Street Fighter 2: An oral history

About two years ago, Vanity Fair ran an oral history of The Sopranos. That approach is nothing new and Vanity Fair isn’t the only one doing it, but when I read it I realized I hadn’t seen much of that for games. So I tried to think of a game that would make sense to cover that way. Something that would be fun to tell with a lot of interviews from people in different roles. A little while later, I landed on Street Fighter 2 — it was important enough to justify the time, designed by self-described crazy people who seemed like they might disagree on things, and had enough left untold that I wouldn’t just be rehashing old stories.

Street Fighter is kind of rare that way. Most popular games have been covered to death, and Street Fighter certainly has, but I guess due to translation issues and because many of the original developers no longer work at Capcom there aren’t as many interviews with the original staff out there as you might expect. In English, anyway. A lot of the history coverage available either sources a 2002 interview done by Edge or people who didn’t work on the game at the time and are passing on stories second hand. So I figured it was a good candidate, not only to talk about its development, but to get into the fun side stories — the U.S. sales division, the glitches, the court case, the box art disputes, and so on.

I also really liked the idea of showing the history from different perspectives. I’ve read lots of interviews with Japanese developers and marketing people from their U.S. subsidiaries on other games, and it often seems like there’s something missing when you only hear from one of them. So I thought it would be interesting to have multiple people answer the same questions and see if they agreed with each other. Especially someone like Yoshiki Okamoto who oversaw Street Fighter 2 — he’s quick to joke around, so it can be hard to tell when he’s telling the truth. Part of this came about by accident too — I initially went to Japan to do interviews and not as many came through as I hoped, so when I got home I figured I needed to fill in the holes with people who had worked in the U.S. office. Then later after I’d done a bunch of those, I was lucky enough to piggyback more interviews into a second Japan trip, and everything came together really well. (The Akira Nishitani interview, which is the one I was happiest to get, took around nine months of pitching and coordination.)

Then, after hundreds of little steps gathering photos and doing edits, the final step was the art. I had interviewed Mick McGinty for the story, since he was the artist behind the controversial U.S. box art for the first few SF2 console titles. And I thought it would be fun to have him illustrate the story, and somehow he agreed. Kinda crazy how that idea worked out.

Anyway, here’s the story: Street Fighter 2: An oral history.