Monday, February 23, 2009

What's Old is New



18 years later, the sequel to one of the most influential games of all time has been released to an enthusiastic audience. Street Fighter 2 witnessed many updates and Street Fighter 3 has been a staple on the tournament circuit for years, but Street Fighter 4 has awoken gamers in a way that has taken me somewhat by surprise. 2 Million copies were shipped to stores, but several local retailers are out of both versions. Arcade joysticks and gamepads tailored for use with the game are selling for 2-4 times their MSRP on Amazon and Ebay. Gamers lined up in droves to play in the GameStop Street Fighter 4 tournament on stock Xbox 360 game controllers with no bonus characters unlocked. Street Fighter 4 is a phenomenon that clearly defies the current economy.

I've gotten to spend a bit of time playing the game recently. Having missed its brief US appearance at arcades, I'm a relative newcomer to this entry in the series. I was an avid Street Fighter player up until Super Street Fighter 2 non-turbo edition, and I managed to win a few tournaments. Over time, I got tired of the constant incremental updates to the series. When Street Fighter 3 came out, arcades had diminished in both scale and foot traffic, along with my enthusiasm for them. I tried getting into other fighting games that have come out since then but without a steady regular group of friends or a place to meet interesting new challengers such as an arcade, my interest has never been lit up. Street Fighter 4 is going to solve those problems by the sheer amount of interest it has sparked in dormant fans who have moved on from fighting games as well as what will hopefully become a vibrant online community. The game has also done a superb job of taking the aesthetics into a modern generation while preserving the best elements of the fighting system and adding interesting new tactical choices, along with a massive cast of characters.

I'm also excited to see a newer, younger generation of gamers becoming interested in Street Fighter. It's hard for me to describe just how influential this game is on many modern game developers. Several members of the God of War team, including combat designers Derek Daniels and Eric Williams, are avid members of the Street Fighter community who have leveraged their deep knowledge of the Street Fighter mechanics into their own work. When people ask me about my favorite games of all time, Street Fighter 2 is frequently mentioned. When I am asked about what makes a robust combat system for a game, I usually will cite the relationships present in Street Fighter 2. This game is the console/arcade equivalent of the Ultima Underworld, System Shock, M.U.L.E., et al that many of the current directors of the game development community frequently attribute as inspirations and influences.

Unlike many gaming icons that are re imagined, I don't think this entry in the series will be a passing fad or a niche product either. The game markets itself. Interactive store displays sitting on the versus mode selection screen with 2 controllers invite people to challenge each other to impromptu matches, much in the way we did many years ago in the local arcades. I'm both excited to see how this new game will hold up in the years to come and eager to observe what sort of influence it will create on the many games that are yet to be made. While I used to be of the opinion that genres such as 2d scrolling shooters and 2d fighters went out of fashion with the main stream, this game reminds me of the retro revival trends that you see in other industries such as movies or clothes. Street Fighter is back in a big way, and I couldn't be happier about it.