The Blue Ink Editorials: Being Mighty in a World Waking Up

Greetings, readers of The Blue Ink!

Ordinarily, this series is a means for me to review and espouse at length about the thematics and novelties within the Archie Mega Man comic book, but I thought I might take a moment to reflect on something we've all been thinking about since Labor Day: Mighty No. 9. Does it fall within the purview of a blog based on a comic book? Perhaps not. So that's why this is the First of an offshoot: The Blue Ink Editorials. This makes for one heck of a bully pulpit, after all... and so I intend to use it sparingly.

Some background: A friend of mine who I have the unique fortune of being able to work with on writing projects from time to time has the real world career of working in the gaming industry in some capacity. While he can never tell me precisely what he's doing at any given time because of the confidentiality his work entails, I do spot his name in strategy guides on occasion. So when he tells me his views on what's right in the gaming industry and what's wrong, I tend to listen. His laundry list of worries could almost be talking points for what so many others have said: Companies focused on mindless sequels and pathetic DLC updates, the refusal to back projects that aren't the next Halo/Grand Theft Auto/Call of Duty, and a disturbing lack of creative foresight. In other words, the video gaming industry was stagnating, reaching a point where the kludge, the sheer mass of poorly designed, poorly programmed, bug-ridden games and genre knockoffs would pollute the market to the point of toxicity... and death.

The funny thing is, it's happened before. Who here's old enough to remember the Colecovision, or the Magnavox Odyssey, or the Atari 2600 and 5200? If you're not, then don't worry, neither am I. When the Nintendo Entertainment System hit the scene, I was barely talking and I didn't get one until 1990. That doesn't mean I never dinked with one before that.

The point here is that back then, there were so many lousy, high-priced games coming out that the games industry crashed in the early '80s. People believed that video games were a fad that had served its time, like pet rocks and lava lamps. Well, lava lamps didn't die out, and neither did video games. What revived the industry was a company called Nintendo, and a chubby plumber destined to rescue a princess. What followed was the grand revival: A focus on the importance of storytelling, of music, of engrossing worlds we could slip into. In short, the video gaming industry we have today all spawned from one grand act of creativity, and a childlike perspective on heroism with fair dose of comedic awesomeness.

In our own circle, we pay homage to Mega Man, the Blue Bomber. He's called the Blue Bomber because he's blue, or at least that's the slogan I had on a t-shirt in my closet for the longest time until it fell apart from wear (And for that, you should feel ashamed. --Ed.).

And Mega Man, too, spawned from a simple idea: A little robot who saved the world from a mad scientist. Keiji Inafune, and the rest of the Mega Man devteam at Capcom, believed in the idea of this blue robot so much that they used their own free time and pushed themselves to exhaustion to make Mega Man 2, the sequel which launched Capcom into the video games market with a vengeance. And for a good long while, it was something we all loved. Beyond the original series, we had Mega Man X, Mega Man Legends, an alternate reality to the original series called Mega Man Battle Network and Star Force, and of course, Mega Man Zero and ZX. All of these were wonderful in their own ways.

Long ago, at the start of the comic series, I spoke of the Mega Man fan community, and how very strong and devoted it is. Through games we wish hadn't been made (X7) and games we wish they had (Legends 3), we stayed strong in our loyalty to Mega Man. And it hasn't always been easy. There were parts of X5 which drive a man insane, and X6 was pretty much a washout.

In my own case, it became a love-hate relationship: I loved Mega Man, but hated Capcom for the way they had treated him since Mega Man 10 left the assembly line. We craved more, only to have the rug yanked out from us every time. Multiple games were canceled. He became a living joke, with poorly chosen cameos over quality franchise entries. In the search for profitability, in the search for the "casual, standard gamer" stereotype who they believed would give them the most sales, the company who had given us Mega Man seemingly had thrown him out into the cold and left him to die. Perhaps that was why Brawl in the Family's fan animation about his reappearance in the next Super Smash Bros. was so poignant: His struggle for survival became every Mega Man fan's struggle as well.

And what of Keiji Inafune, the man behind the Blue Bomber? He had left Capcom on sour terms: They said it was because he'd reached the upper tier of advancement and he wanted more, he said it was because they had become too narrow-minded to change, to adapt to a changing market. In such cases of he said/she said, I preferred to take a step back and let the actions afterwards speak for themselves. And while Keiji continued to speak out about the need for adaptation and transformation... Capcom continued to let my favorite blue robot fester and wither. "No new projects" was always the official line. We were left with nothing but a comic book and manga updates left for our amusement, and to be fair, that was like giving a man dying of thirst tiny sips of salt water; it was killing us slowly. I love the comic book, I love what the team at Archie is doing with it, but it's not enough on its own. It might keep a fandom on the barest life support, but it won't grow it, not by enough.

You might say for the last two years, we had all been asleep. The day Mega Man Legends 3 was canceled, and shortly after, when Keiji Inafune left Capcom, it was like being stranded in a coma, with no way to pull ourselves out of it. We moved on, we tried to get by. We persuaded ourselves to stay busy with idle tasks, but we never forgot. We never quit hoping, even when it got hard. At least, in the small corner of the world where Mega Man fans resided, we were merely asleep.

And on Labor Day weekend this year... the world woke up.

I probably have a unique perspective on things: As a guy who studied history in college and wrote Mega Man fanfiction on the side for a decade plus, I looked for patterns in the chaos. I always tried to keep things in perspective. I looked for cause and effect... and the ever elusive shifting of a paradigm. In some ways, it makes me a pretty good fellow to review the comics, and in others I'm sure my style grates on people's nerves. On occasion, I like to link to ideas.

Ideas are powerful things; they outlast us. Humanity is mortal, but an idea or symbol, as Bruce Wayne said in Batman Begins, cannot be killed. In the absence of Keiji Inafune, Capcom had seemingly done everything it could to kill off Mega Man. They could not kill the idea of it, though... of a little robot who rises up with a sense of justice in his heart and protects the world from those who would do it harm.

At the Penny Arcade Expo in Seattle, Keiji Inafune and his former Capcom buddy Ben Judd dropped the bomb that shook all of us awake: The dream of a little robot was not dead. Mighty No. 9 has swept the video game world by storm, and single-handedly given us a reason to breathe again. We now know the game will happen, and we know it'll happen across multiple platforms: Right now, it's just a question of how frigging huge the game is going to get.

And now we get to the meat of this editorial.

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On Kickstarter, where Mighty No. 9's being funded, people who pledge money to projects are called Backers. Mighty No. 9 Kickstarter people, on the other hand, have taken to calling themselves "Beckers", in honor of the game's hero... and the Becker Brigade? 41,000 strong and still going. Some pledge because they want to keep the dream alive. Some pledge because, hey, it's Keiji Inafune. Others pledge because they'll do anything they can to stab a tiny knife into Capcom.

They really shouldn't, though. One of the first updates they gave made it clear that Mighty No. 9 wasn't about flipping anyone the middle finger, but instead was about reviving sidescroller action games, and transforming a concept into the modern age. I'll readily admit, such a thought of revenging myself upon that company was one of the first thoughts in my mind, but I overcame it soon after, choosing instead to focus on the positives of what the project meant. What did I really want out of it?

In the end, I realized I wanted a game with great, memorable music, tight and easy to understand controls, and a game which taught me to play without ever having to worry about tutorials. I wanted a game which would have me coming back to it time and again, maybe because I wanted to dink with weapons, maybe because I wanted to explore, or maybe because I just wanted to see how awesome and fast I could blaze through levels. These are all things I know that the Comcept team will deliver on. I don't see my love of Mighty No. 9 as a betrayal to the fandom... rather, I see it as a natural extension, an evolution from it. You can love multiple things, have fond memories of different shows and games, after all. But as I said in the epilogue of one of my fanfics long ago: "Remember the past, live in the present, and look to the future... but do not fear it."

But what's the significance of this? Why would I bother talking about this Kickstarter project, wasting several hours of my time and the minutes of yours it'll take you to read this article from start to finish? Remember what kind of a guy I am. I look for themes and patterns, and aspects to fixate on. If you've followed my incoherent ramblings at the start, you'll remember that I spoke about waking up... the need for change... and the great Video Game Crash before the rise of Nintendo.

Mighty No. 9 and this Kickstarter drive may be exactly the kind of change needed. This isn't a project where a major games company is spending hundreds of millions and three years of development to make yet another sequel to some sh'mup. This is a project being put forward by a guy with a vision, and a team of his trusted friends and allies willing to make it a reality. More importantly, they didn't go to a big games company: They came directly to the fans.

Perhaps this is the new future of video games: Small teams with brilliant ideas, coming straight to the fans and saying, "wanna do this?" There's a certain level of brilliance to the approach Keiji Inafune and Comcept took with Mighty No. 9: They called on the fans, and the fans answered. We made it go viral. We spread the word. We funded the project. In the span of a few short days, people all over the world told them, "we believe in this, and we believe in you." And we're still telling them that, because the numbers keep ticking up.

If I were a corporate executive at Microsoft or Nintendo or Sony, I'd be sitting up in my chair and thinking long and hard about the implications of what this project means. I firmly believe that what was started this past Labor Day weekend will resonate beyond October 1st, when the Kickstarter drive ends. The desire to bring quality games is there. The desire to sell them is there. Sony's already gone public with news that they plan on making it easier for independent publishers to bring their stuff to the market. I expect the others will follow suit as well (Actually, they already have. --Ed.).

There will always be a need for Mario, for Link, for the Master Chief, and (occasionally) for Sonic. There's also a large hole in the mosaic where Mega Man used to be. And no, Beck, as Mighty No. 9 is named, isn't a replacement for the Blue Bomber. The Metal Modder is more of his descendant. In Beck, and in this game that has not even yet been made, are the hopes and dreams of so many. Dreams of a new sidescroller, of a new robotic hero, of a new world where the stories of human/robotic relations can be explored afresh.

If you've pledged to the drive, like I have, you have the thanks not only of me, but of every other member of the Becker Brigade as well. If you haven't, then I urge you to do so. Even if you only pledge five bucks, even if you only pledge twenty for the game, pledge. The game is happening, but every dollar, every Becker, sends a more powerful message to the gaming world.

We are Mighty. We are many. And we have woken up.

For the Blue Ink.

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When he isn't writing "The Blue Ink" reviews for The Mega Man Network, Erico (The Super Bard) spends his days keeping track of the "Legacy of Metal" fanon, dabbling in cooking and tea-brewing, and exploring the human condition from his Iowa stomping grounds.

The views expressed here reflect the views of the authors alone, and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Mega Man Network.