Tuesday, April 13, 2010

The Q in Question

Is it possible to make a retroactive cameo? The nature of a cameo requires the person making the brief appearance to be notable. Non-famous people making cameos are called “extras” — unless in the context of a struggling actor’s resume, in which case they’re called “diner,” “co-worker,” or “party attendee.” But what if he or she wasn’t famous at the time they made this appearance? But they linger on screen anyway, making them easy to spot after the fact?

This post won’t answer this — nor will it be about movies or actors or people glimpsed before their rocketship ride to fame. No, it’s about video games. (Ha! Caught you, people who don’t give a damn about video games!) And as far as video games go, it’s about a fairly obscure character from the Street Fighter series. He technically debuted in Street Fighter III but nonetheless seems to have made an appearance eight years earlier in a background in Street Fighter II. Weird, no?


Hit the jump for a little story about a mysterious robot named Q.

For a lot of fans, Street Fighter III is the black sheep of the series because it ditched a lot of the characters that made the previous games popular and replaced them with new ones that didn’t quite fit into the notion of Street Fighter. For example, the first incarnation of Street Fighter III lived up to its subtitle, New Generation, by featuring only two characters from previous games: Ryu and Ken. Replacing series regulars like Zangief and Dhalsim were a motley crew that, to many, seemed weird — a little darker, a little more twisted, a little uglier and generally not like the fighters who slugged it out in the Street Fighter II and Street Fighter Alpha games.



On the left, Russian mutant Necro; on the right, bi-colored underwear model and big bad Gill.


On the left, peculiarly long-limbed African princess Elena; on the right, one-armed hermit Oro.

Maybe they’re not all that much stranger than, say, a green-skinned, electrified, feral man from Brazil, but it’s all in what you get used to, I guess. The website Fighting Street suggests that the Street Fighter III fighters do fit in with the rest of the crew because all of them — from any Street Fighter, that is — are equally derivative of other pop culture icons. In any case, Capcom may have heard fans’ dissatisfaction with the Street Fighter III line-up and filled the second and third incarnations of the game with some folks who looked a little more familiar. Street Fighter III: Second Impact saw the return of series villain Akuma as well as the introduction of Hugo, a hulking character inspired by an old Final Fight enemy. And Third Strike brought back Chun-Li — the Street Fighter’s main female character and one of the most recognizable female characters in any video game ever.

Chun-Li was not the only addition, however. Alongside a disarmingly tomboyish teen girl, a floppy-haired French hipster, and yet another mutant was Q, an enigmatic man wearing a metal mask and a Dick Tracy coat.



My reaction to this new character: “Hmm. Another weirdo,” shortly followed by “He kind of looks like The Question.” However, Frank Yagami, the guy who runs the website Fighter’s Generation, noticed that Q looked a lot like a character who had appeared in the background of Ken’s stage in the original Street Fighter II as one of the people cheering the fight from the side of a boat.


Granted, the sprite of this background character is not especially detailed, but yeah — it does look like he’s wearing a trench coat and hat similar to Q’s. Furthermore, he also seems to be wearing the mask, though that could result from the lack of detail given to the nobodies cheering in the background. In console ports of Street Fighter II, the character is even more crudely depicted and sometimes even recolored. For example, check out the equivalent from the Super Nintendo version:


Not too Q-ish. But the original sprite from the arcade version does bear a resemblance to Q. So did Capcom make Q playable in Street Fighter III in order to round out the cast with more familiar-seeming characters? Maybe. On one hand, hardly anyone would recognize the Blurry-Faced Man Cheering on a Boat. However, as Yagami theorizes, perhaps the team behind Street Fighter III simply was scouring the backgrounds of previous games and said “Hey, what’s the deal with that guy, anyway?” From there, they could have chosen to flesh the character out, so to speak, and turned an otherwise unimportant background character into a larger part of the Street Fighter mythos. It wouldn’t be unheard of. The visual basis for Dan Hibiki, a character who debuted in Street Fighter Alpha in 1995, initially appeared in concept art for another character, Sagat, back in 1991 — long before the Alpha games were being made.


Given that anyone wearing these clothes would look similar — more or less like an extra in a winter scene in Mad Men — it would be tempting to dismiss the resemblance as coincidental. But it’s noteworthy that Q has no storyline to speak of, really, aside from an ending sequence that suggests that that there’s something to Yagami’s theory. In it, CIA agents are investigating Q and his unexplained appearances at events all over the world:


And it’s particularly teasing that that last image shows Q lurking on a boat that looks a lot like that same one in Ken’s stage.

You’d think the matter would have been clarified in 2008, when Capcom released Super Street Fighter II Turbo HD Remix, a graphically superior version of the final installment of Street Fighter II. However, the Q-looking dude was omitted from the redrawn background.

As of now, Third Strike is Q’s only official appearance. Though Street Fighter III alums Dudley, Ibuki and Makoto made the cut for the newest installment of Street Fighter IV, Q did not. And until he does, the mystery of who or what he is will have to remain just that. Really, who was that masked man?

Street Fighter and thereabouts, previously:

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