Capcom vs. SNK: An oral history

The various quotes and anecdotes are not included, read the full one here:

Capcom vs. SNK: An oral history – Polygon

TheThe late ’90s weren’t kind to arcade fighting games.

When Street Fighter director Takashi Nishiyama left Capcom for SNK in the late ’80s, he set in motion a series of events that built the fighting game genre and gave a much-needed jolt to the amusement industry. For a few years, everyone forgot about the business’s gradual downward trajectory, thanks to games like Street Fighter 2 and Mortal Kombat.

By the late ’90s, though, the industry’s momentum caught up to it. While games like Tekken 3 and Marvel vs. Capcom kept up appearances, the business was changing. Console games were exploding, the fighting game boom was over, and Capcom and SNK’s arcade divisions were left trying to scrape the last pieces of candy out of the piñata.

Fortunately for Capcom, it had managed to grow its console game division in the meantime, finding success with the Resident Evil series, among others.

SNK failed to find the same level of success outside of fighting games, trying its hand at a CD version of its Neo Geo home console, new 3D arcade hardware, and a Neo Geo Pocket series of portable game machines. Nishiyama, who served as the head of SNK’s development group, says this marked a tough time for him personally, in part because he was opposed to the release of the Neo Geo Pocket, which SNK invested in heavily.

Soon after, SNK got acquired and filed for bankruptcy, and Nishiyama left and started his own independent studio. But before departing, he left behind a parting gift — one that neatly tied a bow on his past decade.

Mending fences

Often friendly. Occasionally contentious. Rooted in executive frustration yet resembling a playground flirtation, the rivalry between Capcom and SNK played out in many forms throughout the ’80s and ’90s. Privately, many spoke of a feud between Capcom CEO Kenzo Tsujimoto and SNK founder Eikichi Kawasaki, while publicly, fans saw the companies trying to top one another while constantly referencing each other in their games.

“Capcom and SNK spent the ’90s in a kind of call-and-response dance,” says veteran fighting game developer Seth Killian. “Capcom had Ryu, so SNK made Ryo,” he says. “Street Fighter added a parry; SNK introduced the Just Defend. You got T. Hawk? We got a Tizoc.”

Nishiyama sat in the middle of this, having developed the original Street Fighter at Capcom before joining SNK and overseeing the Fatal Fury and King of Fighters series. While he didn’t directly participate much in the back-and-forth, he couldn’t help but notice it. And in the late ’90s, he hatched an idea to bring his franchises together:What if the two companies put all this history to good use?

Capcom vs. SNK

With an initial agreement in place, both companies planned out their crossover games.

SNK kicked things off in 1999 with two titles for its Neo Geo Pocket Color: card game SNK vs. Capcom: Card Fighters Clash and fighting game SNK vs. Capcom: Match of the Millennium. Both earned critical acclaim and fleshed out the portable console’s library to help it compete with that of Nintendo’s Game Boy, though some players wondered why SNK didn’t initially produce an arcade fighting game. In 2001, SNK followed with a Card Fighters Clash sequel, which ended up being the final Neo Geo Pocket Color game, as SNK gave up its portable console ambitions.

Capcom, meanwhile, went straight to its bread and butter in 2000 with Capcom vs. SNK — a 2D arcade fighting game running on the same hardware as Capcom’s hit Marvel vs. Capcom 2. The concept proved popular around Capcom’s offices, with some staff like planner Itsuno begging to work on it. To accommodate multiple styles of play, Capcom developed a ratio system — where players could build a team of fighters of different strengths — and a groove system, where players could choose between Street Fighter and King of Fighters playstyles.

It was the game fans expected from the Capcom/SNK collaboration, with a few caveats.

Capcom Fighting All-Stars

As SNK went through changes in the early 2000s, its employees spread throughout the industry. Some started new teams, like Nishiyama, who formed development studio Dimps. A group even joined Capcom, bringing things full circle from when Nishiyama and the Street Fighter team had gone to SNK a decade earlier.

Moving on

By the time it canceled Capcom Fighting All-Stars in 2003, Capcom had been slowing its fighting game output for years, dropping its custom CPS-3 hardware, canceling games such as a fourth entry in the Street Fighter 3 series, and pulling resources away from its arcade division. It continued to port existing titles to consoles, and snuck out a couple of new games with Hyper Street Fighter 2 and Capcom Fighting Jam — both built to capitalize on existing games and assets — but the genre was on borrowed time.

Throughout the ’90s, Capcom had pushed its arcade fighting game concepts into nearly every conceivable format. It had defined the genre. Spun off upgrades. Gone back in time. Created new worlds. Negotiated key licenses. Hired external studios. Tried new art styles. Shifted hardware. Combined franchises. Twisted its franchises into other genres. Joined forces with its enemies. And built some of the best video games of the decade.

At a certain point, it was time to say goodbye.

The future is now

The mid-2000s marked the end of an era for Capcom fighting games. Priorities had shifted. Key figures like Okamoto and Funamizu left Capcom and started their own studios. Capcom Japan sold the Street Fighter IP to Capcom USA.

It marked a clean break, at least until 2008, when Capcom rebooted the series with Street Fighter 4 — developed by Nishiyama’s team at Dimps.

In the decade-plus since then, Capcom has produced fighting games at a measured pace and primarily focused on known quantities: mainline Street Fighter and Marvel vs. Capcom entries, and ports of old games. But for Itsuno, who currently works as one of Capcom’s most successful directors, that doesn’t mean we won’t see anything else in the future.

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