Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Meet Street Fighter V's Menat, an old soul in a young body?

More news from the people at Capcom. The latest fighter for Street Fighter V; Season 2 has been revealed. This time it is a young female by the name of Menat. Harrison at Capcom-Unity gave the fighting game crowd a full preview of the character. In case you haven't seen her here she is along with her alternate costumes.

 

The character was actually teaser earlier, appearing in the visions of Ed. In her earlier debut she was listed only as a Fortune Teller. The connection between her and Ed was instant. I had mentioned previously that Ed was a return to Psycho Power. This was the mysterious psychic energy that powered Vega / the Dictator and allowed him to do things like fly, teleport and glowing orbs of psychic energy. The origins of this power were connected by a mystical person named Rose. She debuted in Street Fighter Zero / Alpha, which tied together the events that happened between Street Fighter, Final Fight and Street Fighter II. It looks like Menat is filling in that same role. Harrison said that Menat was the understudy of Rose. It made sense that Menat and Ed were connected. Rose and Vega also shared a psychic bond. This was explored in the various endings.

 

The moves and special abilities of Menat had a few things in common with Rose. She could reflect fireball attacks and even add energy to them to make them more powerful. Yet like Ed, she was her own unique character. Menat fought with a crystal ball, which she named Ankh. The Capcom designers called it a soul sphere, the name was based on the ancient Egyptian symbol which symbolized life. I didn't know if the crystal ball actually contained her soul, or was a conduit for her psychic powers. I suppose we'll find out shortly. There had been a few characters from the Middle East in the history of fighting games. Egyptian characters were not unique but they sometimes wore costumes that were more classical than contemporary.

 

I wouldn't say that Menat's default costume was daily wear for an Egyptian but her alternate costumes did seem eerily familiar. At worst the costumes could be considered culturally insensitive. I mean did Egyptians in the 21st century really wear mummy wraps? But more important than that, a lot of people have noticed that the alternate costumes looked like costumes worn by characters in other fighting games. Sadira for example was an assassin introduced in Killer Instinct. The fighting game from 2013 was a relaunch of a cult-classic Rare franchise. Sadira was inferred to be from the Middle East. The colors of her hood and patterns on her costume looked like traditional dress. Something inspired loosely by the bedleh, the light clothing worn by dancers. Sadira's uniform looked very much like the basis for Menat's costume. Then there was Eliza. This Pharaoh-themed character was introduced in Skullgirls Encore. The indy fighting game from 2014 pulled inspiration from dozens of different sources, including classic American cartoons and Japanese anime. Eliza was actually a design that was voted on by fans. The studio used Kickstarter to raise funds for new characters and Eliza was extremely popular in the voting. She really stood out when she was finally added. It was as if Cleopatra had become a fighter, her dress, Ankh symbol and crown were pulled from ancient history. And then apparently it looked like these things were poached by Capcom to be used for Menat as well. The similarities I think were too close for this to be more than coincidence.

 

Poaching costumes from a rival studio was pretty low in my book. But then it might all be coincidence. The first time I saw the Fortune Teller / Menat the very first thing that stood out to me was the cut of her hair. Her look, her costume didn't immediately strike me as something that was featured in any contemporary game. Instead the hair, the colors and overall look actually reminded me of a few characters that Capcom had designed previously. The hair specifically reminded me of Claire, an officer in the Fourth Empire. She had a look that was inspired by medieval Spanish knights. She even fought with a plasma rapier. Plasma Sword: Nightmare of Bilstein came out in 1998. It was the sequel to Star Gladiator, a 1996 3D game, that was essentially Capcom's version of Star Wars as a fighting game. The sequel also introduced us to Luca, an alien fighter that was the fiance' of the alien Gore.

 

When I first saw Menat I thought that she was a sort of combination design of Claire and Luca. As if the designers revisited the notes on other fighters and tried to create something new. Also, seeing her bubbly personality reminded me of ARIKA's Pullum Purna. The youthful and energetic girl from the Arabian peninsula predated Menat by 20 years. It was hard to deny that Sadira and and Eliza also predated if not outright influenced Menat's design. What Capcom did right was in approaching her move set, her special abilities and connection to the past. Menat worked in part because she was reminiscent of Rose. Just as Ed reminded us of M. Bison and Vega, the Boxer and Dictator. But Menat was her own character, with her own special attacks, strategies and techniques. She would bridge the legacy designs and make a unique spot in the lineup.

 

If you are an artist trying to crack the code of the Street Fighter designs just look at three of the newer characters introduced into the series. Juri, Ed and Menat were all inspired by previous characters, they were in essence mirroring legacy designs. Juri was like an evil version of Chun-Li. Ed was a hybrid of Vega and Bison. Menat was the fresh face. She was to Rose as Cammy was to Chun-Li. It was not a coincidence that audiences gravitated towards these characters. Whether they realized it or not Capcom was using the same design elements that brought people into the fold 30 years ago. You can't really say the same about Rufus, Hakan, F.A.N.G. or Necali could you? I'd like to hear your take on Menat. Do you like the character? Why do you think she does or doesn't work in the series. 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, August 23, 2017

How age and gender helped make the Street Fighter cast unique...

Working on the blogs about Ed in Street Fighter V and Allen Snider in the EX series I was reminded about how important legacy designs were to the creation of new fighting game characters. If you were a fan of fighting games, a budding designer or an artist looking for new ideas I wanted you to think about your favorite characters. Try to break them down and see what it was that you liked about them. Was it the moves and abilities they had? Was it their temperament and attitude? Did they have a unique costume or a unique look? Was it perhaps a combination of multiple elements? When exploring the details that went into making Ed I challenged the readers to try to do the same thing. Take any two favorite characters from the Street Fighter, or any fighting game series, and try to combine their design elements. Or take an existing character and try to make a young version of them, for bonus points try to change the sex or ethnicity of the character. How would they appear when compared to the rest of the cast? If a new character was done well then most people didn't notice these elements. For example Juri from Street Fighter IV was based very much on the elements that created Chun-Li. The costume, looks and moves of Juri and Chun-Li were very complimentary. This was no accident. Almost 10 years ago I wrote about the symmetry of Street Fighter.

 

I said that one of the reasons Street Fighter II became an iconic game was because of how the characters were balanced. I'm not talking about how the fighting mechanics were balanced, but instead how each of the main characters had a sort of visual rival. It didn't matter if it was a friendly rival or an arch rival. Ken had Ryu, this was a literal balance, but Ryu also had Sagat, which was an asymmetrical balance. Having two main stars in the game created a trend that would be used by other studios. Ryo and Robert in the Art of Fighting, Akira and Jacky in Virtua Fighter, Haohmaru and Genjuro from Samurai Spirits were other examples of balanced main characters. There was something that the team at Capcom added to make the lineup more unique in the Street Fighter Zero / Alpha series. They weren't afraid to play with the roles and genders as well. Sakura was very much a girl version of Ryu. She had her own rival with Karen, who was like a girl version of Ken. These rules also applied to villains.

 

Having a younger rival was an excellent way to expand a character library. Sakura for example wanted to become a great fighter like the person she idolized. She trained very hard and even dressed a little bit like Ryu, with a similar headband. Then there were young rivals like Adon who wanted to dethrone their mentor. Ed was similar in this regard. People in Shadowlaw fought their way to the top. The four generals in the organization represented the most dangerous fighters in the universe. M. Bison the Boxer, Balrog the Claw Assassin and Sagat the Muay Thai champion were brutal opponents. Their boss Vega / the Dictator was absolutely ruthless. If Ed hoped to remain in their presence then he would have to surpass them. In his ending in Street Fighter V it is suggested that he might organize his own group to take over Shadowlaw. This wasn't the first time that a young character was created with the intent to replace and established fighter. In the early stages of Street Fighter III development the people at Capcom looked at only having Ken and Ryu return. They enjoyed the success of the World Warriors introduced in Street Fighter II. So they wanted to create a new cast with similar archetypes.

 

Two of the characters that were far along in the design process were Cammy and T. Hawk. They were going to be the updated version of Chun-Li and Zangief respectively. Plans for Street Fighter III were scrapped and these new figures were introduced in the upgrade called Super Street Fighter II: The New Challengers. The team at Capcom did a good job of recreating the archetypes without making these new characters look exactly the same as the veterans. Chun-Li was a special agent for Interpol. Her Chinese heritage was reflected in her costume. Cammy was a soldier working for Delta Red, her uniform looked more militaristic. Zangief was a powerful figure with some hard hitting slams. He was a Russian fighting for the pride of his homeland. T. Hawk was a native character, younger and bigger with equally powerful slams and protective of his reservation. By making the new fighters slightly younger it meant that they might be brought back in sequels, along with Ken and Ryu as older, more mature fighters. The thing about this school of design was that it worked almost as well when introducing older characters into the series.

 

When planning out Cammy the studio wanted her team to be as unique. One of the members, Lita Luwanda, was a weapons expert. She also had long blonde hair, a green leotard and the trademark red beret. She could easily be mistaken for Cammy's older sister. The style of this character complimented the other fighters very well. She could have popped up instead of Cammy in a Street Fighter sequel and I think audiences would have enjoyed her and the massive sword she used. A designer could push the age of the character to the far end and still find a fit with the series. Gen and Oro were elderly fighters that worked well in their respective appearances in Street Fighter Zero and Street Fighter III. Gouken, the elder master of Ken and Ryu had been written about for years but had only appeared as recent as Street Fighter IV in 2008.

 

Gouken, Ryu and Sakura had a similar form of fighting but the differences between the three were very profound. If you are designing characters for a story, game or comic look carefully at how Capcom distinguished the trio. Gouken was at the peak of his abilities, every move that he had oozed power. He had techniques that were not yet known to Ryu or Sakura. He could perform the famous fireball attack with one hand, showing how much more advanced he was than the younger stars. Sakura was in the early stages of her abilities. She couldn't yet perform a proper hurricane kick so she would spin on her sneakers across the floor. Her fireball lacked the speed and range of the old master. Ryu was closer in terms of moves and abilities to Gouken than Sakura. Although the three had similar techniques, they all employed different strategies in the game. If you are thinking of designing your own fighters remember that characters can be from the same school but they should not all play the same. Gouken, Ryu and Sakura played as uniquely as they looked.

 

When development got started on an actual Street Fighter III Producer Tomoshi Sadamoto and Designers Yasuhiro Seto, Tomonori Ohmura and Obata Shinichiro were very mindful of the things that went into the creation of the original Street Fighter and Street Fighter II. They decided that only Ken and Ryu should return and there would be a new story and new main villain. The duo were joined by a new library of fighters and styles. Dubbed the "New Generation" these fighters were not necessarily based on previous characters but there were some similarities to them. The new heavyweight, Alex, was a hybrid fighter, with both strikes and grapples in his arsenal, similar to Adon and Birdie. Necro had stretchy limbs and electrical attacks, similar to Blanka and Dhalsim. Hugo was originally planned as the super-heavyweight, the Zangief of the game, but his sprites weren't ready until a few months after the game debuted. The two characters that were most similar were the brothers Yun and Yang. In design and temperament they were like a young Ken and Ryu. They even had a familiar red and white color scheme. If the developers made one mistake it was in having the moves of Yun and Yang be too similar, making them redundant. It took Capcom plenty of sequels to make the library of moves between Ken and Ryu unique. They forgot this while planning out Yun and Yang, and as such they didn’t take off as well as the studio had hoped.

 

Capcom didn't always get the designs perfect the first time they were released but they quickly adapted. Well, at least they used to. For a long while every time they put a karate character in the game they played similarly to Ken and Ryu. Making fighters like Gouki, Sakura, Dan, Sean, Kairi, Allen Snider and Gouken were far more redundant than Yun & Yang. In fact this group of karate fighters were dubbed "Shotoclones" by the fighting game community. Yet the designers went back and challenged themselves to rethink the karate form. They incorporated the elements of an established character and then applied them to a younger fighter. Not only that, they considered changing the sex and ethnicity of the characters as well. They even gave these characters a unique form of karate. The final version of Street Fighter III, called 3rd Strike, Capcom expanded the library again. Of the new characters Makoto was a strong, young female, but she also had a new form of karate. She did not play like Ryu, and did not use the same strategies. Her attacks were amazing and they all worked well in the context of the series.

 

Capcom reminded us that no two styles, even from the same school, had to play the same. Makoto could never be considered another shotoclone. Even the unused design for the King / Black Cobra had a uniqe version of karate/kung-fu. These lessons had worked in previous games. No two giants had to play the same, like Zangief and T. Hawk. No two Muay Thai specialists had to fight the same, like Adon and Sagat. All of the archetypes were flexible. If you were a designer and couldn't think of where to take a character or style then think about how Capcom faced this challenge. If you were having a problem with your current design, think about making your fighter very young or extremely old. How would this affect the way they moved, animated or performed? If the design was found lacking think about changing the color the skin, or think about changing the gender of the character. Take a new approach to the archetype and you might end up with something great. Was there a character that you thought was well done? Could you spot the influences in their design? 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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Monday, August 21, 2017

A look at Ed from Street Fighter V, design meets legacy...

It’s been a while since I’ve talked about a new Street Fighter character, I haven’t been happy with most of them. I’m not going to talk about Kolin, probably ever, sorry about that. Instead I’m going to look at one of the new guys. Ed, revealed at the end of Street Fighter V Season 1 as the understudy of M. Bison / Boxer, was now a playable character. As a whole I think his design and assignment of moves and powers was done very well. There were the things that seemed off, like his animations which seemed to lack polish. Then there was the ability to perform special attacks with simple button combinations instead of traditional joystick+button inputs. Long time fans of Street Fighter thought this was pandering to Nintendo’s Smash Bros. community. But speaking from a visual design standpoint I would say Ed was probably the best new character in the past few years. The reasons for this were subtle but well done.

 

The first thing we should look at was his age. Ed was a young character. Most people in the series were adults. Young characters in a fighting game had mostly been girls, rarely men. In the Season 1 cut scenes he looked like a skinny kid, someone that you might see in real life. The use of a sleeveless hoodie was a good costume choice as it was not too modern. It made sense given that he was learning the art of boxing. Fighters had been wearing training sweatsuits for over half a century. It worked in any era the game was taking place in. This look was also used in pop culture. Rappers like Eminem used street fashion to build an identity. He dressed the part because he was genuine. He was from the streets and not created by a marketing wing of a record label. It was Ed’s updated costumes that worked even better.

 

The black and red motif of Ed’s Battle Costume worked extremely well, especially against the light skin and blonde hair the character. The three colors, red, black and yellow were considered a triad of colors. The main color red, contrasting color black and accent color gold worked well visually. Go back through your fighting game history and look at the other characters that had similar color choices. Ken or course had a red gi for most of the games but in SFV he was paired with a black rash guard as well. The other blonde characters with similar color schemes were Paul Phoenix from Tekken, Jacky Bryant from Virtua Fighter, Rugal from the King of Fighters and Andrei the boxer from King of Combat. Having a strong color pallet was something that had made previous characters so memorable. Of course the use of the colors, jacket and military cap was also a callback to the organization that made Ed unique.

 

Ed had matured some, had gotten bigger and stronger, from the last time he appeared. Season 2 saw the addition of multiple costumes, the Default, Story and Battle uniforms. Each one of the costume choices complimented the character very well. In his Default costume Ed now looked like a full-fledged Shadowlaw officer. In the story he was aging quickly because of the experiments that S.I.N., the Shadowlaw weapons group, had performed on him. When I saw his militaristic costume and fingerless gloves it worked on multiple levels. He was now using the striking techniques taught to him by the former world boxing champ. Yet he was also his own unique fighter. He wouldn’t be riding the coattails of M. Bison for long. When I saw the character going toe-to-toe with his mentor I wasn’t put off. In fact seeing him in action reminded me of another young fighter taking on a veteran.

 

Brad Allan, a martial artist, stuntman and fight choreographer was a villain in the 1999 Jackie Chan film Gorgeous. Allan was a cocky young fighter that gave Jackie a run for his money. In the movie Allan didn’t want the fight to be over too quickly so he allowed Chan to wear light sparring gloves while he wore heavily padded boxing gloves. At that time Chan was a well-established movie star. Fans had seen him beat up all sorts of different martial artists over the years. Most of the people he fought were about the same age and the same size, yet every now and then he took on much larger opponents. Chan had lightning fast punches and was a master at improvisation, he could adapt to his opponents and overcome them quickly. People expected more of the same in this film. Imagine their surprise when they saw the kid trading punches and kicks as fast if not faster than Chan. For the first time in a long time it appeared as if the veteran had been outclassed. The stakes had suddenly become much higher because of this villain. When I saw Ed’s assortment of boxing moves I got flashbacks to how Allan was portrayed in the film. It got me excited for his potential in the Street Fighter series.

 

It wasn’t enough that Ed was a striker. His costume revealed a lot more about his true purpose and the extend of his powers. He was being groomed by the Dictator himself to become an important member of Shadowlaw. Would he perhaps become a general in the organization? Would he replace Sagat, F.A.N.G. or even the Boxer on the roster? Or would he assume total leadership of the organization some day? In order to accomplish this goal it meant that Ed would be given powers that went above those of normal people. This was where the fictional “Psycho Power” was reintroduced into the series. It had first appeared in Street Fighter II and was used to explain the awesome powers of Vega / the Dictator. The origins of Psycho Power were touched upon in the Street Fighter Zero series in 1995. The character Rose was a fortune teller whose powers were harnessed by Vega. This form of psychic energy allowed people to float, throw balls of energy and strike with burning force.

 

Psycho Power faded into history as Street Fighter III changed the main villain in 1997. Gill represented a secretive group known as the Illuminati. He had some sort of elemental powers, fire and ice specifically, at his disposal. This was never full explained in the series making him more fantastic in origin. In 2008 Street Fighter IV returned back to the SF II timeline. The head of S.I.N. was developing a new form of energy that could be weaponized. The character Seth had a Tanden Engine, installed into his abdomen, which allowed him to generate fields of energy and attract or repel opponents. A miniature version of the Tanden Engine was placed behind Juri’s eyepatch, which gave her superhuman strength. The Tanden Engine was combining the spiritual studies of Yin and Yang with science. It was the spiritual energy that allowed Ken and Ryu to throw fireballs but for the first time had been recreated mechanically. This technology took a back seat when Ed showed up and brought Psycho Power back to the forefront.

 

Psycho Power was a great explanation for why Ed was more than just another martial arts master in a tournament. It allowed the artists at Capcom to pull design elements that went into both the Boxer and Dictator and create something new. For the artists and budding designers reading this it was an important lesson in creativity. Take a look at your favorite character and try to pinpoint the best features. Look at the colors used, look at the cut of the costume. Look at the moves they had. Then take a look at a another one of your favorite characters and do the same thing. Now imagine how you could combine their features. For bonus points try making a good guy or bad guy version of the character. Or try changing the sex of the character or ethnicity. But Ed was more than just a distilled mix of the Dictator and Boxer. He had a unique special attack all his own.
 

Ed could use his Psycho Power to create a web of energy and pull his opponents to him, it was called the Psycho Snatcher. It looked like the sort of move Spider-Man might use. This attack opened up the potential from a game play standpoint. The web of energy could cut off projectile attacks mid-air. It could also snatch opponents right out of the air. At a close range it could stun opponents and ensnare them even if they were blocking. From a design standpoint this also meant that Psycho Power was malleable. It didn’t have to be used as concentrated bursts of energy, and it didn’t have to be used to engulf the player in a psychic flame. Psycho Power could be used like a whip or net as well. Its other uses were limited only by the imagination of the designer. This special attack actually had its roots in the manga series Super Street Fighter II X Gaiden by Mami Itoh.

 

In the manga Chun-Li, acting as an INTERPOL agent was investigating a dangerous new drug that had hit the streets. It lead her to Los Angeles and eventually San Francisco where she ran into Ken’s wife Eliza. A handsome young investigator was assigned to the case as well. The two were tracking down the drug trafficker and assassin known by the alias the Spider. Chun-Li’s partner turned out to be the Spider and he was working on behalf of Shadowlaw. He tried to kill Chun-Li before she bring down the operation. The Spider had developed a deadly neurotoxin which he coated spikes with. He would use these poison barbs to kill his enemies. The trap that he set, the web symbolism used in the comics especially, made him a unique opponent. If he could have been presented in a fighting game with monofilament wires (like the kind Rolento uses) and his poison spikes then he could have made for a very unique Street Fighter villain. Seeing the Psycho Snatcher reminded me of the the Spider. I wondered if this double agent was not an inspiration for Ed. Even if he wasn't I think Ed’s design was well done. It worked in the lineup better than most of the new heroes and villains introduced up until now. What did you think about this character? Were you a fan or not? Why was that? 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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Thursday, August 17, 2017

Speculation on ARIKA's unnamed Street Fighter EX successor, final part

I have said a lot about the poor design choices made at Capcom over the past few years. I haven’t found much greatness in characters like Rufus, Hakan or F.A.N.G. introduced in Street Fighter IV and V. Nor have I enjoyed watching classic characters like Birdie, Hugo and Abigail get turned into jokes. Of course I had a dilemma. Capcom Producer Yoshinori Ono was beloved in the community. He traveled the globe promoting the brand, promoting the games and meeting with fans. His energy was infectious, his enthusiasm was genuine and his passion just about single-handedly brought back the franchise. Without him the Street Fighter series would have stayed dead and fighting game scene would not have been as big as it was today. Without him other developers would not have pushed to bring back long-extinct titles like Killer Instinct, or even ARIKA’s updated EX title. With all that said I’m not on board with his creative input. I don’t agree with the addition of silly characters, silly mechanics, silly animations or silly game play. I will continue to call his team out on the poor choices that I think they made with regards to character design. I will remind them of the standards that they used to have. Let’s talk about one of the worst characters Capcom ever put into the series.

 

Rufus captured everything that was wrong with the direction of the Street Fighter cast starting with Street Fighter IV. He was big, fat, dumb and obnoxious. He was written as Ken’s great American rival, the only thing was he was too stupid to even know what Ken looked like. How can you be a rival when you can’t recognize your nemesis? What’s worse is that in the early stages Rufus was a powerful black character, nicknamed the King Cobra / Black Cobra. Capcom wanted to give Ken his very own Sagat-type rival, a literal giant. The inspiration was Kareem Abdul-Jabbar from Bruce Lee’s last film Game of Death. This character evolved and became a unique karateka in his own right. Then Yoshinori Ono decided that it would be funny if he put a fatty in the game instead. This new character was rushed into the game and both Ono and the artist Ikeno said it was a bad choice later on. Ono saw that the fat gimmick worked for Bob in the Tekken series. Bob was a much better developed character and was never presented as an idiot. The subtext was obvious to international audiences, fat was funny, and Americans were fat and dumb. There was a different path that could have been used to create the self-obsessed American. ARIKA showed us that more than 20 years ago.

 

I said in the previous blog that Allen Snider was a second chance for the Street Fighter II and Street Fighter EX developers to create the Ken archetype. They wanted this character to be way more “American” than Ken. Somebody that would be easy to identify in a lineup. He didn’t need to wear camouflage pants or have USA flag tattoos on his shoulders. They gave him a very non-traditional karate gi and made him brash. As over the top as Allen was he was still a good fighter. He couldn’t be confused with Dan Hibiki as being a joke character. Allen was also as far removed from the personality of Kairi as possible. I think they accomplished their goal. Snider was loud in the EX and Fighting Layer titles. He captured the arrogant showmanship of television superstars. His victory poses reminded me of the characters from US pro wrestling. Clearly the team at ARIKA had picked up the personality traits of the most famous superstars of the late ‘80s and early ‘90s. When he was revealed for the new EX game he looked better than ever.

 

There was no mistaking that Snider had returned in all his patriotic glory. His star-spangled uniform was amazing. It was layered in details that helped tell a story. Even if you had never heard of the character you could tell a lot just by looking at him. He was definitely American and he was definitely not Ken. The updated look also harkened back to the era that inspired the original Street Fighter. Ken was based on actual fighters like Bill Wallace and Joe Lewis. While his hair and facial features were inspired by Chuck Norris and Bruce Lee, the whole persona of Snider being the great American hero were based on multiple real-world sources. Kung-fu and karate enjoyed a popularity boom in the ’60s and ‘70s thanks to cinema. American fighters appeared almost overnight on television competing against Japanese champions. Imagine how absurd it looked to the rest of the world. Karate had evolved in Japan from Chinese immigrants that had introduced them to kung-fu. The Asian countries had centuries perfecting the “empty hand” techniques. It was a part of their culture. It was a part of their national identity. It was sacred and revered. All of a sudden a bunch of Americans showed up in colorful uniforms treating the martial art like a team sport.

 

Karate tournaments popped up all over the country and trophies were handed out at a feverish pace. People wondered if it was easy to earn a black belt and pick up a bunch of medals in the process. After all, if the guys on TV could do it then anybody could, right? Even the famous singer Elvis Presley was smitten with the fighting arts. He studied under a number of different teachers, having various belts bestowed upon him. Traditionalists didn’t appreciate karate being treated like an organized sport. It had cultural relevance, it was more like a lifestyle, with the discipline of a serious religion rolled into one. It was certainly not a points-based game that anyone could “play.” Thanks to people like Wallace, Norris and Lewis, who were legit athletes, and the coverage provided by ABC’s Wide World of Sports it gained momentum through the ‘70s and ‘80s. For better or worse they laid the foundation for mixed martial arts schools gaining a foothold in the states. The team at ARIKA didn’t forget the culture shock of seeing how the US represented the martial arts in those early days. It made the costume choice placed on Snider that much sweeter.

 

In the EX series Snider’s first professional defeat was at the hands of Ken Masters. Akira Nishitani didn’t want to disrespect the template he was working from after all. Snider decided to become the understudy of masters and unlock his true potential. This was before Sean was created as his pupil in Street Fighter III. When I looked at Rufus I didn’t see half the forethought that went into making Snider. I didn’t see the nods to history, to the legacy characters or the real world legends that inspired them. I could see it in Black Cobra for certain but not in Rufus. I wondered if Yoshinori Ono and his team could really be so blind to their design choices when other studios didn’t seem to fall into the same traps. There were many days when I wished that Akira Nishitani and his team were still at Capcom, but sadly that ship sailed 21 years ago. Now that Snider was back I hoped that his library of moves had been expanded. Every character revealed so far seems to have matured, I expected no less for the champ. What do you think of the character? Do you think I was too hard on Rufus or Mr. Ono? I’d like to read about your favorite characters it 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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Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Speculation on ARIKA's unnamed Street Fighter EX successor, part 3...

Allen Snider was recently announced for the new ARIKA fighting game, let’s call it Fighting Layer EX or FLEX for short. Allen Snider, along with Kairi, were created as sort of rivals / parallels to Ken and Ryu in the Street Fighter EX series. In fact just about every character in the game was a sort of parallel to the Street Fighter II World Warriors. Blair Dame was a balance to Chun-Li, Darun Mister was the perfect rival for Zangief and Doctrine Dark was a military assassin to counter Guile. Skullomania was the oddball character, a sort of Dhalsim or Blanka in the lineup. Akira Nishitani was one of the designers on Final Fight and Street Fighter II. When he left Capcom to start his own company, ARIKA, he didn’t forget the many lessons he had learned from his teammates.

 

One of the things that ARIKA did was dissect the elements that made the Street Fighter II characters iconic. They looked at the color pallet, costumes, martial arts represented, origin stories and nationalities. They they tried to recreated these things. If a character set a standard, like Ken and Ryu did for karate-type fighters, then they wanted to figure out how to top those designs. It was very important that they show audiences that Kairi and Allen were not simply the same character with a different head. The colors, costumes, stance and fighting styles of Kairi and Allen were very unique. The difference between the two was much greater than the difference between Ken and Ryu. At the same time ARIKA wanted it to be understood that Kairi was the star of the game, the Ryu, and Allen was a sort of Ken in the universe, without necessarily being a friend of Kairi’s.

 

ARIKA didn’t settle for simple hue shifts or alternate colors for their characters. They actually created unique costumes as the alternates. Each costume told a story. Kairi’s showed the evolution of his character from fighter to boss-tier master. Allen went from one flamboyant gi to another more outlandish one. Supporting characters like Darun wore different wrestling championship belts depending on his costume selection. C. Jack went from one stylish outfit, including gambler-style hat, vest and tie, to an even more stylish one. This design rule followed every character in the series. But having a unique set of costumes, which were all character appropriate, were only part of the design elements behind the EX series.

 

Allen Snider was a second attempt at creating the Ken character. Takashi Nishiyama was the director and Hiroshi Matsumoto was the designer on the original Street Fighter. The reason they created Ken was to have someone for the USA players to identify with and thus play. Their design choice was far from unique. The white gi versus red gi character had been seen a few years earlier in Technos’ Karate Champ. There was little then that made Ken and Ryu unique. They shared the same moves and aside from Ryu having a different head and pair of traditional Chinese slippers, they were identical. When Nishitani took over the reigns in Street Fighter II (SFII) he and the team wanted to make Ken and Ryu a little more unique. Bengus, AKIMAN, SHOEI and Sensei, a literal who’s-who of fighting game designers introduced small details into the characters. If you look carefully at the official Street Fighter II art Ryu wore a gi that was ragged and frayed whereas Ken wore one whose cuffs were hemmed. That detail was very easy to overlook, especially since the sprites remained identical in the game. So when the opportunity arose to make a new American karate champ they went all out with the designs.

 

The artists looked at the heroes they had in comics, in animé, in martial arts cinema and then made an amalgamation out of these figures. Allen Snider in a nutshell had the hair and sideburns or Chuck Norris, but with the desire to be a breakout star like Bruce Lee. Snider was not simply a cut-and-paste of the two. He was especially not just a carbon copy of Bruce Lee. Many studios tried to put a Bruce Lee clone into their games, including ADK, Capcom, Namco and a few indy developers. But each attempt was just a caricature of the man. He seemed out of place when put in a lineup of figures that were more unique. That were more memorable.

 

So what artists did was focus on the elements that made Lee and Norris unique. They tried to find some symmetry there. Allen was meant to bring back memories of the previous generation of karate stars. Not necessarily the underground legends but instead those that fought in televised contests. The developers had seen how well incorporating elements from real people had worked for Ryu. I’ve talked about it again and again but I always go back the gold standard in character designs. Ryu was inspired by the true-life adventures of Mas Oyama and Yoshiji Soeno. The thing was the character did not look anything like the real men. Yet watching him dominate the competition with his superior techniques would rekindle memories of Oyama, a man nicknamed the God Hand. Snider was the high kicking star from the USA. Someone that was ready for his movie debut. He was not supposed to have the gravitas of Kairi, his drama was more manufactured. He was a reflection of the modern martial arts star. Someone who was more comfortable on the big screen than in the back-alley fights.

 

ARIKA did an excellent job at making the difference between Kairi and Allen more profound than that of Ken and Ryu. Kairi was covered in scars, had long hair and was missing an eye. Snider had the good looks and shaggy long hair of a ‘70s star. Kairi was a tortured soul that pained with every victory while Allen celebrated with gusto. They didn’t want to let tiny details tell the story, there were no hemmed cuffs separating the models. Reusing sprites was a thing of the past. There were fresh uniforms, bright colors and original 3D models to look at. They hammered away at this difference all throughout the series. The way each controlled had to be as unique as how they looked. Kairi was the more experienced fighter, he had a broader library of attacks and could be played more aggressively. Snider was new to the unsanctioned tournament scene. He was designed to be used more tactically. Even the game endings were very different. Kairi was the outcast, haunted by his past he was meant to fight his battles alone. Allen was the budding movie star and got his big break at the end of the first EX Tournament. ARIKA gave audiences another nod to his forefather. If Bruce Lee fought one giant on film then Allen had to fight two.

 

When Allen Snider was announced for the new ARIKA game I was excited. The changes made to the character perfectly reflected his origin. We’ll look at these things on 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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Sunday, August 13, 2017

Speculation on ARIKA's unnamed Street Fighter EX successor, part 2...

The Street Fighter EX series had always had a more spiritual tone compared to the other Street Fighter titles. In fact the same thing could be said about ARIKA's other game Fighting Layer. Many of the characters, good and bad, were inspired by regional mythology. The religious or spiritual practices of different Japanese cultures had an influence on the design behind Kairi, Garuda, Vold Ignitio and several other characters in both games. Kairi was a melancholy character who was tortured by his powers. Unlike Ken and Ryu who were able to harness their chi in energy wave attacks, or fireballs, every time Kairi used his energy attacks it took a toll on his spirit. His style of fighting may have been similar to Ken and Ryu’s but the origins were even older. His body was covered in scars and he was missing an eye. There was something terrible in his past that seemed to haunt him. He was suffering from amnesia and had no idea who he was or where he came from. During the events of the Street Fighter EX series was on a path looking to fight the greatest warriors or die in the process. Kairi's sister Hokuto, was tasked with bringing him back to the Mizugami clan, or killing him if she couldn't.

 

Hokuto looked like a kyudoka, a practitioner of traditional archery. She dressed very conservatively, wearing a costume that would have fit right into feudal Japan. It made sense given that she was responsible for the fate of her brother. Despite her uniform and archery glove she did not actually carry a bow and arrows. Instead she shot bolts of spiritual energy from her hands. Hokuto was also well versed in tessenjutsu, the fighting art of the war fan. People often mistook Hokuto as an akido practitioner considering how many of her moves were counters to traditional attacks. Hokuto had the ability to perform energy wave attacks but they did not harm her as they did her brother. Whether it was because of her training or something else was not explained at first. She was actually harboring a few secrets of her own, these were revealed over the course of the series.

 

Hokuto came from the same cursed blood as Kairi. She actually had a seal placed on her that prevented her from succumbing to the same killer instincts of her brother. There was a variation of the character that could be unlocked in Street Fighter EX Plus Alpha. This evil version was known as Bloody Hokuto. Her uniform was a stark black in this form. She even had a slightly darker skin tone. Darker colored characters usually denoted a hint of evil. This was a tradition observed in many different cultures and story telling techniques. It was one of the reasons why Gouki had skin that appeared dark red like clay. But I digress. A mark of evil was visible on her forehead. Her attacks were more aggressive and she even had the ability to perform the Renbu, or “death touch” attack. Bloody Hokuto even had her own unique stage and ending in the game.

 

If Bloody Hokuto defeated all of the opponents in the EX tournament she was seen standing on top of a temple. The blood moon was in the background. All of the other rivals were dead on the floor. The whole nocturnal scene, twisted background and use of moon and darkness was the same symbolism featured with Kyo and Iori from the King of Fighters series. There was a reason for this. The mythology behind the orochi, an ancient demon that was bound to the moon was also loosely tied into the EX mythos. The Hayate clan had locked away the demon and was responsible for keeping it locked away. A character named Hayate appeared only once in the series, in Street Fighter EX2. He dressed like a samurai and was a sort of fighting priest. His special attacks allowed him to materialize swords out of thin air before dissipating as energy from his hands. It was a refined version of the same attacks Garuda used. Except that Garuda made spikes appear from his flesh, all over his body and even head. It turned out that the demon Garuda had escaped and was following Kairi. Whether Hayate was scheduled to be in the new game was unknown as of this writing.

 

Garuda was a mighty warrior that became possessed. He actually fed off the spirits of people that were defeated in battle. Since Kairi was destroying people left and right all Garuda had to do was follow behind and steal their essence, growing stronger along the way. I had talked about spirits possessing human bodies previously on this blog. In the Street Fighter EX series Kairi was on the path of being consumed by the energy within. A possessed person was known as a yorimashi. Gouki / Akuma for example could be considered a yorimashi. He was consumed by the evil energy or Dark Hadou. He kept this energy under his control as symbolized by the prayer beads he wore around his neck. Garuda was another such yorimashi, the person that he possessed probably died a long time ago. There was probably a reckoning between Kairi and Garuda planned for the climax of this game. How Hokuto would figure into the story was an important piece of the story.

 

After 21 years since the debut of the EX series ARIKA had a confession to make. Hokuto was not the character’s real name. In fact she was an assassin that had been programmed to kill Kairi. Her real name was Shirase. About the only thing in her history that was true was that they were related. However Hokuto was only the half-sister of Kairi. Whether she was under the employment of the Mizugami, Hayate or other family had yet to be revealed. Then there was the question of the youngest member of the family, the little sister known as Nanase. Well she was in fact Kairi’s actual sister and Shirase’s half-sister. When her programming was revealed Shirase did something drastic, she wiped Nanase’s memory of her. How much remains of the family, and relationships between the three will hopefully be revealed in the game. There was no word on whether Nanase would return to the series. It would be interesting to see how the story progresses because of these developments.

 

ARIKA was no stranger to supernatural character designs. When the studio created Fighting Layer they had heroes and villains with supernatural powers or supernatural origins. It was unknown (as of this writing) whether Shirase would have the full library of moves of Hokuto and Bloody Hokuto, or if there was a version of Bloody Shirase yet to be revealed. The characters in this game also had something called Gouji that they could tap into. The name of this game mechanic was based on a fruit called gouji, aka wolf berries in the west. These berries were said to be highly medicinal in value, they inspired the Senzu Beans in the Dragon Ball series. In the ARIKA game players wouldn’t take berries in the middle of a match but instead choose from a stack of five different gouji, little symbols that appeared next to the energy bar. They granted attributes that they could activate in battle. It could make attacks stronger, help buff defenses or maintain a high special meter. When this mechanic was unveiled at the EVO tournament many likened it to the Infinity Gems that players could use in Marvel vs Capcom: Infinite. It created an entirely new way to play and no two matches could even be similar with the number of different combinations players could use.

 

Gouji was the reason that Darun Mister survived his encounter with Garuda. He must have been superhumanly tough to have lived through the ordeal. Then after he recovered he wanted a rematch. The studio had roughly another seven months of development and there was plenty of time to balance the Gouji mechanic as well as expand the library of characters. One of the recently announced returning characters was another fan-favorite. He inspired me to talk a little bit more about what made the EX characters so memorable. We’ll take a look at this character 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, August 10, 2017

Speculation on ARIKA's unnamed Street Fighter EX successor, part 1...

Like I said in the previous series, it's a great time to be a fan of fighting games. There are many good titles out right now and many more scheduled for the future. One of which I have a very close watch on is the Untitled fighting game by ARIKA. I've called it Fighting EX Layer in the past and other people are calling it Fighting Layer EX (FLEX for short). It features the new characters from the Street Fighter EX series, and not the ones created by Capcom. ARIKA had been teasing the next Street Fighter EX game for years. They would do this on April Fool's day almost like clockwork. They would get the hopes up of fighting game fans with a screenshot, trailer or even actual gameplay footage. Then a few days later they would pretend like nothing happened. Offering no release dates or other information on the game. This year was no exception. They released a short trailer on April Fool's day and even did a live demo of the game-in-progress. Previous demos were on Nintendo 3DS hardware, this time the demo was on a development kit for the Playstation 4.

 

ARIKA's last original arcade fighter was Fighting Layer in 1998 and their last console fighting game was Street Fighter EX 3 in 2000. They did have a hand in developing other fighting games for consoles and handhelds but none featuring their own IP. Something was different about the most recent April Fool's. The demo was so well done that many speculated that the studio was actually working on a new fighting game. This was proven to be true a few months later when they released a longer trailer during the EVO tournament. This trailer included more returning Street Fighter EX characters and even a hint to the story mode. At the end we learned many things.

 

The game was a Playstation 4 exclusive. There will be a beta / online test by the end of 2017. The studio hoped to have a full release by April Fools Day 2018. The game did not have an official title yet but I certainly hope they considered FLEX. The extended trailer gave audiences the first glimpse of a couple of classic characters. The first one revealed was a personal favorite and one that had a cult-like following in the fighting game community. Skullomania was definitely a character out of left field. The salary-man-turned-circus acrobat-turned-superhero had a unique design. He looked and moved unlike any other character before or since. His assortment of diving and tumbling moves was fresh. The character was so far beyond the definition of a martial arts master that he was very much like what Blanka or Dhalsim were to the Street Fighter II lineup.

 

The other big reveal was Darun Mister. The wrestler in the series was on par with Zangief and I believe he had a better overall design than the Russian. In the EX series Darun was the bodyguard of the globe-trotting Pullum Purna. The Indian Darun and Saudi Pullum were a colorful addition to the lineup. In this latest update Darun had left his job as a bodyguard after the god of Indian wrestling spoke to him in a dream. He flew to Japan to fight the strongest opponent he could. Garuda the demon beat him severely and left him for dead. Darun recovered and now wants revenge. The redesigned Darun, along with the updated designs for the rest of the cast look amazing.

 

More characters were expected to be revealed throughout the summer. The developments in the story were tremendous. There was much more drama this time around and for a few characters there was a lot more at stake. We'll explore 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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