If you follow Street Fighter, you probably know Yoshinori Ono; he’s the affable custodian of the series who makes regular appearances at public and press events, sometimes dressed as Chun Li, but always with a miniature figure of Blanka on-hand. He recently sat down with GameSpot to discuss the upcoming story expansion for Street Fighter V–which will be released for free this June–but also to just have a chat about games in general.
Given that he’s the face of one of the most valuable video game series there is, it was tough to know when he was being open and sharing his personal feelings and when he was steering the conversation in order to promote the game–a challenge with almost any interview at a PR-organized event.
Despite some instances where he did his best to sell Street Fighter V, he eventually loosened up. The conversation that followed veered into more interesting territory, including Ono’s thoughts on the challenges young game developers will face when old-school veterans are no longer around to offer guidance. With a little nudging, he also examined his friendly rivalry with Katsuhiro Harada, and how the two are collaborating despite working for competing companies.
GameSpot: How are you feeling now that Street Fighter V will be on store shelves in a few weeks?
Ono: In all honesty, I’ve been at the company for over 20 years, and I’ve been involved with the Street Fighter brand, and we’re finally reaching the point where it’s Street Fighter V. It’s like this ultimate cap-off point. In all truthfulness, it’s kind of like, “Oh my God, has that much time gone by?”
The goal really isn’t to just get Street Fighter V onto the shelf. Really, it’s a new starting point where we’re going to be constantly supporting this for the next six, seven years, like we did with Street Fighter IV.
How did you feel before Street Fighter IV came out? At the time, we hadn’t seen a new Street Fighter in a while.
At the time, with Street Fighter IV, there was a huge gap, and not a ton of fighting games. There weren’t big tournaments, or the phenomenon of esports. Within Capcom, Street Fighter III felt like “that was it” for Street Fighter, back in 2000. Part of the reason is that making a fighting game is very difficult, and releasing a fighting game is a difficult task. But, with SFIV, we had this awesome build up. With Street Fighter V, we need to get more people to jump in and enjoy playing Street Fighter.
How do you feel about game development in 2016? What’s working and what isn’t?
I have been almost entirely involved with fighting games. One of the things that I feel is not happening is getting a good understanding of what users want. As a developer, it can be very difficult to get information from fans. Even though we have this awesome internet infrastructure, it’s still very difficult to get info. Even with Street Fighter IV, I was getting lots of messages on my Twitter account, and that was the extent of how we were getting input. So, not only were our developers limited in terms of what information they could get from fans, but also on the publisher level, it takes time to digest all of that feedback.
We’re going to be constantly supporting this for the next six, seven years, like we did with Street Fighter IV.
Input from hardcore fans is really important, but there’s more to Street Fighter than just the hardcore; it exists in a larger industry that has concerns that go beyond frame-data and character balancing. One of the criticisms has been that some characters are unnecessarily sexualized, and I’m wondering what your stance is regarding such feedback?
You may have seen sometime ago, for R. Mika’s Critical Art cutscene, the camera angle was changed a bit, and we made some other changes with how the camera angles worked with the characters, and that was one of our answers to some of this feedback. On the flip side, the hardcore fans attack my Twitter account with lots of f-bombs.
We want everyone to be able to enjoy playing this game. We don’t want anything offensive in there; we want everyone to be able to enjoy the game as much as possible. So we’re working to be able to provide a friendly environment for everyone. The message we want to provide for our hardcore fans is that we are cognizant of the series’ identity, and we are going to make sure that the Street Fighter identity is in place. We may be making more adjustments moving forward, but the fighting experience, the battle, is the same.
I’m curious how you feel about development now, and how fun it is, when your audience provides constant feedback. How do you feel about how game development has changed, now that it’s a global market?
A lot of things have changed. When I started at Capcom, it was very common for people to show up at 9AM and to leave work at 2AM. I feel like there has been a very nice shift in game development, where working hours are getting closer to the norm.
It seems to me that, 20 years ago, you had a team working in an intimate environment, and the game was a product of their desires. Now, you have to take so many things into consideration. Do you ever miss the days when you had a core team making a game, without so many voices from the outside, pushing you one way or the other?
It gets into sensitive stuff talking about the past, how things are now, and if one is better than the other. A good narrative in terms of what my experience was: when I started at Capcom, a normal development cycle was six months from the very beginning of development to the [end]. And, this day and age, it’s not uncommon for a team to be built with 100, 150, and even up to 500 people working on a single game. Back in time with Capcom, it was normal to have just a twenty person team. What was neat about that time was…I came from the sound team, but I felt that I was able to express my opinions very freely within this tight-knit group of people. I was given the opportunity to learn how games were made. With the six month development life cycle, I was able to experience all of that, two times a year. It’s not that it was better, or anything like that, but I think of it as a great learning experience for myself.
Within Capcom, Street Fighter III felt like “that was it” for Street Fighter.
To talk about people now, who are new to game development…what I can say is that we have this base knowledge of how to make games, and we always carry that with us because we started a long time ago. But, the new people are looking at things with a very new perspective because they have all of this technology that’s available to them when they come into game development, and so I feel like the next big challenge in game development is how do we have us old folks, and these new folks, come together and connect with one another in order to make something new.
Making video games is a daily evolution, things are constantly changing, so the next big challenge will be to unite the new generation of game developers and the old generation of game developers to make something new, and I would really like to have that opportunity moving forward.
Harada-san: Great villain, or greatest villain?
On a personal level, Harada-san has served as an amazing and best friend of mine. In terms of the goal of widening the fighting game franchise and getting more people involved, we actually share that goal, we see eye to eye there. However, where we don’t see eye to eye is the approach in terms of how we want to achieve that. In terms of our relationship, we don’t fight with one another, and we both mutually understand that our approaches are different. It’s an agree to disagree situation, where we understand that we each have our own viewpoints and approaches. It’s hard to answer that question because he’s been an amazing friend to me in my personal life, but I would say that he’s been a very good bad guy.
It’s really interesting because it’s not like we’re trying to beat Tekken, or beat Harada-san. People are actually quite shocked when they see us together, because we always have breakfast together, lunch together, dinner together, and we even go on overseas business trips together.
Harada-san and I are so close, he’s second to my wife at this point in terms of the closeness we share with one another. You might have the perspective of him being the villain, but sometimes I’m the villain.
I totally understand, I just really like it when you guys get together and play fight. If you can, give me one quote, as the character Ono, to Harada, your opponent.
“You need to study more!”
Harada-san is someone who moves based on his passion. Myself, I’m very rhythmic and logical in terms of my approach. That’s where that comment is coming from. You need more than passion alone; you need real knowledge.