2023 is the year of the fighting game genre, as new entries in established series are making triumphant returns. From the recently announced Mortal Kombat 1 to Street Fighter 6 and Tekken 8, fans of their favorite franchises and the overall fighting game community have so much to look forward to. But beyond the excitement of character reveals and new mechanics comes the inclusion of accessibility features and design practices that open these titles to disabled players.
Fighting games are traditionally input-heavy, meaning players need to execute precise movements and button combinations to perform powerful combos. While it’s possible to play without these moves, it’s often at a severe disadvantage. Couple that with the visual cues necessary for matches and fighting games pose numerous barriers for a variety of disabilities. Speaking with WIRED, the director of Street Fighter 6, Takayuki Nakayama, discusses creating accessible and inclusive games through control schemes and visual accessibility settings, and talk about his hopes for the future of the genre.
As a franchise, Street Fighter has always included extensive control layouts. With six buttons used to perform light, medium, and heavy attacks, as well as movements that vary between each type of character, the dexterity needed to master a fighter is often too much for physically disabled players with limited reach and strength. To bridge the gap and increase the player base, Nakayama and his team added “Modern controls,” a simplified scheme that lets people perform special moves and intricate combos with significantly fewer inputs. Despite being new to the series with Street Fighter 6, Nakayama says, the development of Modern controls began with Street Fighter V.
“During the development of Street Fighter V, we created a new character named Ed to test our theory,” Nakayama says. “We designed him to be able to perform special moves without the need for complicated directional inputs and button combinations, and we were able to confirm that the game works even when Ed exists among characters that require command inputs. That was when we decided to make it possible to play all characters in Street Fighter 6 with the more simplified Modern controls. To maintain competitive balance, we test through multiple battles and adjust as needed.”
Modern controls are not without their limitations. While it’s easy to throw Hadoukens as Ryu with a single button, as well as effortlessly execute some combo strings by holding the Assist button and tapping any attack, Nakayama explains that special moves only deal 80 percent of their overall power, and players cannot activate light, medium, or heavy versions. Combine that with less standard attacks, and the combo potential is noticeably different compared to the Classic controls. Yet, even with damage reduction and restricted move sets, individuals using Modern have the ability to compete and potentially beat those on Classic. And this was intentional for the overall design of the game.
“We started with the idea that we wanted more players than ever before to be able to play the game,” he says. “Fighting games are often thought to be difficult, and that it’s a challenge to input commands and perform special moves. Personally, I think fighting games are still fun even if you can’t perform special moves, but we still considered this a big hurdle.”
Street Fighter 6 also includes another option called “Dynamic controls,” which automatically performs special and standard moves, as well as moves characters toward their opponents with the push of a single button. This scheme is only available for single arcade fights and local versus. Nakayama explains that this control option “allows younger children and people new to fighting games to be able to have a good match.” Unfortunately, physically disabled players can’t use it to compete with others online, or use it within World Tour, but it does provide another alternative to Classic, albeit in a limited capacity.
Street Fighter 6’s accessibility goes far beyond control schemes for physically disabled players. For blind/low-vision competitors, the new entry comes equipped with numerous options and features that provide aural indicators. From settings that regulate volume for mechanics like Hit Sounds and Drive Gauge, every aspect of a fight can be learned through sound alone. And like the development of Modern controls, Nakayama notes that the conceptualization of these options began during Street Fighter V.
“We had been working on improving the sound accessibility since Street Fighter V, and after consulting with the sound director, we decided to challenge ourselves as much as possible,” Nakayama and the sound design team explain. “The main reason for this was because of a letter I received from a young player from England. He wrote, ‘The sound effects in Street Fighter V are well done, and I am happy to be able to play the game with just the sounds. However, the same sound effects are used for both forward and backward jump, so it can be difficult to grasp the location of the character.’ After receiving this letter, we immediately changed the sound effects. This one letter became a big reason for us to want to make it better in Street Fighter 6.”
Community input was a catalyst for the plethora of blind/low-vision accessibility features. And it was with extensive knowledge from the accessibility community that Nakayama and his team designed and implemented each sound option. With the help of ePARA, an organization that seeks to assist disabled individuals in esports, the new audio accessibility features went through several iterations before the game’s release.
“After consulting with our sound team, we implemented various sound effects and had ePARA visit Capcom’s Tokyo office for them to test it out,” Nakayama says. “ePARA gave us practical advice such as certain sounds being easier to hear for the sound effects corresponding to the distance from the opponent. Through implementation, test play, and exchanging of opinions, improvements were made repeatedly until it reached its current state.”
The combination of physical and blind/low-vision accessibility is indicative of an overall shift within the fighting game community. Prior to the release of Street Fighter 6, Capcom announced the inclusion of Modern controls within the Capcom Pro Tour, the official league for Street Fighter. Not only does this allow people to consistently practice with Modern controls, it’s also an explicit invitation to disabled players. And this announcement directly relates to Nakayama’s philosophy of opening the series to newcomers.
“Our intention was to allow more people to be able to play Street Fighter 6,” Nakayama says. For Modern controls specifically, we wanted the game to be accessible when playing with the controller that comes with the game console. As a developer, I believe that Modern should be considered one of the standard control types. We also wanted to see how new players would perform and see experienced veterans using Classic controls to face off against young players.”
Despite the use of Modern controls, tournament organizers and gamers still need to understand how accessible tech works. While the Pro Tour offers some use of alternative controllers, a tournament can still prohibit a device if someone decides it makes the game too easy—forcing disabled players to use standard controllers or devices, or leave the competition if there is no alternative. Nakayama believes that controller customization is important and necessary, but if the device enables the use of macros or inputs that cannot be performed under normal circumstances, it creates an unfair advantage. It’s a gray area that requires conversations between tournaments, tournament organizers, and disabled players, one with no easy, simple solution. But with Modern controls, disabled fighters are afforded an opportunity that was previously unavailable.
Street Fighter 6 is the most accessible entry in the long-standing series. The addition of several control schemes, as well as multiple blind/low-vision accessibility features, means disabled players have new tools that allow them to finally enjoy this complex title. And that was Nakayama’s goal from the beginning: Rather than create a game exclusively for veterans, he wanted others to experience the thrill of competing in the arena, and accessibility is how he bridged the gap.
“Fighting games have an aspect of competition that can be enjoyed by a variety of people, and we believe this is the unique strength of games. We hope that all people will become both rivals and friends, and that they will communicate with each other through games,” he says.