Capcom and Unintended Branding - Part 1

Branding is a topic that I haven't read a ton about with regards to video games partially because it's a buzzword overused within today's media and business circles but also due to it's vagueness. However it is a key part of how we think about games and how they deliver on our expectations when we experience them. For this post I'm focusing mostly on unintended or unnoticed features of a game that become brand elements and try to highlight an example of why understanding and detailing the elements that make a game successful are important.

Ever hear of Street Fighter? It's one of the premier fighting games and a perfect example of the genre at the moment. If you could rewind time about 30 years prior to today the fighting game scene was very different. Games mostly made up of oddly timed jump attacks and out spacing your opponent, or what is now referred to as zoning, but in a much jerkier fashion. Combination attacks, or combos, weren't even considered at the time and most games that would resemble your prototypical fighter were beat-em ups that would eventually transition to full fledged fighting games. It makes sense then, that Capital Communications, or Capcom, would crown the title released between Street Fighter and Street Fighter II, which was Final Fight, a companion title to both games as they shared a similar art style originally. Even later they would go on to share characters with the release of the Street Fighter Alpha series but let's move back to Street Fighter II to illustrate my point.

The idea of combination attacks was unintentional with the release of Street Fighter II and to make sure that the game had an element of luck they added the ability to buffer commands into control scheme. This would allow players more frames, or time, to input commands to allow for easier performance of special moves but accidentally created 2 additional features in doing so: Links and Cancels. The newly added features would soon become an Ascended Glitch.

If you want to see how difficult special moves were originally feel free to boot up a game of the original street fighter and try to do a hadouken and you'll quickly notice the timing is very strict. The newly added buffer frames allowed one to pull off special moves with significantly less precision however if one were precise enough one could perform linked normal attacks resulting in a series of attacks unblockable after the first hit lands so they become linked together.  This is what we now know as a combo. While linked attacks refer to combinations of normal buttons without commands, Cancels are the linking of a normal attack to a special attack named primarily because your normal attack would have it's animation cancelled to perform the special attack. These two features combined have become one of the most iconic features of fighting games as well as having been adopted and tweaked numerous times throughout the history of the genre, they have become essential as brand elements of what we recognize today as a fighting game.

Capcom then found an opportunity here. They embraced this unexpected side affect in their programming of the game as a feature rather than mere coincidence and desided to further build around it, later adding bonus points for successful combinations, "super combos" which were elevated versions of special moves, and much more to their games down the line. While Capcom's success in identifying an element of a game here worked extremely well, there are other instances where they have misread that information and failed to deliver on branding sequels in such a way that they have had the expected level of commercial success... we'll get into that in the next post.

- VP

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