Capcom vs. SNK: An oral history

Capcom and SNK brought together many of their most popular characters for Capcom vs. SNK, including Terry Bogard and Chun-Li.

The late ’90s weren’t kind to arcade fighting games.

When Street Fighter director Takashi Nishiyama left Capcom for SNK in the late ’80s, he set in motion a series of events that built the fighting game genre and gave a much-needed jolt to the amusement industry. For a few years, everyone forgot about the business’s gradual downward trajectory, thanks to games like Street Fighter 2 and Mortal Kombat.

Street Fighter history series
Leading up to Street Fighter 2’s 30th anniversary, Polygon is running a series of oral histories covering Capcom’s early fighting games. To start from the beginning, check out our feature looking back at how Street Fighter began.

By the late ’90s, though, the industry’s momentum caught up to it. While games like Tekken 3 and Marvel vs. Capcom kept up appearances, the business was changing. Console games were exploding, the fighting game boom was over, and Capcom and SNK’s arcade divisions were left trying to scrape the last pieces of candy out of the piñata.

Fortunately for Capcom, it had managed to grow its console game division in the meantime, finding success with the Resident Evil series, among others.

SNK failed to find the same level of success outside of fighting games, trying its hand at a CD version of its Neo Geo home console, new 3D arcade hardware, and a Neo Geo Pocket series of portable game machines. Nishiyama, who served as the head of SNK’s development group, says this marked a tough time for him personally, in part because he was opposed to the release of the Neo Geo Pocket, which SNK invested in heavily.

Soon after, SNK got acquired and filed for bankruptcy, and Nishiyama left and started his own independent studio. But before departing, he left behind a parting gift — one that neatly tied a bow on his past decade.

The Capcom/SNK crossover resulted in eight games between 1999 and 2007, not counting ports or the second of the Pokémon-style twin versions of SNK vs. Capcom: Card Fighters Clash.
Graphic: James Bareham/Polygon | Source images: SNK via MobyGames

Mending fences

Often friendly. Occasionally contentious. Rooted in executive frustration yet resembling a playground flirtation, the rivalry between Capcom and SNK played out in many forms throughout the ’80s and ’90s. Privately, many spoke of a feud between Capcom CEO Kenzo Tsujimoto and SNK founder Eikichi Kawasaki, while publicly, fans saw the companies trying to top one another while constantly referencing each other in their games.

“Capcom and SNK spent the ’90s in a kind of call-and-response dance,” says veteran fighting game developer Seth Killian. “Capcom had Ryu, so SNK made Ryo,” he says. “Street Fighter added a parry; SNK introduced the Just Defend. You got T. Hawk? We got a Tizoc.”

Nishiyama sat in the middle of this, having developed the original Street Fighter at Capcom before joining SNK and overseeing the Fatal Fury and King of Fighters series. While he didn’t directly participate much in the back-and-forth, he couldn’t help but notice it. And in the late ’90s, he hatched an idea to bring his franchises together: What if the two companies put all this history to good use?

Noritaka Funamizu
(general producer, Capcom Japan)

The way the idea came up to begin with was because Nishiyama — I think he and [Capcom head of development Yoshiki] Okamoto had lunch or dinner together one day, and then out of the blue, Nishiyama suddenly said, "Yeah. Why don't we make a 'versus SNK' game?"

Takashi Nishiyama
(head of development group, SNK Japan)

The way this came about was, Okamoto had become the top of Capcom's development division and I had been the top of SNK's development division, and we ended up meeting one day. We talked about putting the past behind us, and the idea came up of combining our forces and using each of our companies' characters in a collaborative project. And Okamoto thought that the idea was very interesting. So I told Okamoto to convince Tsujimoto to make that happen. I would convince Kawasaki to make it happen. I think this discussion happened right before I ended up quitting SNK. [...]

Actually, it wasn't that difficult to convince Kawasaki. [...] I think you could say they'd put the past behind them. Kawasaki was a businessman, so I think he realized there was a lot of potential to benefit from this kind of collaboration.

Matt Atwood
(Capcom vs. SNK public relations manager, Capcom USA)

I remember thinking, like, Really? SNK? I always thought it was crazy that these two rivals were actually working together.

Toyohisa Tanabe
(Capcom vs. SNK pixel art supervisor, SNK Japan)

I was extremely surprised but also extremely happy.

Takayuki Nakayama
(Street Fighter 5 director, Capcom Japan)

I was definitely surprised! [Capcom's first crossover game] came out prior to me joining the company, but I was excited when I saw the announcement where characters like Terry and Kyo Kusanagi were presented in Capcom's pixel art style. I've heard that both Capcom and SNK's graphic artists were in touch prior to the release of the game.

Noritaka Funamizu
(general producer, Capcom Japan)

Before we started talking with SNK about a project, Tanabe, [planner Hideaki] Itsuno, and I had started hanging out together. And it was a few months later that the whole SNK vs. Capcom thing came up. So yeah, I think we were getting along pretty well by then.

Toyohisa Tanabe
(Capcom vs. SNK pixel art supervisor, SNK Japan)

At the time, it's not as if SNK and Capcom never talked to each other or anything, but I had the impression that there was some bad blood between the two. When I heard Capcom and SNK would be collaborating, it felt like, Ah! Spring is here! Like there was a thawing of relations between the two companies. For me personally, it previously felt kind of difficult to approach people at Capcom, but thanks to that collaboration, I got to know the people there. Our relationships improved, and we would go out drinking together and stuff. We used to do these Capcom vs. SNK drinking parties together. [...]

Aside from drinking, you know the card game Yu-Gi-Oh!, right? That was actually quite popular back in the day, and there were a lot of people at SNK who loved playing it. They would play during their lunch breaks, for example. It turned out there were Yu-Gi-Oh! fans at Capcom as well, so we ended up throwing Capcom vs. SNK Yu-Gi-Oh! tournaments.

Matt Atwood
(Capcom vs. SNK public relations manager, Capcom USA)

I think it was a good opportunity for [SNK because] they were starting to quiet down some, where Capcom had been able to hold its own and do series behind Street Fighter. And really, SNK was really starting to slide. [...] You had the arcade folks who were like, Yeah, of course we remember SNK games. We love them. But broader appeal? They didn't know these characters.

Toyohisa Tanabe
(Capcom vs. SNK pixel art supervisor, SNK Japan)

I wasn't directly involved in the negotiations or the process that led to them collaborating, so I don't know anything about it for sure [...] but I think it might have been the release of the Neo Geo Pocket that led to the two companies initially collaborating. When SNK decided that they were going to release the handheld system, they approached various companies to see if anyone would develop games for it, and I think the company spoke with Capcom at the time. I think it was those conversations which sparked the idea to create a game with licensed characters from both Capcom and SNK. So on the SNK side, there was SNK vs. Capcom on the Neo Geo Pocket, which was a card game. And on the Capcom side, there was Capcom vs. SNK, which was the fighting game. I'm not sure but I think that's how it all got started.

Takashi Nishiyama
(head of development group, SNK Japan)

I don't think everything was necessarily decided in that initial agreement. It proceeded more gradually, step by step. It was like building up a new business, and we had to figure out precisely who would do what.

Capcom vs. SNK

With an initial agreement in place, both companies planned out their crossover games.

SNK kicked things off in 1999 with two titles for its Neo Geo Pocket Color: card game SNK vs. Capcom: Card Fighters Clash and fighting game SNK vs. Capcom: Match of the Millennium. Both earned critical acclaim and fleshed out the portable console’s library to help it compete with that of Nintendo’s Game Boy, though some players wondered why SNK didn’t initially produce an arcade fighting game. In 2001, SNK followed with a Card Fighters Clash sequel, which ended up being the final Neo Geo Pocket Color game, as SNK gave up its portable console ambitions.

Capcom, meanwhile, went straight to its bread and butter in 2000 with Capcom vs. SNK — a 2D arcade fighting game running on the same hardware as Capcom’s hit Marvel vs. Capcom 2. The concept proved popular around Capcom’s offices, with some staff like planner Itsuno begging to work on it. To accommodate multiple styles of play, Capcom developed a ratio system — where players could build a team of fighters of different strengths — and a groove system, where players could choose between Street Fighter and King of Fighters playstyles.

It was the game fans expected from the Capcom/SNK collaboration, with a few caveats.

Noritaka Funamizu
(general producer, Capcom Japan)

I had heard of King of Fighters, and just from the title, I had my own impression of what kind of game it would be. It sounded really cool. The Neo Geo had all these different fighting games, you know, so wouldn't it be great if you mixed all their strengths together in one single game? That's what I imagined King of Fighters to be. But when I actually played it, it turned out to be totally different. So when we were making Capcom vs. SNK, I wanted to make it more like the King of Fighters I had imagined in my head.

Seiji Okada
(Capcom vs. SNK series programmer, Capcom Japan)

I actually had never played an SNK game before, so I had no knowledge about anything, or even the names of the characters in the game, so I had to do a lot of research for that. At first impression, the way the games played felt totally different from Capcom's fighting games, which was refreshing.

James Chen
(Capcom vs. SNK series FAQ writer)

[Capcom vs. SNK] definitely felt like it was more Street Fighter [than King of Fighters], because even though there was the SNK groove, it wasn't very good. [...] For the most part, it felt like the SNK characters were put into a Street Fighter game.

Stephen Frost
(Street Fighter: 30th Anniversary Collection and SNK 40th Anniversary Collection producer, Digital Eclipse)

I think [the SNK characters] played better [than they had in previous games], if you can say that, right? I think that they handled a bit better. They felt a little bit more responsive in comparison to [how they had] in the past. So I thought they blended in well, and I thought [the developers] found a nice middle ground between matching Street Fighter and the SNK stuff.

Toyohisa Tanabe
(Capcom vs. SNK pixel art supervisor, SNK Japan)

I thought Capcom's staff liked SNK's characters and handled them with great care. I felt they poured a lot of love into the pixel work they did for them. According to what I heard, when they were making Capcom vs. SNK, the Capcom designers were all vying for the opportunity to design certain characters. "Let me design Iori Yagami!" "Give me Mai Shiranui!" So no, I wouldn't say that it was hard to blend together or anything. I think SNK felt comfortable putting these characters in the hands of the Capcom designers.

James Chen
(Capcom vs. SNK series FAQ writer)

Man, the SNK characters [looked] awesome. It was refreshing to see the characters look so cool. It was also just really awesome that it was actually made. That this finally [happened], this dream match, [after all the Dan jokes] and the Yuri clapbacks from SNK. And it was really just cool to see these two companies that had this rivalry finally coming together and making a game like this.

Toyohisa Tanabe
(Capcom vs. SNK pixel art supervisor, SNK Japan)

I had worked on the King of Fighters games at SNK, and those were kind of the big party titles where a bunch of different characters came together, but Capcom vs. SNK took that festive party atmosphere to the next level by transcending the company's boundaries. In many ways it was like a dream game for me. It was so nice seeing the characters that we had designed get reinterpreted by the people at Capcom. And as a game, too, I really loved it. At the time, it felt like the only way we could ever top this would be if we made a truly Olympic-scale fighting game ... something crazy like Sega versus Namco versus SNK versus Capcom.

[Ed. note: Prior to Capcom and SNK collaborating, Tanabe says he and other team members at SNK liked the idea of a crossover game so much that they developed one themselves — as a limited internal hobbyist project.]

Toyohisa Tanabe
(Capcom vs. SNK pixel art supervisor, SNK Japan)

I have a secret to tell you, and I don't know if this is something I really should be saying, but: [...] Two years before Capcom vs. SNK came out, we made King of Fighters '98, and we actually had a little bit of time after we finished development. So the team ended up making a build of the game with Ryu and Ken in it. This isn't something that a lot of people know — I think only the developers know about it, and I've never told anyone myself — but yeah, just for fun, before Capcom vs. SNK was a thing, I was playing as Ryu and Ken in King of Fighters '98. [...]

I doubt [a version of it still exists anywhere]. We did this on the development hardware, so of course it was never on a physical cartridge. Also, I'm just remembering this now, but it wasn't only Ryu and Ken that we ended up playing around with. We put in Dragon Ball characters, like Son Goku, as well.

[Ed. note: While Capcom vs. SNK made headlines for its concept and Capcom released a upgraded version, Capcom vs. SNK Pro, many say the series wasn’t fully realized until Capcom released Capcom vs. SNK 2 a year later. Featuring an expanded roster and more variety and polish, Capcom vs. SNK 2 marked the series’ turning point from a novelty to a tournament staple.]

James Chen
(Capcom vs. SNK series FAQ writer)

When [Capcom vs. SNK 2] came out, that to me felt like this was the next great Street Fighter game, because they added all the grooves. CvS1, if people don't remember, [put player attacks on] four buttons. And that didn't feel very Street Fighter-y, and I know a lot of people didn't like that.

And so when CvS2 came out and it went back to six buttons — I mean, I wrote [FAQs] for both of those games, and you can kind of see it in my FAQ for CvS2. I just keep talking about the fact that it's six buttons again, and how wonderful it is. I was so happy that it was six buttons, and the graphics were so good. The gameplay was really solid in it. It really felt, to me, like, This is where Street Fighter needs to go. [...]

In the FAQ itself, I'm like, You've got to play this game. Please play this game because it's so good. Let's make this game popular, you know? I'm practically begging readers to play the game because I was so enamored with it at the time and I just thought it was going to be the next big thing.

Seth Killian
(Street Fighter 4 special combat advisor, Capcom USA)

Compared to previous games, CvS1 did offer a big cast and a lot of system choices, but most of the options presented were just bad choices. As players realized this, the result was long matches between low-powered characters, filled with as many as *7* breaks between rounds. CvS1 was not a bad game, but its slow, low-stakes style created a black hole where hype went to die.

CvS2 felt like a game that said "yes" to pretty much every dumb idea that designers suggested, and yet somehow [made] it all work. It was simultaneously traditional and wild — a return to classic 2D Street Fighter-style combat, but with a huge roster, the widest and wildest system mechanics in Capcom history, plus the chance to mix them all to taste.

A return to the Capcom-style six-button controls added an essential dose of extra moves. The match flow got tightened up, limiting players to three characters per team, but the system mechanics went bananas, offering players a choice of six entirely different flavors (C, A, and P grooves, as well as S, N, and K options) for each of their favorite characters. Grooves didn't just swap super moves; they changed everything from defensive options on down to core movement mechanics. Combine that amount of choice with 48 characters, and you've got a huge space for players to experiment and explore.

[Ed. note: Between CvS1, CvS Pro, and CvS2, Capcom released three crossover games in the span of a year. Former sales manager Drew Maniscalco estimates that Capcom sold 400 arcade kits of Capcom vs. SNK in the U.S. — just above Street Fighter 3, as he recalls. Capcom vs. SNK 2 went on to become a hardcore favorite, appearing in tournaments well over a decade after its release. At the time, it sold well enough to justify a sequel.]

Hideaki Itsuno
(Capcom vs. SNK 2 director, Capcom Japan)

Shortly after we finished Capcom vs. SNK 2, we started working on a 3D version of Capcom vs. SNK 3 for the PS2. CvS3 was meant to be the last [2D fighting game], but then it ended up becoming a 3D game along the way, and then SNK folded and that project got canceled too.

[Ed. note: In 2003, following an acquisition and bankruptcy filing, a new incarnation of SNK — under the name Playmore — finally released its take on the crossover arcade fighting game concept: SVC Chaos. The game redrew many of Capcom’s characters in the King of Fighters style and featured a deep roster (including Dan from the Street Fighter Alpha series, who was originally designed to parody two of SNK’s characters), but reviewed poorly and arrived too late to capitalize on the crossover buzz. In 2007, the company — by then, SNK Playmore — followed with SNK vs. Capcom Card Fighters DS, which also disappointed critics. Nishiyama left SNK well before either of those games released, but when asked about the overall success of the crossover series, he sums it up as a modest success.]

Takashi Nishiyama
(head of development group, SNK Japan)

I don't think we failed in any regard, but I do think that maybe the series wasn't quite as successful as I imagined it could be. I realized that SNK fans and Capcom fans don't have a high level of crossover. Capcom fans have their own preferences; SNK fans have their own preferences. And it didn't quite pan out the way I imagined it would. I don't think it was a failure, though.
Though early rumors suggested otherwise, a Capcom/SNK crossover didn’t arrive on Neo Geo arcade hardware until SVC Chaos (above) in 2003.
Graphic: James Bareham/Polygon | Source images: SNK Playmore via MobyGames

Capcom Fighting All-Stars

As SNK went through changes in the early 2000s, its employees spread throughout the industry. Some started new teams, like Nishiyama, who formed development studio Dimps. A group even joined Capcom, bringing things full circle from when Nishiyama and the Street Fighter team had gone to SNK a decade earlier.

Toyohisa Tanabe
(Capcom Fighting All-Stars director, Capcom Japan)

Basically what happened was, around the year 2000, SNK encountered financial losses, and there was a time when it became a subsidiary of [a pachinko company named] Aruze. So we ended up going to Aruze, but after about a year, Aruze decided that they were going to abandon video game development. So, unable to see any future with Aruze, I ended up transferring to Capcom thanks to the help of a number of people around me. Someone I knew put me in contact with Yoshiki Okamoto, the head of development at Capcom, and thanks to both of their efforts, Capcom took me in. [...]

It was a team of about 20 people that ended up going to Capcom at the same time. There were more people than that on the team at SNK, but unfortunately, Capcom couldn't bring everybody over, so the number had to be whittled down. So the 20 of us joined Capcom as a single team. [...]

I can't deny that there was some of that feeling [of it being a bit strange]. When the 20 of us joined Capcom, I think there were people who thought well of it, but there may also have been people who looked askance and thought, Who the heck are these guys? For our part, as a team, we hadn't yet proven ourselves or accomplished anything, so there was a sense of anxiety about how well we'd fit in and what we'd be able to achieve there. Itsuno was really good to us then. I don't get the chance to talk with him much nowadays, but he treated us very well, and the presence of people like him at Capcom was a huge help for us.

[Ed. note: The team’s first and only project under its new roof was Capcom Fighting All-Stars, a 3D fighting game that brought together characters from multiple internal franchises including Street Fighter, Rival Schools, and Strider. Capcom ended up canceling the project before Tanabe’s team finished it.]

Toyohisa Tanabe
(Capcom Fighting All-Stars director, Capcom Japan)

There was a lot going on there. [...] When we joined Capcom, there were two plans put forward for the kind of game we could develop. We had a lot of people on our team with experience developing fighting games, so our first idea was to make our own fighting game. However, creating a fighting game from scratch, with a new gameplay system, would have been very time-consuming, and as a new team at Capcom, we felt we had to contribute something to the company as quickly as possible.

So instead, we went with our second idea, which was to use Capcom's pre-existing assets as the foundation for a new project. And that game, well, I can't really talk about too much, but ... that's how Capcom Fighting All-Stars' development began. Unfortunately, we just weren't able to work it up into something interesting. Partly due to my own inexperience, in the end, even though our staff did their best, the game never made it to release.

James Chen
(Street Fighter series commentator)

I mean, everybody saw the footage of Capcom Fighting All-Stars, and it was kind of — even though it was their first official attempt to go 3D [as an internally developed game using Street Fighter characters] — a lot of people looked at it and [were disappointed]. I think that kind of contributed to the whole feeling that Capcom wasn't really going to make a lot of quality fighting games at that point in time, and people were just kind of resigned to say, "Yeah, OK, whatever." Capcom wasn't the best anymore at making fighting games. They just weren't, and that expectation wasn't there.

I remember when Capcom Fighting All-Stars first started showing up with footage from game magazines and Japanese game sites. People just looked at it and were like, This looks kind of bad, you know? And so when it was canceled, I still kind of remember people just being like, Yeah, it's probably for the better.

Toyohisa Tanabe
(Capcom Fighting All-Stars director, Capcom Japan)

Right after the time Capcom Fighting All-Stars was canceled, Capcom, as a whole, underwent an organizational change, and I ended up leaving Capcom and joining its subsidiary Flagship [a scenario and development team that Okamoto started]. I worked at Flagship for several years. I wasn't involved with fighting games. I was involved with other titles that were in development in the studio at the time.

Moving on

By the time it canceled Capcom Fighting All-Stars in 2003, Capcom had been slowing its fighting game output for years, dropping its custom CPS-3 hardware, canceling games such as a fourth entry in the Street Fighter 3 series, and pulling resources away from its arcade division. It continued to port existing titles to consoles, and snuck out a couple of new games with Hyper Street Fighter 2 and Capcom Fighting Jam — both built to capitalize on existing games and assets — but the genre was on borrowed time.

Throughout the ’90s, Capcom had pushed its arcade fighting game concepts into nearly every conceivable format. It had defined the genre. Spun off upgrades. Gone back in time. Created new worlds. Negotiated key licenses. Hired external studios. Tried new art styles. Shifted hardware. Combined franchises. Twisted its franchises into other genres. Joined forces with its enemies. And built some of the best video games of the decade.

At a certain point, it was time to say goodbye.

Akira Yasuda
(Street Fighter series illustrator, Capcom Japan)

I think around the year 2000, Funamizu told people who were working on fighting games to basically stop working on fighting games: "Let's make something original, and it doesn't matter if it sells or not. We should do it anyway." This is obviously talk from a long time ago, but you know Resident Evil, right? Tokuro Fujiwara, who had made Resident Evil, had at the same time also made a bunch of other relatively uninteresting games. But I think the reason why those games were made was because Fujiwara wanted to challenge his staff. I think Funamizu wanted to do something similar. Now that the old way of doing things was no longer working, I think he wanted to find a new style, a new way forward, by challenging his staff. And it did provide some hints to the company's direction, in a number of different ways.

I think there were also people in the lower levels of the staff saying that "Street Fighter is no longer selling, so we want to make something else that's not a fighting game." The Street Fighter Alpha series had been going on for awhile and everyone was bored of that — and it didn't sell very well either — so I think this felt like the moment to try something new, and go after a new challenge. Funamizu was also a big fan of Animal Crossing, so I think he wanted to make something similar to Animal Crossing, which some way or another ended up becoming Monster Hunter.

Noritaka Funamizu
(general producer, Capcom Japan)

I don't know if I want to talk about it ... By [the late '90s], I was in charge of the arcade game division, but we knew there really wasn't a future in it going forward. And basically, it was just a question of: How viable could this business remain in the foreseeable future? If you compared Capcom to Sega, Namco, and Taito, we were smaller than them, and they had other related businesses. They were major arcade game makers, but we were pretty much just a video game company at that point. So it felt like there was no future there.

But then we heard about the Sega Dreamcast and the NAOMI board, and we got along with the folks at Sega surprisingly well. And we at Capcom, too, wanted to focus on consumer games. With the Dreamcast and NAOMI, you could develop the arcade game and the console port concurrently — you could complete a console port in just one month, amazingly. So almost all of our projects became joint arcade/console projects, and gradually our development focus shifted to console-friendly games.

Hideaki Itsuno
(Capcom vs. SNK 2 director, Capcom Japan)

In terms of the environment at the time, the arcade business was starting to shrink. In terms of technology, the arcade version of a game had always been the higher form, the more technologically advanced version. But around this time, the roles started to get reversed, and the technology on home console games started to surpass that of arcade games. So there was less of a need to focus on arcade games. We also had the emergence of platforms like the Dreamcast, where we needed to simultaneously release the game on both home console and arcade. So, the combination led to the dwindling of the dominance of arcade games.

And on top that, you had Resident Evil selling incredibly well; it was a huge success, and so it was a combination of, here's a nonfighting game that's incredibly successful, and then you have the arcade environment shrinking — there's not as much demand for it — all of that combined kind of created this shift. There wasn't as much of a demand or much of a business benefit just focusing on fighting games. There was more of a shift that was like, We should spread ourselves out and test the waters elsewhere.

Toyohisa Tanabe
(Capcom Fighting All-Stars director, Capcom Japan)

I think fighting games had slowly evolved into something for advanced players and pros. It felt like the future of fighting games had become very uncertain. And Capcom kept putting out games like Monster Hunter and Resident Evil, games that didn't depend on Capcom's fighting game franchises. So yeah, we got the sense that the times were changing. Something similar had happened before with shooting games, which became more and more difficult to the point that only advanced players could enjoy them. It felt like we were at a turning point with fighting games, too.

Shinichiro Obata
(Street Fighter 3 planner, Capcom Japan)

I think the reason why fighting games stopped coming out around that time is because they pretty much stopped selling and even the arcade market itself had declined to an extent. I think also it had something to do with the fact that [former Mega Man producer Keiji] Inafune became the most prestigious producer in the company, and it was under his direction that the company focused more on console games like Resident Evil and Mega Man. Of the arcade games Capcom developed, only the Gundam games were hits, and that's why they kept making those. All the arcade developers were told to join the profitable console lines — games like Monster Hunter, Resident Evil, and Mega Man. Monster Hunter continues to be a big hit even today, but that game was created by people from the arcade game division.

Matt Atwood
(public relations manager, Capcom USA)

To some degree, you can't tell the arcade story without talking about what else was going on at Capcom, and there was a lot of experimentation. Auto Modellista was completely out of the blue. [...] You had stuff like Steel Battalion and Onimusha and Dino Crisis, and they were getting into bass [fishing] games. Devil May Cry was one that may have signified — so, it's interesting, because Devil May Cry and its success may have sort of cemented the idea that the direction should be on other things. I think that was the first time they saw something beyond Res. Evil that was like, Oh my god, this is really different and we have the ability to create [things that are] so stylish and so different. I think all of the internal studios took notice, and I think that the resources were shifted there.

James Chen
(Street Fighter series commentator)

At that point in time, it was just one of those things that, as a fan of the games, you just kind of accepted that it was dead. I remember when Capcom Fighting Jam first showed up at E3, a lot of people were surprised. They're like, Wow, they're making a new game? And then everyone looked at me. I was like, Why does this game look so darn ugly?

And that was such a prevailing feeling. Capcom Fighting Jam came out and was at E3, and everybody was like, Oh. Even then, nobody seemed like they were really hype about it. It just didn't feel like there was any hype for it. I just don't recall anyone seeing Capcom Fighting Jam and being like, Oh my god, I can't wait to go to the arcade and try this out, and all that stuff. Literally, I just think everybody was like, Whatever. At this point, we had all kind of just given up on hoping for more quality Capcom fighting games, really.

Toyohisa Tanabe
(Capcom Fighting All-Stars director, Capcom Japan)

I don't know if I would use the word "disappointed" to describe that generational change. But in terms of the feelings that I experienced at the time, with fighting games slowly winding down, I wondered, would the game industry itself begin to change over time? And how would we, as fighting game developers, weather this change? There was a sense of danger, but also of excitement. I also acknowledged that you can't expect a genre to continue on in the same way forever, right? But as someone who had experienced the energy and excitement of the fighting game boom firsthand, which players of all skill levels took part in, I did think it was a bit sad that it was finally winding down.

Hideaki Itsuno
(Capcom vs. SNK 2 director, Capcom Japan)

I wasn't sad at all. I felt like I did everything that I wanted to do in the 2D space. And then you had the emergence of new games like Monster Hunter, Auto Modellista, Devil May Cry 2, the JoJo games, and Resident Evil Outbreak. I was personally working on an RPG that eventually became Dragon's Dogma. I was excited to be working on an action RPG. [... I also was] able to take all of the knowledge that I had built up in the fighting game space and throw it into Devil May Cry 3. I realized that all the knowledge I had built up could be expanded into the action game genre as well.
Capcom’s early-2000s shift away from fighting games happened shortly before the departures of two of the key figures responsible for its fighting game output: Yoshiki Okamoto and Noritaka Funamizu. Funamizu says he left in part because of management skepticism over the development of the original Monster Hunter. Monster Hunter went on to become one of Capcom’s most successful franchises, with 2018’s Monster Hunter: World (above) selling more than 16 million copies — more than twice as many as Capcom’s second most successful individual game.
Graphic: James Bareham/Polygon | Source images: Capcom

The future is now

The mid-2000s marked the end of an era for Capcom fighting games. Priorities had shifted. Key figures like Okamoto and Funamizu left Capcom and started their own studios. Capcom Japan sold the Street Fighter IP to Capcom USA.

It marked a clean break, at least until 2008, when Capcom rebooted the series with Street Fighter 4 — developed by Nishiyama’s team at Dimps.

In the decade-plus since then, Capcom has produced fighting games at a measured pace and primarily focused on known quantities: mainline Street Fighter and Marvel vs. Capcom entries, and ports of old games. But for Itsuno, who currently works as one of Capcom’s most successful directors, that doesn’t mean we won’t see anything else in the future.

Hideaki Itsuno
(Devil May Cry series director, Capcom Japan)

I haven't retired just yet! There is definitely a part of me that's like, I would love to eventually make Capcom vs. SNK 3. [...] I actually have two ideas for one-on-one fighting games still lingering in my mind. It's more of just a matter of having the opportunity to do so, so if there's anyone that's willing to give me a development team and a nice budget, I'm more than willing to listen. [laughs]

[Ed. note: Asked how likely it is he thinks he will return to work on another fighting game, given Capcom’s current trajectory, Itsuno says he thinks there’s a decent but far from confirmed chance.]

Hideaki Itsuno
(Devil May Cry series director, Capcom Japan)

Every time I submit new concepts for creating a new game, there's always a fighting game in those concepts. It just so happens it's never been selected. But I would like to make at least one more fighting game before I retire. I don't know — in terms of percentages, maybe 30-50%? Something like that.
Like a hurricane
Want more Street Fighter history coverage? We’re working with publisher Read-Only Memory to turn this article series — and quite a bit of bonus material — into a book.

We have changed certain game titles and character names throughout this series to reflect their English versions and reduce confusion. Job titles reflect past roles relevant to the topics discussed.

Japanese interview interpretation: Alex Aniel

Post-interview retranslation: Alex Highsmith


God, that pixel art is the absolute shit. Just hook it into my veins

CVS2 was the first and only time I ever entered a tournament. I got thoroughly trounced.

CVS2 is one of my all time favorite games.

Still hoping we get a CVS3 someday…

Man, I want to believe a new CvS would be great, but I just don’t trust SNK or Capcom to do it justice anymore, sadly.

I’d take a rerelease of CvS2 with good rollback netcode though. It’s a tragedy that so many of these amazing old versus games are impossible to find now.

i’d love to play CVS2 over the net. I don’t think we ever got that here in the west.

It feels like a tragedy Capcom Fighting All-Stars never finished, if only because the concept was fantastic: a Capcom crossover with a focused storyline and setting, a bunch of Capcom’s coolest characters (Alex! Akira! Strider!) including ones who didn’t get a lot of love at the time (Haggar! Poison!), and some great looking new characters (amazing that Ingrid became so popular despite the game never coming out).

Amazing to find out it was an ex-SNK staff project. They were using Metro City in a way pretty similar to Fatal Fury’s South Town, now that I think about it…

"Street Fighter added a parry; SNK introduced the Just Defend."

The first parry was in Samurai Shodown II in 1994, three years before Street Fighter III.

Respect to the Samurai Shodown designers for that. But the chronology still seems like SNK fighters (outside of Samurai Shodown) added Just Defend after Street Fighter 3, not after Samurai Shodown 2. Several years and SNK games had passed.

Also, could you do multiple parries in sequence in SS2, like you could later in SF3? That’s what the SNK non-sword fighters borrowed after SF3. The power of it in SF3 and MOTW is what was the big historical thing.

Thanks for the article.

I was late to fighting games, as I honestly don’t find Street Fighter 2 to be all that enjoyable. I got in to the genre because I found KoF ’99 for seven dollars at a Costco.

It’s kind of impressive that anyone in North America is aware of SNK fighting games. The series was anchored to a console that very people (if any) had and certainly Street Fighter and Mortal Kombat were the more prevalent series in the forefront.

Capcom Vs SNK 2 probably hasn’t aged well, but in my mind it approaches sheer perfection.

Fighting games seem at another impasse, and I honestly think that every game in the genre will have to feature some sort of crossover arc or DLC character to sustain its self, if it isn’t already based on a well known IP.

So who knows, maybe Terry Bogard will make an appearance in Street Fighter VI? I certainly wouldn’t mind it.

Funny enough, I think that’s when quite a few people got into SNK: I thought the Neo Geo Pocket Color looked amazing (and it is), and got King of Fighters 99 on PS1. And that title was of course also among the many great Dreamcast arcade ports.

Before then, they had pretty much no market presence to many an average US kid since their games weren’t on major consoles (can probably blame Sony for being mean about 2D games until PS2 was out – KOF99 for PS1 was a 10 dollar budget title). Then suddenly these things popped up! Then suddenly they were bankrupt and gone again! They did appear on consoles after that of course, but it was turbulent times for many reasons…

Here are some muddled up thoughts.

I ended up buying a Neo Geo Pocket Color on Ebay when I was in the "height" of my fighting game days.

The PS2, offering backwards compatibility, was a solid platform for fighting games, because it allowed us to pick up the PS1 titles which were often on sale or labeled as "Greatest Hits". I soon picked up Street Fighter Alpha 3, Tekken 3, and a few other games for what was a reasonable price.

The Dreamcast was a treasure trove for fighting game fans, especially since so many titles were headed into the bargain bin. I don’t think anything like that will ever happen again.

Edit – Also a shout out to Street Fighter 3 and Mark of the Wolves, essentially being the pinnacle of their respected series.

This series of articles absolutely rules. Thank you!.

Eagerly anticipating the physical publication.

Funamizu was also a big fan of Animal Crossing, so I think he wanted to make something similar to Animal Crossing, which some way or another ended up becoming Monster Hunter.


View All Comments
Back to top ↑