In a time when most non-Smash Bros. fighting games have waned in popularity behind larger live service and battle royale games, the latest entry in the storied franchise is looking to take back the belt and reinvigorate the genre, paving the way for other major players on the horizon like Mortal Kombat 1 and Tekken 8.
As one of the best games in the series, Street Fighter 6 feels like a true labor of love and that’s due to the intricate work done by its developers at Capcom, headed by Game Director Takayuki Nakayama and Producer Shuhei Matsumoto, both of whom worked on Street Fighter V, helping to turn that title from a barebones disappointment into one of the most robust esports offerings around. Matsumoto-San himself appeared on Rolling Stone’s Twitch channel last year to discuss the challenges of reinventing the series for a new generation.
Ahead of the game’s launch, Rolling Stone sat down with the duo to discuss their approach to crafting the game’s hip-hop infused tone, building the series’ first open world, and why Zangief is the first character they begin designing.
Here are 9 things we learned about Street Fighter 6 from the creators themselves.
The details below come directly from conversations with Takayuki-San and Matsumoto-San and were interpreted by a translator. Some parts have been edited for clarity.
The tone was decided very early on and came from a genuine love of hip-hop.
According to the developers, the influence of a hip-hop or urban aesthetic was part of the game’s design from the very beginning, with a “unanimous decision” to go with something close to the game’s current style from the earliest concept phase of the game.
Both Nakayama-San and Mastumoto-San have been fans of hip-hop since childhood, dating back to their experiences in middle school and high school. For Takayuki Nakayama, that meant growing up listening to Public Enemy and, eventually, branching off into different international takes on the genre, including German and Italian hip-hop. For Shuhei Matsumoto, he prefers a more mid-1990s and early-2000s era, with Dr. Dre topping his list of all-time greats.
The duo felt that it was important to emphasize the “street” part of the game’s title, be it through the each character’s body language and personality or incorporating the “graffiti” aesthetic throughout the UI and combat. The motion and philosophy of dancing — specifically breakdancing — were also essential to individual characters and the game’s world at large.
Research literally took the developers to the streets.
When defining for themselves what “urban” culture entails, the developers were adamant about getting tangible points of reference. For research, members of the team traveled to Los Angeles to meet with graffiti artists and view murals to understand the look and feel of the art form, stateside.
The art team, specifically, traveled to different skating events and skate parks to do hands-on training and experimentation with graffiti painting. Those points of reference didn’t just impact the graffiti splash mechanics in combat, but the look and feel of the game’s primary setting, Metro City, as well as being directly incorporated into characters like Kimberly, who utilizes spray paint in combat and her cinematics.
For characters like Dee Jay, whose fighting style is built around breakdancing and fluid movement, actual dancers were contracted to do motion capture for the team to build from.
Despite some similarities, there were no specific real-life models for the characters.
Although historically, there have been some allusions to real-life inspirations for the character roster (Hello, M. Bison), the team insists that there are no specific or direct 1:1 models for the new characters they’ve created. Instead, they’ve leaned on multiple points of reference to fully develop each character’s fighting style, with their personality and aesthetic stemming from there.
Take the game’s poster boy, Luke, for instance. Despite looking like Popeye, his character is an MMA fighter, so the designers looked at a slew of MMA fighters to blend various elements together, including “how they express themselves [and] celebrate” or “how they might vocalize themselves.” From there, they built the affably charming, but slightly bro-y version of the character that exists in the game.
For a character like Luke’s rival, Jamie, who exhibits a drunken boxing style of combat, it’s easy to point toward the Drunken Master himself, Jackie Chan, as an inspiration. And he is, as both Nakayama-San and Mastumoto-San consider themselves fans of Chan, but it’s also clear just looking at Jamie’s facade that the buck stops at sharing a martial art.
The developers tried to find authentic reasoning behind each character’s fighting style.
For all the newcomers, and as they always have, the team at Capcom focused on creating a diverse group of fighters that represent various regions that they want to bring to the forefront. Dating back to the original Street Fighter II, there’s been a mandate for the developers to ask themselves, “What country does this character represent? What fighting style are they going to utilize?” and then focus heavily on bringing that to life in a thoughtful way.
For new fighter, Manon, they thought hard on how to marry her fighting style with her origin as a French dancer. As they described, “Judo is actually pretty popular in France; it’s a fighting style that is practiced and well known, and there’s a lot of strong Judo fighters in France.” This led to building one of the game’s more elegant fighter becoming a practitioner of Judo, with the martial art infused with Manon’s balletic gait.
But it wasn’t easy, as the team described: “[We] had to make sure that it’s not a really harsh contrast between their origin and their fighting style. They really need to mesh well.”
Those challenges were reared with another new character, Kimberly. Capcom had wanted to create another “ninja” character, but the fighting style didn’t inherently match Kimberly’s origins in the U.S. But a solution presented itself in the form of a legacy character: Final Fight’s protagonist Guy.
Guy, who debuted in the franchise in 1995’s Street Fighter Alpha, is of Japanese descent and practices ninjitsu, but he’s also a famous figure in this game’s world after the events of the Final Fight series. Kimberly is a Guy stan and adopts his fighting style. Problem solved, and a new champion is born.
Metro City is a blend of multiple American cities.
When you boot up the game and delve into its primary single player mode, World Tour, you’ll quickly see some familiar locations. Metro City is the main setting for Capcom’s Final Fight series, but it has some obvious inspirations. The first hub you have access to is the spitting image of Manhattan’s Time Square (it’s called Beat Square), and it’s not the only allusion you’ll see.
According to the team, “[in] the original design of Metro City, it wasn’t really clear if this was supposed to be a West Coast or an East Coast city.” When the game was first made, Metro City just felt like an ‘American’ city.” There’s even areas that resemble the Golden Gate Bridge and Bay Area visually, but they’re not supposed to be directly referencing it.
During the process of building World Tour, however, the designers knew that they wanted to further flesh out Metro City and give it its own identity. The goal was to reimagine past areas and stages from the Final Fight series and how they’d look in a fully 3D environment.
To that end, the team has filled World Tour to the brim with Easter eggs and references to the series. One of the first major characters you can come across early on is Thrasher/Damnd, the first boss of the original Final Fight game.
The team wanted to challenge themselves to update the legacy characters.
There’s a difficult tug-of-war with a legacy title like Street Fighter 6, especially being a fighting game. Although the game’s overarching narrative isn’t hugely consequential to many casual players, hardcore fans who follow the ins and outs of the chronology and canon expect to see the events of the story reflected in its characters.
But they also have a deep attachment to each character’s iconic looks and the nostalgia associated. The developers, too, feel this internal conflict, but also feel the impetus to challenge themselves when it comes to redesigning legacy characters for one simple reason: they rarely get to.
Unlike game franchises like Mortal Kombat, which is now approaching its twelfth installment, Street Fighter has kept its output mostly humble over its 35-year history, meaning that there aren’t that many opportunities to recreate or heavily redesign the original batch of characters. This goes doubly when certain installments (read: the Alpha Series; Street Fighter III) are predicated on introducing a mostly new cast.
So, the team took great joy in putting their characters through the ringer, like Ken Masters, whose grizzled appearance became meme fodder immediately after his new design was unveiled. But all’s not lost, as Capcom recently announced that the first wave of alternative costumes to be unlocked in-game include the classic looks for the OG warriors.
The in-game graffiti serves a purpose.
One of the great secrets of game design that the YouTube and social media interaction with developers has brought to light is the difficulty of designing visual flair that both look nice and serves a purpose.
A good game feels responsive, both physically and visually, and its essential to have a feedback loop where players are being both engaged by looking at the game but also being fed vital information about what they’re accomplishing. In this game, one of those keys identifiers is also its biggest aesthetic flourish.
The aforementioned “graffiti” style that adds colors and flair to every aspect of Street Fighter 6’s UI and environments also serves an important role in letting the player know how they’re performing and that the moves they’re executing have impact. As told by the devs, “[We] really wanted to make it easy to understand what’s happening in the context of the fight. So, if something cool and good happens, then you get to see this big graffiti paint splash on the screen, which easily tells [you], ‘Oh, I did something great and I’m winning this fight.’”
Kimberly mains know the feeling well.
They began developing character models with the character Zangief.
From a layman’s perspective, it’s hard to comprehend where a developer even begins with designing the look and feel of a Street Fighter title, especially when creating a fully new visual style. But it’s also confounding to think that the game has to be designed around characters and adorably small as Lily and as towering as Russian meat-wall Zangief.
Turns out, it begins with Zangief.
As explained by the devs, “It terms of the size of the character models, [it’s] kind of an interesting story, but when developing Street Fighter titles in general, [we] always start by working on the largest character model first, which in this case is Zangief.”
They went on to explain that creating the biggest character first sets the benchmark for how large everyone else can be in correlation. If Zangief is the cap, Ryu becomes the standard, with Chun-li representing a smaller-end leading character.
There’s room for live events in Street Fighter 6.
As we began to wrap up our conversation, there was one lingering question: what can we expect from the “live” portion of the live service model?
With the game teasing Dee Jay’s songs, we asked if there were plans to release any of his tracks in full. The answer was cryptic, but the developers pointed us toward the World Tour mode, which has a subplot around Dee Jay’s career in music.
But when asked about the Battle Hub and whether fans could expected to see musical performances or community events like the ones programmed into Fortnite, the answer teased the potential.
“There [are] probably different ways to accomplish something like this, but Street Fighter 6 is designed a bit different from a game like Fortnite, so that Travis Scott event that they did [in Fortnite] might be a little bit difficult just due to the specs of the current game,” they said. “But [we] are interested in those types of activations, [maybe] inviting a famous artist into the Battle Hub [for fans] to communicate with.”
So, no guarantees that The Eras Tour will make its way to Battle Hub, but one can dream.