"The sadness of the robot."
February 10, 2016 11:21 AM   Subscribe

The always-excellent Shmuplations has translated a 2011 interview about the creation of classic NES game Rockman, known in the US as Mega Man, and its sequel. It's a great depiction of the creative process relating to game development.
posted by JHarris (26 comments total) 17 users marked this as a favorite
the saddest robot song
posted by andrewcooke at 11:49 AM on February 10, 2016

This is rill heartwarming and nice.
posted by grobstein at 11:58 AM on February 10, 2016

The interviewee, Kitamura, is a sort of obscure designer who was apparently only named by initials in the Rockman credits(!). The interviewer, Ariga, is a mega-fan who drew a manga about the creation of Rockman, and researched Kitamura's identity and story.
posted by grobstein at 12:02 PM on February 10, 2016 [1 favorite]

Kitamura: In fact, no matter what game, it’s those difficulty spikes that become the bottlenecks for players, and leave them with the impression that the game was too hard. And yet, at the same time, it’s a fact that those tough parts also comprise some of the core gameplay in any game.

Well, in order to sort it all out for myself, I decided to play a bunch of different games and study just those difficult sections, replaying them over and over. In the Rockman Tanjou Densetsu comic, where you mentioned my character being locked away playing games all day, I guessed that you were referring to that experience.
posted by grobstein at 12:03 PM on February 10, 2016 [1 favorite]

The names that appear in Capcom credits, there must be some story to it? Did Capcom want to prevent its employees from jumping ship, using their games as a resumé?

I just had to look up the real name of "Yuuki-chan no papa" and I'm sure I won't remember it tomorrow.
posted by grobstein at 12:08 PM on February 10, 2016 [1 favorite]

Ariga: Another thing I’ve wondered about for awhile: why can you kill Metal Man in two hits with the Metal Blade?! Was that actually in your planning docs? I remember being momentarily stunned when I discovered this… then I burst out laughing! There’s never been another boss like that before or since. It was really memorable.

Kitamura: That was written into the planning docs, yes. It’s a “hidden trick.” In the old days, if your game didn’t have any secrets, it was difficult to get it featured in the various gaming magazines. Also, there’s the secret in Mega Man 2 where you can change the stars to birds in the boss select screen—that was added for the same reason.
posted by grobstein at 12:14 PM on February 10, 2016 [2 favorites]

the saddest robot song

i beg to differ
posted by murphy slaw at 12:15 PM on February 10, 2016 [2 favorites]

i beg to differ

I beg to beg to differ

posted by cashman at 12:19 PM on February 10, 2016 [1 favorite]

Kitamura: Yeah, the “serious” quality you’re talking about is different from where Mega Man later went. I think I understand you. You know, just the image of Mega Man standing there: there’s a sadness to it. Even his sprite has a certain gravity and seriousness to it. How can I put this… for me, when I see a young child playing alone, in a park or in the middle of the street, playing by himself there… there’s something so sad about that sight, it can almost bring me to tears. And there’s something similarly lonely about Mega Man.

For example, in the backstory I wrote, Mega Man alone is equipped with the functionality to turn himself off. That very fact imbues him with a sadness. The other robot masters were made for some kind of specific job or work, so there’s no need for them to have an “off switch” they can control. However, a robot helper like Mega Man can make his own judgments, and therefore can decide whether he’s needed or not. That bit of backstory also reflects the serious feeling in the writing that you mentioned you liked. The sadness of being a robot is having this inorganic existence.
posted by grobstein at 12:21 PM on February 10, 2016 [1 favorite]

Maybe though, the Friender isn’t really a little zako enemy like you’re talking about?
The character za (雑) means “miscellaneous” and the character for ko (魚) means “fish”. Put together, they can of course refer to… literal small fish. However, it can also be an insulting way to refer to someone weak or of low status. If you want to keep the “fishy” image, then perhaps the closest English expression is “small fry”.
posted by zamboni at 12:26 PM on February 10, 2016 [1 favorite]

Kitamura: Yeah. And so one day, here’s what happened. The usual pattern was that I’d go into the sound room and check on how [Tateishi] was doing. But one day, very unusually, he called me in, grinning, and said “I just finished something awesome!” That song was Wily Castle stage 1.
posted by grobstein at 12:29 PM on February 10, 2016 [4 favorites]

Kitamura: From the beginning, the backstory was that Light and Wily were colleagues at Harvard University in America. I’m not sure if that was ever publicly announced after I wrote it, though.
posted by grobstein at 12:31 PM on February 10, 2016 [1 favorite]

This has been amazing, thank you JHarris!
posted by grobstein at 12:34 PM on February 10, 2016

The term "zako" is kind of a term-of-art among Japanese game devs and fans. They're sort of nuisance enemies, like the ones that come after you in the pre-stages of Gradius, little fast-moving guys who may or may not shoot, but tend to die in one hit and come in great numbers, kind of like schools of fish. Not a lot of people die to them (at least at normal difficulties) but they're fun to blast and might give you powerups.
posted by JHarris at 12:48 PM on February 10, 2016 [2 favorites]

i beg to differ

I beg to beg to differ

I think you ought to know I'm feeling very depressed.
posted by Greg_Ace at 12:51 PM on February 10, 2016 [1 favorite]

There was one difficulty with Matsushita’s programming, though: his code was slow. Being so perfectly wrought, with lots of internal safety checks and the like, meant that it took a lot of processing power and ran slowly. His routines for hit detection, for example, were very slow. My first idea for Mega Man was actually something closer to a STG game, where there’d be lots of enemies on-screen at once and you’d have fun blasting them all. But due to those programming limitations, I had to change the type of game.
This is very interesting to me. I think in a lot of working situations, at least in America, someone in Kitamura's position would have drummed up support for trading off some of the guards in the code for speed instead of just going back and redesigning.
posted by ignignokt at 1:06 PM on February 10, 2016 [2 favorites]

What a wonderful interview, and so far-reaching.

I loved loved loved the parts about the Mega Man 2 music composition. Those songs are truly inspired chiptunes, and my friends and I would tape them off of the RCA output of the NES and listen to them in Walkmans like they were the latest GNR or Michael Jackson.

One thing that I thought I noticed on my US copy of the game from back in the day—Dr. Wily stage 1 and 2 music at the very beginning was out-of-tune, just a little bit flat. I noticed it when I was playing, so it's not an audiocassette playback thing. It's not out-of-tune on my emulator copy, though. Can anyone confirm this?
posted by infinitewindow at 2:34 PM on February 10, 2016

Those songs are truly inspired chiptunes

I just noticed this post, with this playing in my other tab. What are the odds etc.

(guess this means that I have to fire up the NES)
posted by effbot at 5:23 PM on February 10, 2016

I had to change the type of game.

This is exactly how the Metal Gear games came to exist as well. It was originally going to be an action game, but rendering those action scenes with lots of people and explosions and whatnot was much too hard for the system, so Kojima decided to make it a sneaking game instead.

Also how Mario got his look - it had to be iconic and recognizable, even with just a few pixels, and they couldn't quite get the nose/mouth area right, so a mustache was added.

Limitations are inspiring.
posted by gloriouslyincandescent at 5:24 PM on February 10, 2016 [3 favorites]

Limitations are inspiring.

Limitations can be inspiring. I've seen way too many people stifled by strict limitations that were just too much for their idea, like a hundred Mario Maker levels trying to simulate, say, an Undertale fight, or Punch-Out!!, or WarioWare.
posted by JHarris at 1:20 AM on February 11, 2016 [1 favorite]

J, could you elaborate on that point a little?
posted by coolxcool=rad at 1:35 AM on February 11, 2016

Being in a state of infinite possibility can be stifling, because whatever you do, there's something else you realize could be better, and that rapidly leads to option paralysis. But the state of infinite limitation is doing nothing at all, and that leaves no room at all for innovation or inspiration.

The way I see it, it's not that limitations are inspiring, but that it's easier to fully explore a limited set of possibilities. You don't get caught up so much in search breadth, and can more effectively explore depth. If that makes sense.

BTW, we don't actually know, if Rockman's engine ran faster, if the more standard shooter game the designer had in mind would have been worse, or better, than what we got. We don't live in the world where we got to see that, all we know is that its replacement is great on its own terms.

Well, you asked for elaboration. I gave the Mario Maker levels as an example that's close to hand, for the MM subreddit is full of them. Most of them are earnest attempts at creating something interesting, and of standing out above the crowd of over six million levels made to date.

Here's YouTube video of the Undertale battle level I mentioned. It's not bad, but really, if it weren't for the title and the edited-in music, would you have any idea at all what was being attempted? (All this assumes you know what the heck Undertale even is, of course....)
posted by JHarris at 3:47 PM on February 11, 2016 [1 favorite]

Here's YouTube video of the Undertale battle level I mentioned.

Was that an example of designing with strict limitations? Might just be me, but tight limits make me think of things like this rather than chaotic games with a thousand moving sprites :-)
posted by effbot at 2:51 AM on February 13, 2016

You are using a narrower definition of "strict limitations" than I was.
posted by JHarris at 9:00 PM on February 13, 2016

Bonus interview with Manami Matsumae, the composer of the music of the music and sound effects of the original Rockman.
posted by JHarris at 3:17 AM on March 1, 2016 [2 favorites]

A lot of interesting stuff about being a woman working in video games at that time:
I am rather curious as to what the atmosphere at Capcom was like at the time, especially given that there weren’t a lot of women working in games at that point.

Actually, almost all of Capcom’s composers at that time were women. Fujita-san, Kawamoto-san, Shimomura-san…

What about Yuukichan’s Papa?

He was the one male, the guy in charge of the department. He was a sound programmer.

What was it like working at Capcom, then? Do you have any particular anecdotes?

The first year I was working there was pretty rough, honestly. I’d be there until 11PM daily just to get everything done. That was tough. I don’t remember a lot of fun experiences from that time. There weren’t any sort of big scandals or anything, mainly because the sound team was in a separate building from the rest of the developers – the other building was just too crowded. There were probably things that went on in the main building, but our building was overwhelmingly women, so nothing particularly scandalous went on in our department, as far as I know.
I have to wonder why she's talking about scandals here. Has there been talk of sexual harassment-type scandals at Capcom?
Why did you leave Capcom, then?

Quite simply: I got married. Back then, if you were a woman working in Japan, you were expected to quit after you got married.
posted by ignignokt at 8:28 AM on March 1, 2016 [2 favorites]

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