Our first interviewee will be Akira Yasuda, AKA Akiman, one of the original creators of Street Fighter I, and the designer who brought Chun-Li into this world.
Akira was working in the States when I first joined Capcom, I still remember going to meet him when he returned to Japan and asking for a signature. I've been lucky enough to be able to listen to a lot of his stories over the years.
I visited his office about 1 month after Street Fighter V was released. As I opened the door I was shocked to see Akira out for the count on the floor, and immediately rushed over to his side. It turns out he was feeling sleepy and decided to sit next to the door in case he really did fall asleep and didn't notice me coming in. I felt pretty humble that he'd be worried about something like that.I was seriously worried for a moment there...
From the first days at Capcom to Forgotten Worlds
Sorry to bother you.
Not at all.
I'd like to ask you a few things for our site (SCRI). Let's start off with how you joined Capcom.
Haha way back then?
If you don't mind!
I was interviewed three days before my 21st birthday, as it was a Friday they asked me to start three days later.
What was it like to work at Capcom back then?
I hated filling in my punch card, so often I'd just sleep over. At the time if you worked late you'd get 700 yen (500 for Osaka) towards food as well, so I'd do overtime just for that. I used to try out weird combos like ordering curry rice and rice together.
Curry rice....and rice. What was work like when you started?
I started out as the background man2 for Side Arms1.
A shoot-'em-up released in 1986. It featured buttons for shooting forwards and backwards, and had a power up that allowed the 1P and 2P ships to merge!
2Positions at Capcom used to have the "-man" suffix
No way, I started out as a background man too!
Some coincidence eh? Back then the dev hierarchy was Planning > Character Design > Backgrounds.
Interesting, for my generation the character designers were on top.
I really didn't like being limited to one thing, so I made the ship sprites and even made the opening on my own.
That must have been how you were noticed and changed department.
Well there was that, but I also kept an eye on my boss, and whenever he took a toilet break I'd go and bug him about moving me to another department.
Eventually I was told to work as Nishitani's3 right hand, which meant I would be going over planning and creating the foundations for various games.
3The current CEO of Arika, Akira Nishitani.
Nowadays we'd call that directing.
Exactly. I really enjoy drafting plans, mostly because it's where character and overall design are the most important elements.
I had a lot of liberty to do things the way I wanted to, and Nishitani was good at tweaking everything.
What was the first title you made together?
Forgotten Worlds4. At first it was a regular side scroller, but our boss5 told us to be more imaginative, that's when we started over and added things like the roll switch.
It was the first game for the CP-16 and we were told that it had to be smash hit in order to showcase the hardware, so we really went all out in the art department. We even added things like the shop system, and each stage had its own specific enemies.
A shoot 'em up released in 1988. Infamous for lines such as "My date with Cleopatra's ruined". Defeating enemies earns you Zenny, which can be used in the shop to buy powerups.
5 Yoshiki Okamoto
6 CP System, Capcom's own arcade board
Oh yeah, that was one gorgeous game!
I really didn't know what I was doing, so I concentrated on making it look good.
It didn't sell well at all in the end.
The game didn't generate much income7, the shooter market was already saturated and one credit went a really long way. It also took 2 years to develop, which was a long time back then.
I gave the game a really artistic, organic kind of theme. Kenzo Tsujimoto, the current chairman of Capcom, then said to me:
Yasuda, your design is excellent, but I can't understand what's going on. Add some buildings. People always prefer things they are familiar with rather than the unknown.
His words made perfect sense to me.
Of course, when he told me this the game was already almost complete (laughs).
Yeah, that happens a lot (laughs).
I was only able to do things the way I knew.
Income wasn't the only issue that had an impact on the game's success. We were using a 1 meg rom chip, but at the time the yield was really low for that size and we couldn't get our hands on enough chips, meaning we could only make so many machines.
According to my boss the game didn't sell well because of my design decisions, and he told me to apologize.
During the final three months of development he personally made some adjustments which I'm really grateful for.
It felt like he wasn't going to let me work on my own again in the future however. Up until then I believed that if I gave it all I had then I'd be rewarded.
But it didn't pan out in the end. It was that experience that made me appreciate how important simplicity is in design.
Space and Final Fight
Right after Forgotten Worlds, the boss was going over the planned title list and asked me
"Hey Yasuda, want to work on Street Fighter II?"
"Sure thing!" I answered.
Now we're talking!
I was stoked, until I learned that the space allocated for graphics was going to be about half that of Forgotten Worlds.
It was only about two thirds of the original Street Fighter, really not much at all.
I thought it was a bad idea to have a sequel with worse specs than its predecessor, I didn't think it would sell.
We decided to put it on hold for a while, and make a different game instead.
That game was Final Fight.
That's how we bought time.
I was sent to a game show in LA, and told to find out which games were popular.
It turned out that belt floor action8 games were hot.
8Belt floor action: also know as belt scroll action games, or side-scrollers in the West. They feature a long horizontal stage with waves of enemies that scroll into view.
And that's how Final Fight was born. My plan this time was to do the exact opposite of Forgotten Worlds.
I initially planned Final Fight to have 3 rows along which you could move, but Nishitani told me it looked dated so we decided to allow free movement into the screen.
Nishitani worked on programming things like hit detection, whereas I designed the controls and characters. Unlike with Forgotten Worlds, we made sure to keep tabs on the amount of character data and the development time.
The result was an efficient use of the available space. We also dropped the idea of using different enemy designs for each stage like we had with Forgotten Worlds, which allowed the enemy designs to better convey their own strength.9
In arcade games, it's annoying when you come across an enemy for the first time and he turns out to be unexpectedly powerful right? Although I guess you can just continue if the game's being played on a home console.
9J is always weak, Andre is strong, no matter the stage
Makes sense, we are talking about 100 yen a pop after all.
After what the chairman told me about buildings when I was working on Forgotten Worlds, I made sure to put them in every single stage (laughs).
Haha, now it all makes sense!
That's really all there was to that decision. Also, the chairman really likes movies, and he told us
"Get your inspiration from movies."
I remember stitching together a few movies to make a presentation.
"Streets of Fire" and Charles Bronson's "Hard Times" were the ones I used back then.
Basically movies about fighting. I really took the chairman's words to heart - "Use movies!" he said, so I took that to mean we should just openly plagiarize them (laughs).
For the controls I tried to do the opposite of what other scrollers were doing. I thought people would like to repeatedly press the attack button to perform combos, and I added a life gauge which was all the rage in PC games.
Final Fight had a lot of asset reuse, but it allowed us to cram it into half the memory of Forgotten Worlds.
And right before we finished, the boss told me
"If you're tight for space, you can use the same amount as Forgotten Worlds if you want to."
Too late now, I thought, so I just told him "Nah we're good, thanks!"
Just after that we hit a little crisis due to the item space (healing items etc.) being full up.
Luckily, and completely by coincidence, I found an empty memory chart10 just lying under my desk.
10A sheet of paper used to allocate the available memory.
Under your desk! (laughs)
That's right! (laughs) Thanks to that small miracle we were able to add the final items.
11Sprite packing: Splitting up the in-game sprites into regular amounts such as 8x8 pixels in order to maximize the available memory. The game is programmed using coordinates to recreate the original sprite.
Definitely. Speaking of which, Cody's walking animation is 32 pixels wide.
It looks like he's stretching his back
The walking animation is clearly narrower!
Haggar's sprite was only half-animated wasn't it, only his legs moved.
Look at the torso!
Yeah. He moves up and down a little so it looks like he's walking right? I always tried to stay ahead of the game by using tons of these little details.
Final fight is an amazing game to play to this day, there's so many little details like this! Things like the enemy layout, the stage lengths. The music is all amazing too.
Yeah the music is really awesome. Something just came back to me (laughs), you know how the first stage is really short? These days we'd call that a tutorial.
Right when you go to fight downstairs, and the screen changes completely, there's so much going on in that stage, it doesn't feel short at all. I love how the lights flicker!
No, I don't think so. We just needed a big dude for one of the player characters.
He really works well with the theme.
Yeah he does. It might be normal nowadays, but back then big sprites = lots of memory so they stood out because they were so rare. No one was as stunning as he was, big was beautiful. That's not the case anymore though.
I love big characters too. That's actually why Birdie was so huge, I'm a fan of the "big = strong" philosophy.
You are? That's awesome. Come to think of it Birdie really is big isn't he, and he can stretch. Truly the enemy of a generation (laughs).
No one's ever heard this tale before have they?
That's because no one ever asked! (laughs).
And that brings us to Street Fighter II!
You and Nishitani worked together again didn't you, like with Final Fight?
You must have been best buddies back then!
To be continued...