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Q&A: Backbone's Sirlin Talks Remixing  Street Fighter II

Q&A: Backbone's Sirlin Talks Remixing Street Fighter II

April 16, 2008 | By Brandon Sheffield

April 16, 2008 | By Brandon Sheffield
More: Console/PC

There are many notable questions to be asked on Super Street Fighter II Turbo HD Remix, one of Japanese-headquartered publisher Capcom's most high profile developments right now.

The game - which is a hi-def re-imagining of the classic Street Fighter II with both original and remixed gameplay modes - will launch for digital download on Xbox Live Arcade and PlayStation Network in the near future.

In this interview, Backbone Entertainment lead designer and competitive SFII player David Sirlin talks with Gamasutra about the design decisions he has implemented in working with Capcom on the game and why - arguing that accessibility is possible without damaging high-level play.

[NOTE: This interview goes quite some way into specifics. If you want to know something about more advanced tactics for the franchise to orient yourself, then Sirlin's tutorial videos from the earlier Capcom Classics Collection 2 are a useful starting point. In addition, he has written a series of articles for about tuning individual characters for the upcoming Remix title.]

Youre doing a lot of tuning with Super Street Fighter II Turbo HD Remix, and I know youve written articles about it, but still: why simplify it?

David Sirlin: Theres been a lot of reporting that the game was dumbed down or something, but I think people are off base there. The changes that make the moves easier to do, do not really affect high-level tournament play at all. Theres a couple of cases where the move changes really do affect it, and Ive changed the properties of the moves to compensate, but in most of the cases, it doesnt really affect the balance.

People maybe think it does, but its making no change at the high-level play, and at low-level, its giving people a chance to experience more of the game. If youre stuck at the level of, I cant do Cammys Hooligan Throw, then youre not really playing Cammy and not really playing the game or feeling the strategy.

I want to get you past the beginner phase into the intermediate phase, where you get the strategy and the fun. So thats the idea -- dont mess up the high-level play, but get the beginners to the intermediate stage faster.

I remember when I first played Street Fighter II; there was definitely a bar that you had to pass before you could even figure out what was happening in the game. There was some complexity that kept people out: how can you really communicate this to people?

DS: Its really pretty straightforward actually. With Cammy, say, you give any player Cammy and her new Hooligan Throw command, where she flies through the air and throws you, is a quarter-triple towards, and then punch, like a fireball, they do it all the time.

Its just immediately obvious that theyre able to do all her moves when they couldnt before. Even I couldnt before. I didnt really play Cammy before HD Remix, so thats one of the reasons I probably steered clear of her, even the experts cant do the original motion every time.

It doesnt seem to me that lowering the barrier of the move complexity is changing the strategy too much, because really, youre just using the right move at the right time; its all about timing and strategy rather than complexity of input, right?

DS: Thats right. Theres still a lot of nuances of timing. One developer I worked with during the project, at one point said, that Cammys Dragon Punch move -- call it a thrust kick or cannon spike depending on who you ask -- is too good and has too high a priority. That was the claim.

I was playing as Cammy at the time, and he was playing as Fei Long, and later we switched characters so I was playing as Fei Long, and he said that Fei Longs Flame Kick has too much priority, its like his Dragon Punch.

The thing is, the priority on these moves is actually about the same; I dont have the frame stats off the top of my head, but I have a feeling that both of them are invulnerable for a certain amount of time, and both of them become vulnerable later.

Its really about, did you do yours a little bit before mine or a little bit after? Its all about those nuances in timing, and well deliver there just as much as ever.

How do you balance the priority of these moves? Excel spreadsheets?

DS: [Laughs] Well, maybe its not as you imagined. Of course I have access to all of the hit box data which is tables and tables of numbers, and all the formulas and equations of how the trajectory is computed, so you could say I have access -- theyre not in spreadsheets -- but I have access to all this data and I must use some kind of analysis and some formula to come up with what to do, but its really not to do with that.

My biggest secret is that, even though I have a math degree from MIT, its not about math at all. If I was going to make a fighting game from scratch, starting with nothing, thered be a tiny bit of math to make sure that, if you make them block a move, you cant block it again to prevent infinite loops, so theres already a little bit of maths done for me in Super Street Fighter, but when it comes to things like, should this guys priority be a little bit better or not?

Its just this holistic approach. We know the results from all these tournaments from all these years, and its just having an intuition of what a tweak is going to do.

So for Fei Long, for example, hes invulnerable for a certain amount of time, and then hes vulnerable. Some people suggested he should be invulnerable for a greater amount of time. Now, I dont need a spreadsheet to tell me thats a good idea or not. I just know that his Dragon Punch is pretty much effective as it is, and thats not the reason he loses matches. So, when I look at expert players try to play Fei Long and try to be successful with him, its just that they cannot get in, cant get close enough, and once they do, he has a lot of options and a lot of ways to deal damage.

There needs to be a trade-off, it needs to be kind of hard, but not as hard as it currently is. So I have to look at things and ask, what can I do to let him get in a little more easily? One example is that he has a flying kick where he flies through the air as one of his special moves. Its really hard to do before, we made it much easier to do.

I made the small version of that -- theres three versions, small, medium, and large -- I made the small version be able to go through fireballs at the beginning. So thats one more option he needs to get in. The opponent can counter it by just backing up and sweeping, but he didnt have any really good options. So its a feel, its intuition.

Have you talked to any of the original team to see what they think?

DS: I have not. Most of them do not work at Capcom. I did say hello to [Yoshiki] Okamoto. I spoke to him briefly, but hes really moved on from Street Fighter and didnt have anything to say.

Have you had the ability to put anything extra in? Such as dashing?

DS: What you have to understand is that its technically very hard to make a lot of these changes, so a lot of the changes are bound by what we can reasonably do in a certain amount of time. Changes to sizes of hit box, which affects the priority of moves -- they take me a while to do, but I can definitely do them. Anywhere thats needed, I can put in the time to get it done, without relying on other programmers or anything.

Things that have to do with the trajectory of how things fly through the air, I can actually affect those too myself. Changing frame-stats, like how quickly a move starts out or how it recovers at the end -- this is actually a strange thing, but if I want to change it, theres a certain threshold where if I want to change it too much, everything breaks and I need a programmer, but if I want to change it a fair amount, I can do it myself.

But youre asking about really new moves, and Ryus Fake Fireball is an example of a new move -- of course, it uses the graphics of the old move -- but I needed a programmer to implement that because its actually pretty complicated assembly code. And we gave Bison a new fake slide, actually, which is similar in that it required a programmer to code that. So, most of the changes Ive been able to do involve those first things I talked about; starting, recoveries or trajectories.

That gives a lot of the old moves -- they feel like new moves. For example Blankas Rainbow Roll, where he hops back and then rolls diagonally forward, it was so slow it was completely worthless, and now its very good, so it feels like you have a new move in your repertoire even though its using the same graphics.

It sounds to me like a lot of the changes are in order to combat the fact that for some characters there is no way to get close fast.

DS: Fireballs are really powerful in this game -- more so than other Street Fighters -- and I actually think thats a really good feature, one of the things thats a characteristic of what makes the Street Fighter II series what it is, so I really dont want people to think I want to nerf fireballs and have them be worthless. Its really that theyre too much: theyre a ten out of ten and really they should be an eight out of ten, and they should be dialled-back a little bit.

So, yeah, Fei Long was an example where his short Flying Kick can now go through fireballs. Cammys Spinning Backfist? That move could go through fireballs in Super Street Fighter II, but not in Super Turbo. But I gave it back that ability to go through fireballs. But its kind of slow, though, its not really overpowering, so its just an option instead of no options.

Is there any major thing you would have added if you had the time or the resources?

DS: Off the top of my head, its hard to answer this, but there were a lot of times where we felt a character needed something to balance them, and if only we could think of a new move. T-Hawk was one of those. But we were able to find solutions with what we had. So, yeah, it would have been nice and maybe easier to add more moves, or to add another character, but thats technically very hard and was not scheduled for our project.

So nothing like a dash, or counters?

DS: I guess I never really considered that. I guess I thought it would be too radical of a change. If someone said, hey, make some new Street Fighter, then maybe, yeah, I would consider that, but this is supposed to be based on Super Turbo.

How often did you feel, Oh, I cant change this because it will break peoples ideas about SFII?

DS: There were a few of these things -- just trying to remember what they were.

Balrogs one of the best characters in the game, and my balancing tricks here dont work too well on him, because a lot of my tricks are: take a move that is not really used or doesnt do much, and then really improve it so it feels like you have a new move. So Balrog already is really good and all of his moves are really good, so what am I supposed to do?

One solution is to add a new move that is just for fun and doesnt do a lot, and we spent a lot of time thinking about that and maybe trying to do it. Another solution is to just leave him, because he is what he is. Another solution is to change him around a lot, you could say for the sake of it.

But I mean, I could change the commands of his moves, make his headbutt not go through fireballs, make the turn-punch go through fireballs, and the sum total of these changes give you a really different Balrog experience. It might be more fun, but thats one case where I was just too afraid to do it. Hes just a really dominant character in that game, everybody knows him and has had to fight against him forever.

If I really changed him around, people would not understand: Why am I doing that? Why am I making these changes? So thats a case where I think Ill back off and go to how the game was originally. One more thing is -- a big issue is the length of time you have to do a reversal attack.

So you get knocked down and then the opponent is sticking his move out as you get up, and you want to do a Dragon Punch right when you get up, but you have a really short amount of time to do that Dragon Punch -- I think its one frame, I haven't actually looked, but Im sure its 1/60th of a second. So people suggested we increase that time to two or three frames -- double or triple the length of the window. On the one hand Im in favor of that because its sort of artificially difficult.

If you look at Dead Or Alive or any of those other games, if you get knocked down, you have a full second to do your rising kick as you wake up, but in Street Fighter, its super-hard. But, if I were to make that change, it has all sorts of ripple effects throughout the entire game -- it would change everything, a lot of it would be bad, and even though I would like the game to be easier in that way, it would have required so many counter changes, the whole thing would maybe not be Street Fighter II anymore. It would be a ton of work and risky, so thats a point where its probably best to just be left alone on this project.

It sounds small, but the reason it has such an effect so large is because if you made it really easy to do those wake-up attacks, it would shift the whole balance of how good is attacking against a guy whos knocked down. And in Street Fighter II, the answer is, really, really good.

If you can knock a guy down, even if the knock down didnt give you any damage, youd still do it because it gives you a positional advantage, and you can play guessing games with a knockdown guy and theyre all in your favor because its so hard to reverse. And for better or worse, its balanced around that, so if we made this change, it would really improve defense -- but its better to have a good offense. The games more fun on offense.

Characters look a little thicker -- has that affected the hit boxes of the characters?

DS: The hit boxes are the same; Im not changing the hit boxes to match the art. If you perceive that the new art looks kind of different, a lot of that is coming from you playing the widescreen mode, and the widescreen mode zooms in, but it doesnt change the aspect ratio, and it does mess with your head a little bit.

We could actually show you the widescreen mode with the old art, and then youd see its actually not that far off. Its pretty close. Yes, some characters are more beefy -- Sagat especially, was very skinny in Street Fighter II and is much thicker here. I guess the jurys still out until we get all of Sagats artwork in the game in a final state, but so far it seems okay. It doesnt really throw me off.

Does it still look like moves are connecting in the right spots where they did in the past?

DS: It does. I think were saved here by, if you analyse what the original game was like, its much worse than you think. You think it was pretty good, but theres all kinds of cases where moves are intersecting pretty far before they hit, or even more cases the other way around, where you think theyre not even close to hitting but they hit -- and you get tricked by the hit spark.

We actually had one version of the game that had no hit sparks, and I thought the entire game was broken or something: how come people are hitting from so far away, and nothing looks right? Its just that those hit sparks solve all your problems for free. Theres a much bigger margin of error than you might realize. I think were within the margin.

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