funamizu: Over the current release window, we're preparing several titles including the PlayStation version of Star Gladiator, the Saturn/PlayStation/Super Famicom versions of Alpha 2 and, in the arcades, Red Earth (Warzard), Street Fighter III and sequels to Darkstalkers and X-Men, so look forward to all of those, and also look forward to more Capcom character showcases like "Su-puzzle" in the future.

一That ending offers a lot of food for thought... (laughs)

The character match-up/rankings chart provided by the guide; from top to bottom: Donovan, Ken, Hsien-ko, Akuma, Devilotte, Morrigan, Ryu, Sakura, Felicia, Chun-Li, Dan.

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