Monday, July 14, 2008

Mega Man 9 Interview with producer Hironobu Takeshita

Mega Man 9 is playable on the E3 show floor this year...but the floor's not quite open yet. Capcom teased us with a hint of the game, though, letting us talk to producer Hironobu Takeshita in front of a demo kiosk running the intro sequence on an endless loop. Once we were done soaking in the great Astro Boy-styled art, we got to business -- discussing the big picture behind the game's unconventional retro style as well as some gameplay specifics to tide us over until we have a chance to go hands-on with the demo once the show begins.

1UP: We haven't actually had a chance to play Mega Man 9 yet, so if you don't mind please tell us a little bit about the play style and what you were shooting for in going back to the NES style.

HT: Well, the classic Mega Man series has a lot of fans, and they're always asking "Can we have another?" We remember the old may think of them of them as simplistic, but they're challenging. When you beat it, you felt like you were rewarded for getting that far into the game. All of us at Capcom, including Mr. [series creator Keiji] Infaune, we've always had a special place in our hearts for these games and we've always wanted to continue the series in some form. When Virtual Console came along we felt the time was right. We decided that if we want to do this thing right, we should do it in the classic style. That meant going back to the NES period and bringing back those 8-bit graphics, sound, everything. That was the challenge we set for ourselves -- to see how much we could emulate our own style from way back when.

1UP: But why specifically go with the 8-bit style? Mega Man has had 16-bit and 32-bit sequels, and those games played pretty well. So why go back to a style that was popular in the '80s rather than something that's a little more timely?

HT: Well, when you put it like that...yes, it's an old-school style, like an old game. But it's a new addition to the series. As you probably know, Mega Man 2 is very popular -- the fans out there of the Mega Man series probably like that one best and have the fondest memories of it. So the challenge to us was to create a game that goes beyond MM2 to bring something new to the fans, something they really want. While the graphics are 8-bit, we like to think of 8-bit as just one possible art style we can employ to make a Mega Man game. We still think it looks good for the series.

1UP: Many of the gameplay innovations we saw in later Mega Man titles, like the slide and charge shot, being able to duck, have been removed from this game because you want to focus on the purity of the Mega Man 1 art and style?

HT: Yes, it's true that we don't have things like the slide or the charge shot, because we really want to bring it back to the basics -- simple is better in this case. The basics of Mega Man are moving, jumping and shooting. The challenge comes from the levels themselves. There's all these obstacles inside the levels that make playing Mega Man a fun adventure game. That's what we wanted to preserve when making this game.

1UP: I'm excited that the game is being created by IntiCreates, who made the Zero and ZX games. Those were actually very challenging games -- much harder than the classic games in my opinion -- but they really get what makes Mega Man good. Are they bringing some of the design concepts and innovations of the Zero and ZX games into MM9 to make it more contemporary and challenging?

HT: The staff at IntiCreates -- thanks for praising them -- most of them came from Capcom to begin with, so they've been involved with Mega Man in various forms from the classic series on out. They know what goes into making a Mega Man game, making it fun. This time with MM9 our goal was to go back to Mega Man 1 but to make it more polished. It will provide a challenge for modern gamers, even though it looks simple. You might be frustrated sometimes while playing it. If you keep trying, I'm sure you'll be able to beat the game.

1UP: Well, specifically what I had in mind is...I'm really looking forward to MM9 and have recently been replaying some of the older games. Something I've found is that in the NES games, the levels tend to be pretty short, and the bosses tend to have fairly simple patterns, especially compared to the Zero games where the levels tend to be longer and the bosses are extremely difficult. I'm wondering if MM9 will feel more like that -- more of an endurance contest than in the older games.

HT: It's definitely closer to the classic series in terms of gameplay. We wanted to create a fun game that's like the original series and challenges players, so everything from the boss fights to the stage lengths are similar to the original series.

1UP: Everything looks very classic except for one thing: Splash Woman! What's the story behind Splash Woman? Is Dr. Wily just lonely? How did this happen?

HT: Yes, as you can see, that is the first Something-Woman character in the Mega Man series. MM9 is like the classic series, but we wanted to add something new to surprise players, throw them off. I think you're going to find all the bosses are unique in their own way. Our priority with them has been to make new bosses for a new game and I think you'll enjoy them.

1UP: You've said you want to go back to Mega Man 2 for the inspiration for this game. What specifically about MM2 is it that you're trying to emulate this time? There is a certain purity to the game, especially compared to something like Mega Man 7, but I'm wondering how you've isolated those elements and brought them into MM9.

HT: Well, MM1 and 2 are what we want to want to use as the basis, because they're simple. You run, you jump, you shoot. With Mega Man 3 and beyond you had other elements like the charge shot, the slide, a lot of things that fans enjoyed. People do like those things, but MM2 has the most fans and we realized we wanted to keep it simple but make the levels challenging, and that's where the fun in this game would come from. So in that regard, we emulated MM2 to make this new game.

1UP: One thing I've noticed in replaying the MM games is that in some of the original games (1, 2, 3), you tend to use the Robot Master weapons a lot throughout the game whereas you don't do that so much in the later games. Is that something you've managed to recapture in this game? Will people try out the weapons and find that they're actually useful, instead of just relying on the arm cannon?

HT: Well, if you try really, really hard, you can probably make it through the whole game using none of the special weapons, but that would be tough. We've made it so that when you get the boss' weapons, they're incorporated into the game -- they allow you to defeat enemies quicker, access places you wouldn't otherwise be able to reach, basically getting you through stages quicker. So they are an integral part of the game -- if you want to use them, they're there for you.

1UP: Will it include special items like Item-1, the Rush Jet, the Super Arrow, or are you keeping it a purer experience?

HT: We've definitely brought back Rush, Beat and Eddy, and they'll help you get through the game. So fans of the series should enjoy having them back.

1UP: A few years ago, Capcom rebooted the series with Mega Man: Powered Up. People liked it a lot, but it didn't sell that well. Do you think you'll ever revisit that, or does MM9 spell doom for that take on Mega Man?

HT: We have to see where things go from here. It's hard to predict the future. First, we want to see how well MM9 does. If it succeeds, we'll definitely think about releasing more games in this series. But we also realize there are fans out there who like Powered Up, and if we hear more from them, we'll definitely have to think about putting more out.

1UP: Have you considered releasing Powered Up and Maverick Hunter X as downloadable content for, say, Xbox Live Arcade or PSN, to see how they do there?

HT: As it stands right now, nothing has been decided yet. 1UP: Will there be any differences in the three versions planned? (Wii, XBLA, PSN) Will the Xbox 360 and PS3 versions have achievements and trophies?

HT: That's a very good question! (laughs) The main thing with this game is that we didn't want there to be any differences between the various systems. We wanted people to experience an 8-bit game regardless of the system they own. As far as other things related to the systems, I don't want to say too much right now, but I'm sure you can imagine the kinds of things each respective system would have. But the game is the same on all three systems.

1UP: Now, if MM9 is a success, you said you'd consider making more games along these lines. Have you considered going back to some of the other MM series like Mega Man X or Legends and continuing those games in the styles they originally appeared in? Like, make a 16-bit style MMX or a Mega Man Legends with PlayStation-level technology?

HT: With each successive generation of home consoles, the graphics get better, the sound levels move up with surround sound and everything, and game makers try to create games that meet the specs of each console. I don't always agree with that, because you can play a game like this that doesn't have great graphics or the same superior sound and it's still a fun game to play. I think by just trying to meet the specifications of the new hardware, you're closing the door to creators like us. If we want to make a 16-bit game because we think it's good and fun, we will. If we want to make an 8-bit game, that's what we'll do. As long as the door remains open for game creators, it enriches the gaming world. You should think of the 8-bit graphics not as 8-bit graphics per se, but as a different art style. And this is just one of many art styles we can use to create a game. But if MM9 is successful, we will think about redoing older series -- 8-bit, 16-bit, what have you.

1UP: On the flip side, has it been difficult for you and the team at IntiCreates to go back to this simpler style? You're used to dealing with the DS, which is a fairly powerful system compared to the NES. Has it been hard to work within those constraints? Specifically, the sound in the trailer is so old-school -- were you used to making the graphics and sounds, or were the young programmers like, "How can we do this?"

HT: Well, the composer for MM9 did work really hard on this. He did work on NES games in the past, but now with modern sound and instruments and what you can do it wasn't the same, trying to limit himself. It takes a special skill set to be able to go back and work with less, and I think he achieved that with this game. As far as IntiCreates and making the game itself, we wanted it to be authentic like an NES game. That meant we couldn't rely on any of the methods we use for modern games -- we had to go back and draw things by hand and make sure we got it right. It's a laborious process at times, but I think in the end it pays off because you get the realism of that 8-bit era.

1UP: One last question, then. You said that MM2 is very popular in Japan, and I'm wondering if you've seen things like the fan-made video Air Man Will Not Die, these fan-made games and tributes to the series, and if they give you encouragement and confidence when you're working on MM9?

HT: When I see things like that, especially using, say, footage from MM2, which is an old game, it makes me realize, "Wow, people have loved this game for this long," and I'm really happy the fans have been with the series for so long. It also teaches me something about the game -- what the fans like about it. It makes me grateful to them for that. Of course, we could also talk about copyright issues! (laughs) Things of that nature...but I don't want to get into that, because I'm just happy to see these things. I can't really say that, of course, but it's great that fans love the game.

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