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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Thursday, August 3, 2017

A look at the big man, where did the Capcom giants come from? Final Part

Hugo was a true giant, and a template for many of the great design elements that used to be a part of  the Street Fighter series. He was the second largest ever Street Fighter. At 7' 10" he was just a hair shorter than Abigail. The developers used a number of tricks to make him appear larger-than-life but still relatable. Even when they weren't playable characters in a game the giants were hard to ignore. Andore along with a few Mad Gear members appeared in the ending for Sodom in Street Fighter Zero. Both Andore and Abigail appeared in the Metro City background in Street Fighter Zero 2. To make them appear more imposing they were set apart from each other and framed by their surroundings. Andore stood by himself on top of a stack of I-beams, adding a few extra feet to his presence. Abigail was headbanging at the end of a dark alley, his fellow gang members squatting down next to him so he appeared taller. Even though they were in the distance they remained menacing.

   

These stages also served to tell a story. The events of Final Fight happened during the timeline in between Street Fighter Zero (SFZ) 2 and 3. Jessica had not been kidnapped during SFZ1 and 2. Cody was in jail for throwing Belger out of his skyscraper during SFZ3. Fans of the Final Fight games remember the bad blood that the Mad Gear gang had with Cody, Haggar and Guy. The subtext of having everyone on the level gave audiences a strong sense of nostalgia. At the same time Andore was getting tired of being a mid-level Mad Gear member. He wanted to be recognized. Poison Kiss, a fellow Mad Gear member, decided he should be a pro wrestler and became his manager. The stage backgrounds evolved from Andore sulking in the background to eventually show Hugo as a star on a billboard. The groundwork was set for his debut as a full blown pro wrestler in Street Fighter III. A US development team even took a crack at making a Final Fight fighting game with a similar narrative. Final Fight Revenge was released in 1999.

   

Kinu Nishimura and Daigo Ikeno worked on a number of the Street Fighter III designs. They wanted Hugo to be the new powerhouse, the new Zangief, since only Ken and Ryu were originally meant to return from Street Fighter II. This giant was supposed to use a different play mechanic than Zangief. He was going to play different, move different and thanks to Kinu and Ikeno he was going to look different as well. The basic appearance of Hugo would be the same as it was in the original Final Fight. His look had actually changed a little over the sequels. In Final Fight 2 he sported overalls and in Final Fight 3 he had a white tank-top and dread-locked hair. The pink leopard print tank top and pants returned from the first Final Fight. The large mane of hair, a nod to the early hairstyle of Andre the Giant, had also returned. His inclusion was supposed to rekindle a sense of nostalgia for the legacy characters. Most people didn't notice the number of changes the studio actually made to his design.

   

The new details that Capcom placed on the character were actually enhancing a few elements of his original look. Most Street Fighter characters wore gloves or taped up hands. Hugo was given a studded wrist guard to make his arms look less bare. The chain on his belt became much thicker and more industrial. It now looked more like a heavy duty towing chain, or anchor chain. The most overlooked details were his pants and boots. Hugo was not only tall but he was very heavy. His pants and shoes were actually two large pairs that were sewn together so they could fit him. The cuffs on his pants had belt loops and a belt to highlight that his ankles were as thick as most people's waists. His boots were split down the middle because they were a left and right pair combined to fit each foot. As with all of the great character designs, Hugo's costume told a story.

   

Although Hugo was supposed to be in the original Street Fighter III: New Generation (1997) his sprite wasn't ready until Street Fighter III: Giant Attack later that year. After the events of Street Fighter Zero/Alpha he had accomplished his goals of being a top draw on the wrestling circuit and leaving behind the Mad Gear persona. He achieved a number of championships as a pro wrestler during the events of Street Fighter III: Third Strike in 1999 and Final Fight Revenge. The character had greatly evolved since his debut in 1989 but when a new development team took over at Capcom things changed. When Hugo reappeared in Street Fighter X Tekken (2012) and Ultra Street Fighter IV (2014) he had mentally regressed. The new developers made a conscious decision to dumb him down considerably. Poison had done most of the talking for Hugo but at the same time he could still form his own ideas and opinions in the series. Almost overnight he was turned into a bumbling idiot, like Abigail, and that was a shame. Being a dumb brute was never part of their original designs.

   

The people working on Street Fighter IV and V did not always preserve the character's original designs while updating their look. In some cases they haphazardly slapped together elements that had nothing to do with the fighter. Just look at the changes they made to the character Birdie. Compare the newer costume details placed on Hugo with those placed on Abigail. To let audiences know he was a punk rather than a wrestler they gave him a spiked collar (he originally had a chain around his neck). To show off his size they put truck tires around his biceps. Then hung car tires from his belt and gave him rings made out of small tires. They even printed tire marks on his pants, as if someone tried to run him over. Stealing a page out of Hugo's design they put a belt around his ankles. None of these things were part of Abigail's original design, none of these things were functional in battle and none of these things had the same subtlety of the other Street Fighter costume designs. Remember that Abigail wasn't always a moron. He was a fighter, and he had a temper, but he wasn't an idiot. He was very high up in the chain of command, only Rolento outranked him in Metro City's Mad Gear organization. But you know... tires!

   

Another major difference between Hugo and Abigail in Street Fighter was seen with their inclusion. Abigail was a huge 3D model that was put in Street Fighter V as a spectacle. He took up so much space on the screen he was hard to ignore. His mass offset the scale of the rest of the cast, including Zangief. But Hugo was presented with more forethought in Street Fighter III, he didn't detract from the rest of the lineup. In Final Fight he battled while standing perfectly straight. This made him appear much larger than his opponents, which he clearly was, but it wasn't practical in a fight. He didn't have the flexibility or range of motion of his opponents. Guy was way more agile and even Mike Haggar could run circles around him. In SF III he was only shown a few times standing straight up, these were in some introduction poses and in the ending screen.

   

When the match started in Street Fighter III he actually squatted down and got into a sort of grappling pose. He lacked the techniques of veteran wrestlers but it showed that he had gotten much better at fighting since his Final Fight days. Hugo was still a little bit clumsy in Street Fighter III. Audiences could tell this in his animations. He shifted his weight awkwardly as he advanced. His steps were heavy and flat-footed. He didn’t move on the balls of his feet like a pro fighter would. He relied on power rather than technique. If he had the experience of somebody like Zangief or Darun Mister then he would have dominated the Street Fighter tournament. But since he didn’t there were ways for smaller and faster opponents to get the best of him. When he wasn’t fighting the developers liked to remind audiences of how awe-inspiring the giant was.

   

When Hugo stood straight up the top of his head almost touched the top of the screen, none of the other characters were even remotely this tall. Audiences could tell the character was big but they didn’t realize how big until they saw his game ending. In SFIII Giant Attack he had four alternate endings. In each one he was partnered up with a different opponent; Ryu, Elena, Necro and even the boss character Gill. Each tag team even had a unique nickname. For example Hugo and Elena made up Beauty and the Beast, whereas Hugo and Ryu made up the Soul Brothers. When the characters stood side-by-side it appeared as if Hugo were twice as tall and four times as heavy as his partners. His back was as broad as a double door and quite muscular. The stylized art helped sell the incredible scale of the figures while still keeping them consistent with the universe. This was the benefit of two-dimensional art. The designers could play with the proportions of the characters without losing the sense of realism. It was a trick that they picked up from manga and animé.

   

Tetsuo Hara introduced a number of unique manga rules in the Hokuto No Ken / Fist of the North Star series. Something he showed artists was that the scale of a character did not have to be consistent as long as it served the story. In the post-apocalyptic series Kenshiro often ran into roving gangs filled with giants. The scale of these villains was flexible. In some panels the bad guys looked like they were 10-feet tall, then a page later they appeared as if they were 30-feet tall. Mr. Hara would jump back and fourth between the different sizes depending on what he was trying to convey. In many instances he would highlight just one physical feature. There would be a close-up of a giant head behind Kenshiro so that it looked like he could bite the hero in half. Then in another panel it might be the hands of the giant engulfing the main character.

   

Often times when Kenshiro beat the giant the scene would be drawn from a distance showing that the bad guy wasn’t really the size of King Kong. These visual tricks made the odds seem greater for the hero of the story. Masahiko Nakahira wrote and drew a number of Capcom’s greatest Street Fighter stories in Japan. He was clearly aware of how influential Tetsuo Hara was to the development of Street Fighter II and III. In the Ryu Final manga he used many of the same techniques when featuring Hugo. In some panels he appeared to be several stories tall, capable of stepping over buildings. Then in other panels he seemed closer to his in-game size. Mr. Nakahira wanted to show how easily a giant could manhandle Ryu by messing around with the scale of the character. The thing that saved Ryu was his superior techniques. His relentless training could overpower any opponent, especially since Hugo lacked discipline.

   

The Street Fighter games could never take the same artistic liberties that Mr. Hara and Mr. Nakahira used. Audiences would be furious if characters changed size in between rounds. The distorted scale of hands and feet during special attacks made Street Fighter EX and Final Fight Revenge seem awkward. But that did not stop the designers at Capcom from pushing the envelope with massive characters. The company created a library of giants through the ‘90s. The studio learned that they could create bosses with different body shapes. Yes the majority were hyper-muscular but take a closer look at them. Some had a broad torso, they were as wide as they were tall. Others stood up straight or were hunched over masking their true size. The majority of these people appeared in the Final Fight series. If you look at the size of the heroes and villains you’ll notice that they didn’t always match up. Mike Haggar for example was the tallest and strongest of the good guys in the Final Fight trilogy. He stood 6’ 6” and weighed about 233 lbs. In Final Fight 2 just about every boss was larger than him even though they were listed as being smaller in the official material.

   

Freddie for example possibly had the broadest chest and thickest torso of any Mad Gear boss. This mercenary stood 6’ 4” and weighed 408 lbs. but his sprite was almost a head taller than Mike. Then there was Bratken, the Mad Gear boss that looked like Frankenstein’s monster. He was one of the largest sprites in the game but according to cannon he was 6’ 7” and 434 lbs. One inch of difference between he and Haggar meant a lot to Capcom of Japan. Then there was Won Won. Another of Mad Gear’s tallest bosses was 7’ 4” and an astonishing 450 lbs. Yet he was so muscular he couldn’t stand up straight, similar to Abubo in Rage of the Dragons. So his sprite was actually a little shorter than Bratken. Audiences could tell that the curve in his spine robbed him of his true size. Freddie was a tactical fighter whereas Bratken was a reckless brawler, locked away until he was needed. Won Won ran the streets of Hong Kong and chopped those who opposed Mad Gear in half with his cleaver. None of the bosses were ever presented as being stupid. There was too much at stake for betraying the gang. You couldn’t be stupid and be a boss at the same time.

   

From a design standpoint making someone gigantic worked best when used on the bad guys. From a storytelling perspective it also made sense. Audiences rooted for the underdog. It was hard to make someone like Abigail the main hero in Final Fight because he could steamroll his opponents. This rule worked especially well in the Street Fighter series. Just look at how intimidating Sagat was by design. A seven-foot, dark-skinned, bald, eyepatch-wearing, Muay Thai monster. People couldn’t help but cheer for the tiny Ryu. It took a change in designers to turn things around. Tetsuo Hara worked with Capcom on a couple of projects. He showed the studio that a good guy could also be gigantic. Hara designed the cast for the Muscle Bomber / Saturday Night Slam Masters series. Mr. Hara was a huge wrestling fan, he knew the history of the sport and major players in the USA as well as Japan. He also knew that the Street Fighter characters were more than average fighters, they needed special moves and abilities. So he created a large group inspired by real world wrestlers but each with a unique back story and collection of special attacks. These people would become the backbone of Capcom’s wrestling universe.

 

The tallest wrestler in the series turned out to be a good guy. Titan the Great aka Titanic Tim stood 7’ 9” and weighed 432 lbs. He was the third tallest character in the Street Fighter universe. But of those three he was the one with the most wrestling experience. The real world inspiration for the character were the 6' 6" Rick Bogner aka the Big Titan and 6' 5" Mike Awesome aka the Gladiator. The duo ran roughshod over the wrestlers in Japan during the early '90s. Titan the Great was an amalgamation of these two monsters. He did not have solely power moves in his arsenal but was a well rounded striker and grappler as well. He was agile despite his size. This was necessary when facing opponents that were blindingly quick. Titan was a British native and would sometimes team up with UK underground fighting legend Birdie. The two seven-footers were known as the 500 Million Trillion Powers.

   

Whether good or bad the giants deserved to be in the Street Fighter universe. With that said I was not a fan of the direction of the current Street Fighter series. I have said it before and will continue to say it. The silly mannerisms of certain characters, the constant breaking of the 4th wall during super attacks did not really make sense and detracted from the cast. Think about how absurd each of Hakan’s super attacks appeared on screen in Street Fighter IV. The opponent would be squished between his thighs and then shoot off into an invisible barrier. These invisible barriers also showed up in Abigail’s special as well. He could suspend his opponent in the air and then use them like a punching bag. Honestly, an opponent just floated at the top of the screen, defying gravity like some sort of Warner Bros. cartoon character. Then there was the absurd notion that Abigail couldn’t talk but instead made car noises like an infant that had lost his toy. All of these silly elements betrayed the designs of the earlier Street Fighter and Final Fight games. They simply weren’t a part of the legacy. Capcom used to know how to create fantastic giants, the template was there but they seemed to ignore it after 1999.

   

The goofy antics were all relatively new to the franchise. When Yoshinori Ono took on production duties they seemed to be part of his idea of what Street Fighter should be about. While nostalgia for the older characters is still in my heart I’m also afraid of what would happen if the studio decided to add any more legacy characters. I’d be embarrassed to see what they would do with the Muscle Bomber cast or any other fighter they had previously done. Giants in the Street Fighter universe should be feared and respected, as the majority were boss characters. Maybe someday the studio will remember that but I’m not holding my breath. I hope you have enjoyed this series, please leave a question or comment and I'll try to get back to you. 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 1, 2017

A look at the big man, where did the Capcom giants come from? Part 2...

Abigail, a character introduced in Season 2 of Street Fighter V had originally appeared in Final Fight, an arcade hit from 1989. The character was a boss in Mad Gear gang, a group made up of the biggest, meanest criminals from Metro City. Abigail was gigantic, even by Final Fight standards which had many characters above 6 and 7-feet in height. In the Street Fighter universe, where the Final Fight story took place in, he was listed at 8' tall and 584 lbs. He was the largest figure in the series and among the largest human character in any fighting game. The tradition of over-sized, muscular characters in fighting games went back to the start of the genre. The third boss in the 1984 Irem classic Kung Fu Master was a dark skinned character named Giant, he was a full head and shoulders taller than Thomas the hero. The trope of gigantic villains in a fighting game really took off however with the cast featured in the Technos series Double Dragon. There were massive villains in the original and sequel; named Burnov, Bolo, Oharra and Abore. They were capable of lifting players up with one hand and even punching down walls with their bare fists. The bad guy that audiences remember most was a bodybuilder-type character called Abobo.

   

Abobo actually changed during the various sequels and remakes of the series. He was a generic bruiser in the original 1987 game. His face paint and spiked wrist guards made him appear like a heel or bad guy wrestler. Abobo was far more fleshed out when the studio created a 2D fighting game in 1995. This newer version of Abobo was more proportional to the rest of the cast and was officially listed at 7' 2" and 336 lbs. He was still huge but nowhere near as big as the character's final appearance. In 2002 the Mexican developer EVOGA created an unlicensed Double Dragon game, which they called Rage of the Dragons, an homage to the series. They avoided legal issues by slightly changing the names of the main characters. The bruiser in this game was called Abubo instead of Abobo. This character was on the absolute extreme end of character designs. He was now 8-feet tall, actually 8.03, and 640 lbs. making him a fraction bigger than Abigail. His arms were so huge that they hung to the ground. This type of large upper half / small lower half character designs had actually evolved through the '90s and were almost commonplace post 2000. I had written a history of these "top heavy" designs when Gigas was introduced in Tekken 7. Abubo and Abobo had set a standard, or rather limit, on what worked when it came to fighting character designs. Believe it or not in the '95 version of Double Dragon the character could grow even larger and more muscular.

   

The "transforming" version of Abobo and the updated cast were based on the 1994 Double Dragon film. In the movie Abobo was a typical punk bad guy. He was already big and dumb but Koga Shuko, the main villain in the film, turned him into a mutated freak for failing to recover an artifact. This weirdly swollen character had muscles where muscles didn't exist. He was literally swollen where his glands, bones, cartridge and neck should have been. The absurdity of his updated look was incorporated into the game where he could temporarily "buff up" while performing certain moves. The movie was absolutely horrid and had nothing in common with the game, except for the names of the characters. It was the first and hopefully last film directed by James Yukich, whom had probably never even played the title. Interestingly enough the story was co-written by Paul Dini (The Batman Animated Series and co-creator of Harley Quinn) who has been one of the greatest comic and cartoon writers of a generation. I guess something was lost in translation when the screenwriters adapted his story. But I digress, character transformations were not a new idea in games, cartoons or comics. The Incredible Hulk for example turned from a small scientist into a thousand-pound green skinned monster. A more contemporary version of the transforming villain was seen with the character Bane.

   

Bane debuted as a Batman villain in 1993. He was an assassin that was trained in the fighting arts and was a perfect rival to Batman. The thing that made him a superior opponent was a synthetic drug, similar to adrenaline, called Venom. It increased his speed, reflexes, strength and durability. He could turn on a pump filled with Venom whenever he wanted to boost his fighting prowess. When the character originally appeared he was muscular but realistic. He had a bodybuilder physique and was not as deformed as Abobo. A really good 3D representation of his original design appeared in DCU Online, the DC Comics online multiplayer game (MMO). However as comic book aesthetics changed, and as different writers and artists took over, the look and purpose of Bane changed as well. In less than 20 years he went from a realistic physique to a grossly disproportionate one. To see how far the character had changed look at the version that was featured in the Batman Arkham games. This new Bane had a gross physique. Not only that but every iteration of Bane seemed to become dumber and dumber. It wasn't long until he was nothing more than a typical brute that used his muscles rather than technique to beat people. Abigail was sliding into modern Bane territory but for over 30 years the designers at Capcom managed to avoid this trope. How did they do it?

   

Capcom developed a template copied hundreds of times over. The idea for Street Fighter was simple, different martial arts masters fighting against each other to prove who was the best. The designers created a library of characters that reflected different nationalities and by default the different fighting arts. One of the reasons the series stood out was because of how unique the character designs looked compared to other games. The artists at Capcom, people like AKIMAN, Shoei and SENSEI created figures that were not quite manga, not quite anime, and not even comic book in appearance. They were instead something in between the Japanese and USA aesthetics. These archetypes worked incredibly well and they helped launch a franchise. The characters were diverse in size, color and body type. Their appearance helped reinforce a particular fighting style. These basic concepts were used and expanded upon by other studios as well. Look at a character like Dhalsim, a slender Yoga practitioner that stood 5' 9" and weighed about 100 lbs. Compare him to the burly Zangief, a 7-foot 400 lbs wrestler. In Street Fighter II the characters had good contrast. When the studio created a new sequel they went with a different designer. Bengus wanted to keep the scale of the characters similar but he used artistic license to exaggerate their proportions. Zangief and Dhalsim had the same height difference in Street Fighter Zero, but Bengus made Zangief much wider, especially on his shoulders, arms and back. He also cut Dhalsim's waist in half, making him even more gaunt. This contrast was more profound. It looked fantastic on screen but did not break the scale of the franchise. The exaggerated proportions ended up influencing a generation of game designers in Japan and even comic book artists in the USA.

   

The proportions developed by Bengus were used by Edayan, Kinu and Ikeno in the other Capcom games from that era. In doing so the giant characters appeared far more menacing when compared to the rest of the lineup. The Street Fighter library had always worked within a certain range of body types. Every character had to be muscular, the sumo wrestler E. Honda had an enormous belly but his arms and chest were well defined. Dhalsim was thin but his muscles had definition as well. As the characters got taller they preserved those same basic rules. Zangief was considered a standard for giant characters in the series but that concept was flexible. Sagat was 7' 4", a few inches taller and slightly leaner than Zangief. Sagat was the original boss in Street Fighter and was a character of distinction in both Street Fighter II and Street Fighter Zero. He stood a head above every other character and did a great job of capturing the boss feel. Yet even Sagat would be replaced as the biggest fighter. T. Hawk was a native character, at 7' 7" he was on the edge of the character sizes that worked within the continuity of the series. Moreover his height was about the limit for any giant character in a fighter. There was actually some real world precedence for this.

   

Professional NBA basketball players were 6' 7" on average with centers being around 6' 10" to 6' 11". Teams were constantly on the hunt for athletic 7-footers. These people represented less than .00004% of the population, and an even smaller fraction of those were healthy and coordinated enough to play at a professional level. The tallest of these men were Shawn Bradley standing 7' 6", Manute Bol at 7' 7" and Gheorghe Muresan also at 7' 7". Think about how imposing it was for T. Hawk to be created at the same height as the biggest NBA players. When you saw these players on TV the height differences between someone 6' 6" and 6' 10" looked much greater. Keep height to weight ratio in mind. A bulky tall person did not appear as tall as a lean person at the same height. Most basketball players were lean because it allowed them greater flexibility and speed. On television thinner people looked much taller than their opponents even though the actual height difference was only an inch or two. In a sport like American football tall players were very muscular. Because of this it was harder to spot the height differences on television.

Most fighting games have characters with a similar height to weight ratio. When you look at the height differences between Zangief, Sagat and T. Hawk it doesn't seem like much. Now think about Abigail. At 8 feet his height was very rare but not impossible. There had been taller people in history. The tallest that ever lived, Robert Pershing Wadlow was 8' 11". He would have broken the 9-foot barrier if an infection and compromised immune system didn't end his life at the age of 22. What made Abigail so awkward in appearance was his weight. The character was extremely muscular, almost to the inflated Bane or Abobo proportions. In the original Final Fight Abigail was shaped more like a professional strongman, with a wide gut, rather than a trim bodybuilder physique. This was actually very believable as there were many strongmen and wrestlers throughout history that were tall with that same body type.

   

The designers at Capcom went overboard with the muscular physiques in Street Fighter IV. I believe it was because the artists were reacting to the trends in Western character designs which favored overly-muscular characters. Look at how big comic book characters were today. When presented as 3D models rather than 2D sprites the extra bulk made the height seem less dramatic. In order to make the differences more noticeable the model heights were exaggerated ever so slightly. Many players did not pick up on the new sizes. When the characters were far apart on the screen most people couldn't tell that the scale was different. But as they got closer it became obvious. Take the character Hugo for example. The original version featured in Street Fighter III Giant Attack was an updated version of the classic Final Fight character. His height was astounding but proportional to the rest of the cast. Fans of the Final Fight series, and those that remember his cameos in the Street Fighter Zero / Alpha series remember how massive he was and therefor his sprite worked. When the character was created in 3D for Street Fighter IV and also for Street Fighter X Tekken he became bulkier and taller. Players really noticed this change when the character model was close to an opponent.

   

Abigail was absurdly huge. He looked as wide as he was tall, dwarfing Zangief and the other large characters in the process. He didn't seem to have the same proportions as Hugo or the other giants. That is to say he was missing his neck and shoulders. This made him look cartoonish in appearance. None of the other characters had the same type of physiology. The addition of car tires around his biceps and belt made little to no sense. I understand they were part of his new personae as a scrap yard owner but they were not part of his original costume. The most jarring thing about Abigail's appearance in Street Fighter V was his personality. Abigail went from high-ranking Mad Gear boss, with a genuine fighting ability to an idiot. He retained his temper from Final Fight but everything else was made up. It was embarrassing watching him putting around and making car noises in his introduction and story mode. Both Street Fighter IV and V had played up the silliness of certain characters while making others seem terrifying. Rufus, Hakan, Birdie and F.A.N.G were some of the other goofy / awkward characters added to the series. The director and producer of the series were certainly playing favorites with the cast. I wondered if the studio created a moronic Abigail to make fun of USA fighting game designs. They had given us a mindless Bane because apparently that's what we thought all strong characters should be like. The studio hadn't always treated their giant characters so poorly. In fact they used to treat their legacy characters with a lot more consideration. We'll look at the ways they used to present giants 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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