MarkMan Interview at FanimeCon 2024

Mark “MarkMan” Julio is the Director of Business Development for the Evolution Championship Series, or EVO. Not only he is a gaming aficionado and an avid collector of arcade sticks and sneakers, but he has also previously assisted with arcade stick development at companies such as Mad Catz. At FanimeCon 2024, ConFreaks & Geeks had the honor of interviewing him where we asked about his favorite characters, his fighting game wishes, the games he would include if he ran an arcade, his collections, and much more.

 

Thanks for attending Fanime! Are you ready for EVO Vegas this year? 

I’m so hyped, but I’m kind of overwhelmed with the planning for the event right now. So we just finished EVO Japan a few weeks ago. Right now my focus is shifted fully onto the Vegas event, and we are working very closely with the publishers, the developers, and many members of the community to put on what is probably gonna be the biggest EVO yet. In terms of the amount of entries, we’re up year over year. So that’s pretty scary. 

We have several new games. Tekken 8 is a new game, and obviously it’s the second year for Street Fighter 6. There’s a lot of new games that are coming out that are gonna be featured at that event. You probably saw at EVO Japan that we had [Fatal Fury] City of the Wolves, 2XKO, and Hunter x Hunter: Nen x Impact playable at the event, and we’re hoping that they’ll be playable at EVO [Vegas] as well. But I hope people have a lot to look forward to – not just the competition, but also new fighting games that are gonna be coming out. So yeah, we have quite the focus on EVO Vegas. I’m super excited about it because I know that all the stuff that we’re planning is gonna be stuff that fighting game fans will love.

Thanks a bunch! Yeah, I am looking forward to it. I’m playing in the [Street Fighter III] Third Strike bracket!

Yeah, it’s gonna probably be the biggest Third Strike tournament in the world ever. 

Gonna be hype. 

And I’m glad, you know, there were a lot of people that showed up for the EVO Japan one. We had a lot of the legends come out as well. 

I’m seeing a lot of entries from overseas, so I think the tournament’s gonna be crazy.

 

Absolutely. Thanks a bunch. We’ve seen that you enjoy collecting retro gaming memorabilia. Which gaming memorabilia are you most proud of?

Most proud of … does it have to be fighting game related?

Not necessarily.

So I guess the one that I’m most proud of … there’s a lot. One of the ones I treasure a lot is the gunmetal Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots PS3 console.

 

Oh, sick.

Yeah. Signed by Hideo Kojima with a drawing from Yoji Shinkawa on it. And that is probably one of my favorite things in my collection.

I would say the other one was moments before they announced Street Fighter x Tekken at ComicCon. I have an arcade stick that was signed by both Ono-san and Harada-san. I knew that they were going to announce it.

That’s amazing!

I was like, I need to commemorate this in some way. And that’s one of my favorite arcade sticks in my collection.

 

Are there any Holy Grail gaming purchases you’re still looking for?

Yeah, that’s a tough one too. I love collecting – I love curating. I think my collecting days have kind of shifted more into curating stories about why I am buying these things. So if you notice at EVO, we have the Arcade Stick Museum. That’s a way for me to display all the things I’ve learned throughout my time in the industry but also just being a fan. So I’m kind of shifting towards that for fighting games as well. There are so many fighting games and rare versions of fighting games that a lot of people don’t even know about. There are some grails that I don’t have, and I think a lot of them are more of the pricey ones like the Neo Geo titles or the classic SNK stuff that is worth thousands and thousands of dollars.

But also just prototype stuff. I love, you know, Harada-san from the Tekken team. He’s actually brought a one-of-a-kind arcade board of Tekken Tag Tournament 1 Turbo to the event in prior years. He’s brought it twice already. But just to be able to give people a chance to play that one of one that he worked on and play it in a Japanese arcade setting was so cool to have at EVO. Those things are like beyond grails. Those are things that not only belong in a museum, but I hope can be appreciated for the rest of the time.

 

Pivoting back to the FGC part a little bit – so we’ve seen rollback netcode take off. Are there any other features you’d like ubiquitously included in fighting games?

Yeah. So you mentioned rollback netcode. You know, not every single publisher and developer have implemented it in some way in their titles, especially for some of the legacy titles. I feel like a lot of publishers and developers have such a vast library of fighting games, and a lot of them have appeared on PC nowadays. And a lot of them have appeared on the PlayStation and on Nintendo Switch even through various collections. Just being able to let people play these games is – I think – the most important thing. Whether or not they have the bells and whistles of online play is another thing. Because I know how difficult it could be to implement some code into a game that didn’t have the code originally. I think seeing that kind of stuff and being able to play it on modern equipment as well is a big thing. It’s the thing that I wanna see the most. 

So when it comes to that, I think rollback netcode is still at the top of my mind. I want people to be able to play online and experience things online. You know, a lot of these games now … not only do they have good netcode, they have good matchmaking things. Like, for example, Street Fighter’s Battle Hub. Oh, Tekken‘s Fight Lounge as well. These are new ways for people to kind of get in and build a community amongst themselves. So I love seeing that kind of stuff. Because we come from the competitive side, you know, better tools for people to run their own events and tournaments are always something that’s appreciated as well.

It’s always good seeing rollback implemented in prior games. I know Samurai Shodown (the 2019 reboot) just got it.

Yeah. It just got it many years later. 

Dragon Ball FighterZ finally got it. I mean, it had some hiccups, but they worked through some of it.

 

And pivoting things back to Tekken a bit, this might be a tough one to answer, but is there a country you’d like to see represented in Tekken that is not represented already?

Yeah. Well, so they’re represented, but I feel like they don’t have the same opportunities because of where they’re at in the world and how expensive it is for them to travel. So the Tekken 8 World Tour, looking at that from a competitive standpoint … it really caters towards North America, Europe, and Asia. There are great players from Peru, for example, and other countries in South America. In Asia, players in the Philippines don’t often get opportunities – we probably see one or two of the players that can come out to events. But, you know, any country that has to get visas – they have to get government approval for them to be able to participate in events. Like countries like Pakistan – a lot of people know Pakistan is probably one of the strongest countries in the world when it comes to Tekken. But their toughest matchup is not the competition. It’s whether or not they can get the approval to leave the country and get the visa.

Right.

And it sucks. It sucks that we can’t often get the best players under one roof to be able to compete. So again, there’s so many different countries, but if I had to pick just one or two, I’d say I’d love to see Peru represented more. I’d love to see the Philippines represented more.

Absolutely. Total agreement there. 

 

Do you have any dream picks for potential throwback games in the future? 

Absolutely. This is gonna be a fun discussion and it should be in no way taken as where we’re going. 

Of course. 

Let me ask you first – so we did Ultimate Marvel vs. Capcom 3, we did Third Strike. What would you like to see next year?

In a dream scenario – in theory [Fatal Fury] City of the Wolves should arrive just in time for EVO next year. It’d be super hype to see [Garou] Mark of the Wolves in tandem with City of the Wolves.

So two Fatal Fury games in the lineup.

Yes. Though it’s a bit of a dream.

I mean, we have Street Fighter 6 and we have Third Strike this year, so, you know, that would be interesting. I think that’d be fun. You know, I love watching Mark of the Wolves. I was just watching the Combo Breaker tournament yesterday. That’s a cool pick. 

I was thinking about it for myself – like personally – what I would like to see. It’s one of these titles that has been in EVO on and off throughout the years. It just usually depends on whenever there’s a title that comes out. But I would love to see Soulcalibur II again. That’s one of my favorite games to watch. I know there was kind of a resurgence when the HD version came out. I just love to see the Soulcalibur fans get another chance to be able to represent their community.

Yeah. It’s a hype one to watch. I enjoyed watching Soulcalibur VI a few years ago. So that’d be super exciting.

This year, Third Strike’s inclusion is kind of aligned with the anniversary of the game. It’s the 25th anniversary of the title. Next year there’s an anniversary of another title that a lot of people are looking forward to – Capcom vs SNK.

CvS2 is actually my favorite fighter.

Oh, it is? Are you from NorCal?

I’m originally from Southern California. I lived there for two decades and moved to this area in 2010.

Both of those regions are rich in CvS. You’re in good hands either way. I was wondering. 

In theory, a CvS2 tournament would be a dream come true.

True. Okay. Why didn’t you start off with that?

I had to lean into City of the Wolves, I guess! 

 

Are there any favorite games besides fighting games you’ve enjoyed recently?

Oh, recently? I was just talking about this actually. I played Final Fantasy VII Rebirth. That just came out. I played Like a Dragon: Infinite Wealth as well. I love the Like a Dragon series just in general. It’s one of my favorite series. 

That’s fantastic. 

I try to play any title that comes out. I’m really looking forward to the Elden Ring DLC next month.

That’s real soon. 

Too soon. It’s too close to EVO, which scares me. But I’ll definitely find time. I’ll not sleep and play that as much as I can. But yeah, I mean, when it comes to other games outside of fighting games, I love anything that comes out that’s just good and solid. I love having these experiences of being able to play them. You know, I’ve been a gamer my entire life, pretty much. So anytime there’s a new game, I’m down.

When I was watching EVO Japan on stream, I enjoyed seeing those leverless sticks. Those are fantastically designed. Do you have any designs that you’ve been the most proud of?

The stuff that I’ve worked on?

Right. 

So a lot of people know about the stuff that I’ve worked on with Mad Catz. So that’s where I had more of a primary product role in designing the product. But I have worked with other companies. I’ve worked with Hori, I’ve worked with Qanba, I’ve worked with Razer. I’ve worked with all the different companies in terms of helping develop products for them. The one that I’m the most proud of …

Might be a tough one. 

It is tough. But I would say probably the original Mad Catz Tournament Edition stick because I feel like it changed the landscape. ‘cause you know, that was an era before Street Fighter IV came out where people didn’t have a standard in the US yet. You know, people were still using American style parts. They were using whatever they could buy at stores. But I felt like it was very important to have a strong base of an arcade stick where people can learn not only how an arcade stick works but how to be able to modify an arcade stick to be able to benefit your play style. So I feel like that changed the sub-industry of people having arcade sticks and the modding community, how people would kind of develop that. And I feel like every other arcade stick company or every other peripheral company benefited from that era.

And now we have so many different companies making different kinds of controllers, different kinds of fighting games, specific specialty controllers. I feel like we are in such a new Renaissance era of that kind of stuff. And I’m a fan. ’cause like right now I’m not focused on that. That’s not my main job anymore. I’m not in the hardware side. I still help with a lot of it. But being able to see what companies bring to the table now and how they kind of evolve and go past what we were doing like twenty years ago, it’s really nice to see. It’s really cool to see. ’cause I, I feel like there’s still ways that it can improve. Like you know, obviously everyone says leverless is the future. But that’s only if you can build the muscle memory to use it. 

And the hand strength – the finger strength. 

But yeah, I like seeing what people bring in terms of ingenuity when it comes to those kinds of things. 

The TE is a transformative timestamp, so yeah, thanks again.

 

 

Have you revisited Happ style (the old baseball bat style) sticks ever since then? 

You know, I only play on American style parts when they’re in classic arcade machines. I was at a barcade yesterday. I was at Miniboss not too far from here. And they had a [Street Fighter II] Champion Edition machine. And I was like, man, we used to play on these.

Yeah … 

Because, you know, they’re old. The design of those arcade sticks is much older than the Japanese Sanwa parts. Like, it’s from the ‘80s if you think about it. So we used to play on those, and that used to be the standard. So yeah, I have revisited them. Not on purpose, but …

Out of necessity.

It’s always nice to see where you came from. It’s like the evolution of the wheel pretty much.

 

Do you have a favorite standard console game controller?

Oh, yeah. Um, so mine’s a really specific one, and people might be like – what is he talking about? He’s crazy. Okay. So there’s the PlayStation 1 controller. Before the DualShock came out, there was the Dual Analog Controller. So forgive me for being so nerdy – this is the . It’s a specific model of the controller that had one rumble motor. It didn’t have two yet. It wasn’t the DualShock. So it had elongated handles and it had different analog sticks in it. The analog sticks were developed by Mitsui. Mitsui is a Japanese manufacturing company that also worked on Nintendo controllers at the time. So it was kind of a fusion. 

I’m sure you know about Nintendo and the PlayStation, how they almost worked together to be able to do the Super [NES] CD. So this was another remnant of that because they developed parts of the controller that were like a hybrid of a Nintendo controller, but it was also a PlayStation controller at the same time. But no one knows that story because not many people know about that controller even existing. They only released it – I believe – I wanna say they only released it in some parts of Europe and in some parts of Asia and Japan.

Yeah, I think I know of it.

Yeah, because the Dual Analog Controller did come out in the US. Those are different in 1997, but they did not have rumble. So the one I’m talking about has the single rumble motor. But yeah, that’s my favorite controller. 

What a pick.

Very specific.

 

 With so many collections, are you running up against any available space?

You know, it’s just me and my daughter that live together. And, you know, I’m a single father. And I’ve been very fortunate that I can just fill my house and my storage unit with the stuff that I collect. I have a lot of stuff. You know, my arcade stick collection is the biggest in the world, I’m pretty sure. Unless someone else can lay that claim. But I have over 350 different ones. So there’s probably like five arcade sticks that I don’t have. So there’s a lot. I love arcade sticks. I love controllers in general. I like game consoles. So I collect consoles and stuff like that. I love everything having to do with retro gaming.

Fantastic.

But yeah, I still have space, so I’m good.

 

If you could run your own arcade, what sort of dream cabinets would you put inside?

Oh, this is a good question. So there’d have to be some Bemani games there. So I feel like there’d have to be a DDR (Dance Dance Revolution) machine. If I had to be very specific, it’d probably be the anniversary Gold DDR machine. I don’t know if you’ve seen it. (editor’s note: the gold version of DanceDanceRevolution A20)

Yes, that one’s pretty new!

Yeah. There would have to be a version of Pump It Up as well.

Do you have a favorite Pump It Up in particular?

I don’t follow Pump It Up as much. I’m gonna be very, very real with you. I was more of a DDR fan. Yeah. But, um, Initial D would put in there as well – probably Third Stage or Second. The one where the Integra, the DC2 was broken. That one – because that one was really fun. 

Ridge Racer is one of my favorite racing games of all time. So I’d like to have Ridge Racer or Ridge Racer 2 or Rave Racer

Um, fighting games now – so for sure I would love to have Marvel vs Capcom 2. CvS2. Tekken Tag 1. Those are the games that I grew up with pretty much. Those were in the arcades. And a four slot SNK MVS cabinet. 

Oh, with which games? 

I don’t know. You could put in anything there. And I’ll be happy. Just seeing the Big Red is always nice.

 

That’s a fantastic pick. Yeah.

Those are my picks. We might not be in business long, but those are my picks.

 

Is there a dormant fighting game series you would revive if given the opportunity?

Yeah. So that’s a question that comes up a lot on the internet. A lot of people are like, hey, bring back this game. 

It’s a recurring thing.

I was on the Bloody Roar train for a long time. I was on it for a long time. But then I started thinking about other franchises that I wish came back. And right now I’m kind of stuck between Tobal. I love Tobal No. 1. And I love Tobal 2. I love 3D fighting games. 

But then there’s this other game that I was also really looking at that I think has a lot of potential. It is Battle Arena Toshinden. I love that series. And I feel like the first one was whatever. The second one got better. The third one was really good, but no one played it.

Yeah. I unfortunately have not done the third one either.

Yeah. So I feel like Battle Arena Toshinden, if it had more resources towards it – it would’ve been a really, really stellar pick. It was like a mix of some of the best character design and really good music. It came out at the wrong time, I think.

Even now, it’s just so distinct on an audiovisual level. It’s awesome. I’d love to see another one. There was the … a one-off entry on the Wii, I think it was.

Oh yeah. Definitely most people don’t talk about that one. Actually there were several Toshinden games that were very distant from the original three. And yeah, there was that Wii one, there was another PS1 one, I think there was like the fourth one. 

I believe so.

They were all just different. They even had the Toshinden Kids game or the mini one that’s forgotten. (editor’s note: this was Battle Arena Nitoshinden, a Japanese-only release)

I forgot about that one. 

I mean, that was the trend. Virtua Fighter Kids – that one too. Or maybe Capcom started it with Gem Fighter (Super Gem Fighter Mini Mix).

 

Do you have any content creators in the FGC you would like to shout out?

Oh, dude. You know, there’s so many. I’m a fan of anyone that puts it out there to try to be able to create content and do what they want to do. In particular, like Maximilian, I think he’s a great steward of the fighting game scene. So much fun for casual people – for people that just love fighting games or people that love competitive fighting games. He’s one of the best people to watch and just be able to experience. 

Sajam is great as well. I really love, uh, watching what Sajam does and how he’s kind of evolved, especially at the start of the pandemic, where he really kind of shifted towards content creation. 

Justin Wong, who has amazing content, sometimes very, very funny off the wall content. You know, he is such a storied player, but he has such a great personality when it comes to just the mindset of fighting games.

So I think those three are probably my favorite ones to have experienced. But there’s just countless, so many that are out there. I think the fighting game scene is in good hands when it comes to people that are of influence and people that are creators in the space. I think you can’t go wrong with at least those three, but then there’s so many more. Like Tasty Steve, he’s one of my close friends. Guys like that I’m a big fan of. 

 

Do you have a particular favorite fighting game character of all time?

Yeah. A lot of people are surprised by this one. So my favorite fighting game character of all time is Chun-Li. So she’s my favorite. And you can probably tell with how many Chun-Li arcade sticks I made.

I do have one. 

So she’s my favorite. In terms of 3D fighting games, King from Tekken is my favorite. I love pro wrestling and I love how they kind of implemented him. But those are probably my two favorite fighting game characters.

 

Street Fighter III Third Strike was run at EVO Japan. I thought the arcade hardware pick for EVO Vegas was super interesting. But in terms of running arcade hardware, is it difficult to do that and get that running?

Or if you wanna run it properly? ’cause you know, there’s so many different ways to run arcade hardware. People are gonna be like – are you running it on MiSTer? Are you running the actual CPS3 board? Are you running it on SuperGun? Are you running it in cabs? There’s so many different ways to run it. So I think the basis is, yes, we do wanna run CPS3 versions of it. We want to be able to run the arcade board. Whether or not we’re using SuperGuns or we’re using HDMI converters for modern displays – that has yet to be finalized. ’cause we’re still waiting to see how many people we have, but we do have the boards ready. So we are prepping for a big tournament. 

But in terms of how it’s gonna be played, you can’t please everybody. There are the players that wanna be like, hey, you guys have to play on arcade machines and only arcade machines. But man, there’s so many people that play and experience the game now at home in their own way. And not everyone can play on Japanese arcade sticks. We need to have USB converters. So people can play with their own controller, their own leverless, their own arcade stick, or a keyboard for some reason. It’s difficult to please everybody, but we’re gonna try our best to make it where it’s console-ized to a level where people can use what they want.

Oh yeah. I’m looking forward to it. I think it’ll be a fantastic bracket. In terms of Third Strike, do you also play Chun-Li in Third Strike as well? 

You have to. She’s strong in that game. I use her, but I also like using [Super Art 3] Denjin [Hadoken] Ryu. Oh yeah. Like the set-ups for that are so, so fun. 

The good old stun setup, right?

Yep, yep, yep. And then the juggles you do afterwards. It’s great.

It’s fantastic. I love playing as Elena and Twelve. But running them sometimes gets a little tougher in brackets … 

Yeah. Especially when you run into those top tier characters. 

There might be some, uh, difficulties scoring damage with Twelve …

Twelve is such a cool design, though. Especially his Supers, man. I’m a fan of Twelve.

Yeah. I run [Super Art 3] X.C.O.P.Y. a lot …

Okay. So you like chaos. 

That Super Bar makes it a little difficult sometimes at certain levels of play. 

 

Have you practiced a martial art? And if not, which one would you practice?

So I did. When I was younger, I did Taekwondo. If I could do one now – probably karate just because I like how clean it is. I’m always a fan of aesthetic and clean. 

 

With four new games at this year’s EVO [Vegas], it stands to be a landmark year. I’m super, super excited to see where things go. But with games having a bit of a longer developmental cycle nowadays, I imagine they might be featured for some time. Do you worry that the line-ups might potentially become stagnant? Or do you think the DLC will be sufficient to keep things hyped and fresh for years?

It depends on the game and it depends on the community. ’cause like, I could use very specific examples. Like for example, when Samurai Shodown came out, a lot of people were excited to play it. That was kind of a replacement title for the KoF XIV (King of Fighters XIV) game, right? And the first year at EVO it had 1,800 players, right? The next year, the falloff was crazy. There were way less players for it. So that traditionally happens with some SNK games. I would love to see them rally the community to a level where people will show up for the first year for City of the Wolves, for example. And then the next year they also show up as well. That would be great. ’cause like, you know, when we decide the games there, we want to be able to get a mix of what are the most played games for us. 

We wanna make sure that we are where the community’s mindset is. And right now there are so many games that are doing very well. You know, Granblue Fantasy Versus: Rising. Tekken 8 is obviously doing very, very well in terms of numbers. It’s the number one game at Combo Breaker right now. Street Fighter 6 is still going very, very strong. But then there’s also the factor of the new games that are coming out. Yeah. I think the first year they’ll always do very, very well. Whether or not they can do well for multiple years, it’s yet to be seen. But EVO will still be a platform for a lot of these games to kind of gather. We pay attention to what people are playing. So we’ll do our best to make sure that we have the games that people wanna see at the event. 

 

Thanks so much for all the hard work. And speaking of Street Fighter 6 … is there anyone you would love to see in future seasons?

Yeah. So like, there’s the characters that are probably gonna come back no matter what. Like, for example, everyone’s expecting Bison and Sagat to come back at some point. Those are like the given, right? They’re like in every single game. But I would love to see Charlie Nash again, especially a Street Fighter 6 version of him. I would love to see Makoto again too. 

That would be fun. That’d be great. She hasn’t been around in a while. 

I loved her in [Street Fighter] IV. She was chaotic in IV. Yeah. So maybe those two. And then Fei Long, it’s been a while since we’ve seen Fei Long. So I’d love to see him as well. I was a big fan of him when they introduced him in Super Street Fighter IV.

 

Many thanks to MarkMan for spending the time to chat with us and answer our questions! EVO returns to Las Vegas July 17-19, 2024.