Saturday, June 30, 2018

30 years of Street Fighter: 30 years of Characters #1

I'm proud to say that I was there for the first Street Fighter and was a fan of Capcom since 1984 with the debut of a shooter called 1942. It's hard to believe that I've been following Street Fighter for 30 years. I've met many great people thanks to the series. I made an awesome friend during many heated Street Fighter II battles at the local arcade. I even became the best man at his wedding. I know I'm not alone when it comes to Street Fighter building long-term friendships. I have always believed in the greatness of the fighting game community. Street Fighter is one of the reasons I've been writing online for more than a decade. It will always have a special place in my heart. I've loved the various Capcom fighting games since they debuted, Final Fight, Darkstalkers, Rival Schools, Saturday Night Slam Masters, Power Stone, and on and on. I've followed the developers and their careers once they left Capcom. The Street Fighter team assembled the roster of the greatest fighting game icons we'll ever know. When the majority of the team left Capcom they forever changed the genre. They went to other studios, notably SNK, and they created their own studios like DIMPS and ARIKA. These people built a library of characters, control systems, and game play elements still used to this day. They inspired an entirely new generation of programmers, writers, artists, animators and designers. Street Fighter literally changed the world. With all the praise I give them I know the studio can always do better.

For my final day of the Street Fighter celebration we're going to honor the one that got away. Or thinking more positively, the one that might still find his spot in the lineup. The game series has done a good job at representation. There have been fighters from every corner of the globe, male and female, of every skin color and age featured in the Street Fighter universe. Some were good guys, some were bad guys, and some were victims of circumstance. Many were fantastic but a few were not well done. To be honest every now and then Capcom fell flat on their face. It broke my heart to look at the concept art for Street Fighter IV and see a strong, young, black character in the final stages of design.This character was supposed to be an arch rival to Ken. Only we got Rufus, the joke character instead. The young black man, nicknamed King Cobra took all the elements that made Ken and Ryu unique and incorporated them into his design. He wouldn't have been the only new rival in the game. Juri took a lot of cues from Chun-Li and for some reason that worked with audiences. I have a feeling that King Cobra would have gotten the same amount of love from audiences. It hurts to look at this character this character and wonder what if?

In the planning stages of every Street Fighter not every design was a hit, some were ugly, boring, borderline racist or just horrible. Some of these characters made it into the series but many more were left out of the game. This wasn't exclusive to Capcom. Every lineup had their own growing pains. Many figures were left on the cutting room floor for a reason. At worst the designers were culturally insensitive, at best they were being lazy. Every now and then you could find discarded characters that hit all the right notes. If you saw them in the sketchbook you might wonder why they were left out the game. It's a sad realization that these fighters would most likely never appear in the series. You should always have hope. Street Fighter has made it to 30 years because the most passionate people at Capcom wouldn't let it die. It will continue growing and evolving as long as those energetic voices keep hope alive. Maybe one day we'll see King Cobra in the game. He could be the face that carries the series for another 30 years. You never really know. As always if you enjoyed this blog. Street Fighter is a series worth exploring and explaining. I hope you've revisited some memories during this lengthy series. If you 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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Friday, June 29, 2018

30 years of Street Fighter: 30 years of Characters #2

Street Fighter has been one of the all-time great fighting game franchises. Part of the reason for its popularity had to do with the World Warriors featured in Street Fighter II. With a hundred or so characters being added into the Street Fighter universe over the past 30 years I would argue that Chun-Li is the most popular one (with Cammy being a close second). Chun-Li is an absolute icon, not only in the fighting game community but for the video game industry as a whole. She's a role-model to women and an inspiration to men. She's a complex character with a fantastic design. A brilliant fighter with a style all her own. She didn't start out perfect in the development stages of Street Fighter II. The planners wanted a kung-fu master in the game, as Lee and Gen had represented different Chinese schools previously. Also they didn't want the new character to be a guy. The first draft of Chun-Li, then called Zhi-Li was very traditional, almost to the point of being a cartoon stereotype. Chinese characters and Chinese-inspired costumes were somewhat popular in Japan in the mid '80s. Thanks in part to the series Ranma 1/2 by Rumiko Takahashi and 3x3 Eyes by Kaoru Wada. Both of those runs debuted in 1987, the same year that the original Street Fighter was released.

It would take a few years for their influence to be felt at Capcom but once it was there the China Daughter would make her way into the Street Fighter universe. There was something missing with the original Chun-Li concept. She was a little too simple, a little too generic. The studio was playing it safe with the lineup. That was when designer Akira "Akiman" Yasuda decided to give her a radical makeover. She was turned from a prodigious girl into a grown woman. She became an undercover cop that had infiltrated the Street Fighter tournament. Her flowing costume was a disguise. She had wrestling boots on and heavy spiked bracelets to add some contrast to her blue silk uniform. She wore tights over her exposed thighs which allowed her to kick and remain modest at the same time. Akiman was a proponent of her legs being her main weapons. She was given the Hyakuretsukyaku aka Lightning Kick and the Kaitenteki Kakukyakushuu aka Spinning Bird Kick as her special attacks. Akiman would forever be known as the father of Chun-Li and the person that painted her best portraits.

Audiences fell in love with Chun-Li at first sight. She was young and energetic. Blindingly fast and able of doing things that none of the other World Warriors could. Despite being an adult she still had some hold overs to her youthful origin. She would jump and giggle with each victory. She would cry with every loss. Even her ending showed that she had a life outside of fighting, which was a stark difference to most of the male characters. After avenging the death of her father she celebrated her newfound independence and went out with her girlfriends. An alternate ending was added where instead of dating she went into police work. She set a standard that would be hard, if not impossible to beat. The best female designs in the Street Fighter universe have borrowed from Chun-Li. Cammy, Blare Dame, Pullum Purna and Juri all took cues from the first lady of Street Fighter. Whether it was costume elements, build or even back story, there was something that connected many of the designs together.

When the studio decided to create a younger version of Chun-Li for the Zero / Alpha series they changed her costume to be an homage to the jumpsuit that Bruce Lee wore in his final movie, the Game of Death. Her spiked bracelet became a weighted bracelet and her wrestling boots were turned into sneakers. It was a clever way of showing her in a more youthful light and celebrating the influences that Capcom designers used when creating the character. Chun-Li is without a doubt one of the biggest reasons why the Street Fighter series has made it to 30 and will keep on going. Do you have a favorite version of Chun-Li or game she appeared in? I'd like to read about it in the comments. 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, June 28, 2018

30 years of Street Fighter: 30 years of Characters #3

For the 30th Anniversary of Street Fighter we've talked about Ryu, the hero of the series. We've  talked about Sagat, his great rival and the template for a memorable martial arts boss. We've even talked about Vega / The Dictator as a way of redefining what a final boss villain could be. With every fighting game that's ever been and that will ever be, there is one boss that is considered the gold standard. His name is Gouki. You might know him as Akuma. He represents the peak of the mountain, the ultimate fighter if ever one existed. Designed with a frightening appearance he has elements pulled from Asian mythology, including demons, the afterlife, and even lions. His origins are part of a larger narrative. He is the estranged brother of Gouken, the master of Ken and Ryu. He murdered his master and his brother in a fit of rage. He is as complex as he is intimidating. The best renditions of the character coming from the talented hand of Bengus, one of Capcom's best artists.

The origins of Gouki are obscure, owing more to an April Fool's prank rather than clever planning. The long defunct EGM magazine invented a character named Sheng Long who was supposedly the master of Ken and Ryu. He could only be fought under certain conditions. Capcom decided that they should introduce a version of this mythical fighter in one of the final Street Fighter II upgrades for the arcade. His debut in Super Street Fighter II became the stuff of legend. He only showed up at the end of the game if certain conditions were met. He absolutely destroyed Vega before the match started. His moves were far more impressive than Ken or Ryu's. He could throw fireballs while leaping, he could even teleport across the screen. He showed that even the best Street Fighter bosses were far beneath him. His popularity really took off as he was formally added as a playable character in the Street Fighter Zero series. He had his own story and ending to help explain his purpose in the universe. Gouki wasn't the main boss for every character in the Street Fighter universe and that made sense. He wanted to fight the best ever, and in particular see if his brother's students were any good. He was reclusive and you had to work hard to find him and even harder to beat him. He embodied every quality that made for a memorable final boss.

No studio was able to recreate what Capcom had stumbled into. After 30 years we have yet to see a boss character in the series that holds a candle to Gouki. Part of the reason why is because most developers, including the current Capcom stable, have a limited approach to their villain designs. They often create one-dimensional bosses, pure evil with amazing powers and no redeeming factors. Gouki was a murderer, that would never change, but he fought with his own code. He didn't kill everybody he ran into. He was obsessed with a worthy challenge. This was best explained in a drawing by Bengus. Gouki, selling fruit, probably by the side of the road. Earning some money to buy provisions and supplies. He could take whatever he wanted but he was no thief. He only became a monster when a fight was at stake. Gouki looked supernatural, he looked demonic but the thing that made him better than every boss character was his humanity. Gouki could have been a real person with a killer's instinct and that is truly frightening. It may be 30 years before Capcom ever creates a villain as memorable. What do you think about this character? Please let me know in the comments section. 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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Wednesday, June 27, 2018

30 years of Street Fighter: 30 years of Characters #4

It's been 30 years of Street Fighter and nobody is talking about Gen. We have to give this grandmaster of kung-fu the attention he deserves. Gen is one of the original opponents in the series, the best fighter in China. He has popped up just a few more times since his debut. His return to the game, in Street Fighter Zero / Alpha 2 (1996), was easily his best appearance. Gen became the first character to offer players two completely different fighting styles, that of the mantis or crane. Players could alternate in between rounds their style by holding down different buttons. This meant completely different move sets, super moves and strategies. Imagine how unpredictable this made him in tournaments. Gen was a call back to the classic fighting archetypes that inspired the original Street Fighter line up. Remember how Dhalsim (#30 on my list) was based on the Yoga Master in the Master of the Flying Guillotine (1976)? Gen is a nod to the various white-haired masters from martial arts cinema, including Executioners from Shaolin (1977), Born Invincible (1978), Abbot of Shaolin (1979), and Fist of the White Lotus (1980). The ancient kung-fu techniques had been featured in cinema but rarely used in actual games until Gen. 

The legend of the white haired master went back to the earliest days of the martial arts in China. Gen was derived from a number of movie heroes and villains but even those characters were inspired by historical figures. The most likely root was Bak Mei, one of the founders of the Shaolin school. He was allegedly a survivor of the Shaolin massacre during the Qing Dynasty. He was one of the Five Elders, the survivors of an assassination attempt against the monks. They eventually rebuilt the school and preserved the early martial arts. This group also began developing new schools of fighting based on predatory animals like tigers and eagles. Gen was derived from those classic heroes. He had superhuman strength and speed despite his age and made us believe that these fabled masters might still be hiding in China. He represented the last living member of an ancient lineage. Hiding in plain site, wandering in the back alleys of the oldest corners of Shanghai. Where a centuries-old market had been paved over by a modern, indifferent world. Only a few clues remained of what was once there. A few crumbling signs, posters and ads, left to fall in disrepair in the shadows like the rest of ancient China.

Gen was symbolic of the mythical martial artists. He was just like the characters written about in wuxia, or classic hero stories. These were the ones that inspired revolutions. The handful of masters that led poor people to victory over corrupt regimes using only their fighting skills. These larger-than-life characters killed tigers with their bare hands, could run over rivers and along treetops. The people that were romanticized in stage plays and films. The kung-fu characters inspired people all around the world. Especially the developers working at Capcom in the '80s. His abilities were fantastic but sadly they were out of place. Gen was the last of his kind. A holdover from the 19th century, a person that had a connection to the original masters. His time was rapidly running out and he wanted to be killed in a fight and not by the ravages of age and disease. His legacy did carry through thanks to some talented students he trained. There may never be another character as important to the history of Street Fighter as Gen. For that we salute you on this anniversary and hope that your legacy will live on. 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, June 26, 2018

30 years of Street Fighter: 30 years of Characters #5

Street Fighter is nothing without its star. Where some people may see a bland, almost generic character, I see one of the great fighting game archetypes. Yesterday we celebrated Sagat, the villain of the original game and the strongest fighter in the world. Today we look at Ryu the young star of the series and arguably the new strongest fighter in the entire universe. I say arguably because we also have to consider the strength of his best friend Ken Masters, the cursed siblings Kairi and Shirase, and of course the wrestling legend Victor Ortega. Thirty years ago Ryu was a young red-haired kid wearing slippers and wandering from town to town in the first Street Fighter tournament. Today he is a grown man, old enough to mentor several young prodigies. He is still evolving and becoming more powerful. Perhaps he has yet to reach his full potential and that is a scary thought.

Ryu began his path while still a student, his master Gouken had just been murdered and Ryu felt that he still had many lessons to learn. The only way he could continue on his path was by fighting the best masters he could find. It didn't matter what school or style they studied. Nobody assumed that he would manage to beat Sagat for the recognition as world's best. The game series, manga, comic books, anime and movies that followed all expanded on the legend of Ryu. They gave us an insight to the character. Where were his passions, who were his friends, what did he find in each battle? Fans of the series watched the fighter literally grow up before their eyes. In 30 years we saw his greatest triumphs, his biggest defeats and the hardest lessons he could have ever learned. Those that were there from the beginning felt a particular connection to the man. His most beloved story arc was on of the crown jewels of the series, Street Fighter Zero / Alpha 2. When he almost became a villain.

We discovered that the only reason Ryu was able to beat Sagat was because he fought with murderous intent. The dark hadou, an evil energy, had possessed the man and tried to turn him into a killer. Sagat survived thanks to his strength and size. But the revelation made Ryu more complex. His evil personae was just below the surface, he had to face it and defeat it if he wanted to remain in control of his destiny. It was an amazing period for the man and the series. Many fans like to revisit the character and ask themselves "what if?" The only thing we know for certain is how far Ryu has come. I look forward to growing old with the character. If you are a fan of Ryu let's hear your favorite version in the comments section. 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, June 25, 2018

30 years of Street Fighter: 30 years of Characters #6

At one point in time, 30 years ago to be precise, the world's strongest fighter was named Sagat. That title didn't come with a trophy or a belt. It wasn't celebrated on television or reported in the newspapers. It was only by word of mouth that his reputation traveled. People around the globe eventually learned of the man. Those that knew their history, were familiar with underground fighting scene knew who the real world champ was. It was understood that the seven-footer was the most dangerous man on the planet. How long did he hold the reputation? Perhaps years, but more likely decades. He lost his left eye in a fight. He killed the man that took his eye in that fight. He was never the same after that, not physically and not mentally. One day a young kid from Japan beat Sagat in a fight. His reputation exploded. Sagat disappeared after his defeat. Some thought he died. He was actually recovering and training. He had become more dangerous than ever before when he returned. 

When it comes to fighting game design there may never be a better template to work from than Sagat. The bald, eyepatch-wearing giant was a master of Muay Thai. It was one of the longest-lived and certainly most lethal of the South Asian fighting arts still being practiced today. Fighters can not only punch and kick but can also grapple their opponents and use knee and elbow strikes. In some versions of the sport the punching gloves are replaced by braided cord which causes massive cuts to their opponents. Matches are often very violent and very bloody. It's actually amazing that Sagat didn't kill more men in the ring based on his style. From a design standpoint there was a problem with the character. Somebody so monstrous could only be used as the final boss one time. It was shocking to see someone that big and fast in the original game. It would have however been anticlimactic if he were the final boss two times in a row. The new final villain in the game, Vega / The Dicatator was so unique that he rewrote the book on final boss design. Sagat remained in the series as the eternal rival to Ryu. He returned in Street Fighter II as a sub-boss. He had changed considerably. He had a massive scar across his torso and a new move, the Tiger Punch that he created to destroy Ryu. 

By all accounts Sagat should have died after the events of the original Street Fighter. The Shoryuken or Dragon Punch that Ryu used against him was supposed to be a lethal strike. The punch was powerful enough to split boulders. It was a sacred technique known only to Ryu, Ken, and their seniors Gouken and Gouki. Sagat was almost cut in half but he survived and somehow became a more powerful in the process. It was a profound bit of storytelling and character evolution. Sagat was inspired by real world fighters and comic book characters, but somehow he rose above them to become his own legend. On the anniversary of Street Fighter I want to remind you all about the original champ. 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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Sunday, June 24, 2018

30 years of Street Fighter: 30 years of Characters #7

Darun Mister is one of the great all-time grapplers in the Street Fighter universe. He debuted more than 20 years ago in Street Fighter EX. I've already talked about Victor Ortega, the pro wrestling heavyweight champion in the Street Fighter universe. Victor dominated the competition and retired undefeated. He resurfaced years later to test out the next generation of pro wrestlers. I've also talked about the Wraith, one of the more obscure, and macabre pro wrestlers in the Street Fighter universe. Both Ortega and the Wraith were gigantic and fearsome grapplers. But neither, at least not to the best of my knowledge, have ever faced Darun Mister in or out of the ring. Darun is the Indra (Indian) wrestling champion. His championship belt is among the greatest ever designed for a game. I mean just look at the gold, silver and ruby-encrusted elephant on the belt! He dominated the competition in South Asia as much as Ortega had around the world. He also served as the personal bodyguard for Pullum Purna. The duo traveled the globe fighting other champions during the EX tournament. 

Darun was such an exceptional grappler that he actively sought out masters of other disciplines. When he was defeated by the demon Garuda he swore to return stronger for a rematch. Just a reminder that Garuda killed his opponents but Darun was simply too tough to die. If the story of Darun rings a bell it's because he is a second-take on the character Zangief. The Red Cyclone set a standard that was pretty tough to beat in the Street Fighter series. The team at ARIKA had a hand in developing the original Street Fighter II cast, so when they created the EX series they made parallels in their fighting lineup. Darun was beat-for-beat a counter to Zangief and was destined to be his rival in canon. Believe it or don't Zangief was inspired in part by an actual wrestler named Victor Zangief that the Capcom crew saw on TV. I mentioned previously that Victor Ortega was inspired by wrestlers like Superstar Billy Graham and Hulk Hogan. The Wraith was inspired by The Undertaker and even Darun was based in reality. The Great Gama was a turn-of-the-century wrestling legend from India that sought out and beat the European champions. He was celebrated as a hero in his home country and was a perfect template to rival the burly Russian.  

More than a hundred years has passed since the Great Gama was in his prime. The good news is that Darun Mister will always be in peak physical condition and looking for opponents to mangle. I enjoyed playing as the character in Street Fighter EX and look forward to his return in Fighting EX Layer. Today we celebrate this legend. Do you have a favorite Street Fighter wrestler? If so tell me in the comments section. 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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