-[This Gamasutra-originating interview, conducted by Christian Nutt, chats to Capcom's Yoshi Ono about the much-vaunted Street Fighter reboot. I think it's worth crossposting to GSW for some of the thoughtful discussion on the graphical style and how it's evolved from drawn concept art - they are self-avowedly retro, but the result seems to be oddly intriguing, at least to me.]

Creating a new iteration in the Street Fighter franchise is no simple matter, with tough decisions to be made choosing an engine and the visual look.

Thus, in this in-depth interview, we talk to Yoshi Ono, general manager of the online game development department and R&D management group of Capcom about his thoughts on the process with Street Fighter IV - which is due for a 2008 Japanese arcade release before moving to home platforms.

Questions include the gap in returning to the much-loved series, the decision not to use Capcom's MT Framework engine utilized in Dead Rising, and the inspiration behind the game's intriguing-looking shaders:

It must be very challenging to bring back a series after a long delay, even when it's really beloved by fans. How did you feel that that affected the decisions to actually make this game?

Yoshi Ono: If we look at the history of the series, we had the four officially numbered titles: Street Fighter 1, and II, and then we did Zero, which of course is the Alpha series [in the west], and then III.

In all honesty, and I feel this way, to a degree -- we could have stopped at III and been pretty satisfied. We didn't hit a brick wall, so to speak, but we did pretty much all we could do with 2D fighters by the time we got to III. We were very satisfied with the results, and it was hard to imagine doing more than that; certainly, staying within 2D.

But, we've had ten years to think about it, had a lot of ideas being bounced back and forth. For this series, I almost think that we are better off having waited. It gave us a lot of time to settle down and throw ideas back and forth, think about how we would tackle it.

In the beginning we were not exactly sure which direction to go. Should we stick to something entirely new? Should we stick to the roots? Having the time to step back and look at the series up until now, to think about the various options that we have, I think was very helpful.

Having that time actually helped us to get the game headed in the direction that it's headed now -- which I think is a good direction -- and to get us where we are today.

Another reason I think that it's actually better that we let it sit on the back burner for ten years, is that technology has advanced so much in the last decade. There is no way that we could have envisioned arcade boards as powerful as this. The 360 and PS3, certainly, are incredibly powerful compared to what we had to work with ten years ago.

So really, in looking at how to use this power that we have now, we took a look back, and we looked at what has always been a strong point of the Street Fighter series, which is the art design, which was from Akiman, who unfortunately is not with us anymore. [Also] from Ikeno who is still here; a lot of guys who have really put their all into the art and created the awesome, iconic characters.

So, we thought, what could we do to reproduce this art, in motion, literally moving in 3D before your eyes, with modern technology? This would not have been possible ten years ago. There is just no way. So we are finally at a point where technology is aiding us, and helping us to do something that would not have been possible ago.

Is Tokyo studio newly formed?

YO: Actually, the Tokyo studio is not new. It's been around a good six or seven years. Actually, the latest Onimusha game, Dawn of Dreams, was made in the Tokyo branch. Chaos Legion was before that.

You were involved with Dawn of Dreams?

YO: I was indeed. Street Fighter IV is being produced in Osaka, it's being created in Osaka, but the producer guidance is coming from Tokyo. So that means a lot of business trips, a lot of phone calls.

So you're the only part of the team that's in Tokyo?

YO: Yeah, officially, technically, it's pretty much just me. Also the project manager. Ikeno, the art guy, is in Osaka; all the art guys are in Osaka. It's the project manager and I in Tokyo, and that's about it.

Did you guys develop your own engine for this game, or are you using the MT Framework engine that the other next generation Capcom games (such as Lost Planet and Devil May Cry 4) are using?

YO: Yes, we are looking at an original engine. We did not use the MT Framework, for a couple reasons. One is, it's versatile, but it's very well suited to games like Lost Planet, or a game like Onimusha, or something like that; for a sort of 3D perspective action game.

It's an incredible engine working with a game like that, but this time not only is the game style completely different with Street Fighter IV, but the art style itself, the shaders we're using, are extremely unique and all custom made for this title. We felt that we would be better off with a different engine than MT Framework, so we are working with original technology this time around.

And, of course, MT Framework is a great engine, and certainly we are borrowing bits and pieces of that technology for what we are doing now. There are so many good parts that we can pick and choose, and blend into the engine now, so we have most certainly been doing that, and exchanging information with that team.

Lets talk about the shaders. They're very unique looking and they really serve the graphical direction of the game. What was your goal with the shader look? What did you use as inspiration, and how did you get that technology up and running?

YO: As far as the reason we decided to go with the shader like this, we thought that a really important part of Street Fighter, and the series up until now, has been the artwork.

The paintings that Akiman used to do, the art that Ikeno has provided for us, it's really integral to the series. So we certainly didn't want to go realistic. It was a very easy decision for us, as far as that's concerned.

So as organic as the process was to determine what we wanted, making it was very difficult. Basically we had Ikeno, who is the art director for the title, working very closely with the R&D team to get this just right. And it was not an easy process.

Ikeno would give guidance, and say he wants a shader that does this, and then the R&D team would do it, but then they would also add specular maps and other things until everything was kind-of shiny, and realistic, and Virtua Fighter-like; and then we'd kind of dial it back a bit, into a kind-of anime direction, but there was too much standard cel-shading, so we'd have to dial it back to the other direction.

So, basically, what ended up happening is, Ikeno produced a series of artwork that the tech guys would literally tape to the side of their monitor, and compare them bit-by-bit to make sure that they were doing it right.

This is a lot like what we used to do with 2D games; you'd have a piece of art on the left side of your screen that you actually reproduced on the screen to your right. So it was really kind-of nostalgic for us to work that way again. It was a difficult process, but I think we're happy with the way it's turned out so far.

It's almost embarrassing to say that we had to do it that way. I'm sure Takeuchi and the guys working on Resident Evil 5, there, are very much in tune with the technical side of things.

They're very digital about the way that they do things, and we are a bit more analog, a bit more organic in the way that we did it. So it's almost embarrassing to admit it, but at the same time, the nostalgia almost makes us proud to say that that's how we did it, as well.