Sunday, October 15, 2017

Zeku, the ninja spirit from the '70s finally returns!

Hello friends, welcome back to another quick character design breakdown. The latest Street Fighter V character has just been revealed. Many people had predicted this character based on the silhouette that was unveiled by Capcom many months ago. The unique hair really was what gave this character away. In case you didn’t know who I was talking about it was the ninja Zeku.


In canon Zeku was the master of Guy, one of the star characters in Final Fight. What made Zeku unique was that he was never a playable character in any previous game. In fact his appearance was very rare. Final Fight was an arcade hit and was ported to several different consoles. In 1993 it spawned a sequel for the Super Nintendo. At that point the only returning character was Haggar. Maki, another fighter from the same clan as Guy had joined his battle against the Mad Gear Gang. Then in 1996 a third Final Fight was released, including the return of Guy to the lineup. At about that time Capcom was also working on a follow up to Street Fighter Zero / Alpha. They had Final Fight on the mind and were going to retcon the events of Street Fighter, Street Fighter II and Final Fight in this new game. Street Fighter Zero 2 included Guy and Rolento from the Final Fight series as well as some Metro City-themes stages. It was at this point that Capcom introduced the world to Zeku.


Zeku appeared very briefly in Guy’s ending. A sort of final showdown between the master and the student. This in addition to the official character art led a lot of Street Fighter fans to speculate that Zeku would soon be joining the lineup. Nobody thought that it would take Capcom 21 years to actually do this. Senior artist Bengus was responsible for his look. It was appropriate that Bengus would update the character for Street Fighter V. It’s funny that I should use the word update when what he did was actually keep the look decidedly “old-school.” Zeku was actually a nod to the characters and artists that influenced the Capcom designers from a young age.


The long, wild, hair of Zeku had its origins in the “70s, when it was trendy for men to sport this look. One of the biggest hits of the time was Science Ninja team Gatchaman, a show from 1972 that was adapted for the USA as Battle of the Planets. The series worked for a number of reasons, not the least of which was that it was a unique blend of different elements. The stars looked like everyday people. They wore shirts and (bellbottom) jeans. They had long hair and sunglasses, making them easily the coolest animé characters of the era. Also the henshin, or transforming hero shows, were just starting to take off in Japan. This was one of the first animated shows to use that concept. It took a group of ordinary teens and turned them into costumed superheroes. What kid growing up didn’t want to be just like them? The Capcom designers were kids and young men during this era. Although Street Fighter is not filed with characters like Viewtiful Joe, the ‘70s aesthetic did leave an impression with many of the artists.


Animé was evolving by leaps and bounds during this era. When manga and animé first took off many designers were copying the style of Osamu Tezuka, considered The Godfather of animé. Gatchaman was pulling away from the Tezuka style, creator Tatsuo Yoshida wanted a more rebellious look for his heroes. This was a stark difference from his previous work on the clean-cut Speed Racer. This rebellious attitude and freeform character designs were combined with the popularity in science fiction. Leiji Matsumoto created the iconic Space Captain Harlock in 1977. His style was very different than his contemporaries, nobody created figures with the same super-exaggerated proportions. His men were almost as slender as his female characters, yet they all oozed personality. He introduced an entirely new aesthetic into animation. Figures had to push the envelope of body types. There could be squat fat men and lanky femmes on frame and somehow it worked. His anti-hero designs were the envy of all. His iconic skull and crossbones would somehow find their way into other manga and animé (and Mad Gear) as well. The next evolutionary step in character design was from an artist known as Haruhiko Mikimoto. The animé Super Dimension Fortress Macross was another sci-fi smash hit. The series began in 1982, and was among the great space operas. Mikimoto further distanced his work from his predecessors, but there were still connective tissue on the heroes and villains. The long hair, sideburns were trimmed but the rebellious spirit was still there.


Zeku was a call-back to the hyper-cool heroes like Ken “the Eagle” Washio and Joe “the Condor” Asakura. It wasn’t enough that he carried over the hair, but his actual facial features, the angles on his jaw and eyes were very much spot-on with the Matsumoto aesthetic. Go back to the illustration at the top of the blog and take a closer look at the “young” version of Zeku. As it appears Zeku had two different sets of costumes. They look like his current older version and a set based on how he looked as a young man. It would make sense that 40 years ago Zeku was in his prime, he would have worn clothing and had hair that looked like he was right out of the ‘70s. Long time Capcom fans would be the first to spot the blue and red uniform that he sported was similar to that of Strider Hiryu as well. Here’s where things get very interesting for the ninja master.


Strider was a character designed by Tatsumi Wada and published by the artist collective Moto Kikaku in 1988. The manga was in collaboration with Capcom who wanted to have their own henshin superstar. The manga set the groundwork and the arcade release came out a year later. During the same development cycle Capcom was also working on Street Fighter ’89 / Final Fight. I believe that Guy was pulled from the same design notes that went into Strider. The comparisons between the two were more than skin deep. Strider was of course presented with a blue uniform but audiences didn’t know that with the original red-toned cover. The genius design element that grounded Guy in the present were his high-top sneakers. The genius design element that grounded Zeku in the past were his ‘70s haircut and fashion choices. If Capcom were to lay the foundation for a Strider reboot then this would be their chance. According to canon Strider Hiryu was born in 2030. At that time Guy would be as old as Zeku was now. And if Zeku were still alive he could have launched the organization fighting against global terrorism. That was of course if Capcom were looking at their long-term game strategy. Even if not Zeku was a welcome addition to the lineup. He certainly had more care given to his re-introduction than either Birdie or Abigail. As always if you enjoyed this blog and would like to sponsor me please visit my Patreon page and consider donating each month, even as little as $1 would help make better blogs and even podcasts!

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Thursday, October 12, 2017

Hiding the master in plain sight, the genius of SNK's character design... final part

SNK had spent more than 25 years creating a library of amazing fighting game characters. The best ones were the results of talented artists and insightful creative decisions. To stand out from the rival studios they created fighting archetypes that were hidden in plain sight. Martial arts masters could wear street clothing, or in some cases trendy fashion and still work within the context of the game. This rule was not set in stone. Some of the early design choices were made because of what audiences expected from fighters. After all, how would the player be able to tell a karate fighter apart from a boxer if they both wore identical suits? Because of this some martial arts were represented by characters in classic costumes. Some boxers wore shorts and punching gloves. Some karate fighters wore gi's and black belts. China was considered the birthplace of modern martial arts. Just about every major studio, Capcom, Sega, Namco, Midway and SNK at one point or another created a kung-fu master wearing a traditional uniform. Some of these designs were actually quite memorable. In the Art of Fighting for example the character Lee Pai Long not only wore a classic costume, he also sported a monkey mask. This was the type of outfit an actor from the Chinese Opera would actually wear.


Lee was a mysterious figure, his actual face was known only by a few people in King of Fighters continuity. As memorable as the character was, he didn't work well enough to be used as often as some other fighters. The seeds however had been planted to include the traditional costumed fighter from time to time. Almost 25 years later the studio went back to the classics and introduced another masked Chinese character. Mian was not a representative of the Chinese team in the KOF series, she was instead a member invited by tournament organizer Antonov. The dancer and master of the Chinese art of mask changing, was breaking down stereotypes. Her Sichuanese Opera costume was traditionally worn by male actors and even the historic mask changing magic was performed almost exclusively by men. SNK had become more attuned to the Chinese consumer over the past few years. Chinese gaming had exploded in popularity the past decade and every major studio was trying to make headway into the Chinese market. SNK had even partnered with Shanda, one of the largest publishers, to get a KOF massively multiplayer online (MMO) game launched. They were paying closer attention to the growing markets than just about any other fighting game publisher had in the past few years. After facing a few financial crisis, a merger with Playmore and restructuring, SNK had to ensure that they made business savvy moves. This wasn't the case when they originally fleshed out the Chinese team or even Brazilian team in KOF '94.


SNK wanted to create a sense of a global competition in the KOF series, the only problem was that they lacked familiar characters from each nation. To circumvent this they relied on characters from other games to act as representatives of a country. The Chinese team of Athena Asamiya and her partner Sie Kensou for example were pulled from the game Psycho Soldier. They were not necessarily fighters trained in a specific named form. The two relied instead on psychic attacks to supplement their martial arts training. The third Chinese representative, Chin Gentsai, was modeled after the "Drunken Master" a movie character named Beggar So played by Yuen Siu-tien. The three barely had a thread that connected them to China. How do you think that Chinese audiences reacted to the characters? The same thing could be observed with the Ikari Warriors, Ralf Jones and Clark Still. The two had appeared in an action shooter set in the jungle but it was not known if they, or team captain Heidern, were actually from Brazil. The three were mercenaries and didn't represent any school of Brazilian martial arts. More than 20 years later SNK had become more attuned to their audiences. The Japanese publishers (Capcom included) were surprised to learn how popular their games were in Central and South America. The Brazil Game Show for example had more than 300,000 attendees in 2017! Because of this the designers took a little more time in crafting new characters for the King of Fighters XIV. Nelson the boxer was from Brazil. I had mentioned previously in this series, but he was joined by two new Brazilians as well.


The masked Bandieras Hattori was obsessed with ninjitsu. He idolized Andy Bogard and Mai Shiranui and wanted to become a full-fledged ninja. His ultimate goal was teaching his own form of ninjitsu in Japan. His dark skin, armor and light pants, with sumi-e waves painted on the cuffs created some incredible contrast. His mask and pulled up braided hair made him appear unlike any other modern fighting game character. The character could be seen as an homage (or even parody depending on your perspective) of how passionate South Americans were about Japanese culture. The third new character was Zarina. She sported the colors of the Brazilian flag and most assumed that she would be a capoeirista. Despite her ginga, or dancing stance, she was actually a samba dancer that happened to be a good fighter. It was strange that the new developers would focus on her dance more than the martial arts. Capoeira had been a part of the SNK legacy since Street Smart back in 1989. Richard Meyer and Bob Wilson were two of the more famous Capoeira stars from the Fatal Fury series. I had talked about the origins of Capoeira in fighting games on a previous blog. I don’t understand why the newer generation of SNK developers would have missed this connection to their actual legacy. To be fair I think that many of the Street Fighter IV and V designs also failed to live up to the legacy designs. But I digress. The mix of new Brazilians was a unique choice, not quite the masters hidden in plain sight but perhaps something the studio could build on and learn from. Just like Heavy D was a change in direction for boxers, I’m certain that Bandeiras, Zarina and Nelson were the start of a new direction as well.


What really surprised me for the new characters in KOF XIV was the Chinese star Shun’ Ei. The design was pandering very heavily to what some Chinese gamers thought made a cool design. Many in the community saw the character as even poaching the design of a couple of characters from Xuan Duo Zhi Wang / the King of Combat. To be fair I had also brought up that fighting games had been stealing things from each other as much as from pop culture for over 30 years. When the Japanese studios did it nobody seemed to mind but when Chinese developers began doing it then suddenly audiences were in an uproar. If anything Shun’Ei was reinforcing the themes that many Chinese audiences favored in the character designs. King of Combat focused on martial arts masters in plain clothes, their inspirations were pulled from post KOF ’94 stars. Terry Bogard was probably the first plain clothes master in a franchise but it was Kyo Kusanagi that redefined the look. From that point going forward the characters in KOF didn’t even need a named fighting art. They could be dressed in trendy fashion and have psychic or elemental powers at their disposal. Ell Blue and Yan were distilled from that understanding.


Kyo Kusanagi, Iori Yagami, Shen Woo and Ash Crimson were some of the templates that the designers from Jade Studio were working from. The majority of the cast was supposed to look cool and trendy and there was no better studio to borrow from. The Chinese developers built a 3D fighter that was presented in 2D so that it played like a classic arcade fighter. They recreated all the elements found in latter KOF games, going so far as to capture the feel of SNK’s level and stage designs. They even sprinkled in elements from Street Fighter and Tekken as well to make a terrific mash-up for the PC. The artists working on the game knew enough of the origins behind characters like Kyo and Iori when they created their stars Ell Blue and Yan. The former being more western-themed and the latter being closer to the East. In case you weren’t familiar Kyo and Iori from the KOF series had costumes that were rooted in high school uniforms. The cut of their clothing was a little bit more fashionable, making them really stand out among the rest of the KOF lineup. Ell Blue had a certain Western hip hop flair to his design, sporting bright blue hair, headphones, and even a rolled up pant leg. He looked like a super producer, a DJ-turned-fighter. Yan had more of the high school uniform mixed with a belt and other stylist accessories.


When Shun’Ei was unveiled his design was so familiar it was uncanny. It was as if the designers at SNK took both Ell Blue and Yan and combined them into one character. There were the elemental powers, fire and electricity, but there was also the strong red and blue theme to accompany those powers. Then there was the costume itself. Part school uniform, with stylish belt, accessories, headphones and rolled up pant leg. There were too many elements brought in to be more than coincidence. They were reflecting back to the Chinese what they assumed they wanted to see in the star of their team. It wasn’t necessarily a case of the Japanese artists copying the Chinese. The publisher of King of Combat, Tencent, was one of the biggest publishers in the world, and they even licensed some KOF stars to appear in their game. There was a good chance that some of the Jade developers helped program or design some of the new faces in KOF IV. Of course only SNK could confirm or deny that observation. Regardless, the company had been at the forefront of fighting game development for almost as long as the genre had existed. Budding developers hoping to capture that SNK-style need to understand why their characters are unlike those in Capcom, Namco, or any other studio. They managed to hide the fighting master in plain sight. Remember this the next time a new character is announced for the series. Now there were two other characters on the new Team China. But I'll talk about them some other day. As always if you enjoyed this blog and would like to sponsor me please visit my Patreon page and consider donating each month, even as little as $1 would help make better blogs and even podcasts!

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Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Hiding the master in plain sight, the genius of SNK's character design... part 5

SNK had exploded on the scene in the early ‘90s. The success of the Neo Geo console in the arcade, and the steady stream of fighting games made sure they would be around for the long haul. I had mentioned previously that the success to their school of design was based in hiding the masters of the martial arts in plain sight. A karate master didn’t have to be Japanese or wear a gi. This was demonstrated in the Art of Fighting (AoF); Robert Garcia was an Italian playboy that drove exotic cars, wore thousand-dollar shoes, tailored suits, and could go toe-to-toe with the ambassador of Kyokugenryu karate, his friend Ryo Sakazaki. King was a Muay Thai goddess but you would never have suspected it as she dressed like a high-class bartender. Shinkiro and the art team didn’t have a chance to create these plain-clothes masters for every new release but that didn’t stop them from experimenting. Before they found their groove they were as guilty as the other developers of following the trends. Boxers Michael Max, Axel Hawk and Micky Rogers were very generic designs. Pulled in part from real-world fighters Mike Tyson and George Foreman. All of that changed in 1994 when the studio released King of Fighters ’94 (KOF). From this point on it was almost mandated that the figures looked like cool manga characters instead of martial artists.


Manga and animé were very influential to the design of early fighting games. The team at Capcom were influenced by Buronson and Tetsuo Hara’s work on Hokuto No Ken / Fist of the North Star. The people at SNK were influenced by Katsuhiro Otomo’s science fiction masterpiece AKIRA. The people at SNK were so influenced by the book that it shaped the story of later KOF games. The entire plot revolving around clones and the paramilitary government organization N.E.S.T.S. was roughly pulled from the plot of AKIRA. Even the character K9999 from King of Fighters 2001 was eerily similar to Tetsuo, the antagonist in AKIRA. The likeness was so much so that publisher Kodansha took SNK to court and got them to remove any likeness of the character from future releases and official publications. I would argue that the imposing Heavy D, mohawk, square jaw and all was based on Colonel Shikishima from AKIRA as well. Thankfully SNK made him a dark-skinned character so the comparisons wouldn’t be as obvious. From that point forward the artists at SNK were taking very bold creative chances.


Heavy D started the trend of non-traditional boxers in the KOF universe. His street fashion, paired with his leather jacket and wild haircut made him look like an intimidating opponent. His was the type of look that audiences expected from SNK. It was their follow-up that was even more unique. One of the most unusual boxers in the SNK universe was Rick Strowd. He first appeared in Fatal Fury Real Bout 2 in 1998. I say he was unusual because of his appearance. He was as physically strong as any other character but that wasn’t unusual. He was actually a Native American character although he didn’t look like a typical one that we might have expected. Rick had pale skin, long white hair and bright paintings covering his body. His white pants and blue gloves were solid color choices, they matched the markings painted on his chest and back. He was not rooted in any actual native group, nor were his markings reflective of any tradition. The inverted skull painted on his back looked a bit too cartoonish for example. SNK was experimenting with different influences, different stylistic choices and different ways of presenting a traditional fighting art. They figured that they could shake things up by presenting a unique looking character and call him a Native. Their decision worked for the most part. From that point on the studio realized that boxing was not the only thing that American characters could represent.


The other thing that the artists at SNK, and a few other Japanese studios, realized post Rick Strowd was that boxers did not all have to be big black guys. Two leaner blonde boxers made their marks after 2000. Namco introduced the fighting community to Steve Fox in Tekken 4. The British boxer had an athletic build and not too bulky. Most Tekken characters were nowhere near as swollen as the Capcom or SNK fighters. Fox had long slick blonde hair and most of his costumes in the series were street outfits. Even his “traditional” costume broke the mold. His boxing trunks were actually long training pants. His most unique element were the enormous scars covering his arm. He wasn’t sure how he got them or what their purpose was, making it an interesting side story for the character. Not to be outdone SNK dropped Shen Woo into KOF continuity in 2003. This blonde boxer was cut from the save cloth as Fox but his look and style were even more street. The Shanghai native was mostly a self-taught fighter, similar to Terry Bogard, and had gained a reputation as one of the most dangerous men in South China. Many of the tournament stars in the KOF series were young cool guys with street clothing so Woo fight right in. If the design had any failings it was that SNK had started relying on the street look too much. Prior to Woo the company had introduced a boxer that I would consider one of the best designs in the past 20 years. This character was named Rob Python from Buriki One.


Python represented a break from tradition, he was reflective of the next-generation fighting black superstar. His look was inspired in part by actual MMA fighters Quinton “Rampage” Jackson and Kevin Randleman. They were wildly popular in Japanese tournaments. SNK knew that audiences had outgrown the clean-cut look of a young Tyson and the aging Foreman. They had been playing Neo Geo fighters for almost a decade and wanted new blood. The next boxer had to ooze personality and in the case of Python, he also had to ooze a sense of danger. He was among one of the most dangerous fighters in the Buriki One tournament and also the rival to Gai Tendo, the star of the game. Python was an understudy of Silber, whom I had mentioned previously on this series. Python’s tattoos were as much a part of his costume as his gloves or shorts were. No character before or after had ever looked as imposing. The enormous pair of Colt revolvers tattooed on his chest were meant to intimidate his opponents. It was assumed that he spent time in prison where he had learned of Silber. SNK, and in particular the talented artist Hiroaki, had changed the formula yet again. Python was not a fighting master hidden in plain sight, instead he was a killer masked as a boxer. It would take Capcom almost 17 years to reinvent the boxer by going full circle as well.


In 1991 M. Bison had pretty much set the standard that other boxers were compared against. There wasn’t a fighting game in the ‘90s that wasn’t compared to Street Fighter II. Every boxer was compared to Bison. His look had stagnated in the late ‘90s while SNK was committed to experimenting. Capcom finally conceded and created their own hidden master with Dudley in Street Fighter III (1997). The aristocratic boxer had a unique library of moves but long-time fans of Bison had a soft spot for tradition. Senior Capcom artist (and personal hero) Bengus was called in to work on the Street Fighter V (2016) designs. While he did not develop the original M. Bison, that was more likely AKIMAN and Shoei, Bengus was responsible for the new look. He wanted Bison to have the same big, brash personality but with an updated costume. The Capcom style of design was rooted in making traditional fighting archetypes. Their karate masters had to look like karate masters, their kung-fu masters had to look like kung-fu masters, and their boxers had to be boxers. Bengus went full-bore Americana with red white and blue trunks but then wrapped everything in a red, white and blue robe, with torn sleeves and gold jewelry to boot. The “Crazy Buffalo” now sported elements of the street, elements of real pro boxers and even cartoonish archetypes. He was still classic layered underneath modern accents.


This was not to take anything away from Rob Python and all of the work that SNK had done with boxers over the past 25+ years. Their fighters had been among the most unique, most colorful and most diverse ever assembled. I honestly wish that they would revisit their Buriki One cast for the future installments of the KOF series. With that said they still managed to break new ground. One of their most stylish boxers debuted in 2000, right on the heels of Python. The new fighter was a mysterious special agent named Vanessa. She had taken up boxing when her lover was killed. Like King she was a master hidden in plain site. Her pants and suspenders were a nice touch under her sleeveless shirt and tie. The look was very chic. It wasn’t the first time than SNK had explored the dangerous femme. Vice and Mature, the valets for early KOF sponsor Rugal Bernstein were assassins in disguise. Vanessa was a hero using a similar fashion aesthetic. The trio predated and were more than likely the inspiration behind Crimson Viper in Street Fighter IV.


The most recent boxer in KOF canon was a mix of traditional and modern. Nelson debuted in the King of Fighters XIV, also released in 2016. He was a dark-skinned Brazilian and up-and-coming phenom. The young fighter was involved in a hit and run leaving the gym one night. He lost an arm and his girlfriend was put into a coma. A secretive sponsor paid for his cybernetic replacement arm and saw him enter the KOF tournament. SNK embraced his back story and and incorporated the tire tread motif on his boxing gloves and workout gear. His scars were very bright and spread across his face and torso, giving him the look of someone with the skin disease vitiligo. While I think there may have been too many color choices and design elements placed on the character he worked within the series. Like Vanessa he was a progressive character. His appearance might have appealed to people with disabilities or those recovering from amputations. I would like to see how SNK builds on their library moving forward. Speaking of which, some of the more recent entries in the KOF universe were also a mixed bag of design choices. We’ll look at these in the next blog. As always if you enjoyed this blog and would like to sponsor me please visit my Patreon page and consider donating each month, even as little as $1 would help make better blogs and even podcasts!

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Thursday, October 5, 2017

Hiding the master in plain sight, the genius of SNK's character design... part 4

SNK was working hard to stay a step ahead of the competition. Their one-two punch of Fatal Fury and the Art of Fighting were unique entries to the genre. Each game provided a different experience and both expanded on the themes found in Street Fighter II. Not every character in both games worked or were even memorable. SNK had to learn and adapt to the trends quickly. The studio had to focus on multiple fighting games, each with their own aesthetic, while Capcom had to focus on patching and upgrading Street Fighter II. With the focus spread out over several games some of the fighters in the Fatal Fury (FF) and Art of Fighting (AoF) lacked the impact of Capcom's "World Warriors." In one particular field SNK started off slowly but then quickly caught up.


It was no coincidence that Street Fighter II's boxer M. Bison (Balrog in the USA) looked like pro boxer Mike Tyson. Capcom used the heavyweight champ as the template for their ring general earlier. Tyson had launched his professional career in 1985 and was featured in a version of Nintendo's Punch-Out!! He helped inspire the character Mike in the original Street Fighter as well. Tyson dominated the squared circle, at the age of 20 he became the youngest ever to win a heavyweight title. He earned a reputation for being destructive, and often knocked out opponents shortly after the opening bell. His supernatural fighting ability made him the perfect candidate for a fighting game. Of course Capcom didn't want to pay the boxer any royalties for using his likeness so they made a few changes, swapping out his name with another Shadowlaw general, and presented him in warmup gear. He was an easy fit into Street Fighter II and would even inspire a Fatal Fury boxer. Michael Max was literally cut from the same cloth as Bison, both having roughly the same size, shape, similar warmup gear and even haircut. Audiences felt this character was lacking, even if he had a unique tornado uppercut.


SNK's follow-up boxer had a more unique look. The bald and pudgy Axel Hawk was a friend and trainer for Michael Max. This fighter, featured in Fatal Fury 2, was taller and heavier than his protege. From a design standpoint it was strange to have a character that was older and fatter than the previous star. From a real-world influence however it made sense. George Foreman was a legendary heavyweight fighter that started his career in 1969 and stopped fighting at the end of the '70s. He became a preacher but returned to the ring in the late '80s. He got a title shot against Bernard Hopkins, a fighter 16 years younger than he was. Foreman recaptured the heavyweight championship at the age of 45, making him the oldest person ever to win the title. It was an underdog story that inspired long-time boxing fans. Chances were that SNK boss and boxing aficionado Eikichi Kawasaki suggested a version of Foreman for the sequel. Axel was a bit more rotund, especially in the official character art, than Foreman but they both had amazing power behind their strikes. Pop culture tended to color the SNK character designs more than any other studio. Aside from real-world fighters there were also decisions based on popular aesthetics. This was seen on another boxer in the SNK universe.


Micky Rogers was the boxing archetype introduced in the AoF series. The character sported braids in his first appearance and the look was changed slightly when he appeared again in a sequel. Visually the fighters in the AoF series were much different than the figures in FF. The artists working on the characters tried to make them more proportional to actual people. The reason for this was because of the larger sprites that AoF featured. If the character were drawn too muscular it would have looked awkward when they were scaled up. The fighters would have looked like cartoon characters in an otherwise realistic setting. Micky looked anemic compared to some of the other characters. He was lanky but well defined. It made sense given he was a boxer where speed was often more prized than power. The manga Ashita No Joe was a wildly popular boxing manga from Japan. The artist Tetsuya Chiba would draw his character with long, lean muscles. The action was easy to follow on the page because of his slender lines. This style of art that he popularized in 1968 would end up influencing countless other manga and anime shows about boxing. I believe that this design also found its way to SNK, given the Mr. Kawasaki was a boxing fan. Micky had almost the same build as characters like Joe or Rikishi, the champion fighters from the book.


SNK, like most major arcade publishers realized that in order to succeed they had to become global players. This meant that they had to include fighters from other countries, especially the USA. Capcom and a few other studios included fighters from the USA in their games but gave them the slightest connection to real western culture. Joe and Mike in the original Street Fighter looked very plain, wearing street clothes, they were somewhat forgettable. The studio punched up their efforts with Guile in SF II. If anything they were pandering quite heavily to each nation, easily to the point of parody. Look at Zangief and Dhalsim’s original endings. Even the American was over-the-top. He was a military fighter wearing camouflage pants, with an absurd haircut, that was all muscles, and sported USA flag tattoos. As a Mexican-American I can confess that I must run into people that look like Guile at least twice a day! SNK did a slightly better job with their US characters and realistic street fashion in both the FF and AoF games. They decided to really crank it up with each sequel. They payed close attention to the trends happening in tv and in movies. When the studio began work on the King of Fighters, which would bridge all of their fighting games together they began pandering heavily to the USA. They did this by making the US team captain a boxer, and by looking at pop culture for his design cues.


Decades ago fashion trends travelled much slower than they did today. The artists at SNK wanted international audiences to visually identify the US team because of how they looked, rather than what school of fighting they were representing. In order to do this they had to create archetypes that were wearing the most “Western” costumes. The people at SNK were using fashion cues from pop culture as the basis. The only problem was that street culture evolved rapidly. The look of the US fighters were reminiscent of dancers from the films Beat Street and music videos from Salt-N-Pepa and Queen Latifah. The spandex and leather outfits of the late ‘80s were quite outdated for a game dropping in 1994. Thankfully the studio revised the outfits and based the fighters more on sports icons. A hint of the street fashion remained but for the most part it worked given the character. Heavy D, the captain of the team (and a name pulled from a popular rapper) was a breath of fresh air. He was a boxer that completely rewrote the book on character design. In the next entry we’ll look at how SNK’s designs evolved post 1994. As always if you enjoyed this blog and would like to sponsor me please visit my Patreon page and consider donating each month, even as little as $1 would help make better blogs and even podcasts!

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Monday, October 2, 2017

Hiding the master in plain sight, the genius of SNK's character design... part 3

In previous blogs I established that Shinkiro had become one of the most influential fighting game artists of all time. The reason for this was obvious when comparing his work to other artists in the studio and abroad. He would render many of his subjects in realistic settings, with realistic clothing choices. They were often presented in casual settings, perhaps enjoying a cocktail, playing in the park or hanging out at the pool. Prior to that most character illustrations had the figures in fighting scenes and only in fighting scenes. Audiences were used to characters looking highly stylized, with exaggerated physiques. Guys were overly muscular and females were slim with large bouncy breasts. After all these were the types of physiques that manga and comic books expected the archetypes to have. Shinkiro changed all of that. You could look at his art and see people that very well could have existed. By looking at these figures you would necessarily be able to tell what martial arts form they represented. Again, he his that martial arts master in plain site.


Eventually all of the artists at SNK started to become attuned to what Shinkiro had brought to the genre. They understood that if they wanted to put a character into the Fatal Fury, Art of Fighting or King of Fighters, they they had to meet the elements that Shinkiro had established for the series. There would be no green-skinned Brazilian wild man or stretchy-limbed Indian for example. Those figures were not necessarily grounded in any sort of realism. The fighters did not have to be realistic, but they did have to have a sense of realism. The artist Hiroaki Hashimoto aka Hiroaki was an exceptional painter and considered an understudy of Shinkiro. He worked on a number of excellent pieces for the KOF series. In 1999 he was a lead on a new title called Buriki One. This game was set in the KOF universe but a bit in the future. There was a new tournament in town, inspired by the real world K-1 and Pride fighting championships in Japan. There was a call for representatives of the various martial arts. It was the closest that the team at SNK came to creating martial arts archetypes in the vein of the Street Fighter series. The final opponent was a new villain. Silber was very much an SNK answer to Gouki, he had traveled the globe defeating the masters of various arts and even a few wild animals.


One of the competitors in the Buriki One tournament was an elderly Tai Chi master named Song Xuandou. It turned out that this was the only character that had a previous run in with Silber. Decades earlier, before MMA tournaments were being televised the only way for these fighters to find out who was the best was by actually visiting various dojos and exotic locations. There were no newspapers, no radio or film crews following these people. The fights that went down were the stuff of legend and only a handful of people actually saw them. This was how people like Mas Oyama earned a reputation. When Song was a young man he was lightning quick and very confident in his abilities. He took on Silber and lost. Although he was defeated it was a close battle. It could have been likened to the fight between Bruce Lee and Wong Jack Man. Song was one of the few people that could have claimed to have survived a fight with the powerful German. Silber was and remained a secretive figure in the world of SNK. It was entirely possible that he killed some of the people that he battled. Official character art for example featured him smashing in the face of a polar bear. When the designers of Buriki One called for a Chinese fighter to be put into the game Hiroaki gave audiences an elderly archetype. Nothing about the character seemed to stand out. But again, he was hiding the master in plain sight.


While Song no longer held the speed or flashy kicks of his youth, he retained most of his power. Song was modeled partly on Bruce Lee. This was a version from another timeline, say if he had remained in China and had stayed closer to the kung-fu traditions. This was why he didn’t move or fight like Marshall Law from the Tekken games. He was not just a carbon copy of the actor. Song had the vigor and even look of a youthful Lee in the ’60s. This was back when both he and Silber were getting started in their careers. Song had now distilled his techniques to a few deceptive moves. He could strike, trip and kick his opponents with ease. It was graceful watching him work in the tournament. You could have mistaken him for the old guy practicing Tai Chi in the park rather than a former martial arts superstar. Again this was the SNK school of design at their best, they hid the master in plain sight. It should be noted that not every SNK fighting game required this type of design. For example Shinkiro did a tremendous amount of promotional art for the Samurai Spirits / Shodown series. But he was not the only artist that influenced the fighters.


The game was set centuries ago, in feudal Japan. Gunpowder and steam were barely shaping the world, changing the course of the industrialized nations. Japan was insular during this period and held onto tradition longer than most other countries. SNK wanted to capture that era but not romanticize it. They wanted it to pop, to be vibrant, like an animé show. In order to do that the game had to be highly stylized. One of the artists that got picked up for the sequels was manga artist Shiro Ono. He had a very sharp style, with hard lines and exaggerated poses. At the same time the studio did not want the designs to be too outlandish. Shinkiro’s realistic style would have been in contrast with their goal. The artist that the company settled with was Jin Mera aka Eiji Shiroi. His style was deceptively clean. No extra brush strokes in his renderings. The character designs were easy to read, his choice of color and style really stood out from his peers. In fact the thing that helped cement the look of the series were some paintings that he created using charcoal ink. The sumi-e style was traditional and went back centuries, if not thousands of years. Calligraphers and portrait artists used minimalism to create forms and figures.


The solid black and white paintings that Mr. Shiroi created perfectly reflected the era that SNK was trying to capture. Eiji was a drawing teacher, his training and insight were perfect for this project. In the case of Samurai Spirits the masters of the various sword arts did not have to be hiding. They wore classic-looking costumes, some wore armor, and they all fought with traditional melee weapons. There were swords, daggers, cleavers, hammers and axes used by the various fighters. As the series grew these things began to include the occasional explosive and even a rifle. For the most part however combat was based on bladed weapons. The designs had to be clear and easy to read. A Chinese warlord for example had a different costume than a Japanese ronin. Even among the various Japanese sword masters there was a lot of diversity. Mr. Shiroi helped plan their look and assigned each person bright primary colors so that they all stood out. As the series aged SNK experimented with 3D and they discovered that the muted colors that were en vogue didn’t really work for Samurai Spirits. This was most apparent in Samurai Spirits Sen. Realism didn’t work very well for the fantastic swordsmen and women. So they returned to 2D shortly after with Samurai Spirits V.


Not every design that SNK created went over well. The studio had a lot of growing pains and made a lot of mistakes when they were trying to capture the fighting game crown. We’ll explore one of the most diverse lineups the company ever gave us in the next blog. As always if you enjoyed this blog and would like to sponsor me please visit my Patreon page and consider donating each month, even as little as $1 would help make better blogs and even podcasts!

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Thursday, September 28, 2017

Hiding the master in plain sight, the genius of SNK's character design...part 2

Fatal Fury introduced audiences to the SNK school of fighting game design. Audiences could now choose between traditional masters like Joe Higashi, street fighters like Terry Bogard, or a hybrid fighter like Andy Bogard. By contrast the Capcom school of design was rooted closer to featuring only martial arts archetypes. The fighters all wore costumes that looked classic, they each represented a certain school of fighting. Almost none of the characters in Street Fighter II wore street clothing, whereas many of those in Fatal Fury did. This boiled down to the people that were developing the games. Takashi Nishiyama and Hiroshi Matsumoto put literal street fighters in the original Street Fighter. People like Mike, Joe and Birdie fought in their everyday clothing. These things carried over into Fatal Fury’s cast. It was Yoshiki Okamoto, Akira Nishitani and Akira Yasuda that decided to focus on archetypes for Street Fighter II. SNK boss Eikichi Kawasaki wanted his fighting games to be the biggest and the best, his new title, developed by Mr. Matsumoto was the most ambitious.


Mr. Matsumoto wanted The Art of Fighting (AoF) to be more cinematic, to look and feel like an action movie. To be more visceral than any game before it. Like Street Smart and Fatal Fury there was a mix of the traditional martial arts master and the street fighter as playable characters. The fictional Kyokugenryu Karate style was placed on both Robert Garcia and Ryo Sakazaki. The two were evolved from the Ken and Ryu template respectively. This new game was really pushing the power of the Neo Geo console. It featured more color, more detail and sprites bigger than the competition’s. Not to mention that it had graphics that zoomed in and out of the action. These sprites could also reveal damage. Characters bruised and their clothing tore from round to round. There was even a slight RPG element as characters could grow and evolve thanks to the lessons learned in the bonus stages. The genius of this game came in the planning stages. If SNK wanted to dethrone Capcom as the best fighting game developer then they had to offer the best experience. Although Fatal Fury and the Art of Fighting looked and played differently they were part of the same shared universe. This meant that at some point there would be a crossover game featuring a massive library of established characters.


The entire cinematic feel of AoF was not lost on audiences. The figures in the game had more realistic proportions and looked less cartoonish than their rivals. It was much easier to get pulled into this world as bits and pieces of the story were revealed in between every stage. Yuri Sakazaki, the young sister of Ryo had been kidnapped. It was up to Ryo and Robert to find and save her. Every person that the duo faced had been hired or bribed by Mr. Big, a South Town mob boss. Each encounter brought them one step closer to the truth. At the end of the journey Ryo found out that the kidnapper was a martial arts master known as Mr. Karate. At the climax of the game Yuri stopped her brother from killing Mr. Karate. She cried out that man was their father. This was an exceptional plot twist and something that set up a sequel. It turned out that both Mr. Big and Mr. Karate answered to Geese Howard. Now that Yuri was safe there would be a reckoning between the Sakazaki family and Howard. Imagine how confident Geese must have been in his abilities by also starting a war with the Bogard brothers at around the same time. Story points aside the AoF game is one of the perfect examples of the SNK school of design. I’ll begin with one of the best masters hidden in plain sight.


A while back I talked about how the traditional Muay Thai master ended up in fighting games. I called Chompoo the first notable female Muay Thai master in a fighting game. This angered a lot of SNK fans because the character King predated her by more than 20 years. In context I was talking about actual Thai fighters that dressed in the traditional fighting uniforms. Chompoo had the shorts, taped up hands and feet and even headdress. I was not talking about characters that knew Thai boxing. With that said let’s actually look at the elements that went into making King and why she had a fantastic design. First off she wore a suit, close to that of a bartender in a high class restaurant. She had the familiar stance, hands up for striking and moving on the balls of her feet. If you had asked any other designer to create a female Muay Thai master you probably would have ended up with someone that looked more like the character by Saeed Jalabi. Saeed hit all of the traditional notes perfectly. The shorts, headdress and even wrapped cords of older, classical forms of the Thai boxing arts. Any audience member could look at the design and know instantly this was some sort of fighter. Even if the gamer was not familiar with the fighting arts they could still tell a few things about her. The athletic frame, toned muscles, wrapped hands and feet were meant for striking. This was not a ceremonial costume but one for competition.


By contrast look at the design that Toshiaki Mori came up with. The SNK designer would become one of the most influential artists of all time. Most people would recognize him by his pen name, Shinkiro. He didn’t approach his designs the way one would have expected. What made his work so great was how down-to-Earth every figure was. When he was helping create the costumes for the AoF cast he knew to make each character fit the story. As Robert and Ryo made their way through South Town the people they fought reflected a certain part of the city. The thugs looked like biker gang members, those in the military wore fatigues. Having a half-naked Muay Thai fighter in a classy restaurant would not have made any sense. But what about one dressed like a bartender? The uniform was central to the character. Modern martial arts movies featured characters that wore deceptive clothing. One the first examples was the tuxedo that Robert Baker wore when he fought Bruce Lee in Fist of Fury (1972). Bruce Lee helped bring classic wuxia or Chinese hero stories into the modern era. The same thing was true of the suit that Benny Urquidez wore when he fought Jackie Chan in Wheels on Meals (1984).


The suit was deceptive but that was only one layer of Shinkiro’s design. King looked like an effeminate man, or perhaps a boy. Audiences had been conditioned to expect 99% of the people they fought to be men. Up until that point Fan from Yie Ar Kung-Fu was the only female opponent in a fighting game and Chun-Li from Street Fighter II was the only playable female character. Audiences expected a female martial artists to be wearing a traditional dress. That whole idea was turned upside down if players tore the blouse off of King with a special attack. That was when it was revealed that she was wearing a bra underneath. That violent act made the game feel far more mature than any other title. This sort of turn was something that you would expect in a movie and certainly not in a game. SNK hid the reveal right until the end, going so far as to name the character King instead of Queen. In doing so it made the design very memorable. This master of the fighting arts was hiding in plain sight. She would be the perfect example as to what set SNK apart from the competition.


If you have been reading my blogs for a while then you know that I like to dig into the influences behind the various characters. For King the most obvious comparison would be with the martial arts star Cynthia Rothrock. Since 1985 Cynthia had been featured in a string of movies, mostly produced overseas. Women hadn’t really been considered for leading roles in most Western-produced martial arts films. There have been exceptions of course in other action films such as the Black Widow from the Avengers films, Furiosa from Mad Max or Gazelle from the Kingsmen. Those characters were almost always in a supporting role and not the stars of the film. In Hong Kong however women could be the stars of the film. This was a tradition going back to 1928. Heroes came in all shapes (see the chubby Sammo Hung), sizes, and colors even. When Cynthia couldn’t land a role in a US film she was almost always guaranteed to find a spot in Hong Kong. The same thing was true for Ron Van Clief. As a black martial artist, and Army veteran he faced tremendous racism in the USA but was a welcome star in Hong Kong cinema.


Cynthia’s trademark short haircut, lightning fast kicks and array of martial arts moves made her a stand out star. She had been actively involved in martial arts for a long time and was trained in different schools, including Tang Soo Do, Tae Kwon Do, Eagle Claw, Wu Shu, and both Southern and Northern Shaolin. She was able to hold her own against many men and women artists from Hong Kong, some of which learned fighting and acrobatics from the Chinese Opera, just like Jackie Chan. Cynthia often played a street smart cop, nicknamed China O’Brien in one of her more famous recurring roles. She was such a formidable figure that I would argue she not only influenced the design behind King but also Blue Mary, who turned up in the Fatal Fury series. This made Cynthia one of the rare real world figures that inspired the creation of more than one character, in more than one game series.


Cynthia was not shy about using her good looks in the roles she played. When the part called for it she would show some skin, tastefully of course. The people working at SNK were keenly aware of how the actress sexed up some of her parts or modeling shoots. Shinkiro did not outright try to make King a voluptuous, overly sexualized character. It would have destroyed any surprise waiting for audiences when they first saw her. It was the other artists working at the studio that started putting her in form-fitting suits, they turned her vest into a bustier and starting pushing her breasts out further and further. She would not longer appear androgynous following the AoF. Blue Mary had always been presented as the more sexualized of the designs. She was top heavy with an exposed midriff, wearing uniforms that were not standard law-enforcement. A very skimpy white top and denim bottom was created as an alternate costume for her in King of Fighters (KOF): Maximum Impact 2 Regulation A. This costume was inspired by an outfit worn by Rothrock in a modeling shoot. However we should confuse the two. The design behind King and her planning extended far into the lore or the SNK universe.


On the surface King was a very simple design. She had the skills and grace of a top bartender but with the power of a no-nonsense bouncer. On top of everything she was not going to remain as a bit player in South Town. The figures in the SNK universe had room to grow and the did in the various KOF sequels. The Sakazaki family opened Kyokygenryu schools, with Ryo entering tournaments to help spread its name. Andy and Terry Bogard travelled the globe following the trail of Geese Howard and making new allies along the way. King made fast friends with the other leading females in the KOF series. She partnered with the ninja Mai Shiranui and Kyokugenryu prodigy Yuri Sakazaki to form an all-women team. This was a first in fighting game history. She also partnered with them to open a club in a later timeline. King had taken her experience, including learning from Capoeira master Richard Meyer and his infamous Pao Pao Cafe, and applied it to her own business. She was ambitious and was destined to be a major player in South Town, yet unlike Geese Howard she was going to do this without resorting to extortion. King was an exceptional character design and easily one of the greatest fighting game characters ever created, female or otherwise. Artists and developers try to break into the genre should learn from SNK and see how they were able to hide these martial artists in plain site. The studio was able to hide masters in many ways. We will explore the ways they were able to do this in the next blog. As always if you enjoyed this blog and would like to sponsor me please visit my Patreon page and consider donating each month, even as little as $1 would help make better blogs and even podcasts!

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Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Hiding the master in plain sight, the genius of SNK's character design...part 1

For this series I will be looking at the design elements behind the SNK fighters. I won't be talking about every fighting game that appeared on the Neo Geo console, that would take years to put together. Instead I will focus on a few titles and some of the most influential characters, and designers. This blog has been a long time coming. The little bit that I talk about SNK will not be enough for most fans. It will hopefully get a discussion going with the design community. If I could boil down the SNK school of design, the reason why their characters were so long-lived, it would be because they hid the fighting masters in plain site. That's it. That's the secret to their success. Okay so maybe it is a little bit more complicated. Let's go back in time and see how the people that made Street Fighter changed the course of SNK as well. The late ‘70s and most of the ‘80s were considered a boom time for the arcade industry. Hundreds of studios popped up in the hopes of striking it rich. They wanted to create the next Space Invaders, the next Pac Man or Donkey Kong. Everything was an experiment and when one idea worked you could expect other studios to copy the formula. If one company had a racing game then everyone else had to have a racing game. If one company had a successful space shooter then other studios needed their own. This type of thinking sunk many developers. If they were only copying and not innovating then audiences would often pass over their games. SNK was a company that took many chances, in doing so they were often financially drained. The games they produced in the early days were the results of a small team of very dedicated employees. One of the biggest changes for the company happened when Takashi Nishiyama and Hiroshi Matsumoto left Capcom to join SNK. The pair had designed many of Capcom’s early arcade hits, including the original Street Fighter.


SNK founder and boss Eikichi Kawasaki had a keen insight to what gamers wanted. Unlike other company presidents who sat back and let his team develop hits he was actively involved producing many of their early titles. Mr. Nishiyama and Mr. Matsumoto had plans for a Street Fighter successor but the industry was evolving so rapidly that what it meant to have a fighting game was literally changing from month to month. Many arcade veterans would consider Technos’ game Karate Champ as the forefather of the modern fighting game. In 1984 it introduced audiences to the idea of traveling from place to place to fight other karate masters. There were even bonus stages in the game where players broke bricks and punched bulls. Some of these things found their way into the original Street Fighter. The colors for player 1 and player 2 could even be considered the inspiration for Ryu and Ken respectively.


To say that Street Fighter was solely based on one game, or even one myth was wrong. There were a few other games that shaped the industry as well. In 1984 Irem released Kung-Fu Master, that Mr. Nishiyama had also developed when he was with Irem. This game had a hero fighting wave after wave of different types of opponents in a nonstop showdown. It was essentially the foundation of the brawler as well as a key piece in the development of the fighting game genre. 1984 was also important because of Punch-Out!! The Nintendo hit introduced stylized opponents from different countries and different weight classes as well. The first-person perspective in a fighter was rarely used but Nintendo demonstrated that it could be done. Then there was Yie-ar Kung Fu by Konami. In 1985 the company added the concept of life bars to the genre. Also it introduced different schools of martial arts, some with weapons, and it featured the first Chinese female martial arts opponent as well.


The action titles from ’84 and ’85 things colored the development of the fighting genre. When Street Fighter was released in 1987 Capcom made sure that it was bigger and better than anything that preceded it. Karate Champ may have been the roots but this game was so much more. The new stars, Ken and Ryu, would travel the globe and take on challengers of every background. Mr. Nishiyama and Mr. Matsumoto didn’t create a generic martial arts tournament, they instead pulled in influences from pop culture. The movies, the comics and cartoons they enjoyed inspired the setting and opponents of Street Fighter. More than that they helped inspire the development of special attacks like the hadouken or fireball. Street Fighter wasn’t the breakout hit that the company expected it to be. Instead there was a game by Technos that ruled arcades that year. Double Dragon was a new type of fighting game. Audiences all over the world were instantly hooked on this brawler. It was essentially a pseudo-3D version of the Kung-Fu Master story. An evil gang kidnaped a girl but instead of one person fighting to get her back it was two. These two could punch, kick, grab and throw opponents. No other game had that many attacks or “combination” moves. Billy and Jimmy Lee were stars for a new generation. There was nothing traditional about these heroes. They were tough guys from the street, vigilantes that took justice into their own hands. Audiences could identify with them easier than they could a martial artist in ancient China.


Double Dragon would have a profound influence on the industry. Studios were forced to change with the times or audiences might skip their next release. Any plans for a Street Fighter sequel were scrubbed as Mr. Nishiyama and Mr. Matsumoto left to join SNK. The designers taking over at Capcom, Yoshiki Okamoto, Akira Nishitani and Akira Yasuda wanted to make the next Street Fighter a superior version of Double Dragon. You know the story by now of how Final Fight was originally called Street Fighter ’89. It was no accident that the stars of this game were not Ken and Ryu but instead a more contemporary Cody and Guy. Their sprites were bigger and more detailed than Billy and Jimmy Lee. They fought through a bigger city and had more moves and more opponents to deal with as well. Final Fight was one of dozens of Double Dragon clones that came out over the next few years. Many for the arcade but some for the consoles as well. Of these developers Konami put out some of the best brawlers and I dare say that Vendetta (1991) might be peak Double Dragon clone.


SNK had not yet released the Neo Geo console but the company saw where the arcade industry was headed. Specifically the President and Founder Eikichi Kawasaki saw that fighting games was the next big trend. He had his team begin working on new experiences. One of the most important and often overlooked titles that Mr. Kawasaki produced was called Street Smart. It was a sort of “missing link” between the brawler and the modern fighting game. It had a sense of depth like Double Dragon and even had a broad stage that allowed players to move far left and right. There were a number of different opponents each with techniques and abilities. It was the first fighting game to feature the Brazilian art of Capoeira, the Stage 2 boss “Slippery” Sam Santana could flip, tumble and strike. This game also featured an unlicensed version of I can’t turn you loose, an old Otis Redding tune made popular by the Blues Brothers. Poached music aside this game was important because it allowed for two players to team up against two opponents at the same time. It had a frenetic energy about it and being able to double-team an opponent felt very rewarding.


Mr. Kawasaki was a fan of the fighting arts and was even an amateur boxer in his youth. He knew a thing or two about real fighting. The idea of mixing up the forms intrigued him and he made sure that he had both a karate or wrestler be playable in Street Smart. It was SNK’s next game that helped put them on the map. Mr. Nishiyama and Mr. Matsumoto had their hands full trying to stay one step ahead of the competition. Street Fighter II exploded on the scene in February 1991. Somewhere in between Street Fighter and the original Fatal Fury the duo considered making a fighting game like Double Dragon with at least three playable characters. They had to act fast as Street Fighter II was gaining momentum. They narrowed their idea to a traditional fighting game but kept three main characters and even the ability to jump between the foreground and background. Fatal Fury was released at the end of 1991 and was an answer to both Final Fight and Street Fighter II. Audiences gravitated to the unique library of characters. Traditional fighting arts masters were balanced out by modern brawlers in street clothing. In fact you could see the spectrum in the main characters. Joe Higashi looked like a traditional May Thai specialist. His shorts, his taped hands and feet, dark tan and bold colors were classic. Andy Bogard was a sort of ninja-hybrid, his costume wasn’t quite classic nor was it quite modern, his design was literally a bridge between the old world and the new. If Joe was a nod to the past then Terry Bogard represented the future.


Terry Bogard was a new type of hero, the modern action film star. The days of Japanese karate masters being the heroes of the game were coming to an end. Some companies didn’t get the memo and kept rehashing old ideas, that’s why not many of those copycat fighting games were around today. Terry was a literal street fighter. He wore street clothing; a trucker cap, leather jacket, jeans and sneakers. He learned how to fight growing up on the rough streets of South Town. Of all the SNK heroes he was the one that went the furthest despite having a formal martial arts instructor. When SNK put him up against Geese Howard, the man who murdered his father, they created one of the great rivalries in fighting game history. Mr. Kawasaki and his star developers had a hit on their hands. It was the mix of traditional and modern character designs that helped put SNK on the map. When SNK’s next major fighting game was released it cemented their school of design. We will look at this in the next blog. As always if you enjoyed this blog and would like to sponsor me please visit my Patreon page and consider donating each month, even as little as $1 would help make better blogs and even podcasts!

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