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How the genius of  Street Fighter II 's game designer made it a hit
How the genius of Street Fighter II's game designer made it a hit
February 3, 2014 | By Christian Nutt

February 3, 2014 | By Christian Nutt
More: Console/PC, Design

"[Nishitani] is a genius, and he's also great at analyzing and studying games... That really surprised me and changed the way I thought about game design."
- Street Fighter II producer Yoshiki Okamoto

Polygon has today published a massive retrospective on influential fighting game Street Fighter II which clocks in at 18,000 words and features over 20 new interviews with developers who worked on the title.

For his part, producer Yoshiki Okamoto chalks up a lot of the game's success to its designer, Akira Nishitani:

"[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," says Okamoto.

Of course, the original Street Fighter is but a historical footnote, but its sequel reached unparalleled heights of popularity at the time of its release.

For more, read the full feature at Polygon.

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Craig Jensen
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Linked article is truly hilarious. I recommend that anyone read it.

Maria Jayne
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Street Fighter 2 was epic on the SNES, I spent many hours beating the snot out of everyone. Strangely I moved on to Mortal Kombat and Virtua Fighter afterwards and sort of lost interest in fighting games when I switched to PC and discovered Doom.

I always felt the pacing of the original SF2 was spot on, it wasn't super fast and if you timed your blocks you could negate almost all the damage from your opponents. This led to far more strategy and timing which I feel later street fighter games forfeited for speed.

david vink
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'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," says Okamoto.

Well unfortunately almost all fighting games that have come out since including street fighter titles did not build on this insight. Moves and combos are still incredibly hard to pull off. Creating, by design, a disconnect between the player and their avatar and making the majority of fights between two players be decided by who has the better muscle memory and physical skill instead of strategy and mind-games. As a fighting game fan (and game designer) it's actually kind of upsetting to me to see this happening over and over again.

Terry Matthes
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I think fighting games without the mastery of physical skill and muscle memory are literally not fighting games.

The whole hook of fighting games is mastery that's tied into physical skill via move execution. Some move sets are really hard to pull off, but they're also incredibly satisfying when you are able to do them.

If every player could do every combo within a week of practicing it would level the playing field to the point where everyone is nearly the same skill. There's only so much you can do with strategy and mind games within the confines of the fighting game framework, it's the physicality of the genre that spices up the gameplay and really sets players apart.

You could expand on the strategic elements, but if you did that to the point where it was compensating for the lack of move execution I think you would have another genre on your hands. That might even be an interesting prototype you could build.

david vink
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"The whole hook of fighting games is mastery that's tied into physical skill via move execution."

See, I've been playing fighting games almost all of my life, and that has never been the hook to me. The hook for me has always been outsmarting my opponent, and being fast enough to react to their actions. Physical mastery of moves and combos is by far the most boring part of a fighting game to me.

As you said: In a level playing field the game would have to be all about timing, strategy and mind games (which I don't think are 'limited' by any 'confines of the fighting game framework').

I realize that this is just my opinion, of course!

Jesse Tucker
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I would say that Smash Bros. popularity largely stems from the ability to do all of the "special moves" quite easily, making the game more about timing and tactics than about who can most precisely input a series of button presses.

Bob Fox
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You have to understand game hooks from mutliple points of view. Take multiplayer for instance, game skill in a multiplayer game matters. It's adds challenge which feeds fun and competition between players. Let's not forget street fighter and fighting games in general were birthed in arcades where people met and played one another.

To throw out the skill required to input and pull of moves would be to miss a big point in the multiplayer aspect of the game.

Making games too easy or too hard is the real issue. Street fighter hit the sweet spot, but even then you could argue that they made some moves too easy to pull off when many matches come down to throwing fireballs.

Let's not forget street fighter 2 was known for 'cheap' and 'cheezy' moves, players think moves are cheap if they are overpowered and too easy for players to perform.

In early street fighter 2, Zangeif had huge range on his piledriver that made it impossible to escape if you were an expert in pulling it off. So adding that 'huge range' to a powerful move to make it easier to hit players actually ended up being a hindrance.

SF2 was known for a lot of bad game design as well as good game design lets not forget. So just making moves easy to pull off is in no way any kind of serious analyses of how making moves easy has knock on effects on the entire game.

You have to remember all the games moves are inter-connected and changing moves for one character effect the balance between every other character that has to play against it.

So the combinations and difficulty in balancing the game go up exponentially the more characters you have.

So there needs to be a balance between easy moves and difficult moves.

John Owens
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Using fireballs was used as a strategy to force the player into the air where they're weakest because they can't block. If they where difficult to do then they would become random and that tactic wouldn't be possible.

Dragon punches where slightly harder to do but with practice could be executed every time. A person's skill didn't just come down to tactics but the ability to execute a move under pressure.

The ability to perform combos allowed you to maximise the damage that you could do once your opponent made a tactical or skill mistake i.e. missing a dragon punch or throwing a fireball at the wrong time.

This is ultimately what made the genius of Street Fighter however I suspect it had more to do with emergent behaviour/gameplay rather than being designed in from the start. Games that do try and design this in from the start tend to play only one way and Street Fighter lead itself to loads of different tactics.

Basically what I'm saying is I think they got a bit lucky with the multiplayer.

david vink
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I want to reply to you Bob, since you mentioned me by name, but I have a hard time getting what exactly the point of your post is, so hopefully I did not misunderstand you:

"game skill in a multiplayer game matters"

Of course, but the skill does not have to focus so heavily on mastering complicated inputs. Chess requires skill to be good at, but no noticeable physical skill. In or a video game example: vs mode in tetris requires skill, but not complicated button combinations.

"To throw out the skill required to input and pull of moves would be to miss a big point in the multiplayer aspect of the game."

It is my opinion that a fighting game that does not have this 'big point' could be just as good if not better than one that does. I don't really want to compare my skills at inputting one-frame links to another player, I just want the strategy, mind games and timing. To win because I outsmarted my opponent, or lose because they outsmarted me.

Of course we can not completely eliminate inputs from fighting games so long as we don't control them directly with our brain waves, but as a game designer I would strife to make the player forget as much as possible that they are holding a joypad (or fightstick) so they can get a higher level of immersion into the game world.

The rest of your post I think is about how input difficulty can be used to balance the game by making more powerful moves more difficult to input for example. That is completely irrelevant to me because if you design all the moves to be as easy to input as possible you will just have to balance them in other ways, with longer start-up and recovery for more powerful moves (or shorter range or limited by some power meter, etc.) There are many ways to balance a fighting game without considering making the inputs for one move more difficult than the other.

In fact if all the moves in a fighting game are very easy to do, balancing the game will become easier for the design team, because it becomes immediately obvious if a move is too good. If every player could easily do Kabal's dash-cancels and instant-air projectiles in Mortal Kombat, for example, it would have been obvious how powerful those moves are much earlier so they could have been adjusted and that would have resulted in a better balanced game overall.

Again I respect the opinion that the physical element of playing a fighting game and practicing and mastering the moves and combos is cool and should be a part of fighting games. But myself I would rather play a game where the physical skill is not that important at all.

Jesse Tucker
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Another thing to note about the Street Fighter series is that it was one of the first to feature extra large characters on-screen. I'm fairly certain that the largest sprite a SNES could handle through hardware was 16x8 (think big mario) so these characters were actually many sprites glued together. The hardware memory was also not capable of holding all of a character's sprites at a time, so they had to stream sprites in based on what moves were being executed.