Interview with Mega Man Unlimited's Philippe Poulin (Part 1/2)

mmu-titlescree-screenshot-bigAfter five years in development, the fan game "Mega Man Unlimited" was released last month and has become as critically successful as it is insanely difficult. Styled like Mega Man 9 and 10 in faux-NES trappings, "MMU" has taken the fandom by storm. Philippe Poulin, aka MegaPhilX, helmed the project by designing the levels, programming much of the game, and creating the bulk of the original art and music. Recently, he took a break from designing the new 1.1.0 version and sat down with The Mega Man Network to answer some questions.

Note: Some content is NSFW beyond the "MMU" section of MegaPhilX's site. Mild spoilers are featured below the fold.

The Mega Man Network: Why did you and your team decide to make a full Mega Man game from scratch?

MegaPhilX: The project actually started after I made a little flash animation showing fake gameplay of the Tank Man Stage and Rainbow Man Stage. Starsimsuniverse and N64Mario approached me to actually make the game. Originally, it was made using N64Mario's Mega Man engine in Multimedia Fusion. However, after a while, the project was slowing down. Gabriel was working on the same project as me at work back then and he offered to try and start working on an engine for the game while I was on vacation. When I got back from vacation, he had already made the basic stuff.

So, after asking N64Mario if it was okay to switch engines, we switched over to Gab's engine, which is the one used in the game now. When Gab moved to another company and wasn't all that motivated, I contacted one of my childhood friends, Jean-Simon, and together we finished all the enemies, bosses, and systems. Gab then came in to help us package and ship the game.

The reason why I wanted to make everything from scratch is because I thought it would be way more interesting than re-using too much. I wanted to actually design an entire Mega Man game and see if I was up to it. I wanted to have fun making the game I wanted to make.

TMMN: To you, what classic Mega Man games were the best? The worst?

MPX: The best to me was Mega Man 4, because it's the first one that made me like the series. I know some of the bosses are a bit questionable but it's my favorite among the Classic ones. The music is amazing. Mega Man 9 because it's the best-balanced. Mega Man 10 because it has a lot of features. (Three playable characters, challenges, Endless Attack, Special stages, etc.)

I didn't particularly like Mega Man 5 because I think it lacks something different. It felt a bit bland, and the Mega Buster was just too powerful and the weapons became sort of useless to me. Mega Man 6, although I love the graphics, the music, and the overall boss designs, I thought it felt bland. Probably because it was too easy.

TMMN: Which games influenced and inspired "Mega Man Unlimited" the most and the least?

MPX: Mega Man 3, Mega Man 9, and Mega Man 10 were the games that inspired the most. There is a reference to most of the Mega Man games in "MMU," but I'd say the ones that influenced it the least were probably Mega Man 7 and 8. Not that I don't like them, but I wanted to stick more to the classics.

mmurelease-screenshotglueman01TMMN: The Mega Man series is sometimes called one of the more insular series, at least in terms of design. "Mega Man Unlimited" definitely seems to follow in that tradition, but did any games outside the series influence "Mega Man Unlimited"?

MPX: There are references to other games and media (Metal Gear Solid 3, Ranma 1/2) in the game, but not really in terms of game design. I'd say the most remote influence doesn't go much further than Mega Man X5... Oh yeah! One of the enemies (the full screen-damaging blue enemy) is inspired by a similar enemy in Faxanadu on the NES.

TMMN: Back in the day, Mega Man 9 and 10's exclusion of the slide and Mega Buster caused a fair amount of heartburn amongst fans. Why did you include the slide but not the charged shot in "Mega Man Unlimited"?

MPX: Because I thought the slide was a great mechanic to use in a Mega Man game. And I grew to appreciate the lack of a charge shot in Mega Man games. Even now, I play MM4, 5, and 6 without charging up the buster. I know it might come as a surprise from a fan of the X series, but to me, the Classic series is better without a charge shot, because it's what makes the special weapons interesting and useful.

When you constantly charge up the buster, you have no reason to switch to a special weapon because you're going to waste the time you took to charge the buster and also, because the buster is just more powerful than the weapons (well, in many of the official games, anyway). That charging sound effect becomes a bit annoying, too, and you end up not really hearing the music. I dunno, to me the Classic series is better without a charge shot. Leave the charge to the X-Buster. ^_^

TMMN: What was the most difficult level to design? The easiest?

MPX: None of the levels were particularly hard to design, but Wily Stage 4 was definitely the one that gave us the most trouble and was constantly getting revisions. The teleporter system gave us a lot of gameflow/checkpoint bugs and also, there are three end bosses to this stage with a lot of stuff happening all the way through. This was a very laborious stage to develop and test.

Every stage had its particular problem-maker, but the easiest stage to develop was probably Jet Man's. Things just went very smoothly with that one... except for the boss, which, well you know why. (: *cough*Jet Man Landing*cough*

TMMN: Having designed so much of the game, you had to have had a particular level that you really liked. And while we're at it, what was your favorite weapon and boss?

MPX: My favorite level would probably be Jet Man's. I just love the ambiance and the music. My favorite weapon is ... wow... kinda hard to pick one. I really like the Rainbow Beam, it's quite useful. Yoku Attack is one of the cool-looking ones. My favorite boss... If we're talking Robot Masters only... I'd pick Comet Woman. She just looks cool and I thought I had a great idea with her attacks.

mmu-screen2-jetman mmu-cometwoman-screenshot-big

TMMN: Did any level design just flow naturally and required little revision, or were all of them constantly revised?

MPX: Most of them were constantly revised. That's just the way level design works. You can't get it all right on the first try in any game. ^_^ Originally, the "YOKU" letters were to be found on the main path of a stage and no alternate path was even designed. It's just that, at some point, I was waiting for new features to be coded in and I had some free time, so I designed alternate paths for the "YOKU" letters. The shortcut in Glue Man's stage is an idea of Jansim's whereas it would require the Nail Shield to get through a sticky conveyor belt ceiling area.

But yeah, all the stages got revised all the time. None of them were done so quickly.

TMMN: How did you decide on the Special Weapons for this game?

MPX: Based on variety between each weapon and also based on how the behavior of each weapon would be useful as a weakness against each boss. For example, Yo-yo Man jumps around a lot, so the Jet Missile fits. Glue Man is fast but moves along floor and walls, so the Yo-yo Cutter fits, since it crawls on the floor and walls perfectly to hit him. Some weapons like the Nail Shield and Tank Arsenal and very similar to how I imagined them as a kid.

Using the Yoku Attack in Captured Skull Castle 2TMMN: I had to askwho thought of the Yoku Attack?

MPX: I did. At first I thought of having a screen-clearing attack like the Centaur Flash, but instead, Yoku Blocks would appear on the enemies to crush them to death. But I just thought that it would be more useful to have a homing attack that can do a lot of cool things. Since Yoku Man is the master of illusions, I thought it'd be nice to shoot out little shadow Mega Men that punched and kicked enemies along with gathering energy for you. Also, since the boss is optional, secret, and hard to beat, I wanted to make sure his weapon was a nice reward for all the trouble you have to go through to get it.

TMMN: "Mega Man Unlimited" v.1.1.0 was just released, adding an easy mode and Insta-Death Mode. Are Endless Mode and Time Attack modes on the way in future version releases?

MPX: Not really. For now, we are ramping down and taking care of our personal lives. We have a few things in mind for the game, but not an Endless Attack Mode or Time Attack Mode. Time Attack would probably not be too hard to do but Endless Mode requires a lot of work in terms of graphics and design.

TMMN: Besides renaming the game and Nitro Man, were there any other aspects of "Mega Man Unlimited" that had to be changed because of Mega Man 10?

MPX: No, not really.

TMMN: Did anyone from Capcom approach you to make this an official game, a la Street Fighter x Mega Man?

MPX: No. I know some fans talked about making the game official on the Ask Capcom forums, but Sven said Capcom had no such plans. While I would definitely be interested to work for Capcom, I didn't really make any effort to approach them for "MMU." They ended up using some of my assets on their official Mega Man 10 website and compensated me for this by inviting me to Captivate 2010 in Hawaii, but even then, they didn't approach me regarding "MMU" there either.

"Mega Man Unlimited" comes highly recommended and is available now. Stay with The Mega Man Network as we continue to cover "Mega Man Unlimited" with the second half of this interview in the coming days!

All screenshots except Yoku Attack courtesy of MegaPhilX.