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The 25-year legacy of Street Fighter II, in the words of the experts

What is the lasting legacy of Street Fighter II? We asked the designers of SFV, Guilty Gear, Dead or Alive, Skullgirls, Aztez, Divekick, Yomi, and many other luminaries of the fighting game scene.

Chris Baker, Blogger

February 5, 2016

26 Min Read

Street Fighter II: The World Warrior was first released to arcades 25 years ago, on February 6th 1991. It completely changed the games industry.

It's estimated to have raked in $2.3 billion by 1995. (That's $3.5 billion adjusted for inflation -- lots and lots and lots of quarters.) The game brought unprecedented depth and complexity to arcades, presenting players with an array of characters that each had their own distinctive fighting style, with a deep library of special moves and combos.

Street Fighter II set the paradigm for an entire genre. Every subsequent fighting game has felt its influence, whether it followed the established conventions or rebelled against them.

It's difficult to express the full impact this game has had. So we asked for help. We reached out to many developers who drew lessons and inspiration from Street Fighter II, as well as competitive players and commentators and other luminaries of the fighting game community.

We posed a single question to them: What are your earliest memories of Street Fighter II, and what do you think its legacy has been?

Here are the responses we received. Please share your own responses in the comments below!


Yoshinori Ono, current series producer of Street Fighter

Street Fighter II was actually the game that prompted me to join Capcom. Seeing those eight characters on screen and all that was just super exciting for me. At the time, I was actually a college student, and it cost 100 yen per play. That equates to basically a dollar in U.S. currency. 

It was already really difficult for me to pay for college tuition, but despite that, I kept just throwing 100-yen coins into the machine over and over again, forgetting all about tuition. 

Street Fighter II ended up eating up a lot of my time, and as such, it ended up taking a lot of my college units as well. That was always an influence of Street Fighter II in my life.

"It was already really difficult for me to pay for college tuition, but despite that, I kept just throwing 100-yen coins into the machine over and over again, forgetting all about tuition."

At that time, there were racing games, action games, and shooters, that was all happening in the arcade, and people were competing on having best clear times, or best high score, or whatnot. But with Street Fighter II, it was the very first time I ever saw a game where you had to fight with logic, you had to have strategy. On top of that, your opponent was a human being, so you actually had to have an understanding of what their habits were. You actually had to build strategies around the person that you're playing against. It was actually the very first game that had that. 

People can look back at Street Fighter II and say, "That wasn't a very balanced fighting game," and maybe that's true. But, at the same time, it was the seed that ended up creating this environment where you're battling between two people, two minds battling. 

It ended up eventually evolving into Street Fighter II Turbo, but Street Fighter II was definitely the bud that eventually evolved into a fully bloomed flower. And that has stayed there; that legacy will always be there.

Yoko Shimomura, composer on Street Fighter II and many other game soundtracks, including Kingdom Hearts and Legend of Mana 

My most formative memory would be winning the Best Music Award from a magazine called Gamest and attending its awards ceremony. I hadn't yet experienced the feeling of being number one, so I was very happy to be given an award with the word "best" in it.

The legacy it has left would of course be its fans, don't you think? I'm happy that the game has transcended generations and given birth to many sequels while being deeply loved by its fans. I'm very proud of Street Fighter II.

Junya Christopher Motomura, designer at Arc System Works (Guilty Gear, BlazBlue)

I must have been about 14 when I first touched Street Fighter II at a friend's house, and it immediately captured me. What was unique to SF2 was that the player was given a huge choice in what character you want to fight as, and how to fight. It was more than a game. It was a medium for expressing one's preference, style, and attitude.

And that is exactly what a young teenager like me wanted at that time.

"Street Fighter II was the game that sparked the imagination and passion for game development in me."

At the same time, Street Fighter II was the game that sparked the imagination and passion for game development in me. I couldn't stop thinking about the game, and how I could possibly change or improve it. Without Street Fighter II, I am sure I would have been a different person on a different career path.

I think it was the first game to make people seriously compete against each other. Of course there were many games before SF2 where you could compete against friends, but it must have been the first game that had the depth that was worth investing time and effort into. It made us gamers realize that overcoming your opponent (and yourself) was fun as hell.

Yosuke Hayashi, Team NINJA producer on Dead or Alive

I believe the legacy of all fighting games owes its lineage to Street Fighter II. Dead or Alive is no exception. It is an evolution which grew out from a different branch. However, its inception was rooted in Street Fighter II. I’m anxiously looking forward to seeing the progression of Street Fighter as it leads our fighting game genre into the future!

Michael Murray, game designer, TEKKEN Project Team

Street Fighter really created the VS Fighting genre. Mastering complex inputs that result in rewarding in-game animations/attacks, characters with unique abilities, each from different locations throughout the world, stages with visual themes and music tailored to specific characters and based on certain locales – all of these are elements that would become staple in games that followed.
I’m old enough to remember playing SF2 at a local grocery store, where the cabinet had no instructions or move-lists, and part of the fun was finding a move before your friends, practicing to execute it consistently, and then pummeling your friends until they learn how to adapt. Up until then, most popular games you would play by yourself or co-op, and the only competition among friends was for the highest score. With the formula of learning a game’s system, choosing a character that suits your play style, practicing until you can use the character’s techniques consistently, and then finally competing head-to-head with a friend or someone in your local arcade, you could even say SF2 was an early base for e-sports.

James Goddard, creator of Weaponlord, design director on Killer Instinct (2013), co-lead on SF II Hyper

I will never forget the day my friend called me and said let’s go to Sunnyvale Golfland and play this game they have on test. We walk-in and there is a crowd around Street Fighter II, we had to wait 20 mins to get to play. It was overwhelming, 6 buttons, people talking in whispers about ‘secret moves’ (and gesturing strange motions), it was wild. We stayed for hours until I had no money left. This was January 1991. I lived literally 1 block from Sunnyvale Golfland and I started playing every day. This led me to a job at Capcom within months, Next I was working on the series, and my life was forever changed.

While SFII inspired so many of us to make other fighting games, there is something SFII did that no other game can touch- it founded the FGC (Fighting Game Community). I am lucky to have a unique perspective on this legacy, as I was there. It was started with simple weekly SFII tournaments at Sunnyvale Golfland. Suddenly everywhere there were reports of tournaments nationwide at a bunch of mom & pop arcades. The community grew like wildfire and was so passionate and thirsty for knowledge, groups of players would drive hours or even states to face other people and learn more strategies. (no internet back then folks) I have over the course of my career watched this grass roots movement grow the FGC into international phenomenon it is now and it is amazing how players today are just as competitive, hungry for knowledge and passionate as they were when we all had mullets!

When I think about SFII and everything it has touched in my life. It’s in my blood as a gamer, it inspired my career path; the lifelong friends I have made, and the ever growing FGC community and Tournaments. This was all created by it’s incredible depth and exciting ever changing match-ups. I cannot image what the face of gaming would be if not for SFII.

That’s the legacy of SFII. It's a total game changer. Happy 25th Anniversary!

Mike Zaimont, design director at Lab Zero Games, designer of Skull Girls

My first memory of SF2 is actually playing it in some pizza place in New York in 1991 when I was 10. I was with a group of kids, and my friend picked the green guy that I wanted to pick, so I couldn't pick him. Instead, I chose the girl, and found out that by hitting all the buttons a lot she would kick them bunches and win. I think I won three times in a row, it was glorious! 

The impact of Street Fighter II can't be overstated, but it goes much further than financial success. Though people will often point to Karate Champ / Yie Ar Kung Fu / Fighting Street as the beginnings of the fighting game genre, I don't really put them in the same category. They had the concept, the early idea, but SF2 was the first game that executed it well. 

The huge sprites, the backgrounds, the parallax floors, the sounds...though video-gamer me wants to talk about how amazing it looked and felt, game-designer me notes that though it was a huge leap forward in terms of presentation. It was an equally large advance in terms of game design, and laid the foundation for many of the concepts that you will find in nearly every fighting game from then on.

"There are games released in recent years that do not handle parts of their character interactions as well as SF2 does"

Fighting Street (Street Fighter one) was HARD to play! SF2 added negative edge (button release) activation for special moves, a much more lenient input parser, and a kara-cancel period on normal attacks, all just to make it easier for players to do special moves. The way blockstun/hitstun/hitstop work, projectiles and projectile interaction, knockdown and wakeup, there are so many places in SF2 where you can see the thought that was put into designing a fighting game that would be as much fun as possible for a wide variety of players. The designers wanted to make players feel cool, and they succeeded. (They even went as far as--in SF2 only--making each button press have a 1/256 chance of randomly executing a special move instead of a normal attack, to get players more excited about playing the game.)

There are some wonderful articles about the development of SF2, things like they couldn't get the knockback from moves to look right procedurally so they went and hand-tweaked the character's backward movement per frame. The dev team studied every aspect of the game, and as a result much about it just feels "right". A lot of the knockoff fighting games created to try and grab a piece of SF2's success didn't do this extra obsessive tinkering, and they ended up being much worse games. It sounds cheesy, but players can really feel the love and dedication that went into making SF2.

SF2 set the standard, and was hugely advanced for its time -- there are games released in recent years that do not handle parts of their character interactions as well as SF2 does. The entire fighting game genre owes its existence to SF2, plain and simple. The fight is everything.

Adam Heart, competitive player, former editor-in chief of Shoryuken, designer of Divekick, lead combat designer on Killer Instinct Season 2 and Season 3 at Iron Galaxy Studios

I first encountered Street Fighter II: The World Warrior at a skating rink during a middle-school class gathering. What could be better that skating in circles with your classmates? How about the most incredible looking video game I’d ever seen? It didn’t hurt that it was also the best playing game I’d ever touched.
And that is what Street Fighter always was to me. An innovator in gameplay mechanics and feel, and a leader in art direction and execution. I hope, going forward, to see Capcom continue making fighting games that inspire a new generation as much as the original games inspired me. Street Fighter created a genre that has shaped the entire course of my life, and for that I will always love it.

Seth Killian, formerly at Capcom and Sony Santa Monica, now working on Rising Thunder

Put simply, Street Fighter II defined a genre. All of the great games to follow defined themselves against the template that it established, sure in the knowledge that there there were millions of players eager to try and prove themselves against one another. It took gaming from a sterile list of high scores to a new place of in-your-face competition, and the world is still trying to catch up. My first memory of the game was "other." At a time when most games seemed like clever toys, SF2 felt--immediately--like something bigger. It was beautiful, baffling, and made every loss feel somehow personal. Most importantly, it injected games with humanity, by offering enough depth to let people express themselves through a character and a playstyle. Winning at SF2 required not just memorizing patterns and little tricks, but seeing straight into the dark heart of your opponents. It taught you fear and fearlessness in equal measure, and if you were good, it taught you a lot about yourself.

Adam "Adam Atomic" Saltsman, creator of Canabalt and Overland

I'm sure my first memories of SF2 are not dissimilar from other dudes my age, but I actually found it on console first, not arcade. We played a lot of Champion Edition on the Sega Genesis, but like... so badly. SO BADLY. SF2 was one of the first competitive games I ever played and liked, but I so completely missed the point. I had no remote concept of how deep it was, or ... what a deep game even was.

When Ono's gorgeous SFIV was released 5 or so years ago, I actually had a very similar experience to SF2 as a kid -- basically overwhelmed by the art direction but not at all grasping the systemic depth or competitive gameplay stuff. Then Ben Ruiz (Aztez) started tutoring me in SF3, and walking me through the idea of frames and frame advantage and stuff, and at the same time I was reading some of Seth Killian's footsies basics stuff, and was really over-awed by YouTubes of The Moment, and suddenly it all kind of clicked.

My first experience with SF2 was really positive but also really shallow, and then some 20-odd years later, I actually had a very powerful and very deep experience with one of the sequels that is still something I think about a lot. So that's a cool legacy. 

Ben Ruiz, creator of Aztez

Street Fighter II was my childhood rabbit hole. As a kid, I was exposed first to SF2 (vanilla), and it was amazing to see 8 distinct characters with their own significant handful of unique attacks and properties. I obsessively jumped from character to character, figuring out their special moves and getting familiar with their normals. I drew the timeless characters in class and pretended to be them on the playground. I have phenomenal memories of learning from and teaching with Street Fighter friends, and of the inherent fun and the fury of the game experience. Haha!

I think Street Fighter II's legacy is the fighting game itself. It singlehandedly evolved a near-lifeless genre of games, and its astronomical success made it the progenitor of the modern player vs player fighting game. Capcom's drive to perfect and maintain and update the game has not only sustained its fan community for 25 years, but fighting games and fighting game culture as well.

Patrick Miller, community manager for Rising Thunder, author of From Masher to Master: The Educated Video Game Enthusiast’s Fighting Game Primer

SF2 owned my brain from the first time I laid eyes on a World Warrior cabinet (7-11 on Clement St. in San Francisco). They say a writer's first book is about their family; mine was mostly about Ryu. And as I've continued to play, write about, and work on fighting games, I haven't stopped finding inspiration in SF2. Great games change the way we relate to other people, and none have done that more for me than SF2 has.

Samantha Kalman, founder of Timbre Interactive, creator of Sentris

Down the street from where I grew up was a little mom & pop pizza shop called Alfy's. As a kid, stuffed full of pizza on a Friday night I wandered to the tiny room crammed with four arcade cabinets. There I saw Street Fighter II for the first time. The bright colors and sounds practically shouted at me, begging to be played. So I begged my parents for a quarter. Nudging through the 8 character roster for the first time, I was drawn to the big green wild man Blanka. When he zapped people with electricity (a ridiculously cool move by itself) you could see their skeletons! I wanted to see all the different skeletons.

The SNES version of the game was the first game to give me thumb blisters. I rented it and stayed up all night playing with my best friend. With all the sequels and ports, my memories of Street Fighter are intensely social. Matches were always intensely competitive -- but with friends. Trash talking just happened and everyone had so much fun. When I saw a really good player at an Alpha cabinet at the Northgate arcade, I asked how to do the difficult moves and he showed me. The game became a way to make new friends, letting a mutual appreciation for the game bridge the gap between two strangers to become friends.

After high school I made friends with a couple that hosted monthly fighting game tournaments. Those Saturday nights embody many of my favorite gaming memories. Eating great food, trading techniques, trash-talking, discovering secrets, and improving our skills as a community of friends. Street Fighter II and its legacy represent a purity of joy in social gaming before "Social Gaming" became a bad word.

Daigo "The Beast" Umehara, competitive player, repeat Street Fighter Champion, 2D Kakutō Gēmu no Kami

My earliest memory of SF2 dates back to age 12 or 13, so that’s in ’93-94.

For 3 years, there was an annual national SF2 championship held at Ryokoku Kokugi-kan (Sumo Arena, which is also used for boxing and other martial arts). 8,500 players who made it through the qualifiers gathered from all over Japan. It was done with Super Famicom. Whopping 8,500 qualified players! Can you believe it? A crazy huge number of players entered into the qualifiers to be narrowed down to an opening round with 8,500 competitors. Looking back, we know that it was at a new height of the SF history.

Small mom & pop toy stores also joined the league to host qualifiers all over the country among big arcades. We would stare at store popups and fliers, which listed all the names of the hosting stores from small to big. We would look up where they were and how to get there, to the unknown places every weekend. We had no Internet, you know. We didn’t know what and who’d be waiting for us. We could not find out whom you would match against and how he would play until we arrived there. It was such a different time from now. I remember those exciting feelings looking at the popups. Those exhilarating feelings. Such sweet memories.

There has been and will be no other game like that ever. Because SF2 established its genre and it is the milestone that’s been written in the history. It is the legacy. It also means a milestone to me; if there had been no SF2, I would not have been here today as a pro-gamer. SF2 enthralled me just as it did to so many others. I have immense respect for the creators of SF2. I will forever be in debt to them.

John "Choiboy" Choi, competitive player, repeat Street Fighter champion

My first memory of the game is seeing it at San Jose Golfland with a crowd of people around it. The game instantly caught my attention with the different style of fighters. I was hooked instantly and spent many hours trying to figure out how to perform special moves and how to win. Looking back, I think the most interesting thing from that time is that there was no internet or references of any sort. So everyone started off on the same footing.

The only way you gained knowledge about the game was by traveling to different locations and playing and talking to people. There was no training mode so I remember it took many months before someone figured out how to do Zangief's SPD. And when people discovered 2in1 combos the scene went nuts, like they just discovered Atlantis. 

"It is hard to imagine my life without Street Fighter and I think it will be in my life one way or another forever."

My fondest memory of that time was going to almost any 7-11, bowling alley, pizza parlor, etc. and seeing a SF2 cabinet with a different group of players. I tried to visit as many places as possible to gather more knowledge about the game. It was always exciting learning a new combo or tactic somewhere then unleashing it at my local stomping grounds. It truly was like The World Warrior as I would go to a new location as much as possible until I've defeated everyone there then move onto the next spot. This basic idea of advancing past rivals is what has culminated in the large tournament circuits today. 

The characters are so iconic and ubiquitous. You can show almost anyone a picture of Ryu or Chun Li and they can instantly identify who they are. It is crazy to think that I've been playing this game for more than half of my life and have met so many people through it. Even though my priorities have changed over the years and I'm not so active in the scene, I still watch streams and communicate with players whenever I get a chance. It is hard to imagine my life without Street Fighter and I think it will be in my life one way or another forever. 

I'm really excited to see how the scene has evolved over the years with events attracting thousands of players and viewers worldwide. I look forward to seeing the next generation of players and seeing how the scene can grow even larger and continue to cement the legacy of the game.

Mark Julio, community & sponsorship manager at Mad Catz, "proud owner of the largest arcade stick collection in the world"

I must have been nine years old. I remember visiting a local arcade at the mall and seeing a crowd of people surrounding a small arcade machine in the corner. It was a lot to take in at the time because prior to that, I’d never been familiar with a fighting game. Seeing people compete and use their skills to defeat each other made the excitement level rise way more than when we were just pressing buttons vs computer AI. Now, decades later, an entire genre of fighting games and a long lasting community with the core focus on competition still reigning supreme… You gotta love it.
It might not be my favorite game. It might not be the game I play religiously… but Street Fighter II: The World Warrior is definitely the game that influenced the industry and fans to keep evolving to where we are today. 

Matt Dahlgren, Capcom USA's associate director of brand marketing and eSports

I remember when I was in middle school, I was hanging out with some kids that were a few years older than me. We ended up going to a Pizza Hut which had a SF2 machine, and they took it pretty seriously. My first game I ended up perfecting one of them with Chun-Li. It was pretty satisfying and I got some good props. I didn't end up winning the full match, but it was the start of me taking fighting games seriously. I had to have known what I was doing by then to get the perfect, but that's the first memorable experience I had with a fighting game.

Street Fighter II will forever be the birth of fighting games. It was the true innovator in the space, and while countless others have mimicked or drawn inspiration from its gameplay formula, no other game has had the same impact. I believe SF2 is responsible for one of the most pure forms of 1 vs 1 competition, and its legacy continues to grow, with one of the strongest and most culturally diverse communities in gaming.

Mike Ross, Esports program manager FGC for Twitch, half of Cross Counter TV channel

My first memory of the game takes me back to Pizza Hut in 1991. I remember my older brother telling me, "They have Street Fighter here!". This meant absolutely nothing to me in the heat of the moment, but seeing the excitement on his face let me know I was in for an amazing time. I popped my quarter into the machine and found myself selecting Guile. Why? Look at his hairdo!

The legacy of SF2 began to spawn from these types of locations. Everyone was going to a pizza shops, arcades, convenient stores, and everywhere else in between just to get their hands on Street Fighter. My main stomping ground was New York Pizzeria. After every baseball game we had over at Creekside Park, I could always look forward to playing SF2 in the evening. I hadn't realized then that these type of meetups were the beginnings of the FGC (Fighting Game Community). 

Street Fighter leaves behind a legacy that you didn't find too oftenwith other games at the time. That being the camaraderie born between players from all over the world. Never in a million years would I imagine players from Japan sharing drinks and laughs with those from America. No matter how grand of scale SF gets, I'll always see us as kids at the pizza shop just wanting to win. 

David Sirlin, fighting game analyst and balancer, author of Playing to Win: Becoming The Champion, creator of Yomi and Puzzle Strike

When Street Fighter II came out, it was immediately something people wanted to play against each other. There was a player at a local arcade we called "The Dhalsim Master" because he was able to play that mysterious character and do really well. Another of the best local players played Guile, and he even looked like Guile. He got a haircut sort of like Guile's just to push it even further.

I remember thinking it was so exciting that we were all discovering more and more about the game over time. How 2-in-1 combos work. How the dizzy system worked, and the ability to do "re-dizzy combos". That Guile could do a "standing flash kick" (stand fierce -> flash kick) when done with the right timing. I played the game a lot and even entered tournaments early on too. We basically had a set of "professional" players and "casual" players. I remember being better than all the "casual" players, but at the low end of the professionals, so I was really into learning all I could to get better and climb up the ranks.

"Street Fighter's form of fairness is the gold standard, and I personally do my best to live up to it as a developer."

I see a legacy as what's been passed on to all of us, all these years later.

The first thing is pretty much all of eSports. Street Fighter was before DOTA, before Doom and Quake, before StarCraft, etc. At the time, arcades were one of the biggest forms of gaming, and they were not about direct competition...until Street Fighter II. As soon as SF2 arrived, it's like the genie was let out of the bottle. There was an explosion of competitive video gaming that followed in its wake.

It's also important that this big boom of competition spawned by Street Fighter II was "fair competition". The world of Street Fighter competition and tournaments is a meritocracy. Our community didn't care about anyone's race or religion or who their parents were, etc. If you were good at the game (as in, had actual merit), you rose to the top. You also could not buy a more powerful character and you could not grind in order to gain material advantage in the game. The saddest thing is that so many modern competitive games have become unfair forms of competition that allow paying for power and allow grinding for material advantage. Those who grew up in world of fairness and meritocracy really got something valuable , something we can carry into the rest of our lives. Street Fighter's form of fairness is the gold standard, and I personally do my best to live up to it as a developer.

Another thing Street Fighter II did was put asymmetric gameplay on the map. Each character plays differently, and you only have to learn and understand how to use one of them to be able to participate in the rich tapestry of the system. Players specialize in a given character for many different reasons: maybe the gameplay style matches their skills, maybe the story and personality of the character resonates with them, or maybe they just think their character is cool. Whether it's characters in a fighting game or MOBA, classes in World of Warcraft, decks in Magic: the Gathering, or races in StarCraft, asymmetry in competitive games is just so fun and interesting.

You can trace my own games in the Fantasy Strike universe back to those Street Fighter roots as well. I think just about anyone making asymmetric competitive games probably owes at least some debt to Street Fighter.

Happy 25th Anniversary to you, Street Fighter!

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