Polygon recently did a write up on the history of Street Fighter Alpha, a small fork in the Street Fighter Universe that impacted and informed later games in the series. I’m consistently inspired by game development stories and this article is ripe with interviews from the game’s planners and developers who managed to ship a new Street Fighter game on an extremely tight deadline.
Funamizu: First off, one of the sales tactics that we used to sell CPS-2 boards was that we offered to buy back the leftover CPS-1 boards that a lot of arcades had. And we had done enough of that that we were building up a big stock of CPS-1 boards.
But it wasn’t just the CPS-1 boards, the successor CPS-2 boards were building up as well…
Itsuno: Yeah, initially we were working on trying to get rid of the CPS-1 boards, but then halfway through the process, we realized we had a decent amount of CPS-2 boards left over as well, so it was this combined inventory … we were trying to figure out how to get rid of all that.
The whole game was built as a vehicle to offload and upcycle old hardware. It reminds me of Shigeru Miyamoto’s 1999 GDC talk where he talks about the marriage of concerns between hardware and software. Given the hardware constraint, creating another Street Fighter would be the easiest path forward for reusing that old hardware. However, that wasn’t the only constraint…
Funamizu: Yeah, we had a three-month deadline. I mean, it was initially three months, although I guess the game really took six months in the end.
Six months to make a whole new arcade game? Well, it’s a lot easier if you have existing code laying around. But what’s a new Street Fighter without new characters? Luckily, they had character designs based on Street Fighter 1 characters that had already appeared in a gaming magazine. It’s a lot easier to make a new game on a tight deadline if you have underlying code and artwork at your disposal. One of the core goals (beyond offloading old motherboards) wasn’t to reinvent the franchise, but to open the door for new players.
Funamizu: [T]here were a lot of players whose skill and technique were incredible. It was a problem because normal players couldn’t go into an arcade and play anymore. Everyone was too good. So we wanted to create a game that would lower that threshold.
The strategy was to use old technology, lower the skill cap, and make the game easier for new players to join. There were lots of fighting game competitors at the time like SNK (Samurai Showdown, King of Fighters) and Namco (Tekken, Soul Blade) who were producing arguably better fighting games, so Capcom’s move here is really intriguing. How do you get more players with a less skill-based game using old, unimpressive hardware?
Itsuno: Thinking back to making arcade games, our mentality at the time was that we wanted to make games that were impossible to port to home consoles. We wanted to take advantage of the hardware and push things as far as we could. But for Street Fighter Alpha, because we were still working with the CPS-1 board, we felt like the specs were low enough that … we had this idea: “This is going to be a game designed for porting.”
The game ran on both the CPS-1 boards and the CPS-2 boards, but it also ran on the PlayStation. By setting their target a bit lower, they achieved a broader reach with little extra cost. This echoes a lot of Gunpei Yokoi’s concept of Lateral Thinking with Withered Technology (枯れた技術の水平思考, “Kareta Gijutsu no Suihei Shikō”), using old and proven technology to make lateral market moves.
This has a lot of Native Apps vs. Web parallels for me. Native is the arcade. Bespoke software written for bespoke high-end hardware. Instant access to all the latest APIs. The Web can run on those high-end devices, but often it reminds me more of the warehouse of old boards and low-end console hardware. Websites have broad reach. Websites meet devices and browsers with wildly varying capabilities. You can make awesome products, you just need to understand that relationship and tradeoffs between hardware of software.