Street Fighter IV Launch Party

[dropcap size=big]W[/dropcap]hen modern gamers talk about video game franchises that shaped their lives, the Street Fighter series is sure to be spoken of with a certain amount of awesome reverence. First released by Capcom in 1987, Street Fighter has evolved into over a dozen editions, but the basic gameplay remains the same. The player controls a fighter who has his or her own unique moves and disciplines and the player must defeat the other martial artists in best-of-three style tournaments. The roster of fighters is chockfull of colorful characters that hail from all over the globe, like the consummate fighter Ryu from Japan, the wrestler Zangief from Russia and the portly brawler Rufus from the USA. Now, Capcom will release the much anticipated Street Fighter IV upon the gaming community and they invited Working Author to preview the game at a launch party held at the Geffen Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles.

It had been announced earlier in the week that the event would be open to the public so the line outside was already appreciably long two hours before the doors opened. The air was electric as gamers young and young at heart argued the finer points of the game, yelling out the cries that accompany their favorite fighters’ moves. Surprisingly, there weren’t as many cosplayers as one would expect to see at an event that surgically targeted die hard fans. The few gamers that did show up in costume mostly did it for laughs, like the guy who dressed up as the schoolgirl Sakura.

Inside, the Geffen MOCA had been turned into a nightclub/arcade with kiosks lining the walls featuring Street Fighter IV in different versions, including arcade, Xbox 360 and PS3. For the nostalgic, older versions of Street Fighter were available to play beneath a giant poster showcasing the various incarnations of the game in a complex flowchart that engulfed an entire wall. All the while a DJ Qbert spun pulse-pounding beats, mixing in the various fight music from the game.

Another part of the museum featured Street Fighter memorabilia, including action figures, custom video game controllers and comic books, while the adjacent room was reserved for the producer of the game, Yoshinori Ono. Fans lined up for his autograph on posters and other Street Fighter bric-a-brac. In yet another room, the Street Fighter animated film The Ties That Bind was being screened. The movie will be included in the collectors edition box set for console players. Lastly, an arena or sorts was created for the Street Fighter Fight Club where gamers were allowed to spar on a giant screen. If any one player could last 15 rounds undefeated, he or she would walk away with a coveted Chun-Li figurine.

In the middle of the evening, the cast from the upcoming film Street Fighter: The Legend of Chun-Li came out on stage to introduce the trailer for the movie. Present were Neal McDonough who plays bad guy Bison, Taboo from The Black Eyed Peas carrying his Vega mask, Chris Klein and a very amped Michael Clarke Duncan who plays Balrog. Film adaptations of video games have a history of being terrible movies, shamelessly capitalizing on the source material’s built-in fan base, but delivering nearly nothing that a fan of the game expects. Neal McDonough took time to address the point, saying, “We will not let you Street Fighter fans down. We worked our asses off.” The crowd cheered in approval. Street Fighter: The Legend of Chun-Li opens on February 27.

As for the game, Street Fighter IV is a great achievement on all levels. The graphics are beautiful to behold, the controls are fluid and the gameplay never fails to satisfy no matter how many rounds you play. Most gamers play Street Fighter for the competitive aspects, so the basic beauty might go overlooked. If so, they’re missing out on one of the highest production values in a fighting game ever. Not only is everything rendered in full 3D, but the fighters also have a gorgeous cel-shaded look to them, giving them a kind of comic book feel. When performing special attacks, the fighters’ movements leave a black trail in the air that looks like a brushstroke. Game producer Yoshinori Ono, explained to Working Author that the artistic influence came from a Japanese style of painting called sumi-e, which uses only black ink. The effect is meant to give the illusion of a moving painting.

The character models also seem that much more alive with realistic touches, like head-tracking so that the fighters are always looking at each other. They’ll even have shocked facial expressions when caught off guard by special attacks that trigger beautiful in-game cinematics that never get old. In short, the immersion is unparalleled. Ono told Working Author that his favorite character is Dhalsim, because he was the hardest to create.

Adding a new nuance to the game is the addition of a Revenge Meter. Unlike the Focus Meter which fills up based on attacks and damage, the Revenge Meter only fills up when taking damage. Gamers who find themselves getting trounced now have a quick way to even the score, provided they can land the attack. Also new to the home versions of the game is a training level that allows gamers to learn and practice the moves of each fighter. There’s also a handy recording feature that allows the player to have the CPU perform prerecorded moves over and over again so that the player can rehearse counterattacks. With so much to offer gamers, the long development cycle for Street Fighter IV was definitely worth the wait. Ono clocks the entire length of development at roughly five years. “The last two were spent making it and the first three years we spent wondering what the hell we were going to do,” he says with a smile.

Street Fighter IV hits store shelves on February 17.

On a personal note, I realize that non-gamers usually think of the gaming community as full of maladroit, social miscreants with no sense of etiquette. As a PC gamer who does most of his social gaming online, I’d easily tell you that most gamers are rude and obnoxious. This launch party has given me a newfound appreciation for gaming in the flesh. The show of decorum displayed by everyone at the launch party was refreshing after years of profanity and threats by anonymous people online. Gamers would say please and thank you and give up their spot at a kiosk after losing a match without making a fuss. Granted, there are seedy arcades across the world where beating a player in the game could mean getting a beating in real life, but if the gamers present at the Street Fighter IV launch party are a good sampling of the gaming community, then their behavior that night would do much to dispel the incorrect image of the violent gamer.