With Sega looking to revive its “idle IPs“, it was only a matter of time before Streets of Rage would be getting resurrected. And whilst the company has decided to take an off-hand (supervisory) approach, by allowing its IP to be handled by DotEmu and its partners, there has already been a lot of positive buzz with regard to how the game is being received by beat ’em up fans. Not willing to rest on their laurels, and with still some way to go, DotEmu, Lizardcube, and Guard Crush Games are all working hard to bring Streets of Rage 4 to market. As part of this, I spoke to Cyrille Lagarigue (Lead Programmer, Guard Crush Games) to find out more about the game, including its soundtrack. Enjoy!
You’re the main programmer on a franchise title that was once heralded as being one of the greatest beat ’em ups of its era. Now, I’m a Final Fight guy, so in my opinion Streets of Rage was always been a poor man’s Final Fight. Even Streets of Rage 2, which was quite good, had many fans only because it was a Sega property and it came out on the Sega Mega Drive. There was nothing on the Sega Mega Drive that was similar in quality to Final Fight which was pretty much a SNES exclusive at the time – because Nintendo were in bed with Capcom, and this wasn’t rectified until Final Fight came out on the Sega CD. Now, the entire trilogy of games had its fans, and you’re now coming back 25-odd years later with Streets of Rage 4. What sort of pressure do you feel, knowing that you have to live up to immense fan expectation and where the scrutiny is so intense from people who basically want to relive their childhood but not have it… you know, obviously have a modern experience that ties in with modern gaming sensibilities… but to not have their childhoods bastardized by an inferior rendition of what came before.
Okay, so that was the main challenge of the project. It’s finding the line. From every part of the game, like the art style and the gameplay, finding the line of “do we copy what existed before because the game was so revered?” What do we modernize? What do we change? And so we decided for the art style to not do pixel art, because we wanted to be more fresh and not be too retro, and to also use technology. We have an IGG Screen to allow lots of detail, and I think we nailed having a game that is very detailed but is also very readable. And for the gameplay part, we decided to stay really true, to start from the gameplay of the previous games and reproduce it in our engine. Start from what was in other games and then, instead of trying to modernize the game by changing the design, we tried to modernize it by making it smooth. What I mean by smooth is by roughing out the angles. For example, in previous Streets of Rage games, and it was the same with Final Fight, when you did a special move, it felt like you lost. Because you lose life when you do the special move. And even if it’s the right time to use it, you don’t feel well because you lost life. So what we did was we implemented the life regain mechanic so that when you do a special move you lose life but the part of the life you’ve lost, you have the chance to regain it. If you hit enemies, this part of the life is going to come back. But if you get hit, all your life bank is going to be lost. So it’s a risk and reward mechanic. So you can use your special move and not lose life. If you are good enough to get your life back, you can use your special, and use a lot of specials, and have a lot of life in the bank… It’s a big risk.
Which comes in handy with bosses…
Exactly. So in previous games, you have enemies coming out of the screen and going back. And you have to wait for them to come back or you have to hit out of the screen for a chance to hit the enemies that are out of the screen. So we removed the walls entirely on the side of the arena. We added stuff too, and generally the experience is more fluid in terms of input, in terms of combo, in terms of triggers. So really, it was all in the details. We added new moves, we added new mechanics, but not too much. We also added to the game itself, in the progression of the game, in the game modes, the difficulty modes, the unlockables that you have. So that’s the approach we took to modernize it without making it too different. Like when you take a game and go from 2D to 3D, it becomes another game. We didn’t want that. We did want a Streets of Rage game, but we wanted it to feel modern. And that was very hard in the development process, to find the right balance and the right ideas to make the game feel modern.
Streets of Rage is obviously a Sega IP, and it’s in Sega’s interest to want to rejuvenate a lot of its IPs, with franchise titles like Panzer Dragoon being remade. But the thing is, how did you go about acquiring the Sega Streets of Rage IP license? What sort of discussions took place? Who approached who, and how were you put in charge of Streets of Rage 4?
So it was Lizardcube and Dotemu who got the license from Sega. And what they did was work on Wonder Boy: The Dragon’s Trap and it was a very good collaboration with Sega, so they wanted to do something else with Sega. And for them, the next step was Streets of Rage. The wanted the Streets of Rage license. So they just asked their art director, did some test graphics to show how the game would look, and they asked Sega. And I think it was the right time because Sonic Mania showed that you can give a license to an external team that is passionate with the license and it can work. So I think it was the right time and they said “yes”, so it was just about asking.
This is more of a personal question… Will Streets of Rage 4 receive a boxed physical release?
I can’t say right now but hopefully…
There have been some comments on the Internet with regards to how Streets of Rage has been gone for so long, and now that it’s coming back, you’ve only got two of the original characters – Blaze and Axel. What about Adam? Will he pop-up in any capacity, such as DLC or as a bonus for early adopters?
We reveal characters one by one. So for now, we’ve revealed Cherry. She’s Adam’s daughter.
She’ll probably save him in Level 2, and he’ll come back and say, “Thank you, love.” Okay, now let’s talk about the soundtrack… I remember Streets of Rage 1 as being phenomenal for its time. It even got a vinyl release a few years ago. The soundtrack for the first three games was pretty much done by one guy (Yuzo Koshiro). How come you’ve chosen more of a collaborative approach for Streets of Rage 4 as opposed to having the original composer who masterminded all of the previous soundtracks?
That’s a good question.
Okay, so it’s an original question?
Yes, that’s an original question that I haven’t been asked before. And I’m going to make a little bit of a guess here, because I’m not the one who negotiated all that. I think it’s because it’s pretty harder to follow the soundtracks of the first three games. The first three games have very good soundtracks. Especially the second one in my opinion. The first one… the music at the beginning is unforgettable.
The boss soundtracks…
The boss soundtracks. It’s an amazing soundtrack that everyone loves and is very emotional about. It’s very hard to follow after those. The expectations are enormous. So… We can’t really do something that sounds too much like the original because the soundtrack was very much tied to the hardware. We’re not going to do our soundtrack on the Mega Drive, or follow it up on the Mega Drive chip. It’s very hard to follow up with that. So that’s why I think it was decided to have an ensemble cast who will do something really varied, interesting and different. The soundtrack is obviously very important, with a lot of resources and thought put into it. And it’s going to very varied in the game. It will always be different. When you play, you’re not going to hear the same tune twice. So yes, we decided to do something flamboyant.
Do you know what the release date is, roughly speaking?
It’s going to be next year.
Will there be any any DLC or hidden chapters in future?
We’re going to support the game after release. Because it’s so big, and we have a lot of ideas, and we’re not going to be able to put everything out at the time of release…
Does that mean a future sequel, like a Streets of Rage 5?
Sequel? Uh, it’s just really too soon to talk about that.
You have a background in 2D side-scrolling beat ’em ups with Streets of Fury, so this is a bit of an unfair question. Streets of Rage is a 2D Mega Drive beat ’em up, but what is your favorite 2D beat ’em up?
Ah, that’s a good question. I have several favorites. So now, I have to admit that before I worked on Streets of Rage, I didn’t know these games. I mostly played Final Fight… I played all the Final Fight games on emulators. Final Fight is simpler, but Streets of Rage is more strategic and slower-paced. Now, I like Streets of Rage of course because I played it so much and it’s a really interesting game. And Streets of Rage 2 is one of the best beat ‘em ups ever made, no question about that. I like Guardian Heroes, it may be the one I played the most. It’s pretty different. But can I say another one? Dungeons and Dragons.
The Capcom game?
The Capcom game, because it’s nice with its story-telling. But I think the one I played the most is Guardian Heroes, and it’s very different. It’s more like a cross between a fighting game and an RPG. It’s very deep and has a nice lore, with nice story branching paths and stuff.
Are there any branching paths in Streets Of Rage 4?
No, not in this one. It’s completely linear.
Yeah, yeah. We had so many challenges that we wanted to do something simple in terms of the story structure.
Okay… How long is the game?
I can’t say exactly but the campaign is going to be longer than the campaign in previous games.
They were about an hour…
Yes. It’s going to be longer. If you die… if you lose all of your life, you’re not going to start over from the beginning. You’re going to start over from the beginning of the stage, the current stage. Everyone will be able to finish it. But there are going to be a lot of game modes. We’re shooting for a very good replay value with game modes, difficulty modes… You can play with different characters and they have pretty different gameplays so it’s still interesting. So it’s going to be a really intense experience that you can replay, and there are going to be several game modes and unlockables. So I think you’ll be able to play the game for quite a long time.
Which is a nice way of saying that it’s longer than an hour but is less than a 10 hour campaign.
Thank you so much.