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Interview: Capcom 'Would Welcome' Return Of  Street Fighter, Mortal Kombat  Brand Rivalry
Interview: Capcom 'Would Welcome' Return Of Street Fighter, Mortal Kombat Brand Rivalry Exclusive
August 21, 2009 | By Leigh Alexander

In the early '90s, the rivalry between fighting franchises Mortal Kombat and Street Fighter was nearly as important to gamers as the Mario-Sonic standoff. But with one-on-one competition at the core of the gameplay, the fighting genre quietly lost its luster in the core market as arcades declined.

The Street Fighter brand was able to make an unchallenged return to prominence last summer with the acclaimed launch of Street Fighter IV -- which Capcom calls the first "true" SF in eight years.

Now that embattled publisher Midway has been scooped up by Warner Bros. in a $33 million acquisition this year, it looks like Mortal Kombat is on its way back, too. The IP was a primary factor in Warner Bros. buy, and it's to be expected the company makes the most of its purchase. Job listings recently revealed, for example, that Warner's ready to take the franchise into the next generation at last.

Will the old brand rivalry re-ignite? Perhaps surprisingly, Capcom hopes so -- the strength and continued vitality of the fighting genre stands to benefit.

Don't Call It A Comeback

Aside from collections and smaller releases, the Street Fighter franchise lay largely dormant for nearly a decade because the competitive play environment established by arcades went on the outs once home consoles became so prolific.

"The company was like, well, we can't really break SF out anymore, because there's no way for people to really come together and compete," Capcom senior director of communications Chris Kramer tells Gamasutra.

"And we put it on the back burner until the current generation of consoles -- where you don't need an arcade anymore, because everyone's Xbox 360 or PlayStation 3 is essentially now an arcade, because they're all connected to each other."

With Street Fighter IV, a large-scale and well-received reintroduction of hardcore fighting game mechanics, Capcom hopes to be the harbinger of a return to the genre's heyday. "I think, and I hope, that we've kind of reintroduced the idea of fighting games back into the gaming lexicon," says Kramer.

Aside from Soulcalibur, there have been precious few contenders for the fighting game throne over the years, especially as game design began to favor accessibility and universal appeal over the skill-based, competitive play at the core of the genre.

"Fighting games... can actually be pretty shallow if you don't have that competition," Kramer says. A return for SF "all came down to being able to actually get people to be able to challenge each other. That's kind of the secret sauce for fighting games, and we're now in an era where that's not even a question anymore."

A Challenger Appears?

Now that Mortal Kombat is likely poised to shoot for a reintroduction to the present era, too, it's a good time to recall the old days. "Street Fighter and Mortal Kombat really were the Coke and Pepsi for that era," says Kramer. "Basically it came down to what do you prefer: the kind of precision and depth of Street Fighter and the idea of the fighting engine, or did you like the gore and comedy and sort of over-the-top nature of Mortal Kombat?"

"Do you love the precision of leaping forward with a flying kick and then going into a dragon punch? Or do you just want to pull out somebody's spine?"

Capcom has perhaps become the Japanese publisher best known for Westernizing successfully, adapting core brands and new designs for North American audiences far more quickly than some of its Eastern rivals. But it's actually Mortal Kombat that's historically succeeded most at matching Western tastes, Kramer points out.

"One of the things they did really well with Mortal Kombat is they established really outlandish, kind of ridiculous characters that had these crazy movesets... I think Mortal Kombat had a really great foothold in North America because the attitude and essence of that game is geared very much toward American sensibilities, sense of humor, and love of all things over-the-top and super-violent," Kramer adds. "So that definitely was a built-in appeal to teenage boys."

In terms of assessing audiences, the playing field is much more level -- in fact, as the first to return to the genre, Capcom may have something of an advantage now. "SFIV has just killed this year," says Kramer. "It was essentially a play to return this genre to the Western market... it was very much designed for Western audiences, to re-engage this new generation of console gamer with the brand."

And as connected consoles effectively mean an arcade in every living room, the time is right for the rivalry to return. Is the publisher ready to go head-to-head again?

Return Of The Rivalries

"I think we'd welcome the return of a rivalry like that," says Kramer. "It would be good for and fun for both companies. We've had excellent traction with the gamers, and now what would be good for us would be to continue to get the fighting game market to grow again, to get it larger, and the way to do that is to have more games of a good level coming out."

"It can only be good for all of us to have really high-quality games like Soulcalibur and that level of stuff coming out, and getting the current gen of gamers to engage with one-on-one fighting games again."

A return for Mortal Kombat -- and other brands like Tekken, which will reintroduce itself to a new generation of gamers this October -- will only spice up what has been an "interesting transition" for companies like Capcom, says Kramer.

"The genre was really in trouble when arcades up and vanished in North America and Europe," he recalls. "It really depended on people wanting to go and compete, smash opponents and show off."

This spirit fuels the Street Fighter Evo Championship, still going strong today among the hardcore's hardest. "It's these guys who, even though it's very hard to find an arcade, these dudes are still spending hours and hours in the last few remaining arcades in order to get better and come together and compete," says Kramer.

"I think now that with SFIV hitting the Xbox 360 and PS3, and with the ability to go out and get one of these joysticks that are essentially the same parts that were in the Japanese arcade machine, I think we're going to see a whole new generation of fighting champs coming up," Kramer says. "It'll be good if there are some other quality games out there to help grow the market."

Quality's the watchword, of course. "It needs to be a great game first and foremost," says Kramer. "I can't think of how many crappy fighting games we saw back in the SNES era."

...As Long As The Games Are Good

There were even a few of what Capcom considered "knock-offs." In 1994, Capcom attempted to sue developer Data East, attempting to prove the latter's 1993 Fighter's History was too similar to Street Fighter II (though the court sided in favor of Data East).

Explains Kramer: "Part of the lawsuit was, we took a joystick and we split the controls and wired it to a Street Fighter board and showed that literally, [Fighter's History] ripped off all the moves in Street Fighter, all the same inputs."

"You need an awesome game," he says. "And then it definitely helps to have a brand that's recognizable." Capcom is thrilled with the performance of Street Fighter IV, which has sold twice as many copies as the last three SF games to hit consoles combined. But a strong license can do very well, too -- Marvel vs. Capcom 2 is "tearing up," according to Kramer, having surpassed Super Street Fighter II Turbo HD Remix sales within a week and a half.

"Arcades are no longer these dirty, weird places where you're gonna get rolled in the parking lot or catch something from touching the buttons," says Kramer. "It's now in your living room, which is pretty awesome."

All the pieces are in place for the genre's grand return, and the broader it is, the better it will be for all contenders. Fight!

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Tom Kammerer
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Honestly I do not even know why they are even trying. Tekken 6 is about to wipe the genre clean again. People stick with Tekken for so long they ignore all other fighting games for years. Some of my hardcore fighter friends are still playing Tekken 5 everyday. Literally everyday. They tried Street Fighter and was in it for a week. No customization, no rewards.

Thomas Grove
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Re: Andre -- nice!

Re: Tom -- Honestly I do not even know why you're commenting. They're "trying" because it is profitable!

Matt Ponton
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2009 is seriously the Year of the Fighting Game.

Brandon Sheffield
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Tom - maybe in your world! Check the sales results for SF IV and Tekken 5, and see what you get. I suppose 6 will be the real test, but there's no denying SF IV has brought the fighting genre back to the people. And I mean "average" people, not the hardest of the hardcore, who never stopped playing SFIII for a minute, let alone Tekken 5.

Maurício Gomes
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I feel like an alien... While I am playing TF2 on Steam, the box keep popping saying that everyone else is playing SF4...

Then I go to the room that is sided with mine, and the guy that is lives there, is playing the new KOF. In the other room a guy plays Marvel vs. Capcom, and finally, in the last room in my home, another guy plays MK on DS (and kick some online assess...). I wish I had a consoel to play the lastest Virtua Fighter (the only fighting game that I don't suck completly).

Oh yeah I forgot: On the living room there are some guys playing Soul Calibur 3 on PS2. Great game that one.

But I would love a MK vs SF, the result would be a crouching MK character (waiting to do the uppercut, of course), and in the other side a SF char (probably Ryu, Ken, Gouken or Guile) spamming projectiles.

Michael Boccieri
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This article is incorrect.

I don't think Capcom did, in fact, "successfully sue" Data East:

"Applying the Ninth Circuit standard for granting a preliminary injunction to the facts infra, the court determined that Capcom had failed to demonstrate a likelihood of success on the merits or even serious questions concerning the merits."

Shoddy reporting.

Joseph Amper
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MK9 will probably do well sales-wise, but I don't expect the same competitive scene that SF and Tekken have, unless it's a true throwback to MK2/MK3 with updated graphics and no weird mechanics (ala MKvDC).

I do hold out hope for them pushing the envelope in terms of online features and latency handling, regardless of how the game is.

Matt Ponton
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Like a first person shooter?

Brandon Sheffield
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Mike, thanks for the heads up, the writer was given other information by the company at the time. We've changed it.

Incidentally, I quite like Fighters History myself. Insanity Naked Hunters put out a really excellent combo DVD for the series. See a sample here:

Chris Melby
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Ha Tom,

Tekken has always been that fighter that I could win just by randomly pressing buttons in different combinations. That never happened with Street Fighter. :) :P

I liked Mortal Combat, but it's something we would play to take a break from SF2, or if the machines were already in use.

Maurício Gomes
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Tekken with someone playing Eddy = whatever who press buttons randomly faster win.

Wyatt Epp
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I was never actually all that fond of Mortal Kombat precisely because of how over the top and gory it was. Also, I knew what real martial arts looked like, so seeing those stereotypical palette-swap "ninja" moving around was sort of wince inducing.

That said, I'm fine with more people trying to take the genre in different and interesting direction. I'm having a blast with TasoFro's latest effort.

Michael Boccieri
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Brandon is on top of things... well done! :-)

Stefan Durmek
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I say why not? Let's bring some new fighting games. Let the stronger title survives. I mean give me kungfu game based on Jackie Chan motion capture and I'm happy :)

John Mason
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Obviously, since this is a fighting game piece-and I'm *all* about my fightin' games-I have to comment.

I can sort of see where Kramer's getting at, but in all honestly, I don't think MK is a good "hearty" competitor (spirity-wise) to Street Fighter. Firstly, while one game's violent (but in a controlled and more broadcastable sports-like way), the other game's got blood and entrials flying left and right every few seconds, and entirely stylistic finisher often ending in disembodiment; straight to the point, I don't see how these two games could be good rivals for each other in a spiritual sense. I can't imagine Scorpion suddenly dropping their instincts to tear out spines (though they've somewhat done that in MK vs DC, a game I've yet to play but seems almost about as "off" for me, thematically speaking. I hear it's pretty decent though), nor can I imagine Ryu gathering the instinct to try that impressively hineous feat himself, given the peaceful "at one w/ the spirit" fellow that he is. So to the guy that said a SF vs. MK game would be awesome, IMHO, I'd say "No!", and exactly for the reason I just stated in this paragraph.

Beyond that, I just feel like there are better fighting game franchises out there that are more of a match for SF (not necessarily saying anything bad about MK; it's a good series and I still have fond memories of playing the first three and Trilogy, but that's not the point), and one of them-King of Fighters-just needs a little bit more time. I know some people would disgress w/ KOF being a good competitor, but all one would need to do is play the excellent Capcom Vs. SNK 2 and realize it's much more feasible and believable than SF vs. MK could ever be. SNK might've just shot themselves in the foot w/ KOF, though, but they do have a particular other property they could bring back: Fatal Fury. I've recently been lucky enough to play some Garou, and I can see why it's such a loved game. Even moreso, I feel like there are some gameplay mechanics from FF that would be *golden* (I've even thought of a few implementations myself; haven't gotten anywhere w/ them but then again I don't know how to program a good fighting game...yet) and just weren't explored heavily enough; SNK should atleast look into those mechanics again if not bring FF back wholly again, picking right up from Garou. So, I would say that of all the possible fighting game franchises that'd be a good counter to SF and yet still have somewhat of a thematic essence to jive well w/ it, they would be on SNK's side. OF course, Capcom's got a bit of history of not outright acknowledging SNK's efforts (which is why I'm not surprised Kramer doesn't mention them here), but I think they know they've got potential competition there. SNK just needs to sort of get it's 'ish' together, that's all ;)

Now, I *would* mention BlazBlue as another possible better suiter, but there might be a good chance it's actually less of a good suit than MK. I say that not b/c of the game itself (I've played it several times, and it's always impressed; online's incredible), but b/c of it's heavy anime element, particularly the "new school" anime element. There's actually not that much new anime I bother to watch and I'm sure I'm not alone in this, and BB relishes too much in that element to ever be appealing to the mass market. It's a shame, b/c Guilty Gear suffered the exact same problem; AKW's story elements are often just a bit too wild and niche for most Western audiences, atleast in the gaming circle. Personally I find BB's story partially interesting, and like some of the characters from a design perspective (particularly Tager, Toakaka and especially Hakumen), but by and large...well not so much. Hmm...maybe ASW and SNK could team up and do some heavy hitting, perhaps?!?

I won't even bother to mention Virtua Fighter or Tekken, for obvious and not-so-obvious reasons. Virtua Fighter's going after a *whole* different vibe than SF's ever gone for; it's a wholly realistic fighting game experience and pretty three-dimensional at that. SF and VF just don't play the same game, and never will. Thematically Tekken is probably the one 3D fighter closest to SF (though it's a bit more exaggerated than SF in that respect...actually sometimes quite a bit more xD), so I can see why some would say that's a great suiter to rival SF in terms of being a competitor, but again, it's a 3D fighter and it's kind of going after different angles than SF. It's recently taken up a 2D fighter mechanic (the Rage system) as one of it's own for 6, but it remains to be seen if it'll take other mechanics (disregarding Parry, atleast for the moment) from the 2D fighter genre; if it does, there could be a good chance Namco'd make an offshoot Tekken that's more 2D in design approach and *that'd* be something to see, but for the main line, they won't take in some stuff from the 2D arena if it means Tekken doesn't play as Tekken. So, no, Tekken isn't it (eagerly waiting for T6 myself ;).

I won't really bother bringing Soul Calibur for much the same reasons as for VF and Tekken, and-to a bit of a degree-the same reasons as MK. Killer Instinct's still dead so there's no need, and Smash Bros (which I *do* consider a fighting game, and a great series of them at that) isn't even 1-on-1 as it's main focus, neverminding the fact that...well, I really shouldn't need to go into why Smash Bros. isn't a good fit to be a healthy competitor to Street Fighter; we all pretty much know why xD.

So there you go; my thoughts on exactly what currently-existing franchises (active or dormat, though I'd consider a dormant series viable if it's developer's still in the fighting scene today, hence why I don't count Killer Instinct) could be fit to be the sort of "competitor" Kramer's talking about, and it just so happens it wouldn't be Mortal Kombat. The best possible suiter for Capcom's juggernaut is-in my eyes-still in SNK's stable, likely KOF or even Fatal Fury if they decided to bring it back. Ever since the relative bombing of KOFXII though, SNK's ability might be a bit up to question, and likewise ASW's thematic choices wouldn't give them a chance on their own to be a good suiter, so....why not SNK and ASW team up (certainly I can't be the only one that'd want that)?!? But I disgress; I only looked into the current franchises out there, but like I'm sure some of you guys have said, a new fighting game franchise w/ actual staying power would be awesome, and who could only be a matter of time ;)'

P.S: For anyone that actually read this post in its' entirety...thank you, and hopefully your eyeballs are still functioning and you're still breathing x3.

Yannick Boucher
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John, no offense, but you really should get a blog.... :P Get your own Gama blog, this is TOOO long.. :P

John Mason
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@Yannick: Good point xD. Don't know what kept me from doing that for so long.