After the success of the original Bare Knuckle in Western territories (where it was known as 'Streets of Rage'), and the rising popularity of the fighting game genre in arcades (with Capcom's Street Fighter II leading the pack), Sega of America was keen to fast track a sequel title for its growing home consumer base. Unfortunately, it didn't have the development resources necessary to produce the game themselves, so they had to rely on Japan. However, Sega of Japan was extremely reluctant to greenlight a sequel to Bare Knuckle - the game hadn't been a hit in Asia, and they didn't see why making a sequel was necessary. It took much persuasion from [Sega of America CEO] Tom Kalinske and [Marketing Guru] Al Nilsen to convince them it was a good idea from a business perspective. Eventually though, Sega of Japan relented, trusting the decisions of Sega of America... and Bare Knuckle II: Requiem for the Deadly Struggle was born.
The original team at Ancient Games, who had worked on the original Bare Knuckle title, were brought back in to work on its sequel. Sega's Noriyoshi Ohba, who at the time of the original knew that they were gunning for a standalone title and never expected to work on a sequel, had 'hoped to make a title that would become a series' and was therefore pleasantly surprised by the board's decision.
This time around, much of the groundwork at Ancient Games would be done by Ayano Koshiro, the 21-year old sister of [Music Composer] Yuzo Koshiro. Both of the Koshiro siblings had worked at Ancient (which was founded in 1990 by their own mother, Yomo Koshiro) on the 8-bit versions of Sonic the Hedgehog as well as Bare Knuckle, and would now be working in collaboration on something 'bold, inventive and boundary pushing'.
"I was in charge of graphics, art direction, character design, things like that," Ayano Koshiro said in a 2015 interview . "I did the rough designs of all 4 characters and their moves. The new characters for SOR2 (Max and Skate) were designed in consultation with my older brother [Yuzo Koshiro]. Their overall look was my primary concern, whether they had the right flow, whether they fit into the game. Originally we were going to have Adam from the first game back, but we decided, since this was a sequel, why not have the novelty of new characters? Max was first, but with Adam too we found ourselves with 2 heavy, slower characters."
(Above) Combo technique designs that were ultimately left out of the final game design
While the team's original plan was to have 6 playable characters in the game (double the roster of the original), due to the technical limitations of the game cartridge, only 4 characters would be possible in the final game. Instead of going with Axel, Blaze and the 2 slow characters, the decision was made to cut Adam from the game and replace him with another new character.
"Adam was ultimately retrofitted to become Sammy, his speedy younger brother.
"We were given six months to finish the game. We had a team of talented people, programmers who came on board and took over once my designs and paintings were done. After that I was still doing meetings and in regular contact, but for the most part my job was done. Our team had increased in size since the first game, all external staff, but still only about 10 people. This was twenty years ago, it's how things were done back then."
Ayano's biggest challenge in creating Bare Knuckle II was that she wanted to put in as many different elements as possible.
"With Super Nintendo games of the time, lots of things were crammed into stages and they changed rapidly. I wanted to do that too, and have gimmicks like diagonal scrolling, bikes, pirate ships, aliens. One of the biggest influences on the design was the Contra series. Each level was different and we didn't have a proper story. That was written later [Adam's kidnapping]. When you are playing the game you don't know the story (laughs). The game also contains things that were popular with my relatives at the time - Beano, for instance, was named after a brand of sweets. Other enemies were named after staff members."
Ayano's involvement in the game's design cannot be overstated. She was personally responsible for Adam being removed as a playable character - a decision that proved unpopular with fans of the original character.
"It was criminal, I know! (laughs). Pepper also - I wanted to replace that with something more practical, the iron pipe. We tried it, and it seemed to work very well. Even the sound was amazing! Another major change was the removal of the [police special] and the introduction of the one-button death blow [defensive special]. This was more fun compared to the police car, because the player is required to think and get out of tight situations on their own, without just relying on the bazooka. It was different for each character too [which added variety]."
A disagreement between Ancient and Sega on the game's deadline led to some heated discussion later in development. Ayano explains:
"There was something absurd! I cried when talking to Sega during a really angry phone conversation. There was a dispute with the [game's] negotiated time frame, which resulted in angry words and crying! I can't remember the exact details - but the situation was resolved just fine. It was all dealt with in a very serious manner. Ultimately it was a minor quarrel that led to the birth of Bare Knuckle II that is now loved by so many people."
On Mr. X:
"At the time, I was 22 years old. I smoked cigarettes myself. We had Mr. X smoking while he sat in his chair. But in the overseas editions, that had to be removed. It didn't really affect the story of the game, and Sega knew that [Western] religious bodies would come down hard on it, so it was cut."
In the game's original 100+page spec/design documents, scanned and released by Ancient (in Japanese) in this blog post , much of the early design work and ideas can be seen. Now, thanks to the hard work of Freelance video game translator Andrej Preredovic (Translations++), Streets of Rage Online can exclusively present the very same documents translated completely into English language, so Western fans can enjoy them. They include a lot of technical info, character and level designs, and show a lot of the early thinking (some of which ended up in the various Beta Versions of the game).
Download the complete Bare Knuckle II Design Docs (ENGLISH TRANSLATION) - Zip file (52MB); Exclusive to SOR Online
Translation Introduction by Andrej Preredovic:
"Hey guys and gals brawling in the
streets! Andrej here, the translator of this document. After months of
toiling and struggling it's finally done! The entire Bare Knuckle II design
document (as posted by Ancient) has been translated into English for your
viewing pleasure and let me tell you, there's quite a few interesting things
to be found...including a reference to Patrick Swayze. No, really. See if
you can find it!
But before you dive in, I'd like to say a couple things to keep in the back of your mind as you punch your way through this monster of a document.
1) The translation is as good as I could make it. However, there were two areas that made the whole job a lot harder: First, the document (obviously) contains some highly technical stuff about Mega Drive programming. I did do research which helped a lot in understanding what even was going on on these pages but I wouldn't be surprised if there were some minor errors in the details or lingo. So if you happen to be a Mega Drive developer and stumble upon an error: Contact me, educate me and I'll fix it!
2) The other thing that made the job tricky was lack of context. Occasionally I'd find scribbled notes referencing something that probably was common knowledge within that office in Japan 23 years ago...but which meant squat to this poor guy trying to make sense of it. In these cases I tried to keep the translation as vague as possible, in the hopes that maybe someone would make a connection that I missed. So if you stumble upon a (fragment of a) sentence that seems a bit out of place...that's probably why.
Last but not least: If you find an error, have any comments, questions or maybe even another job for me, don't hesitate to contact me! You can hit me up on Twitter, shoot me an email or use the contact form on my website]. And while I'm plugging away: I also develop indie games at Ohsat.com so stop on by!
Special thanks to Matt for creating and maintaining this amazing site and very special thanks to all of you for continually supporting one of the best gaming franchises in history.
Now with all that out of the way: I hope you have as much fun reading it as I had translating it. Later!"
As seen in preliminary design notes provided by Yuzo Koshiro, the original story for the game was proposed as follows:
"METRO CITY HAS BEEN CORRUPTED BY
A CRIMINAL DRUG RING. WITH
EVEN THE CITY'S POLICE FORCE
BEING NO MATCH FOR THEM, THE
ORDINARY CITIZENS HAVE NO CHOICE
BUT TO YIELD BEFORE THIS GROUP.
AXEL, BLAZE, AND THEIR FRIENDS, AFTER
LEARNING THAT THEIR OLD NEMESIS,
MR. X, WAS INVOLVED IN THIS
ORGANIZATION, STOOD UP AGAINST
THEM ONCE AGAIN."
Note that 'Metro City' is also the name of the location for Capcom's Final Fight, which was a huge influence on the development of the original Bare Knuckle.
This list of playable characters shows Ayano Koshiro's thinking during the development of the game. Interestingly, support for up to 3-players was considered at one point, to make use of the modem port on the back of the Mega Drive/Genesis as a third controller port.
White Guy (Axel)
Specialty: Martial Arts
|Black Guy (no name given)
Characteristics: His punches and kicks are very destructive and quick thanks to his great inertia. His throws makes use of his strength, while his skills are not very good.
Special Moves: Dynamite Uppercut, Dynamite Kick
|XXXX (no name given)
Specialty: Pro Wrestling
Characteristics: The strongest of the playable characters. Despite his slowest, he has techniques such as hurling attacks and knockdown blows that are destructive and deadly in one blow.
Special Moves: Lariat Bomber, Body Suplex
Specialty: Kung-Fu, Karate
Characteristics: Weak but quick and very skillful in techniques. She can also extend her reach by wield weapons such as nunchakus or three-sectioned staffs.
Special Moves: Energy Wave Fist, Hundred Crack Nunchaku
Interestingly, the game's design docs reveal that Caska, one of the palette swap versions of the Electra enemy (known as Erectra early on), was intended to be Mr. X's lover and bodyguard. This particular story nugget never made it into the final game.
The Bare Knuckle II Soundtrack is arguably Yuzo Koshiro's most popular work, and for many fans is what continues to make the game so special and addicting to this very day.
Speaking to Red Bull Music Academy in 2014, Yuzo Koshiro said:
"Sega received the music for Streets of Rage 1 really well. So, I wanted
Streets of Rage 2 to continue where it left off. The club sound is something
that’s ever-changing. The music I made for Streets of Rage 2 was more techno
than the first game. That’s because it was techno and hard techno that I was
hearing when I went to Yellow and other clubs. It’d been getting more and
more popular. I was aiming first to bring in new sounds, rather than trying
to take it to the next level. I was hoping to make it sound more up-to-date
when I made it. Not only that, but house music had evolved as well as
techno, and was kind of leaning towards funk.
"If you’re wondering what changed exactly, it was the development of the samplers back then. A style incorporating old funk music, ethnic music and such, with beats from the 808 and 909, established itself, and that time saw a lot of evolution. I wanted to reproduce that in Streets of Rage 2. I made a lot of different percussion sounds with FM. I tried putting the beats in more complex arrangements. The synthesiser was the same too. At the time there weren’t just beats, but a Roland bass machine called the TB-303 too. If you opened and closed the filter, it made a distinctive sound. I wanted to reproduce that with FM synthesis."
You can check out the legendary OST in our dedicated SOR2 Soundtrack section.
Yuzo Koshiro recorded the voices for all the characters in the game himself - Axel, Max, Skate and Blaze. Speaking to SOR Online on Twitter, he revealed that to do the voice work for Blaze all he did was shout with a high-toned voice and then they changed the pitch up!
Since production on the game had started relatively late, it wouldn't be available to consumers until December 5, 1992. Due to the late date many retailers wouldn't take shipments due to the Christmas rush. So Sega of America needed a way to get the word out about SOR2, so it would be another reason (beyond Sonic 2) for people to buy Genesis over SNES.
So Al Nilsen
(Director of Marketing for Sega of America from 1989 - 1993) came up with a
contest where the grand prize was going to be to let the winner "push the
button" to actually implode a big building. Who wouldn't want to do that.
Unfortunately, they couldn't pull it off because of the problems of finding
a building where state laws would allow it, plus how they could get
insurance to cover it, etc.
"But it would have been a contest that nobody would forget!" Nilsen mused when recalling the idea on a 2014 Reddit AMA .
There were a number of TV commercials produced for the game on its release.
Bare Knuckle II was released to rave reviews and quickly became a must-own title for the Sega Genesis/Mega Drive, and is remembered to this day as one of the defining titles of the 16-bit gaming era, and one of the best games in the scrolling brawler genre of all time.
Mean Machines called it "superb", "the ultimate cartridge beat 'em up on the Megadrive", with "immediately gripping gameplay" and "an incredibly polished feel".
Mega said it was "one of the most polished games" they'd ever seen and "better than an arcade game."
Sega Force said "Sega have really out-done themselves this time. Streets of Rage II is an absolute stunner! This is such an awesome game. It'll knock your socks off!"
And a legend was born.
(Words: Matthew Drury, July 2015)
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