High on the success of Final Fight, the team ran full speed into Street Fighter 2 with Okamoto, Yasuda, Funamizu and others throwing out ideas and Nishitani bringing them together. This time the game used six buttons from the start, offered eight playable characters and focused on creating a sense of competition, which was, in part, inspired by trying to crack the arcade business model."When I got the game [in the U.S. office], I wasn't a gamer, but I was looking at six buttons and I'm saying, 'Holy shit, it almost looks like a PC game. It's gonna be too complicated,'" says Jeff Walker. "I remember getting on a phone with Okamoto saying, 'Knock it down to two buttons. Come on, this is crazy.' And he kept telling me, 'Jeff, you're not a gamer. Let it go. It's what's going to make the game unique.' And yadda yadda yadda. He was right."
Back in the day, people at arcades weren't happy. Space Invaders was popular and cost 100 yen ($1) to play. And we were thinking, if you're playing a shooter and there's a lot of bullets coming at you, that's a lot of fun. But if it doesn't last very long, then developers are happy and arcade operators are happy, but players aren't happy. So we were thinking really hard about what would make everybody happy.
We thought about putting big machines in arcades, so you would need to spend 500 yen per game — developers would be happy because they would make more money, players would be happy because they would get a better experience, but arcade operators wouldn't be happy because it would cost a lot to swap these big machines in and out.
So we thought about it more and came to the conclusion that if two people played at once ... operators would get twice the money. Players would essentially split the cost so they could both play for longer. We kind of did that with Final Fight since players help each other out, but we realized some players still felt cheated because the game was too difficult ... If we dictated the difficulty, players could always get frustrated. But if players were competing against each other, whether they won or lost would be up to them. So we were thinking that could take out the frustration.
John Gillin (Director of marketing, Capcom USA):
I think the great thing was it really stoked players' competitiveness ... It was a deep game; it still is a deep game, and it was one that required a lot of time with it, a lot of quarters in the arcades.
I had the team put together a concept and the art, and I would look through the design documents and tell them what I liked — what to keep and what to throw out. I'd say this is approved or not approved. There were lots of times people would ignore what I said too. Nishitani would sometimes say no and reject my ideas. ...
You know how each character has a life bar? At one point, I wanted to make the power gauge for Chun-Li shorter than for the other characters because women are not as strong. But Nishitani didn't want to do that. We both had legitimate reasons, but then we came to an agreement to not make it shorter.
Hmm, I don't remember that.
I had no idea [Mr. Okamoto suggested that]. I think that since women live longer maybe their life bars should be longer. [Laughs]
I would say yes to almost everything people would bring me. ... Back then, there were several teams creating games at Capcom, so the teams were competing with each other. But the Street Fighter 2 team was also competing amongst itself — the programmers and artists were each working on their own characters, which led to a lot of rivalries. You know, "My character's going to be better than yours."
Because of that, they'd each come up with crazy ideas and bring them to me. And I didn't want to tell them, "Ah, that won't fit with our game system, so you should do something else." Or "that idea's too crazy — you should come up with something less over the top." I didn't want to discourage their creativity, so I said, "OK cool, I'll make that happen, and come up with more crazy ideas and I'll make those happen too."
I think that's part of the reason why the game turned out well. These days, as the president of a company, I can't be as irresponsible as I was back then. So sometimes what I'll tell people today is different from what I'd tell them then. Back when I was making Street Fighter 2 though, that was my attitude.
I just think it really resonated with people because they could be the character they wanted to be. ... It was like something out of a kung fu movie where you have all these guys do weird things.
Initially, Dhalsim's arms and legs didn't stretch as long as they ended up in the final game. But everybody wanted to make their character better than the others, so his arms and legs just kept getting longer and longer. During development I was thinking, well, in the worst case scenario I'm going to make them stretch about half the length that they ended up. But I was able to make it work in a balanced way.
I think the crazy personalities of the staff showed in the gameplay. Because all these unique people got together and everybody had something they wanted to do. So they gathered all of that and put it together into one game. And because of that, I think it turned out to be something unique.
One of Street Fighter 2's most popular features was a subtle tweak to the original game's control scheme. To reduce the reliance on luck, the team made it easier for players to perform characters' special moves. As it turned out, this opened up the game in a way the designers didn't intend, allowing players to link together multiple hits before their opponents could react. In short, they invented the combo. Some called it a bug.
[Nishitani] is a genius, and he's also great at analyzing and studying games. At one point, I saw him spending time analyzing why it was so difficult to pull off a Shoryuken [special move] in the original Street Fighter — it's really difficult to perform the command, but it inflicts a lot of damage if you do it right. And everybody just had that idea that a Shoryuken was tough to pull off but when you did it was very powerful. But Nishitani said, "It doesn't have to be like that. If you could make it easier to perform, it would make the game look cooler and be less about luck." That really surprised me and changed the way I thought about game design.
Motohide Eshiro (Programmer, Capcom Japan):
Early on in development it became clear that we were being a little too strict and a little too severe with the input methods. So when you did the down, down-forward, forward punch [input to perform a fireball], you had to hit punch at exactly the minute you were hitting right on the joystick or it wouldn't work. And it was just really hard for people to get their heads around that — it really felt like you were doing it right and it wasn't working. So we decided to open up that timing a little bit, just by a few frames, so that if you hit that punch button within those few frames you'd be OK and your fireball would work.
And as a side effect of that — so I guess if you wanted to call it a bug, you could, but really it was a side effect of giving people more time to enter the button — players could perform combos. So if you were doing a crouching kick by holding down, and then pressed right and punch when your character was doing that animation, you could connect those together. It wasn't intentional to let players combine moves into combos, but it wasn't a bug in that it was planned to make it easier to do your special moves.
[Okamoto tells another version of the story behind the invention of the combo, crediting someone named "Ikee-chan" with the idea and implementation of the first combo. No one else we asked was familiar with Ikee-chan or this version of the story, and Okamoto wasn't able to point us in a direction to find him today.]
To many, Street Fighter 2's art was its defining feature, thanks in part to the money Capcom threw at the visuals. The art staff accounted for more than half of the development team, with approximately 20 artists split between character designs, faces and backgrounds, all working under Akira Yasuda.
Scott Smith (Product manager, Capcom USA):
It was probably the most beautiful game for its time — the background animations, the character animations ...
[Mr. Yasuda] is such a talented artist ... When he designed characters, he [planned out their moves up front] in a way that the animation looked best ... No other artist could do that. He was a pioneer.
If you look at some of the fighting games out there that are so-so, they don't have good colorform breakup. So when [characters] throw a kick or a punch, it all kind of bleeds together so you don't track the limbs that well. And this guy was way ahead of his time on all of that.
Each artist drew each pixel on the characters, so in general it took about 10 months for an artist to draw a character. ... [Yasuda] drew Chun-Li, but he did that in just a month and a half. So he would go around and teach people how to draw stuff. Then toward the end of development, he would crank stuff out in a really short amount of time, but the quality was really high. That's how good of an artist he was.
Chun-Li has big thighs, right? So back in the day, I asked Mr. Yasuda, "Why does she have such big thighs?" And he started shouting and went off and was like, "I can't believe you don't understand the appeal." And he started explaining the attraction. And you know, I'm a woman and I asked the question but it kind of got awkward when he started explaining his fetishes. I mean, he has really strong feelings toward his creations. There's a reason for everything being the way that it is. When I heard that, I thought maybe that's something that everybody thinks, but everybody doesn't go out telling everybody. But he just told me.
The work was really tough, but now when I look back on it, the work is pretty flavorful. Like Blanka, for instance — when he moves back, his back gets smaller. It wasn't supposed to happen like that, but that just happened because of how we were creating the art, and that brings me a nostalgic feeling.
To celebrate Capcom's 30th anniversary, last year the company organized promotional events across Japan, such as this small art exhibit in the basement of a Tsutaya store in Osaka's Dotonbori district. The display included concept art from various Capcom games, with early Street Fighter sketches showing characters such as Ryu, Chun-Li and Zangief.
Once the team locked in the game's concept and art style, the soundtrack and sound effects fell to Yoko Shimomura, who had also previously worked on Final Fight. Shimomura would later go on to work on some of the Japanese game industry's biggest franchises including Final Fantasy and Kingdom Hearts.
When a project came around, Capcom usually looked for people in the sound department who were free at the moment, and I was free. ... There were two projects that needed sound composers at that time, and I just happened to pick Street Fighter 2. ...
At first, I was worried if I'd be able to pull the job off right, because it was a fighting game and I wasn't sure if that would match my style. ... Before Street Fighter 2 came along, the sound composition across all Capcom titles had a heavier tone, a cooler tone. But I made it lighter and more upbeat and had more fun with the tracks ... There were people within the company saying, "OK this seems a little off from Capcom's style." But Mr. Nishitani said, "No, this is fun. We should do this."
I liked her approach a lot. I remember asking her to make melodies that were clear and easy to remember instead of image songs. And I think she did that perfectly. ... Each character had a different country of origin, so the main direction I gave was to compose songs that reflected those countries.
Mr. Nishitani would come up to me and show me designs of the characters and explain the personalities of the characters and ask me to make theme songs for each character. And then I would look at the backgrounds and the character descriptions and all that, and I noticed that each character had a unique background. And because of that, I suggested making each theme song based on their background country and culture. So it was kind of like a brainstorming session — he would have his orders and I would come up with ideas. ...
I think the crazy personalities on the team carried over to how the game was made. Usually on a game, the programmers don't have a say about the music. But with Street Fighter 2, I composed a track that I was thinking, "Oh maybe this could be good for Guile's theme song or Ken's theme song," but I didn't say anything. I just composed the song and let everybody hear it. And then the programmer who was working on Guile, [Mr. Eshiro], was like, "OK I love this song. I like this track a lot, so I'm taking this track for my stage." Usually programmers won't say things like that, so I was surprised. But it turned out that was sort of what I was intending it for in the first place.
Kazunori "Ippo" Yamada (Composer, Capcom Japan):
Ms. Shimomura left Capcom before I started there, so I just knew her music as a player. But when I first heard her tracks, they blew my mind. The great thing about her work is not that it's particularly complex, but the way she creates a very catchy tone, kind of like Michael Jackson. In a short segment she's able to describe a lot. Once you hear a bit of Ken's theme or Chun-Li's theme, you instantly feel like you're in this special place. A lot of people know her for her work on games after she joined Square Enix, but I feel like my favorite work of her's is what she did on Street Fighter 2.
Much like the theme songs, the game's character designs were also rooted in the team's interpretations of different countries — the sumo wrestler from Japan, the fire-breathing yogi fighter from India, etc. And in certain cases, the character names played into those stereotypes, making some in the U.S. office uneasy.
At that time, there was no localization department. Actually, there was no such word as "localization." It was just "translation." And I was the only one in [the Japan sales] office itself that actually liked arcade games, so I had to take charge in that translation job.
There's always something [that gets lost in translation]. ... But usually we had a reason.
Ian Rose (General counsel, Capcom USA):
There was the concern that M. Bison was way too close to Mike Tyson. The original M. Bison [in Japan became] Balrog [in the U.S.].
The concern was Mike Tyson was still big at that time and Nintendo had Punch-Out!!, and so they just didn't want to get into it.
[Capcom USA executives] believed they could get sued. But at that time, all the name graphics had already been done, so there was no way to create another graphic just to replace it. ... So whatever fit with the character graphics was OK. I mean, it was not the best choice. There was a lot of argument that "Vega" — that doesn't fit with the character, with the clothes. But there was no other choice. It was a reluctant decision, but getting sued is a much bigger problem.
It's true that [Russian wrestler] Zangief's name was originally Vodka, but that was just a placeholder name so it wasn't heart crushing or anything when we changed it. ... I didn't really have strong feelings about it either way.
[With "Nash" changing to "Charlie"], it once again came from the U.S. I always did a literal translation of the original Japanese, and of course I translated it as Nash. Then they gave it to someone at Capcom U.S., and they came back and changed the name. I asked them why, but they said "Nash is not an English name, basically. So we've got to change it to something else, otherwise people will not recognize it as a name or maybe they may not have some attachment to this character, and he's supposed to be a U.S. soldier." And they suggested, "How about Charlie?"
In general, I understood when the U.S. office changed character names. It wasn't like I was excited about it, but I felt like, "If that has to happen, that has to happen."
Back then the developers were not so familiar with overseas projects, so whatever the U.S. people said the developers felt like they had to do; otherwise the game wouldn't be accepted overseas. And I kind of believed in that too. But after a few years we started to realize, "Hey, this is just their ego." ... They wanted to change everything they could [so they could say they played a role in the development]. Even the titles, right? Like Biohazard to Resident Evil. [After] we learned that, developers actually often refused to listen to their suggestions, or tried to get a second opinion from someone else. But back then on Street Fighter 2, whatever Americans said was the absolute truth we had to follow.
In 1991, Street Fighter 2 went on sale from Capcom distributors to arcades around the world. Capcom had put more money into it than any other arcade game to date, and many at the company were hopeful that the one-on-one approach would pay off, continuing on Final Fight's success. It didn't take long to gain a following, though it started slowly in Japan.
When we first put the game on location test [in Japan], people played it maybe 98 or 99 times a day. We were predicting 300 to 400, but nobody fought against other people — they all just played solo. So we were thinking, "Oh, this is a huge failure," since people weren't playing the way we intended. ...
We put a lot of effort in letting people know you could fight each other, but at first that message didn't really reach people. Then there was a game magazine called Gamest [in Japan] that wrote about it a lot. And Gamest wrote that "battle play" is the hot thing going on, and then people started to acknowledge it. Then after awhile, boom, it blew up. But until it blew up, I was having a hard time because people around me were saying, "Oh you should have made another Final Fight instead of Street Fighter. Your game tanked." When I decided to make the game, I had ignored other people's opinions, so until it started selling I was feeling very uncomfortable.
I got [an early version of Street Fighter 2 in the U.S. office] and normally ... we would test the game for ideally four weeks before I would go to market with it and pitch it to my distribution network. Well, I only had six days the way it turned out, because of course the board came in late and we already planned distributor meetings ...
So I remember being down in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, and we're launching the game down there. And I didn't even have the earnings back yet. I mean, they were coming in — we had one unit in Sunnyvale Golfland; the other one was in Milpitas. So I had my testers go out there and I said, "Hey man, I've gotta have some kind of idea what's in there." So they said, "Well we opened the cash box up. We haven't even hit the weekend yet, just been cruising through the week." And ... I think it was like $650 that was in there. I go, "That's not bad. That's not bad." So I said, "Well, let me just do a little surmising. Eh, it'll probably end up doing about 800. That's a really good report." So I'm down in Florida basically telling my distribution network, "I think it's gonna be about an $800 a week game, based on testing in Milpitas." And then seven days came up after my distributor meeting, and the thing made $1,300.
So one of the things that we quickly found was, Golfland says, "We're having problems with the players, because everybody's backed up on the unit. Can we get another one?" "Yes, you can get another one." We bring another one out. Now I'm afraid if I put a second one in there I'm gonna cannibalize it. I'm gonna have two doing $600. Not the case at all. They both do 14. So now we know we've got a juggernaut on our hands. Sunnyvale Golfland and Milpitas, I believe at the peak, were probably operating up to 15 units inside there. And you know, the game went through the ceiling.
The only way that you ever got to a thousand dollar a week earnings in any sort of game that I had been associated with was when you had three- or four-player multiplayer-type games, or ones where [you had a big machine and operators charged] a dollar per game or a dollar fifty per game. ...
I remember when we first started shipping, I had to send people about 10 percent of their order because we just flat out did not have enough to meet the demand. ... And I remember one of our distributors even got super, super healthy and super, super big by requiring that any of their customers had to pay cash up front, had to be current on their account and had to pay up front. So it was just unbelievable that customers would be paying up a $10,000 or $20,000 account to be able to buy a dedicated machine for $2,500. And the price went up after awhile.
The game just took off. ... Even the LA riots worked out for me because when they were looting the street, they were running down the streets from the 7-11 stores with Street Fighter games in their hands. ... [We got lots of] press because there were the cameras going up on these guys running down the street with Street Fighter games.
We sold, if I remember correctly, it was around 20,000. ... I remember having orders every month of a thousand standing orders [on the West Coast] and we would only get in 1,200 for the entire U.S. at a time.
"We put a lot of effort in letting people know you could fight each other, but at first that message didn't really reach people."
We did — between dedicated and kits — we did about 20-25,000 both with Street Fighter 2 and [later with the sequel, Champion Edition].
I don't remember how many units we sold overall, but within Japan probably around 30,000 units.
I did a couple of semi-controversial things. One of the things was I made all my distributors pay me everything they owed me before I started shipping the game, so we could collect all our money. I thought it was gonna be stupid any other way. ... Normally you know, they're supposed to pay in 30 days, but then they pay the hot hand. Whoever's got the product, they pay them quicker. So I just sat back and said, "We're gonna collect the money." So it was really good for Capcom. I also told the distributors, "Go collect from your operators. Let's get some money in for this game." So it was one of the first times of really using the product like that to control everybody's cash and exposure on the deal. ... We ended up doing $78 million dollars worth of Street Fighter that year, so it was a good thing we did it.
The American sales force, of course, they were kind of freewheeling guys. They were well compensated, but they kind of played by their own rules or by the rules of the industry as they understood it. And you know, [as time went on] there was a tension there [between Capcom USA and Capcom Japan].
It was definitely polar opposite cultures. You know, I had a nice, big office in Santa Clara and I got paid a ton and all my sales guys drove Porches and Mercedes, and we had unlimited expense accounts, we golfed Pebble Beach every month. It was crazy. I go over to Japan, and my same counterpart is making a fraction of what I'm making and he's sitting in a cubicle.
It just was phenomenal. It was the best thing that I've ever been associated with. ... I made more money that year than I ever have made in my life. ... We were on a two percent commission [in the U.S. sales department], and very shortly after that year they switched to one percent commission, and I continued selling that game for two or three years. It was beautiful. And after the one percent they cut out the commission completely.