Hironobu Takeshita has an interesting job. He's the producer for what is, for all intents and purposes, a NES game. But he's the producer for a brand new NES game in 2008 - Mega Man 9.
Capcom has returned to its roots and created an all-new sequel to its popular franchise, originally created by Keiji Inafune in 1987, and which experienced the height of its popularity on early console systems such as the NES.
What better way to satisfy the fans, then, than to create a new game that strictly adheres to the limitations of that classic hardware, but release it on PlayStation Network, Xbox Live Arcade, and WiiWare?
Speaking in-depth to Gamasutra, Takeshita speaks to the difficulties (and freedoms) that creating a true retro experience creates, and to his vision for a future in which creators can design games based on their artistic choices, not externally-applied pressures of matching up to the standards of contemporary console releases.
I think this is the first example of a developer making a truly retro game for a new download service. I was wondering if you could talk about where you guys got the idea from originally to do that.
Hironobu Takeshita: First, I'd like to thank you for asking me this question - why we decided to bring this back and go with the retro style. As you know, [Capcom head of R&D Keiji] Inafune... Mega Man was one of his first games, and he's always wanted to bring it back. There just hasn't been a chance to do so yet.
Mega Man is a simple game, but it's one that you can get into quickly and really enjoy playing it. We wanted to bring that to a new generation of gamers. Fortunately, now we have download services where we could bring it back. So we thought, "This is the opportunity to do this. Now that we have a method for delivering the game, we should try and see if we can do it - go all the way back to the retro style."
Especially now, retro games are being evaluated as good games. Not all of them are good, but some of them are being evaluated as good games. Since the generation now may not be as familiar with those games, we thought it's time to introduce them to that style of gaming. Mega Man is just the perfect game for doing that.
Many of the techniques that were used to create games in the Famicom [NES] era have essentially been lost, or they're not at all similar to the techniques that are still used. How are you able to make a game that so convincingly evokes that style of game on a technical level - that really does feel like a Famicom game - using modern techniques that your developers are familiar with now?
HT: First of all, we made this game in conjunction with [independent development studio] Inti Creates. Most of their staff used to work for Capcom, and they were involved with the [GBA] Mega Man Zero and [DS] Mega Man ZX series, so they're pretty familiar with this style of game. A lot of them also worked on the 8-bit and 16-bit games back in the day, so they had the experience and the know-how for making a game like this.
Of course, the technical aspects were a little harder, especially with the graphics. Mr. Inafune wanted it to be simple, like the old, early Mega Man games, but the staff, for whatever reason, kept making it more complex.
The details in the graphics were just too much for what an 8-bit game was, so he had to tell them to redo almost half of it at one point, because they were making it too complex. He said, "Make it simple. Bring it back to the basics."
The sound was also difficult to do, because you're limited with what you can do. To go from doing big sound scores for modern games to a smaller sound scale, that was harder to bring it down to the 4-bit sound and using the type of rhythm for the game.
The tools that were used to create this game aren't actually the same tools that were used back in the '80s and early '90s to create these games. What kind of tool was used to compose the music? Was it a Famicom sound emulator? And to create the graphics, what kind of tools were used?
HT: Yeah, the equipment used to make the Famicom games really doesn't exist anymore. We don't have access to that. We have to use modern equipment to make this game. The point is, you have to limit yourself. That was the hard part.
But it was the sensibilities of the staff that were able to recreate that 8-bit feel, because you can go really far with today's equipment. So it was the staff that brought it back to the basics.