“Painful Memories of Fighting Games,” Sakurai Famitsu Column vol. 71– Sakurai on fighting games, skill gaps, and more
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This translation is for fan use only, and may not accurately reflect Masahiro Sakurai. The following is a selection from Masahiro Sakurai’s book: Think About the Video Games 2. If you enjoyed this article, I would strongly encourage you to support Sakurai by buying his books. If you have any questions about this article, please contact the administrator.
Weekly Famitsu September 24th, 2004
Vol. 71: Painful Memories of Fighting Games
The day I first saw a “Street Fighter II” arcade cabinet installed in my local arcade, I thought to myself, What is this!? A machine with two screens, each facing towards a seated player, designed so you can play against an unseen opponent, a design that persists today. If you lose, your one play is over, if you win, you get to keep playing. The tension I felt when playing against a stranger for the first time was incomparable to when I played my friends, and my heart started to race. This is groundbreaking! I felt as if a new way of playing games had introduced itself into arcades. This was over ten years ago.
A little time passed since then, to a time where I felt the fighting game  boom had leveled off a bit. 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 team member to go 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 Zanretsuken  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 of skill, 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 .
I like fighting games even today, and playing them with my circle of friends is still fun. Thinking as a consumer, knowing that there is a foundation of fun in fighting games has already been laid down, I do wish a fighting game would come along that solves the problems that newer, introductory players face .
Thinking as a developer, “Smash Brothers” is the only answer I can offer. Please make do with that.
Looking Back (A retrospective on the above column, published in Sakurai’s book)
Sakurai: Yeah…I crushed her.
Interviewer: You annihilated a complete newcomer?
Sakurai: With Zanretsuken combos. Sigh…
Interviewer: You know, I think you’re really good at video games. But the only game I’ve actually seen you play is the “Devil” minigame for “WTF: Work Time Fun.” And I thought, “wow, he’s so good!” (laughs)
Sakurai: We played Smash together too! (laughs) But still, I did something I shouldn’t have back then…
Interviewer: So we’re going back to that, then. And then you feel down again. I’m sure that couple back then thought nothing of it.
Sakurai: But the thing is…on this day in particular, my combos were really crisp.
Interviewer: There’s no way they left the arcade thinking “I got destroyed by Masahiro Sakurai.”
Sakurai: Although if I played now, I would be the one who would get destroyed. I don’t understand modern fighting games at all. And as I get older, I can feel my skill eroding…I would lose at an arcade, but I probably wouldn’t be able to win against people who play fighting games online either.
Interviewer: Well, they are people who spend hundreds of hours and play thousands of matches against other people. I’d like to give them a piece of Mr. Daly‘s heart.
Sakurai: A piece of Mr. Daly?
Interviewer: Part of the editor team for Famitsu, Mr. Daly Matsuo. When he plays Mario Kart DS on Wi-fi, he says that sometimes some players enter who are clearly little children. When he races them, he matches their skill level, to stay with them. The reason why is because after the race starts, everyone else might zip past him and leave him alone at the back end. And if you’re racing other people, that outcome would be most boring. So if that child gets a Red Shell, he deliberately runs ahead of them so they can hit him. And vice versa. And if you race in this see-saw way, the child who couldn’t play well at the beginning ends up a better racer at the end because of it. Mr. Daly says he thinks that’s so much fun that he can’t get enough.
Sakurai: What a great story!
Interviewer: But then he’ll get first place in a race full of foreign players (laughs). I’m sure it’s because he’s technically skilled that he can play in a variety of ways….
Sakurai: Yes, I think so. That’s why I constantly think about ways in which I can make a game that isn’t beholden to the concept of winning and losing. Because games that are like climbing mountains are painful, aren’t they?
1. Both italics in this paragraph are emphases mine. In the Japanese it’s more obvious that he’s speaking for himself from his perspective back then, but in the English without any sort of punctuation that’s a bit lost, and just plopping the sentence ‘This is groundbreaking!’ without any quotation marks or italics would be confusing. As such the first thought, What is this!? is also italicized, to keep consistent. However, all bolded segments are bolded in the original column as well.
2. Sakurai says “対戦ゲーム” here, which translates more literally to “competitive game” but given the fact that he references Street Fighter II, King of Fighters ‘95, and the general fad of arcade fighters, I think it’s safe to assume that he means “fighting games” here.
3. 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.
4. I had to resist the urge to translate this as “sandbagging is rude.”
5. What he literally says is ‘“To go as far as to study!” isn’t a common train of thought.’ But the extra connotation in Japanese makes that sentence sound complete, but in English that on its own is a bit lacking, so I had to add in some words, and I wanted it to flow a bit better.
6. Sakurai actually says “the problems of the aforementioned audience,” if I had to put it in English, and contextually it’s pretty clear he’s referring to the people that don’t play fighting games because they feel they don’t have enough prerequisite knowledge, or don’t want to get crushed. I added “newer, introductory players” because that’s more clear than “aforementioned audience,” I want to be clear about who he’s referencing here.
7. For more of Sakurai’s thoughts on winning and losing, check out this column that I translated by him.