"I don't want to make Mega Man
," Comcept head Keiji Inafune tells me at the DICE conference in Las Vegas. "I want to make something with the soul of Mega Man
Back in August of 2013, Inafune successfully Kickstarted his new game, Mighty No. 9
, to the tune of over $3.8 million. He was one of the first notable Japanese creators to turn to Kickstarter, in a Japanese game industry that often (incorrectly) views crowdfunding as a sign of weakness, or an admission that the developer couldn't make the game on their own.
Inafune decries this position. "I don't think it's a sign of weakness at all," he says. "We didn't do it because there was no other way to do this project, it was more because we wanted to have the rights to it, so we could expand upon the franchise."
"It wouldn't normally be a problem to get something like $4 million from a publisher," he adds, referencing the amount of money Mighty No. 9
made. "It'd be a different story if it were 10 times that, of course. The main reason to use Kickstarter is to keep the rights to the game, so it's our game and the fans' game. It's not just a business decision."
The game bears no small resemblance to Mega Man
, from the boss progression to the character designs, but Inafune says this is really just because he knows the fans want it. He's not trying to reclaim Mega Man
, necessarily. "I didn't think about Capcom when making this campaign," he told me. "I have no feelings of hatred, and I'm not trying to send a message to Capcom, it's more that I'm thinking about what the fans want to play, and what my staff wants to do."
"You know, since I left Capcom, I can't work on the franchises I led in the past, like Mega Man, Onimusha,
and Dead Rising
," he adds. "I've also separated myself from the business only side of things, where they'd give orders like 'you have to make this sort of game because this is what's selling.' Separating from Capcom, I can make what I think the fans really want. If the fans want games sort of like Mega Man
, I have no problem making a game with some similarities. But I have no intention at all of making just Mega Man
. I don't want to get away from that necessarily, but I don't want to exactly make just that, either."
Inafune feels that all the games he's worked on, like the franchises mentioned above, have the same soul, or feeling to them. Mighty No. 9
will have that same kind of fresh feeling too, he hopes.
The mechanics of Inafune's design
One element that's important to both Mega Man
and Mighty No. 9
is the design of the bosses. The bosses are essentially also your powerups, so they must be carefully constructed to fit that purpose, while also providing a challenge. I wondered, how does one go about creating a boss in the Inafune style?
"I guess the attack style is most important, and how they get involved with the player, as well as whatever special elements they may have," he says. "I think of those things before I consider the visual design and the game design.
"The bosses are in effect, weapons themselves, so I line them up and think about how they'll affect the other bosses," he says. Inafune does this mostly by feel, thinking first about which boss' weapon he thinks might interact well with another boss. "It's flexible, and things may change, but generally it starts with looking at all the bosses and what their role is, in relation to each other."
One of the most important interactions in a game like this is the jump. Without a good-feeling (or at least appropriate-feeling) jump, a game with platforms can't succeed. Inafune, it turns out, designs his jumps more by feel than by frames, milliseconds, and pixels.
"With jumps, I don't pay attention to the framerate that much," he says. "It's more about how it feels, and making sure it feels good to the player. Making sure they don't try to jump at the edge of a platform, and falling off because the jump didn't register. It's more about the feeling and the timing. Inti Creates (the co-developer of Mighty No. 9
) has had a lot of experience with this sort of game, and I don't doubt they'll be able to make a good jump action."
"Good action games have a lot of 'just made it' sort of moments," Inafune says. "And even if, for example, it looked weird that you were able to jump a millisecond after you passed a platform, I'd take that player-friendly approach over how it looks."
"That also applies in other parts of the games," he adds. "If the player looks like they're sort of hitting an enemy, but damage doesn't register, that doesn't feel good. So we'll make it less strict so they can touch the enemy to an extent. It'll allow the player to get the possible feeling of progress."
Platform and shooting games are known for their precision, though, which means balancing those player-friendly moments of wiggle room with precise action. "If a company hasn't really done action games before, and they tried to do this, it'd be a big problem," Inafune jokes. "But for us, when it comes down to going with the feeling or the precision, generally I'll go to the staff, in Inti Creates and Comcept as well. They've all worked on a lot of action titles, so I'll listen to their opinions, and consider those before making a final decision. Every time a new build is created, we have a checklist of items to test and balance, and based on these checks the feedback will determine which direction you'd go."
Button presses, for example when firing, are also of paramount importance. For rapid fire, Inafune likes the responsiveness of firing a bullet on the press of the button, rather than when the button is released. But when charging a shot, you hold and release, so the bullet comes out upon button release.
"In games [in which] you can charge the gun, there'd often be several levels of charge," he says. "You want as much return as you put in, because when you're holding down the button you're waiting for something, and you sort of have to anticipate when you're going to shoot. You need to give the player as much return as you can get from the time they have to wait. It can't be too fast or too slow. It's sort of until you feel like you can't hold onto it anymore."
There's no particular timing that Inafune prefers, but it's all about anticipation and release. He does, though, have a preference between auto-charged attacks and those where you push a button. "It's harder to hold a button, of course," he says. "Autocharge is too passive. If you have an autocharge, it's always charging, so anyone can do it, and you don't need to put any effort into it in. It feels better when you charge yourself, and release that and hit the enemy."
"It's like here in Las Vegas," he says. "If you go and win $1,000 at a casino, it's not as important as the $1,000 you get if you'd actually pulled the crank yourself on the slot machine. It's really important that you get out what you put in."