Ever since Street Fighter producer Yoshinori Ono's hospitalization in March, there were concerns and speculation about the future of the recently-returned fighting franchise, as well as obvious concerns about Ono's health. Ono, who has always been an incredibly cheerful figurehead for Capcom and the Street Fighter series, opened up in an interview that detailed his past as a Capcom sound engineer, to the rebirth of Street Fighter with 2008's Street Fighter IV, and the circumstances that led to his collapse.
Ono started working with Capcom in their sound department, knowing the company from their arcade games.
"I knew the [Capcom] name because I played a lot of Final Fight in the arcades. I thought: 'Wow. So I can make games, create music and get paid? This is going to be amazing. So I went home, made a demo tape of my guitar playing and sent it in. A few days later Capcom invited me to an interview for the job. On the evening following my interview, I had a call saying: 'You start next week'. These days there's a lot more process, but in 1993 it was that straightforward..."
Having done sound work for Street Fighter and Onimusha titles, Ono recalled Street Fighter III and what led Capcom to shelve Street Fighter for ten years:
"I played Street Fighter throughout my life. I was in the Street Fighter III: 3rd Strike team when we disbanded and the series was laid to rest for a whole decade. As a result I've always had it in me - some feeling of regret that I was a part of ending the legacy of Street Fighter. A guilty conscience, I guess you could say."
"When 3rd Strike came out R&D didn't really consider sales back then. We weren't as marketing-orientated as we are today. We just wanted to make the best game and wanted to please our most hardcore fans. That's what drove us. Obviously, in terms of sales it didn't pay, so the company couldn't invest in a sequel with a decent rationale. Not only that, but we were adamant we had made the epitome of the fighting game with 3rd Strike. So from the company's point of view, if the team is stating that it cannot do any better combined with a lack of sales, it's a complete story and it's time to move on."
Finally, through a lot of time, hard work, and lobbying with executives, Ono was able to get Street Fighter IV pushed through development--with limited support from Capcom, who thought the game wouldn't be a success.
"Until the day of release, Street Fighter IV was an unwanted child... everyone in the company kept telling me: 'Ono-san, seriously why are you persisting with this? You are using so much money, budget and resources. Why don't we use it on something else, something that will make money?' No one had the intention of selling it, so I had virtually no help from other departments - they were all reluctant, right up to the day of release."
From that point on, it was Go Time for Yoshinori Ono--his constantly cheerful attitude and sheer excitement for the games he worked on were infectious, and kept the competitive community in high spirits. More importantly, Street Fighter IV welcomed back the casual players who were turned away by SFIII's exacting gameplay, bringing Street Fighter back to its worldwide audience... but Ono paid a hefty price for the series' newfound popularity.
"Capcom doesn't allow a trade union or any sort of worker movement, you see... Nobody told me to take a rest. When I returned to work, Capcom didn't even acknowledge that I had been in hospital. There was no change in my schedule. I was at home for an entire week before the doctors allowed me to return to work. When I returned to my desk there was a ticket to Rome waiting for me. There's no mercy. Everyone in the company says: 'Ono-san, we've been so worried about you.' Then they hand me a timetable and it's completely filled with things to do."
All that, while a Capcom PR representative was shifting nervously in the background. Probably the best thing Ono has to say is about his fans--specifically, the ones who give him harsh feedback:
"I naturally like interacting with people, talking, laughing, I enjoy Twitter. People always write to me saying 'Capcom sucks' or 'Ono sucks' and so on. But there's a positive in that criticism because it means that people care and are interested in what I am doing. And I do listen to the community and its suggestions. It's not like they are going to stab me, right? As long as nobody stabs me I am happy to receive criticism."
Could Ono, always peppy and always eager to play, be going down the same road as other big former-Capcom names, like Shinji Mikami (Resident Evil, then Vanquish), Hideki Kamiya (Devil May Cry, then Bayonetta), and Keiji Inafune (Mega Man, then Soul Sacrifice)? What do you think? Will Ono help to usher in "the next generation of fighting games" with Capcom, like he intends to?