It’s not often that a game comes along and defines a generation. Mega Man was one such title and now, after more than 25 years, the game’s creator, Keiji Inafune, is finally gearing up to create the game of his dreams. We catch up with him at IGN’s game convention in Bahrain and discuss the joys and pitfalls of game development and of course, Mighty No.9. Here’s what he had to say.
Q) You’ve been working in the games industry for over 25 years now. What’s it been like? As a developer?
Keiji Inafune: I don’t really think of myself as a developer as such even though I’ve been working as a game creator for the last 25 years. My focus, these last 20 years or so, has been to spread Japanese games to the world. It’s also because of that focus, that ideal that I believe in, that I’ve come to Bahrain to meet my fans and even give an interview for an Indian gaming magazine. I’m very grateful for the experience.
Q) What’s the most important lesson you’ve learned while developing games these past two decades?
KI: The most important lesson that I’ve learned is that one must always be aggressive, always looking forward. I’ve been in the games’ industry a long time and during that time, the industry has evolved constantly. As a game creator, if I’m satisfied with where I am, think of myself as a veteran with the respect of the worlds’ gamers, if I am satisfied with this, I will not be able to push myself to create a great game and keep up with the times. My goal is to maintain a constant evolution at a pace that will at least keep up, if not surpass the evolution of the games’ industry itself.
Q) So what do you feel about the evolution of the games industry over these two decades? What’s changed and evolved, significantly?
KI: In the past, the games industry was pretty much Japan focused. Japan was dominant. I feel that the industry has changed a lot in that aspect. There are a lot of games coming from America, other Western sources, etc. I feel that the industry has evolved to a point where it’s the innovators and not just them, it’s the game mechanics that determine your success. This is very different from the more region focused “determiners of success”. So I feels that the games industry has evolved to a point where you can get games from anywhere, new ideas from anywhere; it’s not locked to a specific region. It’s an industry that has evolved to a point where the competition is a lot freer. It’s more a matter of what you have to contribute to the industry as opposed to where you’re from. This is a very important and good difference from before.
Q) Right now are there any games that you’re particularly interested in? Any new games that are being developed right now? Other than your own Mighty No. 9 of course.
KI: As it stands now, there’s no game at the moment that I’m really keen on. But, with the advent of the PS4, the new consoles and the upgraded hardware, I’m looking forward to the possibilities. The one game I’m really interested in is the Mad Max game. I’m a fan of the movie, and the idea of it being converted into a game, I’m looking forward to seeing what happens. Although it would have been better if they would have let me make it, instead of Warner Bros. [laughs]
Q) How has it been working on Mega Man? The whole saga.
KI: To put it simply, I’m first of all very grateful for the experience that I’ve had. Mega Man was the first real game that I really worked on. In that era, it was a very different development process. You didn’t have the long development periods that you have today. If you ask a company today that has been around for 10 years how many games they made, they’d say maybe 3 or 4. Back in the day, 10 years meant something like 20 titles. It was a lot more of a condensed experience and so much of that experience has made me as strong a game creator as I am today and much of that experience was on Mega Man titles and as such, I’m very grateful, the feeling of gratitude is very strong in relation to the Mega Man series.
Q) Speaking of gaming trends, what are the trends you’re looking forward to?
KI: One of the negative trends that I’m not a fan of is the proliferation of funds, the funds that publishers are giving to game developers. With big games, you need bigger budgets than you needed before and there is a lack of willingness in publishers to take chances and invest in untested IPs and new developments. They’re more willing to put money in something that they think will sell than in something that’s more innovative or new or creative. This is something that I really dislike and would like to avoid.
Q) Something like, ahem, EA and Capcom?
KI: [Ha ha] not to take any names, but pretty much that chunk is what I mean.
Q) Moving on to something closer to your heart. What’s it like? Might No.9 is only the second game that’s truly yours. In your own words, tell us about the experience and Mighty No. 9.
KI: Mighty No. 9 is going to be a fun and interesting experience for me for several reasons. First of all, the fact that I’m able to use kickstarter to communicate directly with the fans and get financial support and even motivation directly from the fans, is something that I found very enjoyable. This is the first major game for Comcept. Budget-wise, I’m used to working with games that have budgets in the region of $20 million and while $4 million is a lot for an independent company, it’s still much smaller than what I’ve been used to in the past. I don’t want to be a game creator that needs a large budget to make an interesting game. I see this as another good challenge for myself.
Q) What do you think made Mega Man such a cultural icon? Do you believe that you’ll be able to replicate that appeal with Mighty No. 9?
KI: First of all, I had no idea when I first started that Mega Man would be a game so loved by the world and I’m so amazed at the idea. Gamers don’t just play one or two games, they play thousands of games over their gaming career, but the number that they really remember can be counted on your fingertips, the ones that really stick with them. The idea that Mega Man is one of them, to me, is amazing. If it had just stopped at the first title, it would have been something else, but there’s been so many Mega Man games and in each console era, every generation, there have been people who’ve loved Mega Man. The number of people who’ve loved Mega Man, in whatever form Mega Man’s in, is amazing. The sheer population.
Q) When I think of Mighty No. 9, I want to make the same kind of game, a game that can, in this current era, be as memorable, as these games were in the past. What’s the inspiration behind the name?
KI: With “Mighty” there were a lot of cool cartoons, such as Mighty Mouse. When I was growing up, “mighty” was such a strong, powerful image; but it’s an old image, and as time went on. The coolness of “mighty” is in the retro nature of it. When I was thinking about the type of game I wanted to make, a sort of modern game with retro roots, the word “mighty” immediately sprang to mind. It does mean powerful right? I guess the “power of retroness” is what I wanted to put into the game.
Q) Thank you so much for your time and also for the great games that you’ve been creating for the gaming community. We eagerly await the release of Mighty No.9. One last thing though, do you have any message for young developers, the people just starting out in the games’ industry?
KI: I think that one of the biggest differences between the modern games’ industry and the game industry of yore is the passion. Back when I started out, the games’ industry didn’t have the cool veneer that it has today. The pay was bad, you didn’t have any benefits, the long hours. Basically, your blood, sweat and tears went into your game. The purpose of doing that was to make something that you wanted to put out there in the world and there weren’t all that many companies doing that.
Now however, you’ve got this cool image, high salaries, great benefits, you can work in a video game company and drive a Ferrari. This is possible now, that kind of thing that can happen. As a result, I feel that the passion that people once had, the drive, it’s lower. People are joining the industry for different reasons now. The indie scene is growing, I’m definitely a fan of that. But I want people to focus on that passion that drove them to game development. To remember to let that passion be the reason they’re in the industry, to fulfil your dreams. If you do that, go for that passion, you can be Japanese, Indian or from wherever, as long as you have that passion and that is what’s driving you forward, then you can do great things.
Editor’s note: Mr.Inafune doesn’t speak English and his answers have been translated from Japanese and some answers have been edited for clarity. As such, these are not his exact words but convey, as accurately as possible, the gist of what he wanted to say.