Community Blog: SSFIV Developer Blog: Character Design
Developers of Super Street Fighter 4 talk about character design.
Hey everyone, it's been awhile! This is Tsukamoto.
Last week our Dev Blog took a break as Ms. Shiozawa's blog featured a special update announcing the sale date! After watching the anime trailer, Juri's way cool closing line of "This won't hurt a bit" has been stuck in my head.
Well then, this week I'd like to talk with designer Mr. Kamei about the character designs. What kind of episodes took place during the development of Street Fighter IV?
-- First off, tell us about how the character designs for SFIV were decided on.
I spoke about this a little in the 2nd blog entry, but when deciding the direction of the SFIV characters there were quite a bit of twists and turns. In trying to determine their shape, with the 3D body, silhouette, and volume, we came up with many different variations before deciding. For example, we had a really thin Ryu, a larger Ryu, a Ryu with a big body but small head...in the end, we felt that the current model was his best look in 3D. But before we got to that point, there were over 10 different variations of Ryu.
-- What was the general feeling you were going for?
We wanted to bring the flavor of the old SF to life. Basically, in 3D games elongated bodies look pretty cool but we thought it wouldn't really fit well with a fighting game. With the exaggerated movements according to the game systems, the characters have to move many times faster than a normal person would. So we had to do modeling and deformations in order to match that, and the more we do the more it becomes unsightly to see. So in order to get both a cool look and easy-to-understand movements working together, we setting on doing deformations of the old pixel style. With pixels, you can easily understand their silhouette, and we can also include some cool deformations. By adding deformations, we can have easy-to-understand expressions in just a few frames of movement.
Even for female characters, they can have facial expressions where you see them taking merciless damage.
Yes we included that. But personally, I'd like to improve upon that and have the characters sustain injuries. Everyone looks cool when they win without taking damage, but if you just squeeze out a victory then they should look all beat up (laughs).
A face they wouldn't want to show to anyone. But, if you get too detailed with that then the game's rating will shoot up, so you'd have to pull that off very well.
Aside from the face, fighting games have a lot of intense movements. A jab punch comes out in 3 frames - 3/60ths of a second - but in that short time we'd like you to be able to recognize the forearm, the upper arm, and if their fist is clinched or not - that's the kind of silhouette we're aiming for. So that's why we basically haven't changed our way of thinking from the pixel era.
-- The movements in SFIV definitely feel like they are easy to understand.
You know, in SFIV we've added a transformation ability to every part. For example, when a character throws a punch, their fist will scale slightly to become larger. During the pixel era, in order to make an impression on the players, when characters threw punches their fists were drawn just a little bit bigger. So depending on the character, there are scale animations to exaggerate parts of their body as they throw attacks. Internally, its only a 1.05 magnification, so if you take a quick look at it you won't notice, but I think the silhouette will leave an impression.
An Image That Shows The Scale
Without scaling, you don't really get the good feeling that is Street Fighter. It would be more accurate, sure, but it would be a little harder to understand. This is one of the benefits and drawbacks of 3D models.
Yeah, 3D models as-is aren't very interesting.
Yeah, they're too straightforward. During the 2D era when everything was hand-drawn, the designers could think "This is a really heavy punch, so let's have the character's face warp a little bit, mouth wide-open, and we'll draw their fist a little bigger" and then they could animate it that way, but for 3D models that type of thing became a little difficult. At one point, we did think about making it more realistic, but then after giving it more thought we considered not making it in 3D at all. But one of SFIV's themes is replicating the great things about 2D in 3D, so we pressed on...this is probably one of the hardest things for the designers to tackle.
It took a lot of steps to get to that themes, but in the end I feel like we were able to stick to our roots and make a design, like the pixel era, where you can understand a lot of things in just a short span of frames.
-- Speaking of pixels, the SFII and Alpha series styles were pretty different. Were there any episodes in relation to this?
As the Alpha series was based on anime, the deformations were more severe and the information content was less than compared to the SFII pixels. So what happened for the new characters such as Guy and Cody, everyone had their own personal image of what they should look like. Even just asking the development staff, no one could agree on what Guy should look like (laughs). As there were a lot of opinions, it was pretty hard to get to a place we would all agree on. Of course, this is true for any series, but it was the most difficult for the Alpha characters.
-- It seems like it'd be easiest and fastest to just copy the silhouette from the pixel art and make the model from that.
We did that at first, but in just making them 3D as-is there were various problems that popped up.
Guy was particularly difficult.
As Guy was the first Alpha character we ported over, we had to spend a lot of time thinking in what way to do the deformations. If you look at Ryu you'll get a good understanding of this, but in fighting games, most characters basic pose has their knees bent. They don't stand straight, but somewhat bent over. But Guy stands straight up with one knee straight. So he ends up towering over Ryu, and in 3D, what happens is that we have to make his legs short. His kicks have less range than his punches (laughs).
For pixel art, we can just draw the legs long and they'll look cool! As Alpha was 2D, we could have these cool and cute anime kicks for all the characters, and that was one of the Alpha series's charms. But in 3D that becomes a difficult thing.
-- Were there any other difficult characters?
Yeah, Chun was a handful! Her model was changed so many times, I lost count! (laughs)
We changed her face even after the loketests.
The Chun-Li from then and now are completely different.
From the questionnaires at the loketests, we realized that the players wanted a better Chun. So we finished up all the other characters first, then our lead modeling designer appointed the "Month Of Chun Improvement" and we got to work (laughs).
Yeah, I remember that (laughs). We did that more than once, Arcade Month of Chun Improvement, Console Month of Chun Improvement...
Our lead designer was the one who would make the adjustments on her model body, then as her face changed (facial expressions) we'd have to fix that as well. I was the designer in charge of Chun-Li's facial expressions. So then the lead designer would make an adjustment to her body, and I'd follow up with the facial adjustment. Then we'd take a look at it, and if it didn't feel right we'd have to fix it again. That went on for quite a while.
-- Were there any characters where things went smoothly, or that you liked working on?
I'll have to go with Honda. Also, Dhalsim, Zangief, and Blanka. I'd played SFII when I was a kid, and I feel that their image in SFIV is the best match to that time. Its just how I feel, but I think that big strong characters are the easiest to reproduce.
-- Dhalsim is a pretty unique character.
Yes...speaking of, Dhalsim was one of the first characters we were able to get up on screen, after we figured out how to do Ryu. It was Ryu, Ken, Blanka, and Dhalsim. After figuring out the design direction with Ryu, Ken was easy enough to follow suit. Then Ono asked if we couldn't make some of the more unique characters, so we decided to make Blanka and Dhalsim.
When SFIV was still just in the inspection stages, we still hadn't officially gotten the green light for development. The developers as well as Ono were still trying to figure out just what "IV" would be.
I thought, "This might be the last time I get to make a Street Fighter character, so I'm just going to do what I want! Give Dhalsim as many bones as I like!" So as a result, Dhalsim's preparation got the elegant treatment (laughs).
A Picture From Back Then
Yeah, thank goodness we gave it our all back then. Its all about our love - if we didn't love the game, it wouldn't have been made.
-- Kind of surprising that Chun-Li wasn't among the first models to be made.
Yeah, we didn't have Chun-Li. If we think about The Month of Chun Improvement, if she'd been around back then then development would have come to a screeching halt! (laughs) Oh, I don't mean that as anything bad against Chun!
The Month of Chun Improvement was pretty heavy. Did it make you hate Chun?
Not at all. There are other characters who turned my dreams into nightmares.
-- Such as?
...Dhalsim. (laughs) At first, we couldn't get Sim's stretching animation right at all. In particular, his arms would get jagged, and we couldn't get them to stretch beyond a certain point without getting all messy. I'd always end up saying "Curse you Sim, why do you have to move like this! This is impossible in 3D!"
I remember we asked if it was okay if Dhalsim's arms only stretched a little bit. Okada's answer to that was "No!" (laughs) But we eventually got them stretching beautifully!
Dhalsim's Stretchy Arms
-- Is there anything else you'd like to point out about the SFIV character design?
What I'd like the players to notice is the level of detail given to SFIV's shader. Its a bit difficult to sum up with a shader is, but it's something that really adds a nice touch to the outward appearance of the 3D models. If you look at the expressions during Focus Attack or at the results screen, this will give you an idea of SFIV's unique shader. The extra touching effects in the PC version also come from the shader. Even with the same model, the shader can really add an extra sense of quality.
-- You mean the poster or watercolor look effect! That's the shader?
That's right. The shader has many different uses and tools, but in SFIV what we were going for was the moving painting look. Make the artwork of Street Fighter come to life, in 3D, and give it a sense of depth and presence - we felt that would be the most interesting expression for the game, and that's how we developed our shader.
As we re-did Ryu's model over and over again and looked for our direction, we also advanced our shader at the same time. I feel its a very unique expression, so I would be happy if everyone were to take note of it.
-- Are there any last words you'd like to leave to the fans who are looking forward to the character designs?
With SSFIV, since we had the experience of SFIV behind us we thought we'd be able to complete the development in no time, but this time as well we tinkered with it right up until the deadlines. The characters of SF are all very individualistic, so getting that to properly come across in 3D takes some trial and error. But in the end, I feel the new characters retain that high quality feel, and are designed to fit right in in SSFIV! If you have any thoughts after buying the game, I'd love to hear them. Please shoot me a line!
Well, we mostly talked about arcade SFIV, but I hope you all enjoyed today's entry.
The qualifiers for the National Tournament are under way! Arcade players, do your best! We here at the offices are praying that the players will really enjoy the tournament!
Well then, see you next week!
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