Of fathers and creators

Lately I’ve been seeing people getting riled up about Mega Man again after an interview from 2011 that was included in Rockman Maniax collection.  This interview touches on a lot of subjects that seem to have been missed by a lot of Western fandom, but overall provides very little new info. Well, that’s debatable, as a lot information that is still floating around the Internet as rumours, hearsays and even legends to my recollection since the 90’s are more or less again confirmed in this particular interview. It’s a good read overall for the fans.

The name Akira Kitamura is a name that seems like the Internet is unearthing all over again. He is sometimes more known of his initial in the credits as A.K., and had his hands in games like Nostlagia 1907, Willow, Section-Z, Virgin Dream, Legendary Wings, and of course the first two Mega Man games. The range he worked in was from game planner to advisor, from Director to Character Designer.

The man does deserve more recognition in the field, if we’re to argue people actually need to be recognized in the way they currently are. Nevertheless, Inafune himself has stated few times around that he was not the creator of Mega Man people thought him to be, because that’s not completely true. Neither is Kitamura.

In project works where multiple people are working, there very rarely really is one point of origin, unless the director is holding all leashes tight and commanding things. Even then he alone is not creator in the classical sense.

Mega Man was a defined character when Inafune joined the team and the core gameplay was more or less solidified what it would be in the end. Kitamura’s interest in game design however is the key how the core design of Mega Man would take shape from the length of the stages to enemy placements and stage selection itself. Comparing Mega Man to its contemporaries, one thing that many people overlook are the enemy placement and time it takes to beat a stage. All this takes time to figure and design properly, and required a different approach than most other games of the time.

Kitamura’s “tricks,” as he calls them, are simple yet hard to figure out and properly implement. They are the basic structures of more complex game design, things that often are dismissed. You can still spot these “tricks” in more modern Mega Man games, but they’re more or less changed into making the game seem harder than softer. Mega Man has a fame of being difficult game series, but that didn’t come reality until Mega Man Zero series, when Inti-Creates succumbed to the misconception. One of Kitamura’s “tricks” was to  make the game seem harder than it was while holding back the punches just in the right spots.

Kitamura mentions Nobuyuki Matsushima, H.M.D. in the credits, who programmed the first Mega Man game, and specifically mentions that it was this man who brought Mega Man to life. He worked in industrial programming before entering game development, and it is insanely difficult to find out what he did prior CAPCOM, but after Mega Man 2 he worked on Kuuga/ Vapor Trail under Data East, Street Fighter 2010, few Quiz games and the like. The way he coded unintentionally affected the pace and design Mega Man would further be known for. He also came up with the colour changing element with the weapons, while Kitamura wanted Ninja Captor styled head crests. The show has an interesting history on its own, as it was once part of Super Sentai franchise, but dropped as some point alongside with Go-Ranger and J.A.K.Q. Dengekitai, two shows that were later re-implemented to the franchise.

Kuuga/Vapor Trail is pretty awesome game. Too bad it has gone through price creep

Mega Man was full of anime and tokusatsu references from the very beginning as the developers poured in their childhood into the designs. Hell, you can basically pick up all Mega Man and MM2 Robot Masters from the Ninja Captor line-up alone. I’ve been toying with an idea to track down what sort of influences Mega Man has, but that’d take a lot of time and combined efforts I’m not willing to take just yet.

What I’m trying to say is that is giving credits where credit is due. He is not the sole father of Mega Man and neither is Inafune. Even Ariga during the interview emphasizes how Mega Man was a creation of a group, not one person.

Kitamura didn’t seem to work well with people due to his workaholic nature and perfectionism. When he left CAPCOM after Mega Man 2, he went to work with SNK, until he ended up working with Takeru (or founding, I’ve seen contradicting statements), a company that is most remembered for publishing Japanese PC games via specialised vending machine system, including numerous Falcom titles. Takeru was doing business under Brother Industries, a company that was know for their quality printers. Brother still exists and produces quality machines.

They released few games on the Famicom/NES, of which Kitamura had his hands in Little Samson. In the West, Takeru isn’t well-known. The list what games Takeru released through their vending machine system is lacking in English language sources. Kitamura brought number of ex-CAPCOM and ex-IREM employees to Takeru and released some games under their own publishing brand, Sur de Wave, but bankrupted themselves thanks to financial irresponsibilities. I’m sure the burst economy bubble had its hand in there as well.

The game that effectively ruined the company

You may be wondering why Inafune was coined as the Father of Mega Man after all this. The reason for this is the customer and because it was easy.

Customers require a face to get familiar with. Humans will learn to trust a face of a product or a company the same way they will create strong bonds with e.g. a drink during emotional memories. Inafune worked the longest with Mega Man without moving much to other projects, and because he had been there since the first game, it was natural to give him the credit. Inafune’s contribution to the franchise should not be undermined retroactively. He is, without a doubt, has his hands in most Mega Man games out there and has overlooked the franchise until he left CAPCOM. He didn’t become the head of Mega Man until Mega Man 4, as Kitamura was the head of both Mega Man and MM 2, but with MM3 there was a new fellow named Masahiko Kurokawa, who didn’t really understand what Mega Man as a game and character was supposed to be about, according to Inafune.

It was good for Inafune, CAPCOM’s business and to the customers to have a name to latch unto, because people love to worship their providers. There were more people who had their hands in Mega Man for sure, but in the long run Inafune’s touch would be felt the most. Due to CAPCOM’s own internal workings and Japanese business culture, Inafune would be the foot of the execs until… well, to the very end to some extend. However, it has become clear that Inafune works the best under someone else who is strict and puts up limitations to overcome with a group of people who know how to support each other. Kitamura was a strict director, and we can see certain level of decline in Mega Man’s quality alongside how much freedom Inafune would gain. Ultimately, Mega Man would become too repetitious to keep itself relevant. Innovate or die, creative destruction, whatever you want to call it.

Inafune did breath new iterations of Mega Man, and Battle Network was insanely popular for its time, despite it didn’t necessarily make similar level of impact like its older brothers did.

 Inafune’s initial contribution to Mega Man was in the sprites and their design. He would create the pixel forms and name them. Inafune also cleaned all the character designs to be suitable for the game. Elec Man and Bomb Man were Inafune’s first designs. Inafune was part of the team from the day he was thrust into it, and despite being working on designs and graphics, he was part of the overall design team. Dr. Wily is all Inafune’s creation, and despite Mega Man 2 only having three months gestation period, leaving the game rougher. This, like with many games, seems to have worked for the better. Inafune was also part of the packaging illustration team and put more an anime spin to visuals than what it was with Mega Man 1, despite officially working on another project. Inafune had a person under him he head to mentor, and he basically designer Guts Tank from ground up.

Mega Man 2 was a success, and Mega Man 3 saw that aforementioned change. Inafune had become sort of jack-of-all-trades regarding designs, in and out of game, and he even discussed matters with the sound department. With Mega Man 4, Inafune had become the director full-time.

To call him the father of Mega Man is a matter of perspective. If you want one, true father to Mega Man, you won’t have one, but you can narrow it down to Kitamura.  In reality, Mega Man was a creation of multiple people, designers of multiple fields and programmers. Inafune being the father or Mega Man was likely a political moniker coined at him, or what rather he was named one because he had been there since the beginning, fathering many of these elements in the games early on.

In a way, Inafune is the father of Mega Man in how he raised the character and franchise from a small beginning to the one of the most important franchises in pop-culture, whereas Kitamura was the birthing mother. While Kitamura’s role back then would meet the modern equivalent of a Director, he is coined as Planner and Inafune as Director as early as the first Mega Man.

Kitamura’s part in Mega Man’s creation does not invalidate Inafune’s part or whatever emotional attachment you have for him. He has not covered himself most of the time, and more often than not it has been others who call Inafune as the creator of Mega Man. To split hairs a bit, he is a creator of Mega Man from the X, Legends and Battle Networks franchise at least, but that’s a bit stretching.

Zero, according to Inafune, was his first change to design a fully original character. His favouritism would undermine the X-series down the line
Zero, according to Inafune, was his first chance to design a fully original character. His favouritism would undermine the X-series down the line

Inafune happened to be at the right spot at the right time to get where he was. Without a doubt he worked his ass out under Kitamura’s watch, and most likely learned a lot from him. It is also very apparent that Inafune is the man who needs someone to challenge him like Kitamura did to drive him further, and to him drive whoever works under and with him in similar manner.

In the end, it doesn’t matter who created Mega Man to what extent, nor does it matter who works with the games. The end product is the only thing that matters, and now that Mega Man thirty years of history behind it, it has multiple well established gameplay types and how they are done. Whatever team with whoever in the lead begins to make a new Mega Man game, they have a humongous task not just making those older games obsolete in quality and design, but also are in charge to revive the series to its rightful spot.

I just hope whatever it’ll be, it’ll end up being simple and deep, just like it should be.

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