The Mega Man Network Interviews Keiji Inafune

For the second year in a row, The Mega Man Network has been fortunate enough to interview "the father of Mighty No. 9", Keiji Inafune. Of course, he is also famous for, among other things, being the father to another famous blue robot. Read on to find out his inspiration and thoughts about the Mighty No. 9's Xel system, what he thinks of his fans and more.

A huge thank you to Mark MacDonald of 8-4 Ltd. of setting this up, Ben Judd for reprising his role as translator and, of course, Keiji Inafune for being the man.

The Mega Man Network: Playing Mighty No. 9, what was the idea behind the dash/Xel absorption? On one hand, it sort of resembles older games, but on the other, it is totally different.

Keiji Inafune: I’ve been creating games for over 20 years that were about running, shooting, and jumping in a 2D platforming format. And it’s really hard to break that basic formula and add in some disruptive gameplay mechanic on top of a tried and true formula. So we tried, really thought about, and eventually came up with the run-and-gun-and-absorption system. Now that being said, you can’t throw out [the core mechanics] with the bathwater-- they have to be there as well, they are tried and true, they are established, for a reason. They fit the timing, the flow, and feeling-- it all feels very great as a game. The input, the timing, the reaction, the visual feedback, all that stuff; it feels great, and that’s why those sorts of things fit in the game.

Back into the absorption side of things, what we wanted to do was to create something that constantly put the player into a risk/reward relationship of “Do I? Am I afraid of the enemy so much that they die, or do I shoot them a little bit so I can absorb their power to the greatest extent possible and get the ultimate, badass score as I play through the game? Or do I find myself somewhere in the middle?” So rather than get something only at the end of each stage, no, now there’s that timing-- fire a lot and go, fire a few times and go. You have to find that natural rhythm, and if you’re a really good player, you will find yourself in that rhythm-- shoot, dash, and absorb, shoot, dash, and absorb. You’ll get that natural flow occurring and it looks really cool as your rack up, 100%, 100%, 100%, and there’s even visual feedback telling you “that’s great!” and so on. So we feel we have found a new dynamic that we have layered on top of the old 2D side-scrolling game, where now every interaction is with an enemy “I now care about,” and I am no longer mindlessly going through each stage. The shooting, the timing, the distance are all now things I care about. 

TMMN: The Mighty Numbers are awesome. Do you have a favorite Mighty Number? (Besides Mighty Number 9, of course)

Inafune: (Laughs) That’s like asking me who is my favorite kid. I have three and they are all my favorite! And all these bosses, all these things we create, are like my children. We put our hearts into their design, and so they are all very very important to us. And to compound the problem, some of the bosses are done and some aren’t, so it’s really hard to compare the finished boss to the unfinished boss.

That being said, if we are looking through the lens of whether I think they are cool and what kind of expectations I have, and which boss I am looking forward to, maybe not which is the best or worst, I would say Mighty No. 8. He has that sombrero, that sniper rifle. I say that because throughout my career, I have created more cutesy or caricature-based, but I think this boss has the potential to be cool, a badass boss, and from that rationale, I have the expectation to be excited about how that concept of “cool” will translate into that boss character. I am pretty excited about playing against him.

TMMN: You’ve made a lot of games, and surely a few of them have had a lot of influence on Mighty No. 9. Are there a few games or one game that has more influence on Mighty No. 9 more than others?

Inafune: Oh yes, I forgot to say this earlier, but about the absorption system, it’s actually sort of similar to Onimusha. In Onimusha, when you kill an enemy, its soul will stay out there, and you have to decide if you will use your time to take care of the next enemy that is about to kill you or to use it to collect that soul, because you have to take the time to suck in the soul. You can always take the hit, keep the soul on the screen longer, but you have to figure out if you’d rather do that or attack the next enemy. That kind of risk/reward scenario is what is happening in Mighty No. 9.

That being said, it’s really hard to narrow down just one game that had more influence more than any others. It’s obviously a bit of a spiritual successor to Mega Man, so there’s something to that. But there’s also Ducktales and other Disney games that I’ve made that influence it as well. Ultimately, there are no one or two titles that are ever going to be the inspiration, it’s the result of my career and knowledge base and experience that fuels this title, so it must be said all my titles up to this point have made this possible.

TMMN: What has been the most enjoyable aspect of developing Mighty No. 9?

Inafune: Honestly, it’s been pretty much everything on this production. The smiling faces of the developers I work with as we make the game is great, the fact that I’m in a position as the President of the company-- you don’t usually get your hands dirty than when you were just a core creator, and now I can and a lot of the staff and will come up to me and ask my opinion on things and that does not usually happen as you climb the hierarchy; they tend to think you unapproachable.

So it’s great to feel the whole company is united as one in this really fun production, and they see me the leader of the content-- which is great-- and I get back to my roots as a creator, which is also great. That being said, the different people who work under me have a lot of creative input as well, so that they can make this their own is great too. So we are all together, making this game the best we can. We’re all on this ship together, sink or swim. It’s a great feeling as a creator; it’s ideal.

TMMN: Mega Man fans were quick to become Mighty Beckers-- for most of us, there was no question about it. What have been the most encouraging things you have seen out of fans and what would you like to see more of?

Inafune: You have to realize that a lot of the Beckers and key people in the community, they give us their time-- their most valuable thing-- and they spend it on supporting us in a wide variety of different roles. Honestly, we don’t have the number of staff to do everything, and so having these people do outreach and work with the community and giving their time-- their valuable time, to do that-- makes me feel so honored and humbled by just how great the reaction has been. We could not do it without them.

It's just is so nice to come to an event like PAX that brings all the community supporters, all the Beckers, here. And people will come up to me, you know, and say “Hey, that’s the guy who made Mega Man,” and of course that’s nice to hear. But now I hear more and more often, “Hey, that’s the guy who’s making Mighty No. 9,” and it just makes me feel... because it’s our IP, and since they are happy to see it, there is no greater reward as a game creator.

TMMN: It seems like every month now, there's something new regarding Mighty No. 9. Could you give us any clues about what will be revealed between now and the release?

Inafune: It’s not necessarily a hint, but Comcept wants to make sure people get a chance to play the game in some form sooner, because it’s one of those titles-- and I’m sure you felt this playing the game-- you get a better sense actually playing the game than watching videos off of websites and stuff. Actually playing the game for yourself answers so many questions, like “how is this different from Mega Man?” “Will this make me feel nostalgia for the old games?”

These sorts of questions get answered, and answered in the most intuitive way, through just playing the game. We definitely are striving to make sure that is something they will get sooner, and ultimately we will be able to get feedback sooner and make sure the most key phase of the game-- the tweaking and fine tuning phase-- is something that is the best it can be.

TMMN: [You were] the first prominent developer to cross into the crowdsourcing realm and slowly but surely, others have followed. Do you think the Mighty No. 9's approach to transparency-- especially as you said, in getting input during the fine-tuning phase-- will catch on and become the norm, particularly in Japan?

Inafune: Whether they will or not is, of course, up to them, but working more closely with fans is something I feel all developers should consider. That being said, there are going to be key development challenges that will occur. Traditionally, there is a prototype phase, full production phase, etc., and larger companies do not consider how they are going to do things like community out-reach and marketing until hey are further along in the cycle-- potentially 50-70% of the game might be complete before then. So they do not take it on faith-- they do not do fan outreach or community involvement.

That is one advantage that comes with crowdfunding, that you guarantee that you will make the game from day one, and you know much money you have, and you are supposed to work with fans. And using that system, there’s a lot of things that work. The larger the publisher or developer, the more difficult it will be for them to work with fans from day one because there will be checks and balances from a financial perspective on the different phases and marketing expenditures-- rules that are in place to ensure that the company functions well, since it is large. But it is this kind of grassroots thing that will be prevented because of its size.

TMMN: Mighty Gunvolt was a great addition to Azure Striker Gunvolt, and it follows in the tradition of recent games like Mega Man ZX Advent and Mega Man 9/10. What were the origins of that game, should we expect new Mighty No. 9-themed levels in it, and should we expect to see more crossovers of Comcept/Inti Creates franchises in the future?

Inafune: Obviously Inti Creates is creating both of the games, so it’s easier from a production standpoint to make these sorts of games. The challenge is that since we are both independent developers, we do not have a pool of money to borrow from to create content, sell it, and then monetize on it. A lot of times we are stuck in a financial loop, where we have enough money to make a game, but depending on those sales, it will determine what kind of productions we can do. Obviously, if it does not do well, we will have less of a chance to take risks and make things like DLC and cross-collaborations.

So the hope is that Mighty Gunvolt does very well, because [Comcept and Inti Creates] are both very creative. The fit between Azure Striker Gunvolt and Mighty No. 9 is definitely there, and there is a definite natural relationship there. Both are very creative companies and we both have very interesting ideas, and if we both have the wherewithal from the financial perspective, it will be very interesting to see where we can go.