Mighty No. 9: Keeping the Mega Man Legacy Alive

Comcept's crowdsourced project's roots run deeper than mere aesthetics. We speak to producer Keiji Inafune about his new venture.

Preview by Jeremy Parish, .

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."

The pre-alpha version of Mighty No. 9 doesn't look much like this old concept images, but in motion it looks, well, considerably more fun, to be honest.

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.

Inafune says the original Mega Man was, in its own way, a kind of indie game.

"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.

Azure Striker Gunvolt brings IntiCreates' experience with Mega Man Zero and ZX to bear on a game that looks an awfully lot like... Mega Man Zero and ZX.

"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."

Mega Man Legends 3 never happened, but Inafune's soul still burns.

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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Comments 12

  • Avatar for Kirinn #1 Kirinn 4 years ago
    Dang, where did we stash those DragonBalls this time anyway?
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  • Avatar for simonsimonspstarace2 #2 simonsimonspstarace2 4 years ago
    Damm Capcom. Why did you throw Kenji Inafune out. Megaman is still one of my favorite Game and also one part of my childhood with Super Mario. I hope Capcom think about it. if Megaman Legends 3 come out then the legends CONTINUE ;)
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  • Avatar for Du2andal #3 Du2andal 4 years ago
    It's funny that Inafune is still hung up on Legends 3 and that he would go back and work with Capcom to make it. I guess it shows that the split was pretty amicable on his end or at least that he is a savvy business man who keeps his doors open. I can't help but wonder though how Capcom feels about him and about Mighty Number 9. If this game proves successful, wont that be at least a small point of embarrassment for them? They were unable to sell what used to be a marquee title themselves but an (admittedly great looking) copycat succeeds where they failed? I guess it is just a difference in expectation. My question is if Mighty Number 9 performs well with an audience beyond its Kickstarter backers, does make it easier or harder for Inafune to work with Capcom again?
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  • Avatar for Damman #4 Damman 4 years ago
    Inafune's certainly kept himself busy since departing Capcom. It's funny to hear him talk about how he is "too hands-on" with Mighty No. 9 and how he's stepping on the director's toes. I think the expectation coming off that Kickstarter was that he will essentially be the director for the game rather than an overseer of that and several other projects. Either way, it's clear that he's making these games happen. I look forward to seeing and playing the results.
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  • Avatar for Kirinn #5 Kirinn 4 years ago
    @Du2andal I doubt Capcom will be embarrassed if it does okay. I mean, if it turns out to be a great game that sells several hundred thousand copies, fans will (rightly) consider it a success, and meanwhile the corporate suits will shrug and go back to trying to figure out which potential AAA title will be the next to move a couple million units.
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  • Avatar for Funny_Colour_Blue #6 Funny_Colour_Blue 4 years ago
    @Du2andal It would be beyond embarrassing, it would mean that the days that video game publishers once reigned over the industry are now numbered.

    Imagine the possibilities.Edited March 2014 by Funny_Colour_Blue
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  • Avatar for peacefuloutrage #7 peacefuloutrage 3 years ago
    @Kirinn The problem is how much did they spend to move a few million units. If selling a million doesn't turn a profit, they would have something to learn. Many developers are over-spending when creating games and releasing them with unrealistic time horizons to show profitability (see Tomb Raider). Every release won't make a billion dollars the first week it's on sale, so publishers and developers need to create releases that have a long tail because they are either fun (imagine that), well supported, or both.
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  • Avatar for docexe #8 docexe 3 years ago
    @lonecow Err… No, what invalidated your argument were your claims that he was the only one at fault in letting the franchise die, when he not only offered to continue Legends 3’s development in his own studio (yet Capcom refused), but even as one of the top producers at the company he constantly struggled with his bosses in order to get any project approved and completed (which was basically the primary reason why he quit and went indie, he was sick of the corporate structure of the Japanese game industry in general and at Capcom in particular).

    Now, if we have to be honest, these things are never as black and white as we as gamers love to paint them. It’s not always the tale of the big corporation extinguishing the flames of creativity from the poor struggling artist, and Inafune has genuinely done and said some things that have made him persona non grata in some sectors of the industry, so painting him as martyr is certainly wrong. But doing the opposite and demonize him doesn’t solve matters in the least.
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  • Avatar for docexe #9 docexe 3 years ago
    @peacefuloutrage I agree. I would add that they also need to hire (or train) better project managers.

    Production costs increasing as a result of the increasing complexity of games and the push forward in terms of technology and assets is understandable and expected. Overinflated budgets for a game that fails to break even after selling a couple of millions of units is ridiculous, and hints at many of these projects being run terribly, especially if all those instances of launch dates missed, games with tons of bugs and glitches on launch, and horror tales about excessive crunch time are anything to go by. That lack of effective project management only exacerbates the problem of the raising costs.
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  • Avatar for Kirinn #10 Kirinn 3 years ago
    @peacefuloutrage I totally agree. I just don't expect the big publishers to learn that lesson successfully after the first few counter-examples. It'll take a good long while for the more entrenched parts of the industry to come around. (Or, at least, to start trying some other alternatives to enormous AAA development besides "microtransactions on social platforms".)
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  • Avatar for docexe #11 docexe 3 years ago
    @lonecow Well, the thing is that the tone of your comments and your choice of words can be interpreted as a condemnation, particularly when you say things like “I'll buy an actual Megaman game over these re skinned versions he is making any day of the week”, which sounds… well, somewhat disparaging.

    In any case, I agree with you in that he leaving (especially in the middle of the development cycles) was inevitably going to be a major blow to Legends 3 as well as the other Megaman related projects, given he was the main champion of the series, so he certainly shares part of the blame for the series debacle. But even then, I don’t think you can say he was the only culprit neither absolve Capcom of blame, particularly considering how they decided to handle the series afterwards.Edited March 2014 by docexe
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  • Avatar for Bertigo #12 Bertigo 3 years ago
    Keji isn't worth the trouble any more, with how he and to that extent comcept have treated their fanbase is deplorable
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