When I sit down next to a stranger to play Street Fighter and hear them smacking their buttons with dreadful force and volume, I smile because I am sitting next to a kindred soul – only old-school arcade players hit their buttons with such spite.

Andrew Walton (CCH stalwart): “When you walk into a room filled with fighting games, you hear the sound of people talking shit. And above everything: the game sounds, the PA… you hear buttons.”

Tap dancing

The sound of buttons in fighting games is unique; in the different sounds you hear the range of techniques used in each game. The chikchak of a Third Strike player’s double-tap, the mushy thrak thrak of a Marvel 3 player’s plink-dashes, and the concentrated drum of a Super Turbo player’s piano for Dee Jay’s Machine Gun Upper. This strange symphony of sanwa communicates the games each player grew up with and brings back a strong nostalgia for the arcades, especially for us – the last generation of arcade players.

Observe the different styles of how people play: some players are like surgeons with their neat technique and dextrous pitter-patters, whereas other players like Duong “ZGnoud” Nyugen and myself hammer our buttons coarsely like peasants. Even the SoCal fighting game legend Alex Valle was famous for using his physical presence on the sticks as a form of intimidation in his youth.

Alex Canale from Melbourne is also known as “Straps” because he plays with such force he used to shake the arcade cabinet, he straps himself in nowadays:

Each player creates his own aural signature with his execution on the stick: I could close my eyes and instantly recognise the hyperactive machine gun fire of Kevin “Burnout” Kim’s buttons. The way he fills dead time in the middle of your combo with buttons – I can’t figure if he’s trying to communicate a stubborn rejection of an opponent’s offence or simply wondering if he can spell his name out “I am Burnout” with buttons.

Steve “Pyro” Andreou (Darksided Community Manager): “When you hear buttons tapping you just think of all the good times when you turned up to a tournament or a weekly and room and you just hear… nostalgia for good times with people around me.”

I was attempting to explain the fun of Marvel vs Capcom 3 the other day to my girlfriend. I was just plink-dashing across the screen, hitting three buttons with precise technique – it’s like I was playing piano just to move back and forth. Simply executing mechanical things in fighting games can feel so fun: things like air dashes and triangle jump lights in Marvel.

Fighting games can even feel like rhythm games when it comes to combos. When you execute Magneto’s bread and butter flight combo there’s a certain metronomic beat to it with the multiple pimpslap heavy punches, with accented delays as you gently coax your opponent’s body down from superjump height into a hypergrav relaunch. With a game like Marvel which has so much freedom of movement, there’s an intense pleasure that comes with increased skill because as your execution and dexterity increases you immediately see the results on-screen as your characters begin to move faster and with greater menace.

I wanna take you for a ride

Peter “Reepuplzorg” Barron (the R. Mika of Melbourne): “When I think of sound in fighting games, I think of character theme music. Street Fighter EX2 Plus – I loved playing that game because of how amazing the music in that game was. Unfortunately my version of EX2 stopped playing sound after a while: that’s actually what pushed me into Street Fighter IV and consequently getting addicted to the local fighting game community!”

Kris Staltare (resident Melbourne shoto lover): “When you say fighting games, the only game I think about is Street Fighter, and when you say sound in fighting games the only song or music I think about is Zangief and Guile’s soundtracks. They are just the butteriest songs. And when time starts to run out, Zangief’s music goes into overdrive…it’s the best!”

Some Street Fighter characters themes even achieve immortality through internet meme:

Kris “CM” Dabrowski: “Soundtracks! A lot of the time when a fighting game is memorable to me its soundtrack will be very memorable to me as well. I’m playing Third Strike right now, and some of my best memories on it are coloured by its soundtrack.”

Pyro: “I think every game loses for free like 10-0 versus Guilty Gear soundtracks. Both Sign and Revelator have amazing soundtracks.”

All the aesthetics and character designs in Guilty Gear are heavily influenced by 80’s metal: with characters named Slayer and Testament. Take Sol Badguy for example. His real name is Frederick, his headband bears the words ‘Rock You’, and his belt buckle has the word ‘FREE’, all big-time Queen references! Guilty Gear is an amazing example of how music and fighting games can form a real symbiosis.

Spidercarnage (Super Turbo tournament organiser): “Stage music. If I really like the soundtrack of a stage- for example Bustling Street in SFV- I like to play on that a lot even if I don’t actually like the stage that much.”

Alex “Sketch” Aguirre (USA FGC import): “Favourite soundtrack: Darkstalkers. Another soundtrack that was weird to me at first because it was smooth jazz rather than being more rock oriented like other fighting games was Marvel vs Capcom 2’s soundtrack. It really grew on me though and I even use the training stage theme as my ringtone to this day!”

Andrew Walton (CCH stalwart): “When it comes to fighting game soundtracks – there are literally fighting game concerts dedicated to them.”

Take for example when the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra partnered with Melbourne’s own CouchWarriors back in 2012 to present Soul Symphony, where players duelled on stage in Soul Calibur V accompanied by live orchestral music:

The sound of silence

Xavier “Somniac” Nardella (Darksided Pro fighting game player): “As a competitive player, the first thing comes to my mind is the metagame of sound in fighting games.

Spidercarnage: “With most sticks having eight buttons, some people like to use empty buttons” – which is the practice of having buttons with no function assigned just so you can hit them to fake out your opponent.

Somniac: “There are a lot of people in America that play without the game sound, because they want to hear the opponent’s stick. Chris G wears headphones around his neck but doesn’t actually listen to them [laughs] or Sanford – there’s a million of them who listen to buttons. In Melbourne the king of buttons listening is Hakan “Carnage” Dorter. He doesn’t like it when there’s too much ambient sound because he can’t hear what you’re doing!

At Stay Sharp (recent Melbourne tournament) I had a silent stick with silent buttons, and I played with headphones on. Because subconsciously when you hear your opponent doing something like mashing out a dragon punch – you react to that. I want to hear the in-game sound and choose not to engage in the external sound strategies such as fake buttons or motions.”

Many players play by sound, and are affected in different ways. Some players eschew silent buttons because they rely on button sounds for rhythm. Some players like Somniac find reacting to sound is faster than using visual cues.

Somniac: “When I was practicing against Birdie in training mode, I would close my eyes and practice listening to the sounds Birdie makes. Because if you react visually when he flashes gold during an EX move and try to jump on reaction to avoid his EX Bull Revenger flying grab – if the Birdie player does the EX hanging chain grab instead you’ll get torn from the sky. But the sound of those two moves is different and I would train myself to react appropriately based on the audio cue.”

Rocky’s hitting the meat at the butchers

There’s something visceral in the sound design of great fighting games. A great fighting game not only packs a visual punch – it also sounds like each hit really hurts! That sound design is really an art and separates the great titles from the average fighting game. It’s all about the little details.

Spidercarnage: “One of the little things that annoys me about SFV is the block sounds. They sound like you’re hitting a paper bag or a cardboard bag. In older games like Third Strike and ST and so forth they have that big meaty sound.”

Pyro: “My favourite sound in any fighting game… Do you remember the block sound in the arcade version of vanilla Street Fighter IV? ‘Cos it was meaty as hell. When you hit someone and they block it was like DOONG. They took it out in the console version but none of the new sounds sounded as good as that. The other sound that gets me really hype is the Third Strike parry. When you hear that sound you know that something hype is gonna happen.”

Spidercarnage: “Favourite sound is probably the dizzy sound in any Street Fighter. When you hit them you get that classic peculiar dizzy sound – you overwhelmed your opponent. With the newer games you can calculate it, but in the older games it was even better when you got a random dizzy!

It meant: Death. [slaps palm]”

Tian “THK” Khoo: “Capcom vs SNK 2 KO sounds. They are the ultimate in audio sensory pleasure.”

Kris: “The eerie snap at the end of Akuma’s Raging Demon.”

Steven Nyugen (Melbourne anime player): “My favourite sound in fighting games? It’s simple.

The cry of frustration… the sweet sound of salt from my opponent.”

Note: All interviews were done at a Melbourne FGC meetup Chris’ Club House (CCH) on the 11th of March, 2017.