February 23rd, 2008
A Brief History Lesson
Back in the 90s Capcom’s legendary Street Fighter series and SNK’s also legendary King of Fighters series were two of the best 2D fighters on the console and arcade scene. Street Fighter 2 set the standard for 2D fighters to come and for a long time was the copy and paste formula used for all developers when making 2D fighters. One of these developers which were known for this was SNK whom borrowed heavily from Capcom’s winning formula on several occasions. SNK managed to crave its own niche into the genre with it’s 3 on 3 fighter, best of the rest, The King of Fighters for the Arcade and NeoGeo CD.
For many years in the 90s these two franchises stood toe to toe with each other, dividing the fighting community with each game’s own unique style. The two developers noticed the divide and agreed on working together to build the Capcom Vs SNK fighting series. Which eventually resulted in 3 titles; Capcom Vs SNK, Capcom Vs SNK 2 and SVC Chaos.
Since the mark of the millennium (did you catch that one) this long rivalry slowly began to fade away. The dying down of the arcade scene and the lack of a new Street Fighter title in recent years has almost killed this fascinating rivalry. That was until now.
Back in December I posted about the first Street Fighter 4 screenshot. One which finally revealed the real direction that the series was indeed taking. Abandoning Street Fighter’s faithful 2D sprite heritage Capcom decided to make Street Fighter 4 a three dimensional fighter.
I’d like to say something like “this divided long time series fans” but to be fair I don’t really follow the fighting community so I’m not really sure if it did. But I think that it would be safe enough to assume that a few people were upset. As much as some may deny it the 3D character models do totally change the gameplay completely. Thats not to say that Street Fighter 4 won’t feel like the previous games of the series (judging by impressions of the game so far it does actually feel like a tribute to SF2).
I’m getting of track here. With the prior announcement of a high definition remake of the original Street Fighter 2 the gaming community were expecting Street Fighter 4 to go down the same route. But it didn’t and for a lot of people this would have hurt pretty badly (I know it did for me). It would have been incredible to see how Capcom’s sprite work would have translated into gorgeous, detailed, smooth scrolling and animating HD sprites. True high definition sprite work for many traditional/old school/purist gamers is something of a dream, a dream which we may have considered never coming true.
I say may because this is where SNK and their King of Fighters come in. Just recently at the AOU convention in Japan, off screen media was leaked of gameplay video of the new game (KOF XII) for Taito’s Type X2 arcade platform. You can watch the video below or read a fantastic breakdown from Arcade Renaissance here.
Although this is off screen video it already paints a picture of exactly what to expect. That is the dream has come true; high definition, ultra smooth 2D sprites. I must say it simply looks fantastic, doesn’t it? I mean imagine what it would look like on screen.
I’m excited and so I should be. SNK have made a very bold move here and have thrown down the gauntlet. They have done something usually reserved for long time rivals; Capcom. The pure quality of sprite work and animation seen in the video are simply firsts in it’s field. Look at the crowd scene in the fight between Kyo and Ash. The subtle effects look fantastic too.
In reality SNK aren’t really taking much of a risk as they are just upgrading the same fighting game that they have been upgrading for the last 14 years. What they are doing though is saying: “Hey all of you Street Fighter fans whom wanted a HD 2D Street Fighter 4. Why don’t you come here and take a look?”. SNK are doing a Capcom and it is putting themselves in an advantageous situation.
The Real Significance of The Rivalry
I hope that you have caught my drift here. Street Fighter 4 and King of Fighter XII represent much more than just two old foes, going at it once again. What it represents is 2D sprites Vs 3D models and how 2D sprites, much like the arcades that birthed them are dying a slow death. There are two examples which best highlight this point:
The Lack of Higher Definition Sprite Games Last Generation
Last generation there is only one game series which I can distinctively remember which fully utilized 480 resolution sprites and that is the Guilty Gear series. I really can’t think of anything else and if there is anything that I have missed then leave me a comment because I would like to know.
There were definitely sprite games like Ys, Street Fighter Anniversary and King of Fighters XI. But these games either weren’t 480 resolution, only occasionally used sprites or were upscaled and smoothed sprites.
The Complete Lack of Interest in HD Sprites by Game Developers
I’m surprised that it has taken this long for high definition 2D sprites to actually get this sort of attention. You’d think that with Xbox Live Arcade and the Playstation Store that developers would be keen to fix up and perfect their previous games. Obviously not. I guess that the previous point explains why this is the case.
The Real Significance of The Rivalry (Continued)
Capcom’s decision to abandon sprites with Street Fighter IV symbolizes this changing trend and SNK are literally fighting to keep 2D sprite work alive. The ‘traditionalists’ if you will. Capcom haven’t abandoned sprites altogether though, there is of course Street Fighter 2 HD Remix and Sengoku Basara X. But it definitely looks as though they are following the downward decline of sprite games.
The respective 3D and 2D graphical decisions from Capcom and SNK for their major fighting franchises ramps this rivalry up to a whole new level. Not only is it a resurrection of two fighting greats returning to form but it is also a battle between modern and traditionalist views. One of which I believe will significantly shake up the fighting genre for a long time. The release of these two games will be an iconic, landmark event for the industry. One which SNK have the strong possibility gaining of larger market share of the fighting scene. But to do that they are going to need to out smart one of the industry’s sharpest sons. Best of luck to them. It should be an interesting how this plays out.