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EGM Interview:
Street Fighter X Tekken Producer Yoshinori Ono

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Posted on March 7, 2012 AT 10:00am

The launch of Street Fighter X Tekken is now upon us, and if there’s one name that fans—and critics—think of when they think of the game, that name is Yoshinori Ono. The always lively and outspoken Capcom producer has become the face—as well as the father—of the revival of fighting games as his parent company, having helmed both Street Fighter X Tekken and Street Fighter IV.

In the past six months, I’ve found myself sitting down to chat with Ono-san not once, but three times. The first time was back at Tokyo Game Show 2011, when I dedicated our 25 minutes of interview time talking about the topic of one of Capcom’s most controversial and discussed characters, Poison (read that full interview here). Then, in these final days leading up to Street Fighter X Tekken being completed, I had the opportunity to speak to him on two different occasions—the most recent of which was at last week’s launch party for the game.

So, without further ado, here are my two conversation with Yoshinori Ono.

EGM: So, of course, the most talked-about aspects of Street Fighter X Tekken in the community have been Pandora mode and the Gems system. I know, in talking with you, you’ve said that you’ve gotten a wide variety of responses on these ideas. Personally, I think fighting game fans can be—well, almost a bit delicate. They’re used to certain ways of doing things, certain ideas, and even small changes that shake that up can cause havoc. When you were putting together planning for the game based around ideas like these, did you know the reaction you’d get, or were you surprised?

Yoshinori Ono: When we put together the features in the game, we knew that there’d be some level of community feedback, and that there’d be some sort of negative reaction. But, we thought that when players got their hands on the game, a lot of those opinions would change. So we hope that from now on, players can play Street Fighter X Tekken more, and see the deep level of the system. I know with Pandora mode, a lot of people were saying it was really useless, or asking why we would ever put it in. But there’s some really amazing things you can do with Pandora mode, things which we think players will be able to find out more once they get the game.

I know when the game was first announced, Pandora mode looked like something you might just do at the end of a match as a last-ditch effort. You know, that kind of wondering of why you’d do it for seemingly no reason. But what we want to show players is how it’s useful as a strategy. Some players might be about to build strategies around the Pandora mode itself. Some of the Gems in the game activate only when you’re in Pandora mode, so if a player wants to try that kind of counter-attacking at the very last moment, and pull a 360 in the match, it’s possible if that’s how they want to play.

I think one interesting element is that fighting games, for a long time, have kind of been the same thing. Same basic principle, character versus character, maybe pulling off a super move or special attack. New games come along, and they may have one major new feature, like Street Fighter III did with parries. I feel like there is this danger of fighting games not advancing or evolving, but then you have games like Street Fighter X Tekken that try to bring a lot of new ideas, and you see that pushback from fans. Is this what the fighting game genre needs—more ideas like this? Or are going with crazier ideas something only proper to try for side projects? Like, would you do this with Street Fighter V?

[laughs]

It’s like you said, it’s kind of a balancing act. What we want to do with the genre is expand it; we want to grow it. We could do the same thing over and over, and that’s fine, because fighting games have seemed to make a comeback in recent years. Us, as Capcom, we could just take a hands-off approach, but we do feel some responsibility as one of the leaders in the genre to kind of push it in a direction we feel would be beneficial. Not only to the community, but players as well. With previous games, it was kind of an offline world, where players wouldn’t get information as fast—and the way that people are connected nowadays is just so different.

So, when we announce a new feature, it’s almost instantly criticized in one way or another—but that’s just something that we have to deal with as times change. We do intent to keep supporting the community through funds or the equipment that they need, because we want to bring everything together as well as we can through new ideas. However, doing so while still catering to that hardcore demographic which you mentioned can be sort of sensitive toward certain issues.

Do you think that the argument fans have had over Gems wouldn’t be as loud if you could play online without them? I know that you’re strongly behind the idea of them being a big part of the game, and that this is what Street Fighter X Tekken is and the Gems aren’t a side feature, but I think part of that hardcore community does want them to be an option. Do you think not giving them that option caused the community to be more vocal?

The way I see it, we want players to play the game, yet we had this certain vision in mind when we created the game. Gems were definitely a part of that, because we want to bring the genre into this new place where it hasn’t gone before. So, yeah, we could have made it an option to not use Gems online, but we don’t want players to approach it as, “Oh I don’t like them, so I’m not going to deal with them at all.”

Because, really, we did have a certain vision in mind when putting the game together. So we’re presenting our ideas, and would like players to give it a try. That’s all we’re asking. I think that once you get your hands on Street Fighter X Tekken, once you’ve put enough time into it to really understand what our vision was, you’ll see why we made the decisions we did.

Of course, with Street Fighter X Tekken, you only need to buy this one disc to enjoy the game for a long time. We’re not going to sell another disc version of the game, so if we do any kind of updates or patches, it’ll all be done properly through DLC. We don’t want users to be afraid to accept these kinds of new changes. We want them to be as open-minded as possible when it comes to new features like these.

We definitely pay attention to community concerns, so it’s not like we don’t hear what the reactions are. We do, and we know. But we’ve created this kind of rulebook for Street Fighter X Tekken, one which requires you to have these things. To use to a baseball analogy, you need to have a glove, shoes, bat, things like that. Sure, you don’t need to have those things—you can play the game without shoes, and you don’t need to have a glove to catch the ball. But we think that’s the best way to play the game, so that’s why we made the decision.

If players—after putting time into the game—eventually think it is better to play without the glove, and it’s better to run with no shoes, we’re going to be monitoring the community as it goes along. So don’t think that we’re releasing it and just leaving it to the lions. We’re going to be supporting Street Fighter X Tekken for as long as we can, and we want players to enjoy it. If there’s balance changes that need to be done, we’ll do that. We’re going to be constantly seeing how the community is reacting, and we’ll make changes that need to be made.

Speaking of that community aspect and their sometimes harsh criticisms, I was talking a while back to some of the people working on Silent Hill. That’s another very outspoken community, and I asked them if they’d rather have those fans be very negative in their comments, or have them say nothing at all. Since you’re somebody who deals so closely with a similar type of fan, how would you answer that same question?

From my perspective, I definitely think it’s better to hear something, no matter if it’s players telling me that they’re happy, or they’re saying “f**k you” to me. [laughs] It means that we’re engaging the fans, and at least we have some kind of interaction going on. The worse thing that can happen is that there’s no noise at all.

Though I do think that, out of all of the game creators in the world, I receive the most “f**k you”s out of anybody. [laughs] Maybe I’m the most hated creator around the world—but I do get just as many good comments as I do bad ones.

I think part of this is because fighting games are really organic. At Capcom, we basically prepare the tools and the platform for players to express themselves through their gameplay, which is a different kind of game from a series like Silent Hill. For these kinds of games, it’s especially important to hear all of that feedback from the community, be it good or bad.

Personally, in terms of roster choices, I wanted Poison—so it didn’t take long to make me happy! Sure, I really wanted her for Street Fighter IV, but at least I get her here. Beyond that, I was never a huge Street Fighter II fan—I was always much more into Street Fighter Alpha. So when, in the process of announcing the roster for this game, I hear characters like Balrog of Vega coming back, to me I think I’d rather have Karin or Birdie from Alpha, or even Alex from Street Fighter III.

How about Eagle? [laughs]

[Uncertain look]

Noooo?! [laughs] But you said you were an Alpha fan!

I’m sorry!

[laughs]

How do you balance what fans want and what makes sense for the game in terms of making the choice of which characters to include?

It’s definitely tough as you know, and there’s a lot of people who have a lot of opinions. But for Street Fighter X Tekken in particular, we wanted to get as many people to play as possible, so we did listen to the fans a lot in terms of who would make the ultimate roster for an all-star fighting game. So, we came up with this roster of characters by going by the order of popularity that we think fans would want. Even so, some people might wonder where’s this character or that character. Although we did mention that there’s only going to be one disc, there’s obviously always possibilities in the future for other characters like that—though I’m not saying anything certain.

(Note: This part of the discussion came before the 12 characters were announced for the Vita version, and before it was understood that there were additional DLC characters included in the release of Street Fighter X Tekken.)

So, we did listen to the fans a lot when it came to characters. Well, except that I can say for certain that you won’t see Twelve. [laughs] I’ll say that straight out, so sorry Twelve fans. No Twelve supports came to his defense on Twitter, so I figured that he must not have any fans out there. [laughs] It’s kind of sad.

I think, among people I know, the biggest requests I was hearing was Karin and Elena, because they’re two characters really deserving of another chance to shine.

We do know what people are saying, trust me. [laughs]

Whose voices are louder—Capcom fans, or Tekken fans?

Capcom fans, definitely. They’re more aggressive, they say harsher things, they definitely let their opinions be heard—so I definitely know who they do or don’t want. For the Tekken community, it was almost the opposite: I had to actively go out and ask that community what their opinions were. It was really interesting to see the difference between the two communities, where the Capcom fans are so up-front and loud, while Tekken fans are more reserved.

At one point I went to Germany, and at an event we were handing out t-shirts to both groups of fans. The Tekken fans lined up nicely and were well mannered, while the Capcom fans were clawing over each other, saying things like, “No, that’s my t-shirt! My t-shirt!” [laughs]

So I thought to myself, “Wow, these communities are the same all over the world!”

Since you work for Capcom, doesn’t that make you happy that your fans are that passionate?

Absolutely! I love those passionate fans. Rather than somebody who’s really well-mannered, I want to see a fan who loves the game so much that he hides his t-shirt and—in order to get another one—is like, “Oh I didn’t get a shirt!” That’s the kind of fans I like.

It had to be sort of a daunting task trying to bring together the two very different worlds of Street Fighter and Tekken. I was a huge fan of Capcom vs. SNK when it hit back in the day, but those were two fighting systems that had a lot of inherent similarities. Here, the game styles had far, far fewer similar points. What was the biggest hurdle in figuring out how to make this idea work?

For Capcom vs. SNK, that was a game where they obviously were both 2D franchises, and we managed to mix them pretty well together. For Tekken and Street Fighter, they’re both fighting games in the broadest sense of the word. They’re very, very different.

So, we tried to take our knowledge of Street Fighter, and our extensive knowledge of fighting games from over the years, and we built basically the base. We then tried to take the Tekken characters from their world—while keeping that Tekken flavor and those distinct characteristics—and make them fit in the same field as these Street Fighter characters. Tekken fans who come and play the game will say, “Well, maybe this doesn’t really feel like Tekken.” But if you give them five, ten minutes with the characters, they’ll be able to get the sense that, wow, this is how Xiaoyu is in Tekken, or this is what Hwoarang is like in Tekken.

Will they completely say it’s a Tekken game? No, of course not, because it isn’t. But it’s not a Street Fighter game either. It’s really kind of a combination of the two to make something brand new—that’s how we look at it.

So, in all of the work your team has put into Street Fighter X Tekken, and in thinking about the future of fighting games you might make from here, what’s the biggest thing you’ve learned during the game’s development?

I’ve learned a lot of things on this project. Like, when we talk about dealing with the community, we’ve tried our best to foster the community up until now—but we realize we’ve got a lot more work to do. As to what we can do, I can’t even imagine. I just want to concentrate on getting everything with this game done, getting the Vita version done, and I then really want to take a break! When it comes to next year’s E3, ask me again, and maybe I’ll have a better answer for you. [laughs]

It’s funny, because people are already asking me on Twitter and Facebook about Street Fighter V, and when it’s coming out. I can’t even think about such things yet! [laughs] I just want to get everything with this game squared away first.

I’m not sure if you’re familiar with it, but there’s a fighting game called Skullgirls coming out, and it’s only going to be available as a digital download. What do you think about the idea of a fighting game going that route?

I’ve definitely heard about it. With regards to selling games purely as downloadable content, I think it’s a good business model for independent developers. It means that they have their head in the right place about it being online. If you sell something as a download, you’ve already kind of guaranteed that it’ll be playable online. In this day and age, with online games becoming so much more important, I think that’s a great thing.

As well, without having those physical discs, they needn’t worry about having inventory or shipping or things like that, so they’re able to reduce their overhead costs and focus on developing the actual game. By keeping those costs low, they’re able to try new things. Here at Capcom, we don’t really have that many of those cost issues to worry about, but it’s good for those independent developers to get their game out to a larger audience. All they need to worry about is the advertising, and then basically the sales of the game. When I talked to the Skullgirls guys themselves, I told them this—that it’s a really good model for them.

I do think there’s some negatives to being downloadable-only though. It’ll be harder to get a more casual audience to even know about your game if you don’t have it sitting there on the shelf of a store. So, they’re definitely limited in the kind of advertising you can do. You could have the greatest game in the world, but if nobody knows about it, they’re not going to be able to play it and enjoy it—which would be a shame.

For a case like Skullgirls, though, I think they made the right decision to go the download route.

I think it’s a good idea for smaller projects, or games less about a sure-fire hit and more about doing something for the fans. So, you know, maybe you could do that for Darkstalkers.

Do you really think I could get away with making Darkstalkers a small download-only project? [laughs] The fans at Comic-Con would definitely be up in arms if that’s all I did! They wouldn’t let me go home if I said, “Hey, there’s a new Darkstalkers game, and it’s a small download-only game.”

When I was talking to Seth Killian before, I told him that I thought the biggest factor in the revival of fighting games was online. I grew up as a hardcore SNK fan, and I owned a Neo Geo, but I usually had nobody to play against. So, I think online is the biggest advancement to come to fighting games, and in Street Fighter X Tekken, you’re really supporting that online component. What do you think online has brought to fighting games?

I think one of the key words for fighting games now is “social networks.” That, and maybe “social interactions.”

Fighting games are a genre that come from people interacting with each other. Players facing off one on one, I’m fighting with this guy, I do my move and see how he reacts, things like that. It’s kind of communication in that way. So online has been able to bring people together in a way that’s never been done before beyond in arcades. That’s where fighting games have their roots—people gathering around those arcade machines. If you think of an awesome combo, it’s great, because you can show other people what you’ve come up with.

So, being able to have the online capabilities to bring people together has been a huge boon for the fighting game community, and fighting games in general. We’ve done a lot of work for Street Fighter X Tekken, based on what we’ve learned with Street Fighter IV, and we’re going to improve the online experience as best we can with any future products that we do.

And anything Seth said in his response, I bet it came from me! [laughs]

In the lead up to the release of Street Fighter X Tekken, there’s one thing that just stuck in my head that I found kind of funny. I saw the video with Juri fighting Xiaoyu, and in the video, Xiaoyu was speaking Japanese, and Juri was speaking English. But Juri is Korean, and Xiaoyu is Chinese. Do you ever think, in a Capcom fighting game, we can have characters speak their own languages?

For the promotional videos, we decided that Street Fighter characters would speak the language of the territory that that video was made for. So, for those in America, all of the fighters speak English. For the Tekken characters, however, we made them have whatever voice they had in the background of the Tekken series. If you play Tekken, you know Hwoarang speaks Korean, the Chinese characters speak Chinese, the English characters speak English. Tekken never had that concept of making an English voice for a character, or some other non-native voice.

For Xiaoyu, sure, she’s Chinese, but she’s actually a Japanese schoolgirl, which is why she speaks Japanese.

But do you think, for a character like Juri, who is Korean, could she ever have a Korean voice in a Capcom title?

There’s definitely more development costs associated with doing those kinds of things for characters, and the money Capcom will give me for a project won’t quite cover it. [laughs]

Obviously, the two largest player communities are in the US and Japan, so that’s why we have both of those language options available. If, for example, the fighting game community in France ever builds up and those players become opinion leaders, maybe we can try to add French voice options.

Here at Capcom, we do realize the need to localize voices correctly as well in the future, so as time goes on, we might start looking at those options of localizing voices more and more. Maybe in Street Fighter V—whenever that comes out—we’ll have options like that.

If fans are willing to pay $5 more to get those other kinds of voices, and I get a lot of good reaction to the idea on Twitter, maybe we could do it! [laughs] But if fans don’t want to pay more, then I’ll have to go with only having two options for voices.

I was going to say that—that as DLC, the idea could be very interesting. Like a “native language” voice pack, if you will.

We talked about doing some sort of DLC voice pack like that, but the fans want those kinds of thing for free. The problem is, there are download fees associated with any kind of DLC. In that type of case, we wouldn’t be giving out just one or two voices, we’d be giving out huge chunks to make it worth it. It would mean like a 1GB or 2GB download, which could be very hard for some people to download—so we’re also always limited by the technology and the rules of the system.

Maybe we could make it so that you could record your own voices sometime in the future. [laughs] I could record myself saying “hadoken” or something like that.

Later, at the Street Fighter X Tekken launch event

Last we spoke, you were still very busy putting the final touches on Street Fighter X Tekken. Have things calmed down a bit for you?

Actually, I’ll probably be busy until the end of this month! [laughs]

So, at that point, will you finally get the chance to take some sort of break?

Sadly, the true ending of Street Fighter X Tekken is still kind of far off. The console version is pretty much done at this point, but we’ve still got the Vita version, and we’ve also got the PC version. I can breath a small sign of relief right now, but work on the game won’t be over for a while.

At that point of our last conversation, fans still hadn’t played the game very much, and still didn’t really know how all of its pieces felt. Now they’ve had more experience, the game has been shown off much more, and those opinions have started to change. How do you feel about the fan opinion now versus where it was before?

As you say, things have gotten a lot better now that more people have had the chance to play the game. They can understand it better, and see what it’s all about in a very quantifiable sense. We’ve seen the pre-orders go way up out the blue—a lot of that has to do with people getting the chance to play it, and evangelize it to others. Our Street Fighter X Tekken-themed reality show Cross Assault had hundreds of thousands of viewers, and that helped as well. People are starting to understand that it’s not just a cross-over title, but that we’re trying to innovate and trying to do some new things. When fighting game fans see that, it resonates with them I think, and they appreciated the game more. They’ve made that known, I think, with the increase in pre-orders.

So of course, the biggest controversy was the Gems system. Have you fans reacting to the idea change now that they’ve played the game? Before, trying to figure out how Gems would affect the game was all in their heads, but now some of those people have had the change to see them in action for themselves. How have those previous opinions changed?

I think we’ve seen a change from people being outright disinterested in them, and saying that they didn’t want to even try the Gems system, to saying, “Well, maybe I could give that a shot. I have three slots, so I could try customizing my character. It might be interesting to figure out ways to do that.”

We’re finally seeing people interested in doing that, and I think getting people to want to try it at all was the biggest hurdle. Now that we have people wanting to give it a shot, the hard part is over. Once they try out the Gems system, and really get into using it, I think they’ll really dig the whole idea. So, we’ve finally gone from a resistance to it to more of an openness to it, and that’s the important part.

The one real concern I have about the Gems system is, if Capcom releases more Gems as DLC, and I can pay money for more powerful Gems, I’m worried that could create a disadvantage for some players. Are you worried at all about that aspect of the system?

I’ll tell you—you’re going to see Gem DLC, and you’ll see other kinds of DLC as well. Some will be free, some will be paid. But at the end of the day, no matter if it’s free or paid, and no matter whether you download it or you don’t, the balance overall is not going to be broken.

To use an analogy, I like to look at it as kind of like F1 racing. You can customize your car, you can use different parts for your car, you can buy different parts for your car, but you still have regulations that you’re working within. So you’ll see different people take different strategic approaches to the characters, but you’re not going to see them altering the game to such a degree that it breaks the balance. We’re being very, very careful about that.

The beautiful of this system—and the advantage that we have that F1 racers don’t have—is that we can continue watching this, and seeing if the balance is getting out of whack. If so, we can correct for that in patches. So, we always have full control over it, to make sure we have a level playing field. With some interesting hills and valleys, sure, but no bonafide unbalance so to speak.

We talked before about the online component of the game, and now that I’ve had a chance to get some good hands-on time with Street Fighter X Tekken, the level of options for online over what was present in Street Fighter IV really is noticeable. Do you worry about giving players too much in regards to options like that, and having to figure out how to do even more in the next release?

I think there’s always going to be further to go, so I’m not worried about it. I’m not going to rest until we get to a point where we can perfectly replicate the EVO experience in an online environment, so that you can get 100,000 people in front of their consoles watching a tournament unfold and participating in that tournament. We haven’t done that yet, and technology hasn’t allowed us to do that yet—but when we get to that point, I’ll feel like we’ve done our job. Until that time, I’m not going to rest. I’m going to keep going.

You know, I told you that Elena should be in the game, and now she was part of the announcement for the Vita version of Street Fighter X Tekken. So, her showing up is obviously thanks to me.

Of course it isn’t'! [laughs]

In regards to that announcement, though, the reveal of those twelve characters happened before the Xbox 360 and PS3 versions are even out. Do you think that announcement came a bit too soon?

It is indeed a rather unorthodox way of announcing things, but it was very deliberate on our part. It was a message to people that we’re going to keep supporting this title going forward, and that when you see additions to the Vita version, you’ll see additions like this in the future on the console versions as well. You’ll see continuous support like we did with Super Street Fighter IV, and then Arcade Edition, and then the Arcade Edition 2012 patch.

We’ll keep expanding on what we’ve put together in Street Fighter X Tekken, so hang on to your disc. So, to me, that was a way to communicate that message that we’re not finished with the game—we’re just getting started. And won’t be like Ultimate Marvel vs. Capcom 3. [laughs] Of course, [Tekken producer Katsuhiro] Harada-san and his notorious team of slowpokes won’t have their version of the game out until like 2018 or so, so we’ll have plenty of time to support ours in the meantime. [laughs]

Every time I talk to you, I ask you a strange question as a last question. So, this time, I’d like to ask this: If Capcom was making a fighting game based around Japanese pop singers, who would be the end boss?

Kitajima Saburo. You probably don’t know him.

I do!

Well then, Kitajima Saburo. That’s a very meaningful statement for a lot of reasons. [laughs]

Eric L. Patterson, Executive Editor
Eric L. Patterson got his start via self-publishing game-related fanzines in junior high, and now has one goal in life: making sure EGM has as much coverage of niche Japanese games as he can convince them to fit in. Eric’s also active in the gaming community on a personal level, being an outspoken voice on topics such as equality in gaming and consumer rights. Stalk him on Twitter: @pikoeri. Meet the rest of the crew.

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