Imagine being a longtime fan of something. Then, decades down the line, it’s suddenly your job to help make a new one. That’s a lethal combination of excitement and anxiety I’m not sure I could personally handle. But the crew behind Streets of Rage 4, a sequel to Sega’s classic console brawler trilogy, is tackling this task head-on. There could be a million questions I’d ask people involved with such an undertaking, but this time I’ll settle for a good handful. We got to shoot some questions to the team, which is really multiple teams, comprising work from Lizardcube, Dotemu, and of course Guard Crush Games. Specifically, we heard from Lizardcube Creative and Art Director Ben Fiquet, Guard Crush Games Lead Programmer Cyrille Lagarigue, and Dotemu Game Designer Jordi Asensio.
Lucas White, Siliconera: How did Guard Crush Games get involved?
Cyrille Lagarigue: Dotemu and Lizardcube had secured the right to develop the game with Sega, and they were looking for a partner with experience on side scrolling Beat’em Ups to take care of the technical side of development. They liked the work we did with Streets of Fury, and we were obviously very enthusiastic to work on such a great IP, so it was a match! We were then able to have a head start in developing the game by reusing our custom engine and improving upon it.
In one of Dotemu’s mini-docs, Yuzo Koshiro noted his fascination with French developers working on a sequel to a Japanese game–what does it feel like to approach a project creatively rooted in one place/culture through multiple sequels?
Ben Fiquet: I think he sees it as an oddity, a fun one to be sure. It is difficult obviously to try to carry a vision. It was really a product of the 90’s but also particularly Japanese.
So when you approach a project like this, despite your best efforts, it will reflect your own perception of these games through your lens of a French man, with your own culture. But all of this is made with the utmost respect for the original material and we tried to bring that vision forward.
Lagarigue: The French have always been pretty close to Japanese culture; France is the second country after Japan in Manga sales for example. I am French but I live in Canada, one of the team members is Canadian, and we listened to a lot of fans in the US during PAXes, so I like to think that the game has a little of an international vibe. Also, it takes place in a city that looks like New York City.
What sets Streets of Rage apart from other brawlers, and how has that perception colored 4’s development?
Jordi Asensio: I love Streets of Rage 2’s slow pace compared to all other beat ‘em ups from this era. It makes the game feel really strategic. I think it’s due to its console roots because arcade beat ’em ups had to be flashy in the first 2 minutes, throwing everything they had at you. That difference makes Streets of Rage 2 a much more well balanced game, not just gameplay wise.
For example you have the time to look at the backgrounds and enjoy the music, and just feeling badass walking through the streets.
In Streets of Rage 4 we really thought about that: How we can make a beat ‘em up interesting and always fresh, even after a lot of hours are sunk into the game?
How protective (or not) is Sega of its IP? We’ve seen examples of Sega allowing or even embracing fan games, but when it comes to an official project how much oversight is there?
Asensio: They are very protective, but once they give you the greenlight, you’re free to do whatever you want. They of course watch what you do closely, but they always trust you.
Somewhat related, did the team(s) have any access to documents or anything Sega has saved from the original games, or what research was conducted while the project began taking form?
Fiquet: We looked at pretty much everything that was associated with the original games; game design documents, artworks, interviews, fan projects and more…
We’ve also asked for help from dedicated fans that knew the games in and out, both in gameplay and lore and it was extremely valuable.
Can we have some insight into how the team(s) arrived at the story and art directions?
Fiquet: I think it’s a matter of culture and personal tastes. I started with the original games as a canvas, but soon it became imbued with what I wanted to bring and what I knew how to make.
Wonderboy gave a blueprint in terms of production, and I carried on the touch we ignited there which is influenced by French comics, traditional animation, and Japanese culture.
It was super important to be able to reproduce the particular mood of the franchise ,both visually and narratively, but going fully hand-drawn HD had to bring changes, and hopefully for the better.
How the heck did so much musical clout get saddled up for this game?
Asensio: Streets of Rage games are like music albums. It’s an adventure; it tells a story through the game. The music of the originals is so good that people, myself included, still listen to the soundtrack. So from the beginning, we wanted to give music the attention it deserves, and thanks to Cyrille Imbert (Dotemu CEO) and Alex Aniel from Bravewave Productions, we managed to find tremendous artists, and not only from the video game industry. [Note: this interview was conducted before Hideki Naganuma left the project due to a scheduling issue]
What’s something particularly exciting about Streets of Rage 4 nobody is talking about enough?
Fiquet: People have been dissecting the game with every update so we’re pretty much covered in all directions, but… we still have things that people will discover when playing the game.
Can you talk about the creative process or any unique challenges associated with bringing brand new characters (such as Cherry) into the mix?
Fiquet: I think it was necessary to bring new things into the mix. Primarily because it gives you more gameplay opportunities, and also it can shakes things up with new ideas and new lore. But all of this had to fit within the universe and characters already here, and that’s a difficult line to walk.
Some fans are asking for their favorite character to make a comeback, but I hope they will be happy with what we’re bringing. Streets of Rage 4 has the power to bring fun to old school fans and newcomers alike.
Lagarigue: The two new characters follow two archetypes: the fast, “tricks” character (Cherry), and the strong, big and slow character (Floyd). Everything started from Ben’s designs, but then we worked together to have them have their own playstyle, to ensure they didn’t feel like Skate and Max with a different skin. Cherry is more aerial than Skate; she can bounce on enemies and has dive moves. She also has strong finisher moves with her guitar. And Floyd plays closer to Haggar from Final Fight than Max, being the first character in a Streets of Rage game who can walk around while holding an enemy.
Streets of Rage 4 is slated for a Spring 2020 release, on the Nintendo Switch, the PlayStation 4, the Xbox One, and the PC.