Any suspicions Mighty No. 9 backers or doubters might have that the game would be nothing more than a pure rehash of the old Mega Man games should have been dispelled at yesterday's "Meanwhile, in Japan..." panel, in which Comcept president (and former caretaker of the Mega Man franchise) Keiji Inafune showed off the first playable pre-alpha build of his crowdfunded action title.
While the Mega Man vibe couldn't be clearer – it's a blue robot who battles eight evil robots and steals their weapons, after all – the demo clearly shows a game that mixes many influences. Protagonist Beck can slide, like classic Mega Man. He can air dash, like Mega Man X. He can fire and dash at multiple angles, too. All in all, Beck looks nimble, responsive, and fluid in motion. As a colleague of mine put it, you can tell the dev team has spent the past six months mostly working on the main character's movement above all else, and the results seem to have paid off. Beck looks like a kinetic, energetic joy to control, which should make for an excellent foundation for a platformer.
While Mighty No. 9 is one of Inafune's first projects as an independent publisher, he stated in his GDC panel that he considered the original Mega Man something of an indie game as well. Created as the company's first original console title by a team of six in a division whose mission was simply to covert Capcom's arcade games to NES, Mega Man and its first sequel were never meant to happen.
"We were in a side building, away from the main arcade division, and we were treated as such. Our job was to port whatever was made for the arcade," he said. "Mega Man was the first original title to come from our team."
In that sense, he sees Mighty No. 9 as a spiritual successor to the original Mega Man on a much deeper level than mere mechanics. While Inafune is acting as a publisher and cheerleader for the new game, he also has taken a hands-on role with its development, bringing his experience iterating on Mega Man's core concepts to the mix. Kickstarter backer updates for Mighty No. 9 have detailed the design process for the game's bosses – the Mighty Nos. – in which Inafune has played both a creative, critical, and advisory role, sketching concepts, critiquing designs, and ultimately signing off on successful ideas.
"I'm all-hands on this game, more than I should be," he admits. "This is a game I really want to make, and I have a clear vision in my mind already. But it's almost like I shouldn't be this involved in one single game. The role I play in the company is the 'concepter.' I create an idea and I pass that on to the director and the team, to actually make the game. Occasionally I'll see if the direction is going the right way or not.
"But on this game, I'm actually giving opinions or orders to the director about a single line or phrase. That's how much I want to make this game. It's very motivating to see the development, the progress we're making.
"I know that the director actually hates me for this, but I can't help it," he added, laughing. "So far, we haven't seen any towels been thrown in the ring [by IntiCreates] yet. But we're not sure if that's going to happen yet.
"So far, IntiCreates has been very honest about what they think should be put into the game. They'll bring that up directly to me, and we'll have a conversation between the director and me. I like that a lot. That's a healthy relationship between a publisher and a developer, being honest with each other. I've told IntiCreates to not hold back any thoughts from me. I want to hear their opinion as well."
Inafune says his role in Mighty No. 9 isn't terribly different from the one he played in kicking off other Mega Man spinoffs, such as Mega Man X and Legends. "Whenever we were creating a new series for Mega Man, I was this involved," he recollects. "Especially for the first Mega Man, 1 and 2, and the X series, and the ZX series, and the first Legends. When we're making something new, I want to be this involved, because nobody else has as clear a vision for the game. But once that gets made, the first or second game, everyone understands how the series should be.
"For Mighty No. 9, we're trying to re-create that retro feeling. In doing so, that really brings back some of the memories I had when we were creating the first Mega Man series or the X series. I think the same goes for IntiCreates [whose team members worked on both classic and recent Mega Man titles] as well. The conversation and feedback we're getting from them really shows that."
On a less granular level, Inafune's previous experience with community-sourced design concepts has greatly informed his involvement with the Kickstarter aspect of the project. As he's noted before, the Mega Man Legends 3 "Development Room" directly inspired Mighty No. 9, though he expects what he learned from the failings and limitations of that venture to help guide the current project to a more positive outcome.
"To me, this 'new' development model isn't that new," he says. "I tried to do it four years ago with Legends 3. That didn't happen. But I believe that with the Internet, with social media, the distance between the player and the developer is getting closer. There's no reason not to use that new marketing model that we have right now. It's definitely to our advantage to use it. So I was sure that this would work, because I was sure that the actual directors, at IntiCreates, could trust me to do this new model. Sometimes they have doubts, but when that happens, we can just talk it over together."
Inafune feels that being freed from the constraints of large publishers and the cautious public relations and marketing guidelines that go along with them has been entirely to the benefit of Mighty No. 9's relationship with its community. The new level of transparency and openness available to his team allows them to reveal as much of the game they like as it's being developed. In fact, the question isn't one of how to show early content to the community but rather precisely where to draw the line.
"Another thing we're lucky to have is that, unlike other story-driven games or movies… [movies] can show the opening of the plot, or the casting, that kind of thing. But the more they show, there's less surprise when users see the actual product. But with a game like Mighty No. 9, everything is about the feel when you actually play the game, the feel of jumping or dashing. The more we show, in that sense, the more we can bring up the anticipation of the backers to play the game. I think this marketing model is very fitting for this kind of game."
With the hard Spring 2015 deadline Comcept has set for itself with Mighty No. 9 and the recently announced Azure Striker Gunvolt (an IntiCreates-developed 3DS game clearly inspired by Mega Man ZX), Mega Man fans should have plenty to fill the void left by Capcom's seeming abandonment of the actual franchise. While discussing Gunvolt, I asked Inafune if he thinks he might ever follow up on these two new Mega Man-inspired titles by creating something in the spirit of Mega Man Legends as well. Rather than answer my question directly, though, he replied instead with a surprising curveball.
"If somebody asked, even right now, what's the game you want to create most? It's still Legends 3," he muses. "I put so much effort into that game, so much passion into that game, but it didn't happen. It's always a regret in my mind. Even now…
"We all know that's not going to happen, though, as long as Capcom holds the IP. But if they asked me to make that game, I could still gather most of the original team, even right now. Some of them have quit Capcom, some of them are still at Capcom, but I believe that team would be passionate enough to come back together and create that game. So…we'll see what's going to happen. You never know.
"Let's say that, if we have all seven Dragon Balls right here, right now, and Shen Long comes up and says, 'What's your wish?' My wish would be, give me all the right tools, people, and environment to create Legends 3."
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