Keiji Inafune still loves Mega Man. But to him there's no question who'd win if Capcom's robot mascot and Beck — the hero of Inafune's new Mega Man-alike Mighty No. 9 — got into a fight. "Unfortunately, Mega Man is an older robot and uses the older parts. A little bit too old school," Inafune said. "I don't know if he would be able to compete with the newer, shinier version of Beck."
It's safe to say that Keiji Inafune surprised the whole world when he announced Mighty No. 9 late last week at PAX. Stunning as the revelation of the retro-inspired action game was, the veteran game designer said that he decided to embark on the project because people wouldn't stop asking him about Mega Man.
Since Inafune left Capcom, he's been all about doing new things. There's been a mobile game, followed by Soul Sacrifice on Vita. Does he feel like going back to a character and game style so reminiscent of his early career is going backwards?
"One of the best things about owning your own company is that it allows you to do a wide variety of different projects that you otherwise may not have been able to," Inafune began. "As a creator, I don't want to be shoehorned into a certain type of game. There's a place and a time for every sort of game."
"When talking to fans that I've met at events, they constantly mention the titles that I had developed in the past at Capcom, from Dead Rising, to Onimusha, to Mega Man. Some of them say, "Hey, I really enjoyed the Mega Man games, it's too bad there's not anything like that right now." Of course, I'm like, "That's certainly something that's in my wheelhouse. That's something that I know how to do."
"For me, my basic concept is, whether I'm making an new original game, whether I'm making a classic-style game, whether I'm making a mobile game, whatever, I want to make something that I think the fans want to play. Obviously, when there's this many people out there saying, "This is what I want. This is what I want. This is what I want," then, obviously, I would love to listen to that as a creator."
And it's those fans that made Inafune and his colleagues at Comcept choose Kickstarter. "There are lots of things that make Kickstarter fantastic from the creator's perspective," Inafune told me. But it's the direct, unmediated connection to supporters and future consumers that's most appealing. "Right now [for many games], you've got the end user and then you've got the creator, and in the middle you've got the company."
"The company, for better or for worse, is determining a lot of the content that the end user is going to get to consume, and sometimes it's not what the creator wants to make for the end user. Probably nowadays even more than before, the company is putting more restrictions and making more of the judgment calls than they have before in the past."
Inafune: "Unfortunately, Mega Man is an older robot and uses the older parts. A little bit too old school. I don't know if he would be able to compete with the newer, shinier version of [Mighty No. 9]."
"Basically, they're handicapping their creators from doing what they really want to do as far as making really great games. What Kickstarter represents is being able to have that pure creator/consumer connection unlike there ever has been in the past."
Given how his tenure with Capcom ended, being able to chart his own future is important to Inafune. "As someone who has created several IP and franchises, I wanted control for the future, so I can continually give the fans what I know they want, and this system allows me to do that."
"Sometimes having that big publisher umbrella protects you. There are risks with Kickstarter. You really must go in knowing that you are doing this for the fans. Your heart must be with them and you must be willing to go all out and make some key decisions that you otherwise would not have. You're going to have to connect with them on a person-to-person level in a way that a lot of creators haven't. There might be times you're going to have to apologise. Unless you're able to bring that level of openness to Kickstarter, then you're probably not going to do a good job with it."
When I asked Inafune if Mighty No. 9 was a way for him to address certain things he wished were different about Mega Man, he said that would be part of his creative process. "People are a collection of their experiences in their life. When I originally made Mega Man/Rockman, I was in my early 20s. What doesn't someone in their early 20s know versus somebody who is in their 50s? Obviously, you have a wide variety of different perspectives and ideas and feelings through all those years of living life."
"Rather than thinking of specific instances of saying, 'Oh I should have done that on Mega Man. I couldn't and now I'm going to do it on this,' the way I like to look at Beck is as a original character that allows me to trace back all of my learnings, all of my experience of the past 30 years in the game industry. I can use that to create something that's originally unique but still has the same spirit of its predecessor."
Most people look at the character design and the concept of Mighty No. 9 so far and feel like this is going to be a modern day update of the Mega Man formula. What's going to be explicitly different, then?
"If you actually break it down, in the character design or even what you're able to do in the game, it's very different from Mega Man games," Inafune said. "People will look at the main character Beck and they will see — at least this is how I feel about it — my spirit, my core character design in him. If you really break it down on a detailed level, things like the colour in the eyes, and the shape, there are things that are clearly set very apart from Mega Man as a character."
Inafune: "Basically, [companies are] handicapping their creators from doing what they really want to do as far as making really great games. What Kickstarter represents is being able to have that pure creator/consumer connection unlike there ever has been in the past."
"But the average consumer or Mega Man fan takes one look and thinks that it's Mega Man. From my perspective, being able to create a character that is in fact so different [but that gets such a response] shows that I really have put my soul in it. It's a sign that I really have captured that essence of what makes my games "my games" in this new character, and that makes me really happy."
Despite saying his new creation would mop up the floor with the Blue Bomber, Inafune bears no ill will towards the robot he left behind. Let's say that Capcom is working on a new Mega Man right now, I posited. Can the two co-exist? "Yeah. If the question is just, 'Can they exist as two different franchises at the same time?' then my answer is yes, of course," Inafune replied. "Capcom should be doing things with the Mega Man franchise just like we are with this original game."
"Ultimately, it would be great for the fans because then they would be able to play even double the content that they otherwise could," he continued. "So, in this perspective, yes, please, let both games exist." See that, Capcom? Even as he's sort of making his own, Keiji Inafune still wants new Mega Man games. If you put one out, he'd probably even buy it.