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Keiji Inafune: "My Artistic Style is What It Is"

The outspoken designer on Mighty No. 9, innovation, Kickstarter, and certain remarkable robotic resemblances.

This article first appeared on USgamer, a partner publication of VG247. Some content, such as this article, has been migrated to VG247 for posterity after USgamer's closure - but it has not been edited or further vetted by the VG247 team.

Yesterday, Keiji Inafune announced his next project, a Kickstarter-funded venture called Mighty No. 9. More than two-thirds of the way to its goal in less than 24 hours, Mighty No. 9 looks like a sure thing, unlike Inafune's previous crowdsourced venture, poor doomed Mega Man Legends 3.

This afternoon, I spoke briefly with Inafune about his new project's goals as well as other details: Both the familiar and the new.

USgamer: The first question I had when I saw that video was… this seems really familiar. I think there may be some people with some opinions about this. Can you talk about the tricky maneuvering that I'm sure has to go on to get a game like this to happen, without coming up against legal obstructions? It seems like a pretty big risk, or a pretty big challenge at least.

Keiji Inafune: Honestly, the legal side of it wasn't something I spent too much time thinking about. The base feeling behind making this game was, "What can I do for the fans? What can I do to make them happy, to give them the game that they want?" That was the base feeling behind starting this. Of course I can't design a character that is Mega Man. That's a no-brainer. That was never anything we were thinking about.

But honestly, your base feeling needs to be, "I'm doing this with the fans, for the fans," if you're going to use Kickstarter. That has to be the core start point of doing a project like this. If you start out a project thinking, "Where are my legal guidelines? Where are my boundaries?" and you start worrying about that, you're going to come up with something that isn't really a great game, to be honest. So that wasn't something that I spent a lot of time thinking about. Of course, if it gets greenlit, as we move forward with it we're going to have to talk with the fans. We're going to have to talk with the backers. We're going to have to make some adjustments and see where we can find the best balance. But that's something that's further down the road, I think.

Remind you of anyone? Well, that's kind of the point.

USG: I think it's good that the legal questions weren't the first thing in your mind, but obviously, they do have to come into consideration at some point. I'm wondering if you've looked into previous legal precedents -- things like Microsoft and Apple's look and feel lawsuit. An even more direct parallel might be the game Tear Ring Saga, which was made by one of the creators of Fire Emblem. Nintendo wasn't very happy about that. Have you looked into any of those situations?

KI: Honestly, publishers and developers always disagree on lots of issues. And so that conflict and that friction will always be there. The Infinity Ward guys are a perfect example, a publisher and a developer disagreeing over what they each think their value is. If you start worrying about that, you're not going to get anything done. It just comes with the territory.

That being said, Mega Man is Mega Man because it's my style. It's my artistic style that created that character. Beck, in Mighty No. 9, is also a character that I've created. If the idea is that I should try to stop creating characters via my style and try to create a different style that totally doesn't fit with me, that doesn't seem to make a lot of logical sense. Certainly I'm not going to do that just to make Capcom happy. I am who I am. My artistic style is what it is. We're all going to naturally gravitate toward what fits us naturally as an artist or a creator or a designer or whatever. That's all I'm doing in this case as well.

USG: It was great, in the video, watching you work on the illustrations and hold up the image of Beck. How heavily involved have you been with creating character concepts and even doing final illustrations?

KI: There's a specific character designer on the team, a guy named Kimoto, who is extremely talented. He understands my essence. He understands my art style very well. It's up to him to create the base character designs. However, I would say, much to his chagrin, that on this title – probably more than on any other title in recent years – I'm a lot more hands-on. I'm providing feedback and guidelines on the specifics of smaller details of the character, how parts should look, what should be added. But I feel very comfortable with the fact that I know what Kimoto-san… I know what his strengths are. I know how to maximize his strengths, while also being able to infuse what I consider my creative spirit, my art style, into his designs as well. We have a nice collaborative art design process that's going on.

USG: You worked with Mr. Kimoto on the Zero and ZX games, is that right?

KI: No, he did Mega Man Universe, actually. He was the main designer on Mega Man Universe. Inti Creates, they're the developer that did Zero and ZX. Kimoto is a concept guy, so he came from Capcom and was working on Universe before this.

USG: And is Inti Creates involved in this game?

KI: They're the key production piece of this puzzle. They're doing the programming and doing the tighter design pieces and whatnot. Comcept handles the overall core management of the project.

USG: You have a long relationship with that team. It goes back before even Mega Man Zero, doesn't it?

"One of the things at the macro level that I find to be 100 percent original about this, compared to other titles I've worked on, is the level of depth to which we're going to work with the backers to create something that they really appreciate and that we can support as creators."

KI: Inti is actually composed of a lot of ex-Mega Man creators that worked at Capcom alongside myself. That's where I'm used to working with them from, on a daily basis. They became independent and created their own company. Somewhere along the line I worked with them on a project, and it was definitely before Zero, but I can't remember exactly which one it was, because there have been so many projects that we've collaborated on. Anyway, I have a very comfortable fit with the team.

USG: There are a lot of developer out there with the skills to develop a game like this, that you could have gone with. I'd like to know more about your relationship and the collaborations you've done with the guys at Inti Creates.

KI: I've worked with them before, and we've had successes and we've had failures. But the one thing that was always a common thread in working with them is that they always seemed very motivated. With this project we're doing something new and innovative. If you're going to do that, you want to be with partners or people that you know are going to put their all in, that are going to be extremely motivated. That's exactly what Inti Creates brings to the table. While they have had failures in the past, working with me on other titles, their success ratio working on 2D side-scrolling games, or Mega Man games, is extremely high. When it came to doing a 2D side-scrolling Mega Man-esque title – ultimately these were the only people in my mind.

USG: A lot of people have been drawn to the similarities between Mega Man and Mighty No. 9. But I'm interested in hearing what's new with the game. What things are you bringing to the game that you couldn't have done before? Now you don't have a publisher looking over your shoulders and saying, "No, you can't do that. You have to do this." That freedom -- how do you plan to explore that?

KI: At this point in the production, other than what we've announced on the page and things like the transformation system and all that, there are quite a few new ideas that are bouncing around. But as far as specific, "This is 100 percent a new game pillar" things, that's not something I can reveal right now.

But I will say this: One of the things at the macro level that I find to be 100 percent original about this, compared to other titles I've worked on, is the level of depth to which we're going to work with the backers to create something that they really appreciate and that we can support as creators. That should give us a totally different perspective as far as designing the game that we never would have had if we'd just been designing it internally or working with a publisher to design something that they wanted. So that, we think, will definitely lead into some really interesting new concepts.

USG: Let's talk a bit about the backers and the fan involvement that you have. In previous Mega Man games, you had contests and you had that sort of lottery system of getting fan involvement. Kickstarter creates more of a tiered pricing structure. Aren't you afraid it could come off as unfair -- "If you're rich enough to buy in at this level, you get to help with the game, but if you aren't, sorry, you're out of luck?"

KI: Ultimately, when talking about what Kickstarter represents to us, we don't see it as a tiered hierarchy system, where if Bob pays $5 and Al pays $10,000, I have to listen to Al. If Bob comes up with a better idea than Al, even if he's only paid $5 to become a basic backer, then I'll listen to him. It has to be about the core ideas, what makes the most sense with the game. It's not about who spends the most money. Certainly we appreciate the people who are supporting the game at that level, but it's not designed that way.

That being said, it's nice to know that the people who at least pay $5 have financial responsibility, that they're putting their money where their mouth is and we're both carrying some weight of financial risk. Obviously there's a lot on the front end for the developer, and there's some on the front end for the backer as well. We're all trying to help achieve a good game together.

As it stands, this is evidently about as much content as exists for Mighty No. 9.

I will say this – working with the fans sounds attractive and cool and great on paper. But in reality, the logistics behind it are quite difficult. If you're going to interact with the fans and make sure you're getting the most clear-cut, concise information you can from them, you need to structure it in a way in which… Do they choose between two or three different choices? Are they able to make certain key selections? You can't just throw out a huge wide net and say, "Give me your best character design," or something like that, because then you're going to come up with 8,000 different ideas and there's no way to manage that sort of information.

The fans, the backers, they're not game creators. They're fans. They're people who love the content. They're going to have great ideas, but they still need to be funneled in a way that the people building the game will be able to use them in the best way possible. Finding that solution set, finding those logistics, is going to be key to making sure that this project provides the most for both the creators and the fans that are so interested in it.

USG: It sounds like you're taking a lot of learning and experience, specifically from the Legends 3 development room, into this project. Can you talk about how that went, and the good and bad of it that's helped you come up with a scheme for the community involvement in Mighty No. 9?

KI: With the Legends project, obviously, we didn't get to do all that we wanted to do. Had we, I think that there would be additional learnings that we could have gleaned from going all out. That's unfortunate, but what can be said is… Going back to what I said before, if you're going to work with a large number of fans, and you want to streamline their feedback in the most concise way possible, providing them with different choices and options to pick from is a good way. At least providing them with some sort of framework, a box for them to come up with ideas within, is going to be something that will be a more effective way to utilize their cooperation. Rather than just saying, "Hey, what do you want?"

An open-ended question like that, to 10,000, 20,000, 30,000 people, it's just going to give you data points all over the map that you're not going to be able to do much with. You don't want to have… "There will be robots or zombies in this game! There will be dinosaurs in this game!" Narrowing those parameters -- creating those guidelines, that box -- is something that's going to be key to making sure that information is passed back and forth in the best way.

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