SNK was a Japanese studio that had a legacy of fighting games that was as deep as their rival Capcom. In fact many of the developers that worked on the original Street Fighter and Street Fighter II left to join SNK and start up the Fatal Fury, Art of Fighting, King of Fighters and Samurai Showdown franchises. The company was looking to recover from the boom and bust of the arcade scene in the '90s. They knew that in order to survive they had to expand into growing markets and none looked more promising than China. The studio had actually licensed out their KOF franchise for two different MMO titles. There was the King of Fighters Online by Triple Games. The game was based in a free-roaming 3D world and allowed players to switch between many familiar KOF stars while battling entirely new opponents. I talked about the game a few years back. Sadly it was cancelled while still in the Beta stages. The same thing happened to the Shanda Games developed King of the Fighters World MMO.
The KOF World was actually very far along when it was cancelled. It promised to introduce a number of new elements to the familiar KOF franchise. First of all players would assume the role of a new male or female character.
These two avatars could assume the powers and even costumes of the KOF icons. Players earned stronger attacks and were able to assign them from a library of moves pulled from the KOF universe such as Terry Bogard's iconic Burning Knuckle.
There was even a story that explained who these characters were any why they could mix-and-match the moves from different fighters. According to the company page - "After the destruction of the NESTS syndicate (around the time of KOX XII), future King of Fighters tournaments are banned by governments across the world. Several years later a virtual combat simulator, THE KING OF FIGTHERS - CARD BATTLE (KOF-CB), was created to allow the public to participate in the the tournament without consequences of suffering any physical injuries. The simulator became an internationally popular sport but several users have gone mysteriously missing and reports of violent unrest relating to KOF-CB have started to arise. The players are KOF-CB enthusiasts who help Iori, Kyo and other KOF heroes to uncover the conspiracy surrounding the tournament."
Players travelled the globe in search for answers to the missing fighters and violent demonstrations. The gameplay was actually based on traditional 2D brawler mechanics like Final Fight. The characters still had all of the attacks that were featured in 2D fighting games making it a very rare experience. The game was set to be episodic and introduce different factions and icons from the KOF universe. With each new character there was an additional piece of the story that could be explored by gamers.
Of course to truly enjoy the experience a gamer would have to go online and play with a friend. The game engine seemed capable of creating random opponents from a set framework of basic colors and costumes. It was a first for the genre and one that the Chinese developers at Shanda could take pride in developing.
The developers were also touting some entirely new technology that would be featured in KOF World. Previous sprite-based brawlers had fixed details and shadows onto characters. This new game engine was capable of rendering light reflections and shadows on the sprites. It would have been a brilliant effect that not even SNK could have claimed to pioneer.
Sadly the game was also cancelled while in the beta stages. The only reminders of the game were a few screenshots, concept sketches and level layouts. The majority of which I have reposted on this blog. The Chinese game industry was on the ground floor of some exciting new advances in the fighting genre. Both King of Fighters Online and King of Fighters World promised to deliver entirely new experiences for fans of the franchise. Sadly neither title saw the light of day.
The lessons learned while developing the games were not lost. Some of the team members at Triple Games and Shanda left the studios to join rival publisher Tencent. The ability to follow a game from the concept stages all the way through publication was all that these developers were looking for. Of course a lucrative contract was also hard to ignore.
Everything that the teams had learned from KOF World and KOF Online would be put to the test. They had to develop a fighting game from scratch and make it as good as any ever released. Many speculated that Xuan Dou Zhi Wang / King of Combat looked and played too much like an SNK produced KOF game for it to simply be a coincidence.
Was it possible that the developers at Shanda and Triple Games had poached assets from SNK after the games were cancelled? Did they take those assets to the notorious "king of copying" and use it as the foundation for King of Combat? I wouldn't be surprised if that was the case. What happened next would completely change the status of the Chinese development community. Find out about this turn of events in the next blog.