Recreating Street Fighter's punchable arcade controls

Street Fighter, released to arcades four years before its blockbuster sequel, originally came with huge pads to punch. Though brilliant marketing, they sucked so bad it made the game unplayable, and arcades soon replaced them with the now-traditional six-button fighting control set. Now, 35 years on, Vincent Pureza set out to recreate and recover one of the worst game control systems in history.

Through years of nerding around, I knew that multiple versions of the SF1 Game PCB were made, and a very specific one was needed to enable pneumatic controls. This PCB has special nozzles for connecting tubes (the manual specifically mentions using silicon tubes), and when the pneumatic controls were pressed, air pressure would travel through these tubes to the junction box and then into the PCB. The PCB would interpret this signal as an attack—the greater the pressure, the stronger the attack (to a certain extent). This PCB is quite rare, and not many people knew that it existed or what it even looked like. Those who knew about it called it "the pneumatic PCB."

From an old Capcom flyer

What's interesting about the controls is how well-conceived they were, all the same. When you consider how much force was required to push the pneumatic pads, you see that fighting game motion inputs, such as ↓↘→✊, would kinda sorta get the player physically articulating with the moves. For example, you might pound both stick and pad with the heel of your palms–hadouken!–to get the timing right on a fireball. And the timings were extremely tight on Street Fighter 1. Strange to think that the software side of these insane, abandoned hardware controls remained to become a hallmark of the series and fighting games in general.

I liked Street Fighter's art a lot, too, a completely different style to the more conventional anime look the sequels took. Now it seems so muted and old-school that it makes me imagine a Merchant Ivory movie of Street Fighter. 10 four-minute brawls in cinematically-lavish locations and one 40-minute conversation between Birdie and Eagle about their unspoken but intense love.