To predict the future, we must first understand the past. This is the lesson that great historians have taught us over the years, and it's equally applicable to the world of video games. Our new series, "A Look into the Future," examines where game franchises have been to figure out where they will be going. By analyzing all the evidence, we will attempt to draw a clear speculative picture of what the future of video gaming will look like.
Street Fighter X Tekken just came out, and it's a monumental occurrence for game futurists like us. Why? Because, the game was meant to bring together both Street Fighter and Tekken in the Street Fighter game engine. So if you remove the new Tekken-style elements from the game, you are left with the elements of Street Fighter that Capcom holds sacred. We can confident that these elements won't change in future titles, while everything else still counts as design wiggle space.
It should come as no surprise to you that Ryu, Ken, and Chun-Li aren't being taken off the Street Fighter roster any time soon. This brings us to the first key element of Street Fighter in our modern day market: nostalgia. You see, Street Fighter appeals to a large fan base of fighting game fanatics that remember the days of Street Fighter II. By including members of this original cast, they tap into the part of our brain that remembers the good old days. Case and point: the roster of Street fighter X Tekken. Of the original Street Fighter II cast of eight, seven made it in to this new crossover. E. Honda is the odd man out, and he even makes a cameo as a DLC costume. Similarly, characters like Dudley and Ibuki were added to milk Street Fighter III nostalgia, and Guy, Cody, Sakura were put in to appeal to the Street Fighter Alpha crowd.
Let's step backward in time a bit and examine the Super Street Fighter IV: Arcade Edition roster. Of the 39 playable characters, only nine of them (Abel, C. Viper, El Fuerte, Gouken, Hakan, Juri, Rufus, Oni, and Seth) were new. Not only that, but Seth was an amalgamation of other character's moves, Oni is really just a more demonic version of Shin-Akuma, and Gouken has been a beloved NPC from Street Fighter's past ever since the old Shen Long rumor. So Capcom arguably only designed six new characters for one of the biggest fighting game releases of our time. Nostalgia sells and Capcom knows this.
In the future, Capcom will most likely bring back old nostalgic characters of the past before they create brand new characters for their roster. Capcom has shown that they remember even their most obscure characters like R. Mika and Ingrid as they are referenced through DLC costumes and story cutscenes in Street Fighter X Tekken. Heck, even Poison from Final Fight is getting a chance to show her stuff in this game. So in the future, we will probably see many of these obscure characters enter the ring again. Fans have been clamoring for Sodom from the Alpha series to make a return, and some even want characters from Street Fighter EX, like Skullomania, to come back. Expect to see some oldies from Street Fighter I make a return as well. Eagle came back on CVS2 and Street Fighter Alpha 3, and Adon and Gen are beloved characters from Street Fighter I who survive to Street Fighter IV today. It would be nice to see Joe, Lee, Retsu, or Geki make reappearances as well.
In its early days of development, Street Fighter X Tekken played a lot like Darkstalkers. Light, Medium, and Heavy attacks canceled into each other and you could interrupt your combo whenever you wanted with a special move. However, this only lasted through the days of the game's first appearance at E3. For those of you who haven't played the game yet, you can no longer cancel special moves off of chain combos, and chain combos do incredibly reduced damage. The cancel window is small, making combo timing incredibly strict (though not as strict as it is in Street Fighter IV). Overall, the game was given less of a high-speed Vs. series feel and more of a slow and deliberate Street Fighter feel. But, just what is this "Street Fighter feel?"
It's clear that Capcom believes Street Fighter is a game about spacing before anything else. Characters are still unable to block in the air, and this won't change no matter how long Street Fighter lasts. The small window to cancel moves shows us that Capcom wants players to commit to their moves. They want the game to remain largely unsafe and mostly immobile. In Street Fighter X Tekken, damage has been reduced even more to the extent that time-overs have become commonplace. 100% combos just aren't part of the Street Fighter feel.
Unfortunately, this type of game is rather alienating to new players, so Capcom will have to think of ways to make the game appealing to people who have never played fighting games before. For example, hit-stun is much longer in SFxTK. This makes it easier for newbies to learn basic combos. Double quarter-circle motions for supers have been taken out, being replaced with pressing all the buttons at the same time, a much simpler motion. The addition of "assist gems," which make all your commands simple, and "quick combos," which make the computer do combos for you, are included to help raise newbies to high level gameplay quicker. The inclusion of an in-depth tutorial in the game also makes it obvious that Capcom wants to make the game appealing to new players.
Gameplay in future Street Fighter titles will begin to shift toward "easy to learn, hard to master." The developers will continue to come up with new ways to reduce the barrier of entry by making individual maneuvers easy to execute. You will see more move shortcuts, more simple motions, and more reliance on single-button normals. At the same time, Capcom will hold onto its complex combo system, allowing pros to get creative by exploiting gameplay mechanics. The best players will still find a way to maximize damage output through sheer manual dexterity.
Super and EX moves are probably here to stay. In Street Fighter X Tekken, you can use meter to cancel moves them they otherwise wouldn't be cancelable. In Street Fighter IV, EX moves were basically more flexible versions of your normal special moves. If this trend continues, future Street Fighters will tie in comboability directly into meter management. Combos will become easier the more you spend resources on them. EX moves will become a much bigger focus than supers and specials, and ultras probably won't survive to the next Street Fighter incarnation.
Finally, Yoshinori Ono, the producer of Street Fighter, said that the future of fighting games is customizability. He says the gem system from Street Fighter X Tekken is the first step toward that. However, gem boosts only give you bonuses for a short period and the types of gems you can use are actually rather limited. Fighter customization systems will obviously evolve as Street Fighter moves forward.
Instead of gems as they exist now, future Street Fighter customization will probably operate more like unlockable Team Fortress 2 weapons. Every bonus you get will come with an associated drawback. Ryu's Hadokens might deal more damage but will no longer travel full screen. Ken's Shoryuken may come out quicker but will have less invincibility. If this system continues to evolve, then we will probably find the combo system being customizable as well. The properties of moves such as their ability to cancel, juggle, knock down, and more, will all be part of the customization system. Players will be able to balance their characters between fast combo monsters and powerful poking machines.
The obvious end to fighting game customization is the ability to create your own fighter, and while Yoshinori Ono says he would like to see this happen someday, I do not think it will happen anytime soon. The problem with making a fighter from scratch is rather technical. There is a limited amount of data that a fighting game can load into a match, and as of right now, we have no good way to make a potentially infinite combination of moves into a framework like that.
In addition, this opens up a lot of possibilities to break the gameplay system. Eventually someone will find a series of "best" character builds. Much like the world of collectible trading card games or MMOs, only a few builds will actually become viable in tournaments, greatly reducing the "roster size" of the game. Perhaps the game could be kept fresh by always making new DLC moves available, but, for right now, it seems as if a "create-a-fighter" mode would actually reduce the replay value of a fighting game rather than increase it.
If we look at the past of Street Fighter we can predict the future plot of Street Fighter V to a T:
Let's face it, fighting games aren't really known for their plots, and with "Pandora," the magical MacGuffin that fell from space, making everyone fight each other in SFxTK, it's doubtful that Capcom will break new storytelling ground with SFV.
Angelo M. D'Argenio
Date: March 14, 2012
*The views expressed within this article are solely the opinion of the author and do not express the views held by Cheat Code Central.*