Interview: Street Fighter V's Peter Rosas and Matt Dahlgren

by Todd Ciolek,
Capcom's presence at San Diego Comic-Con scaled back in recent years. No longer does the company put on panels for every series it backs, be it Monster Hunter or Resident Evil. Yet Street Fighter still merits its own panel, complete with an appearance by producer Yoshinori Ono…in costume.

For the Comic-Con 2015 panel, Ono showed up in Ken's outfit. It wasn't the typical red karate gi, however, as Ken's new appearance in Street Fighter V finds him with a bigger-banged hairstyle and a black top in addition to his familiar red pants.

“It's hard to see in this wig,” Ono said. “I'm gonna keep it on for one more minute, so please take your pictures now.”

As he typically likes to do, Ono led the crowd in a mass Shoryuken motion, asking them to raise fists in the air. He also introduced a Street Fighter V contest where two members of the audience played to win a PlayStation 4 (with a Street Fighter V faceplace), with the loser taking home tickets to Six Flags.

By no coincidence, Capcom also plans to put Street Fighter V in several Six Flags amusement parts, which will host arcade-like booths promoting the game this summer. Capcom also plays more toys, additional tournaments, and further Udon comics—including one dedicated to the life (and deaths) of Charlie Nash, who seemingly returned from the grave for Street Fighter V. The biggest surprise of the panel was a comic crossover with a classic toy loin. Street Fighter X G.I. Joe is in the works at IDW Publishing. It will debut by the year's end.

“All your favorite Street Fighter characters, all your favorite GI Joe characters,” said Francis Mao, senior director of marketing, creative services, events and licensing at Capcom. “M. Bison and Cobra Commander join forces to take over the world. Duke and Colonel Guile kick some major butt. Snake Eyes vs. Vega…it writes itself.”

For more on Capcom's plans for Street Fighter V, Anime News Network's Heidi Kemps and Todd Ciolek sat down with associate producer Peter “Combofiend” Rosas and Senior Manager Matt Dahlgren.

Heidi: How do you feel about the growth of the Street Fighter community since the release of Street Fighter IV in 2009?

Rosas: I think it's great! You can see it right now in the Capcom Pro Tour. So many players all around the world are interested. Street Fighter fever is at an all-time high. There are so many players all around the world now… we're seeing skilled players from places like Brazil and China finally get a chance to step up to the plate. With Street Fighter V dropping in the future, we're expecting even more growth.

Dahlgren: Definitely. Street Fighter IV was a resurgence of fighting games, and we definitely learned a lot from that entire cycle. SFV represents a lot of those key learnings, and it's going to be a milestone for fighting games. We're seeing massive growth in the Capcom Pro Tour – for Capcom Cup last year, our viewer statistics more than doubled over the previous year. Now that we've doubled down and offered over half a million dollars in prizes – more than ever before for a fighting game – we should continue to expect a lot of growth. I think the best days are yet to come.

Heidi: Peter, you joined Capcom after a stint as a well-known player in the Street Fighter community. You're now working on Street Fighter V in a production capacity. How do you balance your tendency as a pro player to micro-analyze game elements with giving the title more broad appeal?

Rosas: That's never been a huge problem for me, actually. I always thought about how the average player approaches a fighting game and what they like. I do know what top players like, and where they will take the game – but those guys all started off as average players who decided to keep going with the game. They were able to bring the game to the deepest level. But yes, there's definitely a dropoff point.

I keep backtracking, to see where the deeper game starts – I've been around for a long time, and I've seen it happen many times – and also just look at it in a more general capacity. Every fighting game ends up somewhere thanks to the players and the people pushing its game engine – though it may not have been intended in its original design, that's where all the top players end up.

I have a good idea of where these games generally end up, and I use that to help the game's design philosophy when I talk to our Japan counterparts. At the same time, I can dial it back and see what the more general player wants to see.

Heidi: Well-known fighting game players tend to have styles of play they favor. Now that you're in a design position, how do you make sure SFV just doesn't end up as “Combofiend's Dream Game“

Rosas: Hey, that's got a nice ring to it, actually. [Laughs]

Heidi: [Laughs] Well, how do you make sure the game is accommodating to different play styles and isn't just “a bunch of characters Combofiend likes playing?”

Rosas: My style of play has always been going for what's fun. I always liked playing characters most other people didn't play, and I really enjoyed figuring out things others didn't. In Ultra Street Fighter IV, there were cases where people didn't see the potential of a character at first, but over time people are starting to see it. That happens. With SFV, the approach is how to make the characters unique and fun, and how players can access all these unique and fun things. When there's basic design pillars and we don't deviate from them, we can make sure that the game stays entertaining, fun, and accessible. That's what we want for SFV.

When I play the game here at the office, I can tell where a character can head, so there's some minute things here and there – I point it out and say “hey, let's look at this, we may have to dial it back because it might become a problem… but in a more general sense, this is awesome! Maybe we can add things to keep that awesome going!” At the end of the day, we just want to make everything fun.

Heidi: Why decide to remove gameplay elements like Focus Attacks and the Revenge gauge? Rosas: Because those were core mechanics of SFIV…and this is Street Fighter V. *laughs*

Heidi: But Ryu has his Street Fighter III parry!

Rosas: Yeah, I could understand people saying that. But the focus mechanic was specific to SF4.

Dahlgren: Every Street Fighter has a unique gameplay mechanic that the game kind of revolves around. We felt that Street Fighter V should evolve on that. I feel that the Variable system does this – it offers a lot of variety, and it has a lot of room to grow over time. For instance, the example you gave with Ryu – the core SFIII mechanic is now built into a character's V-Skill. You can look at the whole roster – they all have different V-Triggers and V-Skills that could be just as impactful as that core system. I think this is something that will grow over time.

Heidi: How do you decide what sort of V-Trigger and V-Skill to apply to each character?

Rosas: The way we are addressing it is like, “what are the potential weaknesses of this character?” Case in point, Cammy might have difficulty getting around projectiles. If she gets close to an opponent, she can play her game, but it still might be hard to get into that range. We looked at that and gave her a spin knuckle as her V-Skill because we knew that would help her get around projectiles. Chun Li is known for having historically floaty jumps, so now she has a lower jump that helps her get in at a different angle. We try to look at the characters individually, and figure out a skill that will complement them, maybe help counter a weakness.

Heidi: Out of everyone revealed so far, which character would you say is the most interesting from a player's standpoint?

Rosas: I would say probably Birdie. He has so much going on – you can play him in so many different ways. You can attack, you can play a zoning game and throw chains all day, you can counter-poke – he just plays to so many different strengths.

Todd: One thing we've frequently heard about Street Fighter V is that it's simpler all around. Why did you decide to go with that compared to what you had in Street Fighter IV?

Dahlgren: Well, we want to strike a balance with a gameplay style that's still inviting to newcomers yet can still be taken to that complex and deep level that our competitive players are looking for. The Variable system is really our ticket to do just that. The Variable System has two elements to it that are very easy to execute. The V-Trigger uses the entirety of your V-Gauge. It allows you to essentially power up your character or have something that really unleashes their true potential, and it can be used to turn the tide of battle. The second element would be the V-Skill. You just press Medium Punch and Medium Kick. It's a move that adds an extra layer of utility to your character, like a parry or a different move option. So even if you don't know how to do commands this time around, you have two powerful tactics right at your disposal just by executing two buttons.

Todd: A lot of the critical moves are all done by two forward fireball or two backward fireball motions. Will this hold true for all of the characters, even those who have classic double-circular moves?

Dahlgren: I can't confirm it right off the bat because we don't' have a character yet that fits that, but double fireball motions are coming back. It's a skill that a lot of Street Fighter players have, and it's something that you can get down if you practice. So having something that's really easy for newcomers but does take precision and skill once you play for a long time…that's what we're shooting for.

Todd: You've also made it so normal moves don't change depending on the distance between fighters. What feedback have you had about that? Do people not like it? Honestly, that feature always bugged me in previous games.

Dahlgren: People are digging the game. We've had almost purely positive feedback this time around, which is very, very refreshing. The reason we did that is because we wanted to make sure that players were confident with their button-presses. Every button in this game has a very specific usage and a very specific purpose. A lot of people would get stuck on what their range was and didn't know what move would come out, and now you can have the utmost confidence in know what move is going to come out.

Todd: What about the differences between Ken and Ryu? You mentioned that you're making Ken more aggressive?

Dahlgren: One of the design philosophies for Street Fighter V is ensuring that every character has a very unique and individualized gameplay style. Looking back at franchise history, Ryu and Ken have been the traditional clones, so we really wanted to separate their play styles. And the Variable System is our way of really allowing these characters to be truly unique. So if you think about Ryu, he's kind of like the baseline of the game. He's got his parry, he's got good defensive options. He's just well-rounded all round. Ken's more of the hothead. He's the one that's gonna rush you down and be in your face, so his V-Skill is a run move that can be used to constantly pressure your opponent. His V-Trigger…Ken is all about flame attacks, so if you activate that his flame power increases and his special moves have different properties. You get new combos off of them. So both of them have very distinct variations.

Todd: Of the characters you have playable, some of their iconic moves have changed. Chun-Li's Lightning Kick is done with a fireball motion, and Charlie…he's no longer a charge character. So will you get rid of all the button-flailing moves?

Dahlgren: I can't say one hundred percent on that. There could be moves like that in the game when all is said and done. We're just mixing the characters up. So we felt Nash worked well as a traditional character. We wanted him to be based off really tricky mix-ups. That's why he has teleport moves that the other characters don't have.

Todd: In Street Fighter IV, footsies [low attacks] played a big role. Is that also true in Street Fighter V?

Dahlgren: Definitely. I would even say that footsies are more important in Street Fighter V. FADCs in Street Fighter IV were a way that a lot of characters could neutralize a footsie game by “eating” attacks. This time around you don't have that at your disposal, so it's…old-school footsies.

Todd: It seems like some of the V-Triggers and V-Skills reference alternate versions of the characters? With M. Bison, it seems like his V-Trigger makes him much more imposing…like you're playing the final-boss version of Bison.

Dahlgren: Totally. It's like the V-Trigger is supposed to bring your character to life. So looking at the characters…if you think about Ryu, he's all about Hadokens and projectiles. His V-Trigger sends him into Denjin mode so he gets more powerful Hadokens. If you think about Chun-Li, it's all about multi-hits, right? Her lightning legs. So her V-Trigger makes all of her attacks have multi-hits. Bison's all about Psycho Power, so he's kind of basic when he's outside of that mode, but when he goes into V-Trigger, he becomes consumed with Psycho Power and all of his attacks have extra abilities. So it's all about taking that core element of what that character is known for and then having that V-Trigger really bring them to life.

Todd: Charlie's new design, with the stitches and dark skin, looks a lot like Osamu Tezuka's Black Jack. Was that a conscious design choice?

Dahlgren: Well, I don't know about going after a specific character, but a lot of fans wanted to know what happened to him after the Alpha series. So he is definitely an interesting character this time around.

Todd: Sony is backing the game quite clearly. Is it fair to say that Street Fighter V might not exist without Sony?

Dahlgren: They were just the right partner for us to accomplish the goals that we had set in mind. The relationship with Sony is so much more than just a co-marketing deal. They really understand the potential for the fighting game space. They're putting their best foot forward to ensure that the PS4 is the home of fighting games. They're also the ones who helped us execute cross-platform play. So this is the first time we have a centralized player base. We're going to unite the community together into a big central player pool. So those were the reasons we partnered with Sony.

Todd: How did you decide to sexualize the female characters in Street Fighter V? In some of the matches we've seen so far, Chun-Li is bouncing around like a Dead or Alive character.

Dahlgren: Well, that's a bug! [Laughs] If you watch the left side of the screen, that's the correct version of Chun-Li. There's a long technical reason as to why that happened, but it will be fixed.

Todd: Street Fighter IV had animated cutscenes and a short film from Studio 4C and other studios. Will we see something similar in Street Fighter V?

Dahlgren: We're not talking yet about what we're doing for story mode content, but I can say that our story mode will be different than what we did for Street Fighter IV.

Todd: Is there a reason M. Bison has white hair now, or is it just a design choice?

Ah…you'll have to wait and see in the story mode!

Todd: Street Fighter's chronology is somewhat…elastic. But M. Bison looks older, Ken looks different, Charlie is back…so does this have a distinct place in the series? Sorta like how Street Fighter IV took place between Street Fighter II and III…

Dahlgren: There's a lot of speculation, but we're not spilling the beans just yet. It will definitely have a place in the chronological order of the Street Fighter universe.

Todd: After Street Fighter IV came out, we saw a number of games reissued for the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360, including Street Fighter III: Third Strike. We have Ultra Street Fighter IV on PS4, but are there any plans to bring those older games to the PlayStation 4 as well?

Dahlgren: Right now, we're in Street Fighter V mode. Sony does want to make the PS4 the home of fighting games. Ultra Street Fighter IV…the community is still going very strong on that. And they want to make sure people are playing on PlayStation 4, so it was actually Sony that developed Ultra on PS4 to migrate that over. Opportunities come up all the time. That could happen with some of our older products, but right now that's not one of our priorities at the moment.

Todd: What can you tell us about the new GI Joe vs. Street Fighter crossover from IDW?

Dahlgren: Just the fact that it exists and it's awesome! We take a very open-minded approach with the Street Fighter brand. Street Fighter is so much more than just a fighting franchise. It's a brand that's really influenced all levels of pop culture. We're always looking for ways of collaborating with other brands or other hobbies that are representative of the same skillset. We're very excited about collaborating with GI Joe. GI Joe is a timeless brand, so having those matched up will definitely make for some pretty entertaining content. But that's what Street Fighter is known for. We do a lot of collaborations.

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