1987 Silver: 'Street Fighter X Tekken' Producer Tomoaki Ayano on 25 Years of Fighting in the Streets

Looking back at the list of titles that graced 8-bit consoles (and PCs) in 1987, you find that's it's a veritable parade of first entries in what would in time go on to either greatly influence gaming or spawn literally dozens of sequels between them. This is the year that modern video gaming was born, as simple left-to-right platforming was starting to experience previously unseen variations and mutations, while the standard bearers of fighting games and RPGs experienced their genesis. Take a look back at some of these classic titles celebrating their 25th anniversary as part of the 1987 Silver series on MTV Multiplayer.

Street Fighter X Tekken producer Tomoaki Ayano has been with the Street Fighter series of games almost since the beginning--if not as a developer, then as an active fan starting with Street Fighter II. Now he says he's lucky enough to get to marshal a new generation of fighting games in the long-lived series out to a community that's more excited than ever for some one-on-one or two on two brawling.

I spoke with Ayano-san by e-mail recently about the legacy of Street Fighter as a franchise, where Street Fighter X Tekken fits in, and making fighting games in an era where the community can become your best test team.

MTV Multiplayer: What was your first exposure to the Street Fighter series? What kind of impression did it make?

Tomoaki Ayano: My first encounter with the series was with Street Fighter II. I was 12 or 13 years old at the time, and was still in middle school. One of my friends invited me to an arcade after school one day, and the arcade machine grabbed my attention immediately. It was such a new and exciting experience for me at the time. Seeing two giant characters on screen duke it out with a variety of moves and commands; the entire experience was so unique. From then on I made many friends through the game, and my love for Street Fighter is what lead me to apply for work at Capcom, and how I got to be producer of the series today. I am one lucky fan!

Multiplayer: The fighting genre’s never really gone away, but it came back so seriously with the return of SFIV. Why do you think that was?

Ayano: Fighting games can be seen as tools for competition that are utilized by players. Much like chess and poker, players build their own gameplay experience by acting freely within the designated rules sets. The fighting game genre exploded in popularity in the 90’s with Street Fighter II, and almost every gamer out there played a fighter at one time or another. However, from the end of the 1990’s to the early 2000’s, a lot of the fighting games that were released became more and more complex in their gameplay systems, which turned away a lot of the more casual users, and especially beginners. It was hard to just “jump in” to many fighting games at that time because the myriad of systems had begun to overshadow the core gameplay.

With the creation of Street Fighter IV, the most important design concept Capcom had was to “return to the beginning,” and get back to that early 90’s feeling, where all gamers – both casual and hardcore--could play the game and enjoy it. This concept resonated with a lot of new and old fans of the genre alike, and we were able to attract new players, which reinvigorated the scene.

Finally, the advent of stable online netplay and online streaming was also a huge boon to the genre as a whole. Players can now go online to find competition no matter where they live, as long as they have a decent internet connection.

A screen from Street Fighter III: Online Edition (original arcade release: 1997)

Multiplayer: Looking at the competition: were there any other fighters out there that your team was studying during the development process for SFxT or the SF series as a whole?

Ayano: We try to look at whatever is popular at the time, regardless of genre, be it FPS, RPGs, or action games, etc. By taking into account all types of games, we are able to isolate elements that players find fun and interesting. This isn’t even limited to video games; we also study other popular types of culture and entertainment. For example, during development of Super Street Fighter IV, online video content was becoming really popular, so we decided to implement the replay channel feature. Another example is for the PS VITA version of Street Fighter X Tekken, we wanted to implement a lot of social networking features, as social integration is very important in today’s society. Thus, features like custom data sharing, Alternate Reality photo sharing, etc. have been added into the game. We hope users will find the features useful and fun!

Multiplayer: Similarly, do you think a single title has to evolve a lot more (and quicker) than it did in the past? In the arcade days, you’d have an SF version that you’d play and perfect for months, whereas now, with regular character balancing, a fighting game can feel very different post release.

Ayano: I believe that it is important for game-breaking bugs and other severe glitches to be patched out as quickly as possible, and technology today allows us to do that very quickly when compared to the old days. However, I don’t think it’s the case that titles need to “evolve” more quickly than before. Gameplay balance is something that is refined and re-evaluated over time, and having it change gradually as players learn the game is one enjoyable part of competitive games.

The Street Fighter team at Capcom always strives to provide the best gameplay balance possible. When the possibilities in a game system have been exhausted, and things have reached somewhat of a status quo, doing large scale version updates as we’ve done in the past are one way to keep the fans engaged and having fun.

Multiplayer: How do you think Capcom’s relationship with the series and its community has changed over the years?

Ayano: We always believe that it is the fans that really make Street Fighter what it is today. With the rise of social media, it has become easier to directly interact with the fans and we take advantage of this on a daily basis. We enjoy interacting with the fans through Capcom Unity, official blogs, and also live streaming at various events. It can be challenging to keep up with the passionate fan base that we have, but that in part makes it all the more worth it when we can make them happy!

Multiplayer: As with the old arcade days, the community serves as kind of the de facto test team for a fighting game, discovering exploits and such within days of a game’s release. To what degree has that helped your team improve each new title?

Ayano: Fan opinions are very important to game development. We always receive very passionate input from our fans around the world, and sometimes I am amazed at how detailed and thoughtful some of it is. We recognize that it’s because the fans love the series so much that they send in such feedback, and we try to incorporate as much of it into the final products as possible.

Screen from Street Fighter EX 2. The series went polygonal for three installments starting in 1996.

Multiplayer: Along the same lines, what did you learn or discover about getting this type of fighter onto a handheld? Did you find there were any particular advantages for competitive players in being able to pick up the game on the go?

Ayano: The PS VITA is a very powerful piece of hardware and we knew that in order to put Street Fighter X Tekken onto the system, we needed to utilize the machine to its fullest. Fighting games require smooth frame rates, and we improved our VITA development techniques a great deal in order to create a smooth 60 frames per second play speed. We believe that competitive players will definitely benefit from playing the game on the go, because they will be able to play more than other players. Having access to the full gameplay experience anywhere and anytime will allow them to fill in the gaps in the day where they normally wouldn’t be able to play: on the train, during lunch breaks, etc. Fighting games are competitive endeavors by nature, and much like sports, practice makes perfect. But perhaps the people who will really benefit will be casual users who want to take the next step to be more competitive. Who knows? Maybe the next pro-player is you, the gamer whom is reading this article right now!

Street Fighter X Tekken (2012), the latest in a long line of "vs." games that began with X-Men vs. Street Fighter back in 1996.

Multiplayer: Can we look forward to any more balancing or patches to SFxT in the near term?

Ayano: We are in the process of rebalancing Street Fighter X Tekken right now actually! I can’t say exactly when the free balance patch will be released, but it will definitely address a lot of issues that players have with the gameplay right now. We have done our best to listen to community feedback and implement fixes accordingly, so please keep your eyes peeled for more news and information on this!

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