During my research for a recent Fusion article I was luck enough to chat to Kevin Higgins. He explained to me why Street Fighter II is so important. I have put the lightly edited full interview here as not all could be printed in the magazine.
SFII has been celebrating its 30th birthday this year, what comes to mind when thinking
about its popularity?
The popularity of Street Fighter II translates to the many efforts made by the community to make it more accessible beyond its original run in the early 90s. Today there are countless tutorial videos and articles to help you learn. And many ways to play and practice online multiplayer officially or otherwise. Street Fighter II is not just an arcade blockbuster, it is one of the most played games of all time.
Why is it still regarded as one of the greatest games ever?
The formula of fighting games has evolved past Street Fighter II, but the reason it works as a game remains timeless. You can hear a lot of conversation in gaming about how poorly a game has aged mechanically or aesthetically. Not so with Capcom’s biggest hit in fighting games, the sprite work and sound remain charming. With gameplay that has never once failed to be exciting in the 30 years of play.
What are your personal memories of the game, did you play it in the arcades during the 90’s?
It would be 7 years and a few days before I was born when Street Fighter II was released in 1991. Super Street Fighter II Turbo, the version that I and many others enjoy most of all would come out in 1994 which is still older than me! Fighting games were not part of my childhood growing up, I very much pursued the hobby of fighting games as an adult. So how did I get here?
My first experiences with classic fighting games like Super Street Fighter II Turbo on Fightcade. An online gaming platform that provides emulation with high quality online multiplayer for arcade games. With such an abundant catalogue of fighting games it was some time before I ventured into the lobby where hundreds of players were always looking for matches.
I played every version of Street Fighter I could get my hands on. And the reasons people enjoyed SFII in the arcades resonated with me all those years later. I was hunched over a laptop without a clue about how to be a competitive fighting game player. Eventually I learned a thing or two and just stuck to playing Ryu in Super Turbo. Some of my earliest memories of enjoying the game with friends is setting up small tournaments in Discord servers and having the pleasure to commentate over them. These were very formative experiences for me and it’s hardly any different than a game coming out today.
How important is SFII when thinking of the evolution of multiplayer gaming?
Street Fighter II ditched any pretence that fighting games were gimmicks. The original Street Fighter from 1987 is a strange thing that shipped with a control layout. It actively encouraged you to mash on the buttons harder to do stronger moves! By contrast its sequel treaded new ground in the pursuit of a game you could come back to again and again. Special moves and combos, mixups and “tech” were pioneered as ideas you could have for a coin-operated game.
Practising and improving as a player was a foreign concept before SFII. Being skilled at playing a video game against other people was also new. It would be two years before Doom and the idea of player versus player in any genre was still way out there!
I also want to share an anecdote about Street Fighter II innovating after a monumentally bad port. In 2006, Capcom released a port of Street Fighter II: Hyper Fighting for the Xbox 360. Capcom had been shipping online play in their fighting games as early as the Dreamcast with the Matching Service. This particular Xbox port made it into the hands of Tony Cannon who immediately noticed that the online play Capcom included with this version was really bad!
The only way fighting game developers knew how to compensate for latency at the time was to delay inputs and make everything feel sluggish as a result. Tony went on to devise a solution for lag-free online gaming that he called GGPO. It introduced “rollback netcode” to the world. Today the biggest fighting games releases in the world use GGPO or adapt rollback netcode to connect players. And it’s all because Hyper Fighting for the Xbox 360 felt awful to play online. So thanks for that, Street Fighter II!
Looking back at the updates, what did they bring to the table besides new characters?
Street Fighter II saw a lot of revisions in a very short amount of time and this led to glitches and bugs. The reason I bring this up is because Capcom’s designers established a genre by going further and seeing where players were gaming the system to net wins and expanding on it.
The very concept of a “combo” is famously the result of an unintentional programming “bug” that was left in and later discovered to be useful by players. So instead of killing the idea Capcom would add a counter for combo hits with Super Street Fighter II. While I’m not sure if Super Turbo would be the first fighting game to add resource meters flashy special moves, it certainly remained an important cornerstone of fighting games moving forward.
These are just a couple of examples. I would also note that releasing updates to refine the balance of a game was totally new and part of Capcom’s ability to rapidly capitalise on success. They brought a lot to the table it turns out!
Everyone seems to have a favourite fighter, what makes them so popular?
Capcom’s character designers remain legendary to this day. What they really nailed with SFII is engaging with martial arts in pop culture at the time. Everyone understood who Fei Long referenced, everyone agreed Zangief was the perfect Russian strong man, and that sure did look like Mike Tyson swinging those boxing gloves!
Without falling into uninspired stereotypes they created characters who were like comic book superheroes, emblematic of some background that we could all easily understand. Looks are not enough however, and the gameplay variety found in the later revisions of SFII were a key part in getting people hooked for life on playing one character or another.
By creating flashy special moves that were as strong as they could be difficult to execute it created character archetypes that defined what a “shoto”, “grappler” or “zoner” could be among others. I’ve already mentioned that SFII was an experiment in making an arcade game people could come back to over and over and providing interesting characters to accomplish that is why the game lives on.
How important was SFII to the arcade industry in the 1990’s?
I think it’s not lost on anyone that Street Fighter II sold a lot of units. It was a hit! If there was an arcade, there was a Street Fighter II cabinet. Pandora’s box was opened with the success of SFII and no lack of black market clone boards or hacked “sequel” revisions. Examples such as the infamous Rainbow Edition made their way to arcades to capitalize on operator dollars. Then came the legitimate successes from developers like SNK and Midway.
Street Fighter II didn’t just keep Capcom arcades in business, it spawned an ecosystem of fighting games. If you lived in the USA and enjoyed inserting coins into a Street Fighter II cabinet, odds are, someone in Mexico was enjoying The King of Fighters at the same time. Or perhaps someone across from you preferred Mortal Kombat!
How did SFII influence other fighting games of the time?
I think it is safe to attribute a lot of fighting game design decisions to the influences of Street Fighter II. In some cases other developers were trying to pitch fighting games prior to SFII’s release but couldn’t get the push until Capcom was proving the popularity of the genre. Mortal Kombat is supposedly one such title that was greenlit as a reaction to SFII’s success.
This is a difficult question to answer, because it’s almost as if every fighting game ever made has been a reaction to SFII. We’re so fundamentally reliant on ideas that started with SFII that breaking the mould results in something barely resembling a fighting game.
What cultural impact has SFII had beyond just the games?
Let’s talk about me for a moment. I currently operate supercombo.gg, a fighting game website named after the Super Combos that Super Street Fighter II Turbo introduced. On this website we publish articles about fighting game community news, we have a forum to connect with other enthusiasts or just ask questions and get answers. We also maintain an extensive wiki for over 100 different games with all kinds of technical information. None of what I just described exists if not for SFII’s success. The culture of the fighting game genre depends on that fateful arcade cabinet from 1991.
Beyond me, the biggest fighting game tournaments in the world started out playing Street Fighter and will continue to do so. So too will the industry of hardware providers who make arcade sticks for enthusiasts to buy and the ecosystem of software hackers who keep the classics accessible today with platforms like Fightcade. It’s really difficult to put the scale of the community into words.
What is the lasting legacy of SFII?
Street Fighter II after 30 years represents the very nature of the genre. It would go on to found one-on-one competitive fighting fuelled by the community’s passion long beyond its run in the arcades. Beyond licensed toys, Blu-ray releases of the movies or throwback merchandise, multiple iterations of SFII remain competitive to this day and the people embedded in the community enjoy them as if they were released yesterday. As I write this, hundreds of matches of Street Fighter II are being played in some form or another, and is proof that Street Fighter II is timeless.
Thank you to Kevin for taking the time to chat with me.