Five Questions with Derek “omni” Daniels

Starting today, ComboVid will feature a new mini-interview with a prominent community member every Wednesday. Our first guest is Derek “omni” Daniels, who has been a major influence on the Street Fighter scene since the olden days of yore.

Maj: Before was created, back when the fighting game community resided on, you were one of the members of the Infinite High Council. What exactly was the Infinite High Council?

omni: Like you mention, this was before SRK and the only real place to discuss Street Fighter was the newsgroup. The ‘problem’ with AGSF2 is that the Versus series was looked down upon for the most part. It was really Spider-Dan and Viscant who eventually said, “No – these are real games also.” So there was no real place to discuss how the Versus engine(s) worked or nuances or anything really.

So I formed this terribly named email group named The Infinite High Council which consisted of: Myself, James Chen, Jef Pearlman, J.R. Guiterrez, Spider-Dan, Andy Mui, Eddie Lee, David Dial, David Wright and I’m sure I’m forgetting some people.

Basically it was a collection of players who were interested in finding combos in the Versus series and exploring the engine. Through this email list – we did find a ton of Infinites and were the first ones to figure out multi-OTG combos, Flying Screen Deterioration, how guard breaks work, how combing into throws works, etc.

It was a lot of fun figuring stuff out but once MvC2 came out and SRK took off, it basically fell apart and all those emails have been lost to the ether I’m sure. Either that or James Chen has them backed up in some weird SCSI hard drive or something.

Maj: As someone who discovered dozens, if not millions of oldschool Marvel infinites, what was your method?

omni: David “Gunter” Dial was the king of finding ghetto infinities in X-Men vs Street Fighter. He was one of the first people I know to have a super gun and a CPS2 version of XSF. Which was just craziness back then! I mean … who had that!? This was before XSF was on Sega Saturn or anything.

omni among Street Fighter legends at Midwest Championships 1997Eventually I got a super gun along with COTA, MSH, and XSF – through a series of events that I will never probably know the truth about. I think the XSF came from either Jason Wilson or Henry Cen?

Keep in mind this was X-Men vs Street Fighter and as the world would eventually find out – every damn combo lead to an infinite haha. So I wish I had some awesome way of finding them, but it basically boiled down to a lot of just playing the game in a training mode environment (aka 2-player with damage turned lowest and timer turned slowest) and seeing what would work and what wouldn’t.

That was the cool thing about IHC at the time – you could email a combo and be like, “I think this would lead to an infinite but I can’t find anything with it” and everyone would try out the combo and someone would find something that lets it repeat.

I’ve always been more interested in small combo concepts than really long drawn out combos. So I would just test small combo concepts – like War Machine’s ground smart bomb and see what combos into it, after it, etc. and next thing you know we were finding an infinite.

I remember at B4, J.R. “image” Guiterrez, John Choi, and myself were all discussing this crazy new guard break with Cable and how maybe it would be a good idea to take the hit to screw up the timing of AVHB haha. It was definitely the dark ages of Marvel knowledge.

Maj: Not many people know you actually coined the phrase Roll Cancel?

omni: HAHA! I was at work talking to BAS over AIM one day – right after CvS2 Nationals in Japan and BAS was trying to explain to me that 236+Jab/Short/Fierce = invincible fireball!

He was telling me this story about this Balrog (boxer) player from Yokohama, who should be more famous than he is now since I can’t even remember his name, but how he wanted the range of his rushes to go further so he was trying to cancel roll into them. Apparently this Balrog player showed it to everyone after the CvS2 nationals were over.

Anyways, I couldn’t test anything since I was at work and the only person on my AIM list that was online was ShadyK. So I’m like, “Long! Try this thing … where you cancel your roll with a special move.”

He’s like, “Huh?” I’m like, “You know – a roll cancel!” Or something stupid along those lines. I’ve even heard the Japanese call it RC so I guess the name stuck for better or worse.

To be fair – that crazy and whacky kid from Texas – Kamui, he discovered rolls could be cancelled into a special move in CvS1, but there was no benefit to it. He was super mad that he forgot to try it once CvS2 came out! He should make more combo videos, I remember being at his house for the showing of Bang The Machine and he was doing the hardest combos I had ever seen someone do, and looking bored while doing them.

Maj: For those who don’t know, you work as a combat designer at Activision. As someone who worked on modern classics such as God of War 2 and X-Men: Next Dimension, do you have any advice for aspiring game developers?

omni: I think being in the fighting game scene gave me a skill set that people really can’t get anywhere else. I mean, we (the fighting game community) have spent and will continue to spend countless hours breaking down the smallest nuances of every fighting game and trying to figure out how they work and why they work.

Why they work is the biggest thing that I don’t think you can teach. I remember when Capcom updated X-Men vs Street Fighter from version 1 to 2 and kept in Wolverine’s infinite, it blew my mind! I was like … they HAVE to know about it … why would they ever keep it in?!?! That’s just craziness! Then it hit me … Wolverine is a popular character and as long as the infinite isn’t brain dead easy, having the infinite draws people to spend money on their games.

In all honesty – a lot of my design theories are just straight up stolen from Capcom. They love to have a cheap easy character that appeals to the personality type that just wants the easy win. They also have the skill based character that can take down the easy, cheap character which appeals to a different personality type as well, etc. They cover their bases and the most important thing is making sure the game is fun.

At GDC (Game Developers Conference) before Street Fighter 4 came out, Seth Killian invited me to this secret place where SF4 was on display for journalists and I got a chance to meet with Ono. I introduced myself as having worked on God of War and he got excited as Capcom of Japan published that game in Japan instead of Sony, but he also knew the game and seemed to have played a little bit of it. Through the help of a translator I told him that Street Fighter was a huge influence on God of War and he laughed and said he thought it was Onimusha instead. My cohort Eric Williams and myself were like, “No!! Kratos’ throw range is based on Zangief, and Kratos even has roll into Flash Kick!”

But seriously – this is a very important topic to my heart. Not saying everyone has to follow the path I went down (combat design), but A LOT of people from the fighting game community in one way or another have turned out to do amazing things in the video game industry. Here is a list just off the top of my head:

  • Eric Williams – combat designer on GoW and GoW2, now freelance designer
  • Adam Puhl – lead on Mortal Kombat: Shaolin Monks, combat designer on GoW2 and GoW3
  • Omar Kendall – creative director of UFC
  • John Edwards and Paul Edwards (brothers) – John is #2 on Mortal Kombat franchise, Paul is lead designer on an unannounced project
  • Mark Acero – combat designer at Radical
  • James Che and Sean Gilley – animators on GoW2 and GoW3
  • Tommy Ho – animator on GoW2 and the second GoW PSP project
  • Ben Cureton – has done almost everything from strategy guides to getting half of us a job in the industry to letting everyone stay with him; currently in Chicago
  • Milo, Bob Painter, and James Romedy – all worked on Everquest, not sure what they are doing now
  • Ben Kutcher – was listed in the famous top-10 board that sits behind Tomo in the HF guide, was a designer on X-Men: Mutant Academy then became a programmer teaching too many of us how to do our job; went to Neversoft and implemented the cool Nail Your Trick system
  • George Ngo – former GameFan alumni; played the hell out of Remix when it came out, recently left Activison as a producer
  • Seth Killian – My brother from another mother. Love this guy and everything he’s done at Capcom.
  • David Sirlin – started off as a Street Fighter fan, then a tournament winner, then got to make a version of Street Fighter! doesn’t get better than that, lets be honest
  • James Goddard – The godfather of it all. Him and Winstead tuned HF, created Dee Jay, worked on SSF2, and did Weaponlord, Buffy, etc. Working at Blizzard these days.
  • Zuggzugg – worked on Mortal Kombat Shaolin Monks; I believe he is in Chicago these days but don’t quote me on that
  • Ed Ma – For better or worse HAHA, I got Ed Ma his start in the video game industry. Started off as a programmer, he’s now doing an amazing job as a combat designer.
  • EA Megaman / Sweet Johnny V – worked on perhaps the most important open world game of this generation: Red Dead Redemption
  • Mike Z – was at Pandemic, went off to make his own game: Skull Girls
  • Jason de Heras – total cinderalla story; went from slaving away in Q&A for years at various companies to finally getting a shot as combat designer on GoW3 and designing perhaps the best boss in the game (Hades)
  • Mike Hurst – used to play Virtua Fighter and has worked as an artist and now a designer on Two Towers and Dante’s Inferno
  • Campbell Tran – Was working in Texas, then his boss told him he had to lay two people off so he manned up and laid himself off! They don’t call him the people’s champion for nothing.

Maj: With your busy schedule, how do you find time to run

omni: I fly to Vancouver a lot for work and I checked into this hotel one time, The Opus, and they were like, “Oh welcome back Derek Daniels!” And I was thinking to myself, hmm … never stayed here before – weird. Then they asked me to confirm my address and it was an address in Hawaii! I was like he has stayed here before?!?! This guy!! I can’t escape him!

Maj: Seriously though – Having been involved in the fighting game community since the very beginning, how do you see the community developing two years from now? Five years?

omni: Street Fighter 4 did it’s job and then some. It needed to be a good looking, fun, competitive game to attract new players. I don’t think anyone expected it to attract as many people as it did though!

omni attending the Level|Up Series D&B EventThat being said, people need to play SF because they love it. It’s still a hobby and more than likely always will be. I know there are people trying to be professional fighting game players and I wish them the best of luck but overall it’s just a bad strategy in life.

In 2 years, I hope we can get past the spotlight players who are using our community to become famous and/or rich. Hopefully MvC3 will come out and attract as many new people as SF4 did, but I think in 2 years from now the scene will be smaller than it is now. Just my guess though – certainly hope I’m wrong.

In 5 years from now? You know how there is a large group of people who only play one game? Like the ST old men or the 3S guys? I wonder if SSF4 will be like that for some?

Maj: From a game design standpoint what do you think of SF4?

omni: Making a fighting game is hard work. Especially as something high profile as Street Fighter! Unfortunately one of the worst things you can do is listen to the fans when it comes to suggestions, because they don’t always quite grasp the intricacies of how adding 1 or 2 frames to one move can disrupt the entire ecosystem of the game.

You can easily tell the whole game was designed around Ryu and I think that was a great idea. I’m sure I’ll offend some people but it’s better to have Ryu be top tier in a game than it is to have Vega or Dhalsim.

Like I said earlier, I love how SF4 turned out. I wish they would have taken a few more chances with SSF4 but it’s hard to argue against the fact that they are the two best balanced games in Street Fighter history.

I’m sure throughout the development cycle they tried various things and stuck with what works. I probably would have tried maybe going the Alpha 3 route and starting everyone off with full meter to see if would speed the pace of the game up some? Although some peoples full meter is more ‘valuable’ than others so maybe it would have been a bad idea.

I read somewhere that Daigo suggested a guard bar but I think thats a really bad idea. You need the game to be mass market and as a whole people don’t like having their defense messed with. Its the same reason why when Zangief is too good in a game, people don’t like it. People don’t enjoy the fact that they are blocking and still losing 30% of their life.

Derek Daniels has been an admin on SRK since the beginning of recorded time. He’s currently working on various video game projects at Activision’s Central Design Group. You can follow him on twitter and tell him to update his dilapidated blog.

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8 Responses to Five Questions with Derek “omni” Daniels

  1. Maj says:

    Photos hijacked from johnchoiboy and Level|Up, respectively. Thanks guys!

  2. onreload says:

    really cool stuff, good to know some of who-did-what, and some good insight on games. it’s too bad he couldn’t tell a, ah…earlier SF producer about its influence on GoW

  3. Tarnish says:

    Some of those names on that “who’s who” list are really shocking. These are folks I just happened to meet at tournaments, befriend and then just give a quick shout or handshake to while I’m making the rounds. At Evo especially so. A few forum lurkers, but mostly people I’ve had the chance to meet and greet while working through a bracket or something. This whole interview makes me think of how cyclical things can appear to be.

    I’m really glad the folks I did meet let me make what I would of the hobby. It’s been great. Maybe I’ll run into James at Season’s Beatings, heard he’s doing commentary.

  4. Maj says:

    To be honest, i’m not even sure who the “earlier SF producers” are. I mean i remember those names popping out of barrels and crates after i beat down Bison, but who’s really actually responsible for creating the magic of Street Fighter?

    Like, who decided that you can’t be thrown during block stun? Or that Shoto sweep should be cancelable? Or that Dhalsim shouldn’t have an invincible attack? Or that Guile’s sweep needs to suck?

    Whoever that guy was, he had a huge part in designing and balancing SF4 – even if he isn’t working at Capcom anymore.

  5. Shirts says:

    Good interview with the Old Man.

  6. Bob Sagat says:

    Very nice interview. Fun read!

  7. zuggzugg says:

    Good stuff Derek! We owe it all to the street!

  8. Maj says:

    I found a much nicer scan of the first photo on Living With John Choi and hijacked it with Choi’s permission.

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