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

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After five years of work, Philippe Poulin (aka MegaPhilX) and his team have released "Mega Man Unlimited" to overwhelmingly positive reviews and ever-increasing popularity. Phil was recently able to sit down with The Mega Man Network and answered a plethora of questions. If you haven't already, enjoy the first part of this interview, then read on for even more questions about game design, discarded concepts and the awesome final bosses in "Mega Man Unlimited".

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

The Mega Man Network: So what do you think makes the Mega Man games fun?

MegaPhilX: Three things. 1) Being able to choose any stage instead of being forced to always play the same stage before being able to play another one. This only makes the next point even more effective: 2) The challenge. Meaning getting your ass kicked.

For me, I love a Mega Man game that will make me have to figure out how to beat the enemies/boss and that will kick my ass at first. Just getting through on my first try is boring and you end up consuming the game too fast. This is why being able to choose between eight stages to play is so awesome. The challenge needs to be fair though. It's important to be able to beat the enemies/bosses without getting hit. The enemies/bosses attacks should be designed to be evaded in some way. This is what drives people to find new tactics and challenge themselves. 

3) Gaining special weapons from the Robot Masters and using them. This is why I think it's better to not have the charge shot and instead make the special weapons useful. Because again, it drives people to get creative with the special weapons. It makes the game different every time you play it.

TMMN: How do you generate enough novelty in design while still being consistent with the series and the genre in general?

MPX: You have to remember to keep the core game mechanic of jumping and shooting. What I mean is that you have to combine whatever gimmick you come up with with the core gameplay of jumping/shooting/sliding instead of replacing them. Mega Man X8, while a great game, failed to have enough levels that simply have you just run, jump and shoot. There are a bit too many gimmicks in this game that don't involve the normal core gameplay. Gimmicks that are different from the core gameplay must not take over completely. Otherwise they become more mini-games instead of making the core gameplay more interesting.

TMMN: Going through the game, I was impressed on how difficult yet ultimately doable these levels were. How do you balance/assess the difficulty of something that you made?

MPX: Play the game. No matter how much you planned things out or made calculations on paper, it's always more difficult than you thought and there are always balance changes to do once things come together and are playable. But even then just playing the game is sometimes not enough, as you have your face too close to the project and can't see it from an outside view. Nail Shield used to cost only three energy but only by having a friend play the game did I realize that three energy cost was not enough. So, playing the game and having other people play are both important.

TMMN: How involved was the playtesting? How long? How many people were involved?

MPX: Playtesting lasted about a month I'd say. I asked a few testers at work if they were interested to try and test the game. They did get some time to test, but not much. Then N64Mario and StarsimsUniverse joined in and, as more experienced Mega Man players, they found many glitches and problems that we didn't find. I also ended up doing a LOT of QA testing on my own. It was the busiest month right before release and I was very tired all the time. A very intense few weeks that left me sick of playing "MMU". ( :

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TMMN: One of the things that "Mega Man Unlimited" does rather well is include and change some older level design concepts and use them more effectively, such as the gravity switching from Mega Man 5's Gravity Man level. What concepts and gimmicks from older games did you know from the outset you wanted to include?

MPX: The gravity was planned from the beginning. I just hoped that we would be able to program it in. It's one the features that went surprisingly better than I expected. I'd always thought reverse gravity wasn't used enough in the official games, so I thought I'd make an entire Wily Stage based on that. I thought it'd be interesting and unique to see the map screen where the level would go up but, you'd actually fall up that path. 

There were gimmicks from older games that were planned but cut. Such features are: Swimming Mets, Quicksand, Horizontal Moles, Reverse Up'n'Downs, Horizontal Surprise attackers (like those fishes in Mega Man 9), Ladder Presses, etc...

TMMN: What other concepts did the "Mega Man Unlimited" team want to include but did not make it into the final release?

MPX: Aside from what I just mentioned above, there was an energy absorbing enemy that was originally planned. It would have drained your weapon energy as long as you are inside its cone-shaped energy field. It would have been used to make the Rush Jet segments and the Wily Stages even more challenging. However I quickly realized it was useless so we cut that enemy. Also, there is another playable character we are thinking of including maybe in a future update. We'll see...

TMMN: There were additional playable characters discussed?

MPX: Yes. I once thought about having a 2-player co-op mode. The Player 2 character would have been a new character called Coda. She would use a charge shot that, upon hitting an enemy, would turn in to a targeting reticle. Then, all shots fired by both players would automatically go straight to that targeted spot. I even had a full set of sprites for her done and ready to go. But in the end we scrapped the idea, as it was too ambitious and would require too much work and testing. Gotta plan realistically. ^_^ The other main characters like Bass and Proto Man were never really considered to be playable, as they have their own part in the story.

TMMN: The Yoku Man level is quickly becoming infamous on the internet because of its sheer difficulty and unorthodox challenges. Which part was your favorite?

MPX: My favorite part of the level are parts with the Holograms generating the illusion backgrounds.

TMMN: Why are the levels so long? Did playtesting indicate that these levels were longer than the typical original series game, or did this come as a bit of surprise to you?

MPX: I knew some levels were longer, although it didn't come up as an issue in testing. I thought people would just accept that, as they did with the Game Boy games which had quite long levels too. I just thought people would be glad to have more content.

TMMN: "Mega Man Unlimited" has become pretty popular around the internet. How do you try to stay involved with fans of your work?

MPX: Well, I try to answer the questions I come across but it very hard to talk to everyone as it's the kind of thing that is very time-consuming. I think the Facebook page is the best platform to ask people their opinions and answer their questions. During a good part of the development, we would ask the fans their opinions on certain design choices such as the color of Mets, checkpoints, cutscenes, etc. After release, we watched Let's Play videos and read comments on the game. A lot of the changes in version 1.1.0 are based on that. I gotta say, watching EmeraldSniper's (NSFW) reaction to first beating the game in the race on the day of release was very overwhelming for me. It was awesome.

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TMMN: Did you make it a priority to include "the pipe" in the Captured Skull Castle map screen and the first level of the castle?

MPX: I drew the pipe on the picture of the Occupied Wily Fortress right from the first time I drew it. When I was a kid, I would draw my own Wily Fortresses on paper and even then I would include the pipe. It was kind of natural. I have no idea what's its purpose but... maybe it's for Wily's capsule to fly in and enter the castle? Also, in that level, it wasn't there at first. I just decided to add it in later when I was revising this stage. I thought it'd be interesting to see it up close.

TMMN: The fight with Proto Man in Captured Skull Castle 3 is, for my money, one of the best and most memorable fights in any of the games. How did yourself and your team decide on such a boss battle?

MPX: Thanks! ^_^ That's quite an honor! I'd planned the Proto Man battle pretty early in the development. My thinking for the fortress stages was like this: I'd always prefer the huge machines as bosses in a Wily Castle. When I played MM5 I was disappointed that the bosses in the Proto Man castle were so small. I figured that fighting a couple of huge machines and then fighting Proto Man himself was going to be epic instead of fighting some random boss. 

The idea for Proto Man was to have something similar to how Proto Man fights in MM3, but with a few twists. As Jean-Simon was programming the boss, we experimented with various jump/slide patterns. After a few different ideas we came up with what's in the game right now. It's an iterative process of back and forth like that. We did this for most of the bosses. I animated all the bosses and enemies in Flash to show my ideas visually, but when Jean-Simon or Gabriel would program them and we tried fighting them in-game, we often changed things as we went along. Of course a good part of the reason why the later bosses such as Proto Man are so awesome is also because of Kevin's epic music. ^_^

TMMN: Over the years, fans of the series have spilled a lot of digital ink on how the original series and the series are connected. From a story perspective, was "Mega Man Unlimited" always intended to follow, at least in some part, the "Cataclysm" theory that was really making waves some years ago? Was the final "fight" with Zero always intended?

MPX: I didn't really follow the details of that "Cataclysm" theory. I just wanted to make a precursor to how the Classic series would probably end and bridge over to in my view. The full story ideas and the final battle came shortly after I drew the severed buster arm on the title screen. I was like: "Hmmm, how did that buster get broken?".

TMMN: The Mega Man formula has been used time and time again, both by Capcom and by fans in the numerous romhacks out there. It is rare for a team of fans to take a project from absolutely nothing to a full game. What element of the game was surprisingly easy to design? What was surprisingly hard?

MPX: There were a lot of surprises in what caused issues and what did not. The Wily Stage 1 and 2 bosses were surprisingly more difficult to develop than I thought and caused all kinds of unique problems that I didn't foresee. The Final Boss, because the rules changed, caused all types of gameflow problems and critical path issues. The cutscene and pause menu systems, while it took a while to complete, went better than I expected. Most of the enemies didn't cause too many problems. Some platforms such as the nitro-bouncing platform and vertical moving platforms caused a lot of issues.

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TMMN: What would you say is the greatest difference between "Mega Man Unlimited" and official releases?

MPX: I'd say MMU was designed to be a slightly longer game, kinda like MM3. "MMU" wasn't really designed to be as short a game to be beaten as quickly as the others. The idea was to have a slightly longer-lasting experience with the goal of providing a kind of "finale" for the story instead of just being a "filler" episode. Also, technically, it doesn't really follow the NES limitations.

TMMN: What other fan games and rom hacks (i.e. "Rockman no Constancy", "Rockman 4 MI") do you find to be impressive? Did any of them inspire you or aspects of "Mega Man Unlimited"?

MPX: I haven't checked many other fan-games to be honest. I kinda focused more on what I had to do. I checked other games such as "Mega Man 72", "Mega Man Time Tangent", "Mega Man 25th Anniversary", "Mega Man Revolution" and "Mega Man X Corrupted", but I really had my own thing in mind so I only took a look just to see what others were doing. I'm looking forward to "MMX Corrupted". ^_^

TMMN: General feedback  has been overwhelmingly positive; you received a 9.5/10 on Destructoid, many outlets that don’t usually review fan games are calling yours possibly the best Mega Man release ever. What has been the most surprising feedback about the game?

MPX: Most of what you just said. ^_^ Some tell me they liked it more than Mega Man 2, some are calling it one of the best Mega Man games ever. All of those comments blow my mind and make me very happy to have dedicated five years of my life to this project. Just the fact that we've got over 50,000 downloads of the game so far is amazing. Having so many people play our game is like a dream come true for me. This is the longest and most rewarding project I've ever undertaken in my life.

TMMN: What other interests do you have?

MPX: My other favorite video games are the Metal Gear Solid series and Devil May Cry series. I'm also a fan of horror games like Silent Hill and Resident Evil. But my favorite horror series is Fatal Frame. Besides game design, I also like to draw. I mainly draw the anime style. I'm a big fan of Ranma 1/2 and Saber Marionette J. My favorite anime character is Shampoo from Ranma 1/2. She appears sometimes in the shop menu in MMU.

I like video editing, making short films and music. I like many different kinds of movies but I really enjoy submarine movies. Das Boot is one my top favorite movies of all time. I also like detective stories. I enjoy the CSI TV series a lot. I originally studied in cartoon animation so I have an artistic background. I collect art books. I also like to swim or more like just being in water. Every time I can get the chance I'll jump in that pool or lake.

TMMN: What’s next?

MPX: For now it's going to be releasing all kinds of material related to "MMU", like stage maps, sprites and videos on YouTube. I'll also try to do some artwork of the final boss and other characters in the game. We might make another update of the game in the future but for now, we're focusing on our personal lives.

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Mega Man Unlimited comes highly recommended and is available now. Stay with The Mega Man Network as we review MMU soon.