Mega Man Legends – 1997 Developer Interviews
Taken together, these two Mega Man Legends interviews—the first a pre-release talk with Keiji Inafune, and the second a post-release roundtable interview—show the challenges of adding a new genre entry to a long-running series, and bringing in new players without alienating old fans. I’ve also included scanlations from the Guidebook of the various developer profiles, all veteran Capcom developers of the 80s and 90s.
Keiji Inafune – Producer
—So, I understand that Mega Man Legends is completely different from the previous Mega Man games.
Inafune: That’s right. Our starting point, basically, was to leave in the Mega Man flavor, but make something totally different.
—I was surprised at the trailer, and the quality of the animation, with everything rendered in polygons.
Inafune: Well, another one of our original themes was to try and make a game in an anime setting. We didn’t choose polygons because we were trying to make something “realistic” looking, you see. Still, there were a lot of challenges on the technical side. We really struggled there. To the untrained eye, perhaps it would have been more impressive if we’d gone for that more realistic look, I don’t know.
Of course, this being Mega Man, there’s a lot of action in the game. But if we had made it a pure action game, people who aren’t good at action games would be excluded, so we’ve included RPG and adventure mechanics as well.
Even those who aren’t very good at action games should be able to enjoy Mega Man Legends. In previous Mega Man games, there’s not been much of a point to collecting money, but in this game, you can use the money to power up your Mega Buster, up to level 8. And you can power up other weapons you acquire too, like an RPG. There’s a bit of strategy allowed in what you upgrade as well: if you’re dying a lot, you can choose to raise your life first, for instance.
We added dungeons as places for you to get money, and there’s lots of stuff to pick up in the towns, and minigames to play and win prizes from—basically, there’s more than one linear path to progress through the game.
So if you do get stuck on a boss, you can always go do something else for awhile. In previous Mega Man games, even if you were having trouble with a boss, the only option you had was to beat it to move on. For a kid, that’s no problem, they’ll just tough it out and persevere until it’s done. But an adult playing the same game will probably just give up, “this is impossible, I can’t do it.” But this time, in Mega Man Legends, if you find something is too hard, you can always grind for money and that should help you—and since there’s many different ways to get money, it should never feel like work.
I guess Mega Man Legends is part of the action RPG genre, but it feels different from previous action rpgs. I think there are players out there who, just based on their image of Mega Man alone, don’t think they’d like a game like this… but I hope that if they get a chance to play it once, maybe borrow it from a friend for an hour or two, then they’ll understand what’s fun about it.
—In contrast, you said earlier that you wanted to retain the “Mega Man flavor”… where do we see that in Mega Man Legends?
Inafune: When people ask me, “Who is Mega Man?”, I reply, “He’s a robot.” And when it comes to making a video game, being a robot means that he can be or do pretty much anything. He can be cute, or he can be wild and crazy. So leaving in that aspect was a big part of our design. On top of that, I’ve always seen Mega Man as a kind of anime-ish character, and I wanted to continue that tradition—actually, I wanted to make MML even more anime-like in this game. Previous Mega Man games have had very simplistic, uncomplicated stories, but this time I wanted a story that even adults could enjoy, something a little more complex. I’m hoping players will find it fun just to follow along with the story.
—The older Mega Man games still have a lot of fans. Have you considered any crossover between Mega Man, Mega Man X, and Mega Man Legends?
Inafune: The thing is, all three of those games take a completely different approach to the world of Mega Man. I think it would be difficult to make a single game that accomodates each of them. Though I do think it would be possible in spin-offs, games like Wily & Right no RockBoard and Mega Man Soccer.
—Which series will the next Mega Man game be for?
Inafune: Naturally, I’d like to focus our efforts on the Mega Man Legends series for awhile. There’s a lot of things I’d like to develop further with this series, not just the game. Kids, you see, know Mega Man pretty well, but his popularity has not expanded much to older age groups. For that, I think we’ve got to take the world in this game and bring it to other mediums.
—With previous Mega Man games, it feels like the game comes first, that gets popular, and then after that comics and other mediums really ignite the fandom’s interest in these characters. But with Mega Man Legends, it looks like you’ve tried to build in that character appeal from the get-go.
Inafune: Yeah. From the start of the project, I wanted to have more appealing characters. That’s why we drew them in a style that’s popular today. The art style of the previous Mega Man games has been more about being easily recognizable and comprehensible to children, but I want to get away from that image a bit. I’m not saying I want to completely abandon children—we still included elements that they’d like, cute kid characters, and so on. But yeah, overall, Mega Man Legends has an almost fanmade, doujinshi vibe to it with regard to the characters.
The character designers on the team were really good. The design work was divided, roughly, between the above-ground and underground levels. I had two separate teams work on them, because I wanted a distinct atmosphere between the two areas. The above-ground world—where both Mega Man and the Bonne family live—has a unified mecha design, and when you enter the underground areas, I didn’t want the player to feel there was a resemblance between the mechs there and those above. I gave the underground design work to the designers who were good at creepy, unsettling stuff. They made it a kind of mix of creepy+cute.
Our staff was exceptionally gifted this time. Of course I’ve been heading Mega Man developments for a long time, but the director for Mega Man Legends, Yoshinori Kawano, is a veteran of the Breath of Fire series. And since we wanted to focus on RPG elements this time, I think players will feel his influence there. Also, Yuuji Ishihara, who handled character polygon rendering, worked on Resident Evil—though of course there’s no Resident Evil influence here. (laughs) But we were able to utilize their technical expertise. I assembled the development team with the idea it would be a Capcom “all-star” line-up.
In any event, if you’re a person that hasn’t liked Mega Man games before, please give this one a try. We spent an inordinate amount of money on voice actors this time too. (laughs) Three times what we normally use… some of our staff members are kind of obsessed. So I’d definitely recommend that VA fans try this game too.
Aoki (Capcom PR): I was one of those people really thrilled about the voice acting. The first time I heard Mega Man’s voice, I said, “Hey, that’s Krillin (VA: Mayumi Tanaka) from Dragon Ball Z!” (laughs)
Inafune: I think this is a great release for the 10th anniversary of Mega Man, and that it is also a fitting game to kickstart the next decade of Mega Man games. That is, in fact, why we set the release date for Mega Man Legends on December 17th, Mega Man’s birthday. But the next day is just as meaningful to me, as the day when a new chapter for Mega Man begins.
Mega Man Legends – Roundtable Interview
from the Rockman DASH Capcom Official Guidebook
—To begin with, tell us your thoughts now that the development is over.
Inafune (producer): This was a really tough project. We weren’t just creating another entry in a pre-existing series, so we got lost sometimes, not knowing how to proceed. But we never forgot our passion—to create something fun and exciting—and I hope that is something people see when they play the game.
Kawano (director): Sometimes we weren’t sure if what we were doing was right, but the other producers would tell us it was interesting, and that would see us through. But when things got really stuck, the other (junior) staff seemed just about ready to riot (laughs), and a lot of the burden got put on the main staff who are gathered here today.
Inafune: It was hard for the development staff—like us, they didn’t really have the clearest picture of where this was all going. We would try explaining it to them, and they’d be like, “what?”… which just caused us more anxiety. It was actually harder explaining our ideas to the development staff than it was to the sales and marketing people at Capcom… they’d hear “Mega Man” and get a certain idea in their heads based on the previous games, and when that image was contradicted by this development, they started complaining about how confusing this all was. It was tough, explaining what kind of game this was supposed to be.
Kawano: It was fortuitious that the V Jump Festival coincided with that. It was really tough getting the game into a presentable state for it, but doing so allowed us to get invaluable feedback from players.
Itou (designer): Getting Tron’s design down was especially difficult. This is probably obvious by looking at her, but she has the most design patterns. It was a challenge to create a brand new enemy heroine, one who was both cute and a villain at the same time. Still, we went very deep on her design—for example, her clothing, which somehow feels a little dirty. (laughs)
Another thing we really focused on was the world of the game. For the storyboarding, we had to read the story closely and let our imaginations run wild.
Inafune: It was a first for Capcom, to have such a detailed backstory and setting.
Kawano: Yeah, we’ve been pretty careless with our games before this. (laughs)
Inafune: We usually create the backstory and world so it matches the limitations of the programming/hardware… but this time, we ignored all that and created the world first. (laughs) We had to make sure we didn’t create something that would clash with or contradict the previous Mega Man games, you see.
—How did the Mega Man Legends development proceed exactly, then?
Inafune: It began with Kawano and myself. It started about 2 years ago… we wanted to break away from what Mega Man had been up to that point, and do something with more freedom. Kawano had been working on Breath of Fire, and Itou was involved in a number of other games, so I thought they could breathe some new life into this franchise. I liked Itou’s initial concept too: “let’s create a world, and just let the player explore it.”
Kawano: We didn’t want to reject or negate the world of the previous Mega Man games, and we couldn’t betray the hopes of the fans. The question became how to change the world of Mega Man, but in a way that showed our love for it. While it looks very different, I hope players feel there’s some similarities when they play it.
Inafune: Yeah. If you say you’re doing a Mega Man game, you’ve got to call it Mega Man, but then we wanted to a lot of change things… finding the right balance there was hard.
—How about the enemy designs?
Kawano: In the beginning Itou shed many tears of pain. (laughs)
Inafune: I wanted a unified aesthetic for the character design, so I gave it all to one person to do. In contrast, I wanted the underground Reaverbots to look entirely different. It would be weird if they resembled the Bonne family’s mechs, so I gave that work to Ishihara.
Ishihara (designer): He said he wanted the Reaverbots to have a “different atmosphere”, but it was hard to know just how far to go…
Kawano: Ishihara is a very intuitive, non-logical thinker—he’s the kind of person who, even if you tell him exactly what to do, he’s not going to do it exactly that way. (laughs) Itou and myself, on the other hand, are very procedural and thorough in our approach. It was interesting having both extremes working together on this development.
Inafune: And it led to some really bizarre drawings. (laughs) From the beginning, I was fine with it going in that direction, and we got a real variety of designs from Itou and Ishihara.
Kijima (background designer): Some of them made you nauseated just looking at them. (laughs)
Ishihara: If they really evoke that reaction, then I did my job right! I wanted them to be scary but cool, and to fit the Mega Man universe.
Inafune: One thing that was very important, I think, was making all the enemies in the underground destroyable without needing a charge shot. Mega Man is basically supposed to be a good guy, so I don’t want players asking themselves, “is it really ok to be destroying these things…?” But if you use non-charged shots, it feels more like killing cockroaches, right?
When you defeat one of the Bonne family, on the other hand, there’s a ready excuse: you can always just say you’re defeating the machine they’re in, you’re not killing the actual person. But the creatures underground are clearly alive, and I want players to be cognizant of that as they play.
Ishihara: Yeah, but… I put all this work into making these enemies look scary, but then everyone just says they’re “cute”. (laughs)
—Now that you’re all done, can you share some “development secrets” with us?
Kijima: This is actually my first time making a 3D game. Everything I’ve done up to now has been 2D.
Inafune: I think the only one of us with prior experience making a 3D game was Ishihara, who worked on Resident Evil. We’re the “3D Amateurs” team! (laughs)
Kijima: I would have liked to teach my team myself, but I didn’t know this stuff either, so we all had to line-up, as equals, and research as we went. It was a difficult, but interesting experience. By the time I finally started to feel like I was getting the hang of it, the development deadline was here. (laughs)
I handled the backgrounds for Mega Man Legends, and I tried to make the atmosphere feel like a bright, peaceful world that was currently in the middle of a war. For the underground, I wanted it to be dark, damp, some place the sun never shines. Thankfully, I had more concept art to work with on this project than I’ve ever had before! It was a huge help.
We also had some big problems related to the hitboxes: making sure the character didn’t move through any 3D walls, or start climbing walls, etc.
Kawano: Right. You can kick an empty can around in the town, and it will bounce back at you correctly.
Kijima: I think the programmers had the hardest time of it, ultimately. We gave them a LOT of work.
Kawano: Yeah. If we only had to make character models, we could make them look as intricate and good as we like. But those models need to be programmed in the context of an actual game, and so finding the right balance there was a huge amount of work.
Ijuuin (main programmer): When we started, we actually didn’t know the exact hardware specs for the PlayStation. At first Kawano told me, “I want you to make a really big city!!” When I asked him how big, he just said, “Really big.” (laughs) So I tried making something about 600 square meters, but that was too big, and the hardware couldn’t handle it. (laughs) But it would only take Carl Lewis a minute to sprint from one end to the other. (laughs) Anyway, we had to deal with those constraints the entire development, and I still regret not being able to have more people populating the city because of the hardware limits. Compared with other games, though, I think our code was very efficient, very good. You can see really far into the distance, for example.
Another interesting thing is that in the beginning we were told this was going to be “an action game, probably” (laughs), but as we got further into the development, the RPG elements became more and more prominent—talking with people in town, searching around and investigating people’s houses, etc.
Kawano: I guess we deceived you guys a little. (laughs) Inafune and I knew from the beginning that we wanted it to be an RPG-action hybrid, but we thought that if we told you guys that upfront, people might leave the project, so we just soft-pedaled it. (laughs) And as the development progressed, we revealed more and more. (laughs)
Ijuuin: Well, as the lead programmer, my worry was that I saw that no one on my staff had any experience making an RPG. (laughs)
Then there was the trailer. We really wanted the world of this game to feel unified, so even though it took a lot of manpower and time, we made the trailer in 3D polygons. It was very difficult to put together at the end there.
Kawano: We kind of lied to you about the length of that, too. (laughs)
Ijuuin: Normally in a game development, you’re cutting out things at the end. But for Mega Man Legends, they had us begin by doing a lot of the sub-events… I thought it was weird, but then I noticed how at the end we had all of the MAIN programming left to do, and there was no way we could cut anything out. (laughs) So really, everything we did got left in.
Kawakami (sound): The hardest thing for me (partly due to the size of the trailer) was the voice recording. It took 3 days to record everything, and then I had to edit it all. I also put a lot of energy into the sound effects: the sound of kicking the empty can, dogs, etc. (laughs) Everyone will want to kick that can if it makes a satisfying sound!
—What would you like to see in a sequel?
Inafune: Typically with a development this difficult, by the end everyone would be like, “never again!” But everyone has a lot of great ideas for something even better, and people have been coming up to me and saying “Let’s do a sequel!”
Kawano: I want there to be more islands next time, and more people to interact with in town. The town was a little lonely this time.
Ijuuin: Now that I have a better grasp of the PlayStation hardware, I think the next game won’t be so hard.
Kawano: One other regret I have, is that I had an idea for this handsome villain, a character who would have appealed to the demographic of female players. I wanted to include him as a rival character, but we didn’t have time to add him.
Inafune: There’s a lot of mysteries that remain at the end of this game, too. Like who/what is Mega Man, really? I have some basic ideas outlined for a sequel, but first, please watch the ending of Mega Man Legends… can’t you feel the love for the Bonne family? (laughs)
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Now that was an awesome interview pure and simple! They did a really good job and I think the team met their goals in the game. Super cool to hear them talk about before and after. I miss 90s games and 90s development. Thanks a ton shmuplations!