Old Ken

A small corollary to my previous post. Oh yeah this blog is kind of about Art:

Ken from Street Fighter in his 50's.


A Tale Of Three Fours, Part 1

During my last trip to the States I was finally able to get caught on some of the largest game releases of the past year, well that weren't Activision or Nintendo making more money than Tiruphati and the Vatican combined off of Balance Boards and Plastic Guitars. Nope I am talking about Games as intended by our shut-in forebearers. Games meant to resonate deeply in the collective unconciousness of 14-21 year boys. I am talking about the Fours. Here is the first one:

Street Fighter IV- Shoulder Rigging of the Gods -

The year was 1991, the place, anywhere you could Jam an arcade cabinet. The Game was Street Fighter II.

The first Street Fighter was something of an oddity, a truly clunky, awkward, wierd game which was simultaneously difficult to figure out and not very fun to play. Depending on where you put in your quarter you would either play as Ken or Ryu on there quest to fight some wierd dudes all over the world. This game was utter, utter garbage. So naturally in the sucessful wake of Final Fight they determined that the whole problem was that Street Fighter wasn't big enough. It turns out they were right.

With some of the greatest graphics of it's time and ground breaking gameplay Street Fighter II became a definitive title. It tooks the reigns of all brawlers before it and truly defined a genre, the one on one fighter like few entries ever had before.

I remember my first time playing it. I choose Ryu, I flew to Brazil, I got electrocuted and back flip kicked like there was no tomorrow by Blanka. I was mad as hell, but I was also floored, the game was polished and animated like nothing else at the time. And holy hell those were a lot of buttons. I was still fumbling with the damn C button my Genesis.

I would play Street Fighter II Sporadically in the arcades, usually getting beat down by the local arcade heroes. When the "near perfect port" hit the SNES I played the crap out of it with friends. They were usually playing the balls off of Street Fighter, Mortal Kombat and Killer Instinct while I was blasting away at random non-sense like Rampart. I was oft-schooled.

The incarnations of Street Fighting rolled out at a pretty consistent pace with both the Alpha Series and Marvel vs. Capcom filling in with many great entries to the Genre. With each successive alpha I actually played more and more. The fusion of the Final Fight characters into the Street Fighter world to me was just too awesome and one of my favorite things about the Alpha series. It's balls to the wall take on everything from Shell to GUI has inspired a tremendous amount of what I feel constitutes good game design. Interesting, Informative, Incindierary and Fun, it was simulataneously over the top and amazingly literal all at once.

Finally in 1998 the cat was out of the bag on Street Fighter 3. The first two iterations of the beast were not right, but you know what they say, the third time is the charm. Street Fighter 3: Third Strike proved to be a hit out of the park. I honestly don't think that there is a single fighting game that I have played more. I played each iteration of the series a little bit more each time and by the time that SF3:TS hit I was a certifiable Street Fighting junkie.

SF3:TS is the vehicle of perhaps what I think is the greatest moment in the history of competetive gaming:

Parrying is awesome. But that is GODLY

So the first 15 years of Street Fighting have been very good to us gamers. Capcom tried it's hand at 3D Street Fighting back in the PlayStation 1 days with the EX series, but suffice to say they didn't work there way into the hearts and the Street Fighting Lexicon the way the 2D entries had, you know, because it wasn't any GOOD.

So after an almost decade long hiatus we got Street Fighter IV. It's almost perfect. From a developer perspective they did the smartest thing I think they could have ever done. This won't be readily apparent to users, but underneath the hood is the same 2D engine driving the game. It feels like all of the timing works perfectly like there is no over simulated weirdness, BECAUSE THERE ISN'T.

The evolution of the series has left Capcom with a masterpiece of user interaction design, that makes up the guts of the Street Fighter games. So rather than radically disrupt the core of the game they kept it in the old style, it just brings tears to my nostalgia gaming eyes. It also just works wonders.

With a lot of the people I work with here in India I keep trying to stress that inside of games their are two worlds, the world of what you interact with and the world of what you see. They are rarely ever the same. For various reasons it is very easy to get confused about games and how they are made. As a long term developer I can assure it has more in common with perception tricks and stage magic than spectactular feats of processing.

It is good to see that the designers knew that they shouldn't mess with the underpinnings and left it alone. But on top they put on a coating of modern gloss that is truly breathtaking. The intro movie is a psichedelic work of art, the characters are super ridiculously detailed, their animations are nothing short of awesome, the particle systems are just beautiful and the backgrounds are amazing, the animation in the secondary is much more lush too. Even multiplayer works much better than I would have ever expected.

On to the gripes. The End Boss, Seth is more ridiculous than the End Boss of SF3, Gill, which is really saying something, at least Bison felt evil enough. Gouken is in no way as ridiculous as Gouki, which is kind of Sad. Of the new characters Able is basically Alex from SF3, Viper is interesting, but feels like a worse version of Rolento from SFA3, El Fuerte is much more caliente than good (he just runs around everywhere while you punch him, seriously) and finally you have Rufus. Rufus is a bit of a space oddity, on the one hand he is fat bowl of goo, which usually means he is a punching bag in SF vernacular, but they really broke the mold with him. He is actually incredibly fast, versatile and funny to play as. He is kind of like Dan Hibiki on steroids, and whether in Japanese or English he has the funniest voice lines ever in a Street Fighter.

On the environs side all of the fight locales are pretty interesting, but, somehow not being as strongly associated with each of the individual characters they don't have the punch of some of the previous games. It is all too possible that SFII will continue to the best roster of the most iconic backdrops. Really outside of that everything is just fanboy hate.

I have played through a pretty significant chunk of the game and all can say is wow, what a great entry. Shame they took out parring but still, what an amazing game.

Next Week:
Grand Theft Auto IV - A Damn Big Urban Wasteland -