In anticipation of Evo 2015, where both Melee and Smash 4 will be present, I’ve decided to make a small post compiling some of the things Sakurai has said about fighting games, playing games seriously to win, and other relevant topics. We here at Source Gaming are still translating older and new Famitsu columns and interviews, so these views aren’t comprehensive. Despite this, I hope this post will accurately represent Sakurai’s thoughts on competitive play. Links to the full translations are provided if you would like the read the full context of these statements.
From “Painful Memories of Fighting Games,” Sakurai Famitsu column vol. 71, on one of Sakurai’s experiences playing a fighting game:
“…I was slightly aimlessly playing “King of Fighters ‘95” when someone joined me, playing on the other side. Despite feeling that I’d really want to just play alone..the fight was on! I landed my moves cleanly, and quickly took the first two games. One more game and victory was mine!
…Weird. Something’s not right. My enemy is way too unresponsive, unresistant. Thinking something was strange, I stealthily used the reflection in the window glass to take a peek at my opponent, and to my surprise, they were…a normal couple! And the current player was the girlfriend.
Oh no…! I was filled with regret and remorse. I shouldn’t have been feeling good about myself, landing Zanretsuken1 combos and whatnot. On the final round, once she had switched with her boyfriend, I did handicap myself, but by then my intent was obvious and it was far too late. I don’t know my opponents thought of me, but I personally left with a bitter aftertaste in my mouth.
At the time, when I was playing well I would win about 50 matches in a row, so I probably wasn’t too bad at fighting games. But because of this I felt especially regretful about what I had done. Most likely, that woman would never play a fighting game ever again. From the couple’s perspective, the two had probably walked into the arcade just to have some casual fun and have a nice time. And there, I had mercilessly destroyed them.
Oftentimes, people will say that “intentionally not trying your hardest is rude,” but that’s not true! Situations where your opponent wants to play you at your best aside, there was a chance that my opponent at that time may not have even known that there was a person controlling her opponent on the other side of the machine. Moreover, you need to be able to play games and have fun! What constitutes “fun” may vary depending on your level, but people who know how to play the game must gently introduce the game to the new, introductory players! …
…Currently, I rarely play fighting games at arcades. The regret I felt that time is a trivial reason for many, but mostly I’ve already given up because I think “I’ll probably just get destroyed.” There’s too much of I need to know beforehand. The controls and rules are difficult and confusing as well. And thinking “I’m going to study this game!” isn’t something many people do.
From “The Act of Balancing,” Sakurai’s Famitsu column vol. 480, Sakurai’s opinion on tournament play, from Chokaigi 2015:
“Recently, there was a tournament featuring the top Japanese and American players. In 1v1s, the natural tendency is to use low risk moves to gradually deal damage to the opponent. Smash attacks rarely came out, and the matches were prone to becoming long, drawn out affairs. When considering the variety of ways Smash can be played I think this is a waste2, but the winner was certainly decided by skill.”
From EDGE Magazine, vol. 215, October 2014, Sakurai on Melee’s tournament popularity compared to Brawl:
Interviewer: Brawl was not universally adopted by some tournament players, some whom felt it was imbalanced and went back to playing Melee. What have you done to ensure that doesn’t happen again?
Sakurai: I think the popularity of Melee rested fundamentally on the game’s speed. The dazzling exchange of skills was the game’s most exhilarating aspect and the rough edges in terms of the game’s balance went mostly unnoticed. Even though the dynamic range of the characters was limited, the game somehow made its mark, even with hardcore fans of the genre.
Melee’s controls were, however, quite complicated and very tiring if the player really got into it in a serious way. This made the game less accessible for novice players and it basically ended up becoming a Smash Bros. game for hardcore fighting fans. I personally regret that, because I originally intended the Smash Bros. series to be for players who couldn’t handle such highly skilled games.
If tournament popularity was the most important consideration, then I think we would create a Smash Bros. game that included a multitude of fast moves with complicated controls. However, I believe this is actually the greatest shortcoming of fighting games at present, and that is the reason why I don’t do it.
From the “Looking Back” segment from Sakurai’s Famitsu column vol. 458: Bending the Knee and Lowering Your Gaze, Sakurai on playing older games for a long time versus adopting the newest version:
Interviewer: Related to the topic of older games that have been played for a long time, “I want them to play the Wii U version” isn’t your desire.
Sakurai: They’re all games I made, so I don’t really have a preference. Including past entries in the series, I think it’s best if people play the way they would like to. In that sense the reason why “Smash for” exists for Wii U and 3DS isn’t because they were designed for people to want to buy both, but because I want people to play in whatever way whatever way they want to. If I go even further, they can play others game if they want. Playing what you want to play is best.
Interviewer: A truly Sakurai-like answer.
Sakurai: Is that so? Although it may be a problematic thing to say from Nintendo’s perspective.
Translator Note: The following are images that were printed alongside the column in Sakurai’s book. There’s no indication that Sakurai wrote the captions, meaning it could be him, or just an editor or someone else. Still, it’s interesting to see a reference to L-cancelling here, even if it’s not explicitly named.
From “Looking Back on ‘Super Smash Bros. Melee,’” Sakurai Famitsu Column vol. 360, Sakurai reflects on Melee:
“Melee is the sharpest game in the series. “It’s pretty speedy all around and asks a lot of your coordination skills. People who were used to playing the first Smash Bros. and could play it well enough, and it was a game that aimed to elicit the highest positive response from its players…
…I had created Smash Bros. to be my response to how hardcore-exclusive the fighting game genre had become over the years. But why did I target it so squarely toward people well-versed in videogames, then? That’s why I tried to aim for more of a happy medium with Brawl’s play balance.”
There are three Smash Bros. games out now, but even if I ever had a chance at another one, I doubt we’ll ever see one that’s as geared toward hardcore gamers as Melee was.
Melee fans who played deep into the game without any problems might have trouble understanding this, but Melee was just too difficult.
From the “Looking Back” segment of the previous column:
Interviewer: In the large-scale tournaments overseas, “Melee” is still played alongside “Smash for Wii U/3DS.”
Sakurai: If Smash had gone further down the path that Melee had, I don’t think it would be as popular as it is now. If your game isn’t as popular, you can’t afford the cost of production…and if you end up cutting costs, you lose characters or game modes.
Interviewer: It’s quite the dilemma. If you did that, I feel you would never hear the end of complaints like “this character isn’t in the game, that character in the game…”
Sakurai: When you drop characters and game modes, you have to specialize and focus on the fighting aspect of the game. As a result, you end up lacking in many core components of the game. Consumers may find it difficult to envision this sort of future. I think the fact that Smash does not abandon new fans is something that has value even in the current landscape of video games.
From “Winning and Losing,” Sakurai’s Famitsu column vol. 2, on the nature of Smash, winning, and losing:
“The series I directed, “Smash Brothers,” are games where you compete and fight each other, however, for this reason I am trying to make winning and losing “haphazard .” I won’t go into the specifics here, but I try to make it so that if you’re good at competing, you won’t be able to use the same pattern or strategy to win against a player consistently. The rate of “accidents” is high, and overall it’s easy to inject variance into the progression of the game and results. I think it would great to be able to simply laugh and move on to the next game regardless of whether you won or lost…It’s not that I think playing seriously isn’t fun. I think that playing to win against someone who’s equally skilled has an unparalleled level of tension, and is good.”
If you’d like to watch Evo this year, it starts this Friday, July 17th, and goes on through Sunday, July 19th. You can find the stream schedule here.
1. The Zanretsuken is a series of lightning fast jabs, a move used by practitioners of the Kyokugenryu style of Karate in the King of Fighters universe. Sakurai himself writes in a sidenote that the sound effects, visual flair, and execution of the felt really good.
2. You could also read this as “I think this is a shame.”
3. The first part of the sentence is just slightly off in all respects. He doesn’t say “fans” but “players used to the game,” and he also never says that those players got into Melee quickly, just that they could “play it well enough.” “it just felt really good to play” is, in my opinion, a mistranslation. It’s on the right track but it’s not quite there. It’s missing the key verb in the original sentence, “狙った,” which means “to aim for, to target.” In addition, “手応え” doesn’t really mean “felt good to play,” although it is similar in feel. “手応え” has a definition that best translates to “a positive response or reaction elicited from something.” Sakurai says “最大の手応えの高さを狙ったものでした,” or “it was the game that aimed to elicit the greatest positive response from its players.” In this context, I’m referring to the response that players get from playing the game, not their general response or feedback to the game itself (the feeling of playing Melee versus the your personal opinion on the game as a whole). Also, 手応え is often associated with size, a “large 手応え,” but Sakurai writes uses “高さ,” or “height,” which is something I’ve honestly not seen before. The message he’s trying to convey is probably the same, as he includes the word “maximum” in there, but it’s still a very strange word choice.
4. The word he uses here is てきとう, written as 適当. Kind of like the English word “literally,” it has two definitions that can sometimes feel contradictory. The first definition means “suitable, appropriate, a good fit.” The second definition means “haphazard, careless, or irresponsible.” I chose haphazard because it’s the adjective that fits the best without any strange connotations– the phrases “make winning and losing careless” or “make winning and losing irresponsible” aren’t appropriate word choices in English.