Pulling No Punches! Interview With Street Fighter Producer Yoshinori Ono #AX2019

Yoshinori Ono is a video game producer that’s best known for his work with the Street Fighter franchise. He’s worked at Capcom for over 20 years and has been involved with numerous hit games such as Devil May Cry, Onimusha, and Monster Hunter Online. He’s recently overseen the production of both Street Fighter IV and Street Fighter V. Mr. Ono was present at Anime Expo 2019 and participated in the ‘Inside the World of Street Fighter & Street Fighter V: Arcade Edition Ultimate Cosplay Showdown’ event. CFG was fortunate to speak with him about his career and thoughts on the future of video games. 


You’ve been involved with the Street Fighter series for a long time. Is there a particular character that you like the most?

So it’s really hard for me to choose which is my favorite character. But if I have to choose one, I’d choose Blanka because I have been traveling with him all over the world.


Specifically speaking of the Blanka toy, is that while I’ve been traveling, I’ve been in many photos with this Blanka toy for about 12 years or so. This Blanka has become the icon for his Twitter, my Twitter accounts, my social media. Whenever I do an interview like this or whenever I go to some events, Blanka is always with me.


Honestly, to be to be frank with you, back 12 years ago when I first saw this, it was like not my best friend whatsoever! This toy actually was like a one of the samples that I received from our licensing department. Around 10 or 12 years ago, the Philippines Hamburger restaurant actually created this for their happy meal toys. I got a lot of samples when I walked into my office one day. When I first looked at it, he had a really really grumpy face. Really impactful to be honest. Not a cute one. But when I saw that, I looked at it in a positive way. This is really impactful. This is going to get remembered by many people. So instead of using myself as like a spokesman or icon for Street Fighter, I thought this Blanka toy would actually be a better icon for the Street Fighter. So that’s how me and Blanka friendship story started.


Even right now, whenever I go to events and if I take a photo with my fans, whenever I pull Blanka out of the pocket, that’s when the audience or crowd goes wild. That actually makes me feel like he has fulfilled his goals.


What does a typical work day look like for you?

I am working as a producer also a PR person for the brand. So whenever I’m in Japan, I’m in the development building working with the whole group of the developers. I work closely with them about how to make Street Fighter a better game, how are we going to manage the IP, and how we’re going to be making some updates. I’m really really working closely with the dev team. Since I also travel a lot, to be honest about like 30% to 60% of the year, I am actually spending time outside of the country to attend a lot of events, or to visit the other USA offices or European offices. That’s why I think I’m also spending much more time with Blanka and as well as with the developer team. In recent decades, I kind of feel like I’m spending more time with this Blanka doll than with my actual family. (laughs)


So what was the most challenging game you oversaw production of and how did you overcome one of the challenges?

Since we’re working in the video game as a tech industry, our product also evolves based on the evolution of technology. So one of the challenges that we also have to have in mind is how are we going to be implementing the current technology and also future technology. Also, how can we make people or our users happy by implementing those technologies.

One of the challenges that we encountered through the evolution of technology is how to implement the internet in our titles. People have been using internet and people see it as a useful tool. From the video game industry side, we have to think about how can we utilize this tool to reach the wider audiences and to make the user experience much better. We hope that we have been doing a good job and making that implemented in our games. As we speak right now, maybe VR might be the next thing we have to be thinking about. Or possibly augmented reality. That’s something that not only me, but the whole team has to be thinking about as a new challenge for the future.


Are there any game developers whose work you admire or grew up admiring?

I do not have much of an imagination to do that. I admire the dev team at Nintendo because all the games that Nintendo have been creating are always a game changer. They reach out to wider audiences. I really admire them, they inspire me, and they’re a great mentor to me. 


You mentioned using the internet as a tool and as the future of gaming. So hypothetically, what do you think a Street Fighter game would be like with advanced virtual reality technology?

When people tend to hear the term “virtual reality” with all the technological advances that are happening right now, people will assume that you have to wear some sort of a goggle and you see that image directly with your eyes. Not from the video. I think from my perspective, virtual reality can be more than that. So my answer that I’m going to be mentioning right now cannot be done with the current tech, but I would like to offer partially what I have in mind.

With the current equipment of virtual reality, you just put on the goggles. So basically the screen is really, really close to your eyes. So from my perspective, the current virtual reality is not actually virtual. It’s just that instead of having like a TV monitor away from you, you just have it right in front of you. So when I see the term virtual, it has to be something that is going to use all your senses. Lets say you actually sweat, you could smell something or you could actually feel the pain. From my perspective, those are the actual virtual reality. So in the future, if all those thing can be implemented, that would probably be the VR version of the Street Fighter.

My feeling of virtual reality is that I had been practicing kendo, which is like a bamboo stick sword. I’ve been practicing kendo for quite a long time. When you do kendo, if you actually try hard, you can see what your opponents are about to do by seeing how they’re breathing or how they are about to make those small motions. So all those keen senses affect your next move. If that can be implemented in the game, I think that will be like the best way to play Street Fighter on the VR. Really, really hypothetical ideas.


Like a hundred years in the future. (laughs)

You know, it’s really a hypothetical question. Even as I’m answering, I could see that I might not be in this world when it happens. But, if you think about it, if you look back 10 years ago yourself, you probably would never have thought a smartphone like this would be like an actual thing. So we never know what kind of technological jump that might happen in the next 10 years. So maybe my hypothetical situation might be like really, really far out in the future, but who knows, maybe it might be the next 10 or 20 years. 


Very true. How often do you attend Street Fighter gaming tournaments and what is the experience like for you as a producer?

 I do actually go to like many events. I’m actually choosing which to go by whether it’s hot or cold and depending on how I feel.

I do go and see some sort of tournament at least once a month. Going back to the story about the internet, now that the internet has become widely known and its in our everyday lives, what actually changed even in this Street Fighter game or tournament is that we don’t actually need to be on site to actually join those tournament’s as well. Like right now. You can actually see what’s going on through the streaming. Sometimes, you can even send a video message through streaming to the people that are on site. Because of that technology, it’s actually making my life easier to actually be able to join every single event. Regarding tournaments, what we’re having right now is a tourney called Capcom Pro Tour, which is a yearly circuit of Street Fighter that’s happening right now. Speaking specifically speaking about that circuit tournament, I can be present through stream and also be onsite as well. I feel I am actually connected to the tournament. I’ve been watching it, I sometimes go on site, I watch it on stream, and I make some comments so I’m actually interacting with all the Capcom Pro Tour tournaments.


Is there a game you play for fun or you prefer to do something different when you have downtime?

When I was little, there were three cycles I went through. One of them was comic books, one was anime, and one of them was gaming. I was always going through the three cycles for a hobby. When I actually got to high school, because I wanted to, you know, impress the girls, I invested my time on music as well. So after high school, it would have been those four cycles. I’m also continuing that up until now. Specifically speaking about video games right now, what I’m doing is I’m pulling out a lot of the games that have been released. But I can’t play them. I have limited time. I am really behind. So the game I’m playing right now is Super Mario Odyssey from Nintendo. That game came out about a year and a half ago. But that’s the game I’m playing right now. So whenever I’m traveling right now I have my Switch with Super Mario Odyssey.


Right now, I have a large stockpile video games that I need to complete. Obviously when I have the time. For some reason if I get kicked out of Capcom, I’ll probably have free time! (laughs) I might be able to finish all that stuff.


10 years from now, once I retire, I’ll obviously have a lot of games I look forward to playing.