Ryu is the central character in Street Fighter, both in the story and in the game mechanics of fireball/dragon punch. In Super Street Fighter 2 Turbo (ST), he’s not especially powerful (no one ranks him as top tier), and yet in the hands of an expert, he’s able to win tournaments. He’s a well-balanced character already.
I asked tournament player John Choi to give me a complete list of Ryu changes that he wanted for SF HD Remix. Choi is, I think, the #1 Ryu player in the US. Choi contemplated this for weeks and finally came up with his complete list:
1) add a fake fireball
2) no other changes.
This was not what I expected, but I immediately liked it. Ryu already has the tools he needs to win, so he doesn’t really need much of a change. Choi’s original reasoning for the fake fireball was to give him an answer to Dhalsim’s drills. Dhalsim can drill Ryu on reaction when he sees a fireball, but a fake would trick Dhalsim into committing, then Ryu would recover from the fake and be able to Dragon Punch. That was NOT the reason I actually put the move in the game though.
Why a Fake Fireball?
As soon as I heard Choi's idea, I realized that it solved a problem we were about to have, before we even had it. The problem has to do with how powerful projectiles are in general in Street Fighter.
In ST, projectiles like fireballs are extremely powerful, and that’s part of what makes positioning and spacing so important. Strong projectiles add depth to the game. The problem is that in ST, fireballs are just a little too strong. One of my goals with SF HD Remix is to reduce the number of really bad match ups—matches where one character dominates the other—and that list from ST is full of matches where a projectile character dominates a non-projectile character. The non-fireball characters need a few more ways to deal with fireballs, but it’s a delicate thing. If we have a scale of 1 to 10, where 10 is the effectiveness of fireballs in Super Turbo and 1 is the effectiveness in SF3: 3rd Strike, I was shooting for an 8 in SF HD Remix.
But what about Ryu, the star character? His main tool is his fireball and I was worried about him slipping even lower in the overall rankings if other characters had more answers to fireball traps. The fake fireball is a brilliant answer because it lets him keep his fireball traps, even though other characters can get around them more easily now.
You might wonder what the difference is, if Ryu can fireball trap his opponents in both ST and HD Remix. Why is the fake fireball trap preferable to the previous game’s real fireball trap? The answer is that the fake fireball trap requires more mind-games on both sides of the fight. Ryu still has the tools to trap Bison, Fei Long, Honda, etc, but he must now risk throwing fake fireballs to keep it going. His opponent has a chance to escape if he predicts which fireball is fake, but the opponent will be even worse off if he predicts wrong. Meanwhile, Ryu will be even worse off than in ST if he throws fake fireballs at bad times—after all, the move cannot hit at all! But in the hands of an expert, the fake fireball trap is strong. It’s now a very skill-testing interaction with lots of decisions on both sides, rather than an optimization game where Ryu tries to achieve a nearly unbeatable pattern against some characters.
Before implementing this, I also talked to Nekohashi, one of the best Ryu players in Japan. I asked him for his list of Ryu changes for a new version of Street Fighter and his response was something close to “No changes needed, Ryu’s design is already perfect.” I said ok, but how about this idea of adding just one thing: a fake fireball? Nekohashi said, “Yes! That is a masterpiece. Give him that move and nothing else.” I think Nekohashi probably had similar reasoning to mine above, because I had already explained to him a few ways that various weaker characters would have to avoid fireballs. So with Nekohashi’s blessing, I added the fake fireball to the game very early in development.
Other Use: Rushdown
The fake fireball is classified as a special move, so you can cancel normal moves into it. You can actually recover a little faster than usual from a fierce or roundhouse (f you hit the opponent) by canceling into a fake fireball. This creates new rushdown opportunities for Ryu when he’s up close. Even canceling a ducking short or medium kick into fake fireball often makes the opponent reflexively block (they expect a fireball!), and gives Ryu a chance to throw. So the new move helps him control space from a distance, and it also increases the pressure he can put on from close.
The command for the fake fireball is qcf + short. Ryu players tend to fake with short anyway, so this was a natural place for it. Also, putting it only on short kick ensures that you will never ever accidentally get the move when (on button up) you try to do low medium kick or low roundhouse into a real fireball.
The fake fireball's total duration is 22 frames. Ryu's real fireballs have 12 frames of startup followed by either 41, 42, or 43 frames of recovery, depending on whether you do the jab, strong, or fierce version. In other words, the fake fireball recovers very quickly--Ryu is stuck in the hadoken less than half as long as he is when doing a real fireball.
I originally tried making the fake fireball even faster, taking about the same time it takes to do a standing short kick. A lot of players already faked fireballs with standing short, so I thought that might work. At that speed, it looked like a graphical glitch though, so we tried this 22 frame version next and never looked back. It's really fast, but it needs to be to be good.
Even though Ryu received only one change in SF HD Remix, it’s quite a change and its power ripples through a lot of matches.