Capcom Discusses the Future of Mega Man
The darkest hour is just before the dawn. For Mega Man fans, that darkness came over the past three years, as one of the most iconic and recognizable characters in gaming history has been on ice, with two cancelled projects and seemingly no further interest from its publisher.
Like many things in the video game industry, appearances can be deceiving. According to one of its key executives, Capcom’s inactivity with Mega Man wasn’t driven by vendetta, but by a struggle to determine the franchise’s future. “After the cancellation of Mega Man Legends 3 and Universe, there was a cooling down period where even discussing the prospect of a Mega Man title was difficult,” admits Christian Svensson, Senior Vice President of Capcom USA. “The wounds were still fresh for us (just as they were for fans). We’re at a point now where it’s not as painful and constructive discussions are happening again.”
Even now, with Street Fighter X Mega Man arriving in two weeks, and a major 25th anniversary to celebrate this month and beyond, Capcom is still determining what it wants to do from here on out. (More on that in a second.) But it’s also very much aware that the absence of a core property isn’t ideal, and can’t wait. “For a long time, Mega Man had more than one release per year,” Svensson said via e-mail. “We had some years where there were more than 7-8 Mega Man SKUs being released. Suffice to say, that was probably too much. Right now, we’re at a point where it’s clearly not enough. Hopefully Street Fighter X Mega Man helps that situation a little.”
This new ‘cross’ entry is a fascinating project, as it’s not even something Capcom sought out. At EVO 2012, SF X Mega Man developer Seow Zong Hui approached Svensson, brandishing a laptop with a couple demo levels operational. Sensing an opportunity to do something special, Svensson quickly assembled a few key Mega Man fans from the Capcom office, including senior community manager Brett Elston, as a sanity check, to make sure what Zong Hui had developed was as good as it seemed. It was, and Capcom brought in some of its resources to assist in the game’s development.
“We funded development of the project, provided creative input and direction, handled QA, marketing (including the great trailer created by Capcom-Unity’s own Chris Antista), sorted out legal clearances and naturally, handled distribution via Capcom-Unity.com,” Svensson said. “I don’t want to downplay in any way, Zong Hui’s contribution. He was the creative visionary behind the game’s concept and execution. He was amazingly responsive all through the development process to our feedback, often turning builds into us every couple of days for more feedback. The iterative process was among the best I’ve seen.”
The selection of the PC as the distribution platform was fairly simple considering Zong Hui was not a licensed console developer. The implications and costs associated with attempting to arrange that would be incredibly steep, and Capcom was eager to keep this project free for fans. Svensson admits that it might be possible to release the game on other open platforms, but focusing on just one was necessary to make the December 17 launch.
Of course, a single game, even one as cool (and free) as Street Fighter X Mega Man, isn’t exactly a revival of a franchise. That would mean bigger, grander plans. Ones that exceed a fan-driven anniversary celebration. For Capcom, what Zong Hui’s team is working to complete is just the beginning. But this franchise has a past that’s anything from simple, with many spin-offs, variations and genres. Picking up where Mega Man left off isn’t exactly easy. It almost begs the question if a reboot is the better way to go – or if a fresh approach is needed. Svensson admitted that all of these topics have been batted around at Capcom too.
“You’ve hit upon the very nature of the discussions that we’ve been having for so long now,”Svensson said. “I think there are core aspects of the franchise that can transcend genres, ages and platforms. While I’m far from the only person with an opinion internally, I’m firmly in the camp of wanting ‘jump and shoot’ as a core tenet of any project we do. Beyond that, I think the ground is still fertile with room for creative expression.”
It’s here that Elston chimed in. “If you’re worried about an overly gritty “M” rated, third person cover-based shooter, don’t be,” he said, a self-described Mega Man fan, who has also been watching over much of Capcom’s preparations to celebrate the character’s 25th anniversary in the coming months.
Even if Capcom is still trying to assess how to approach the future, it apparently has no shortage of plans for 2013. When pressed about what’s coming, and specifically asked about bringing the Mega Man games to the Nintendo 3DS’s eShop (as they are in Japan), Elston wouldn’t get into details – but he did provide a timetable for when that information would be shared – December 17, the same day Street Fighter X Mega Man will be available for download. And that won’t be everything. More announcements will even be made after that date.
Whatever darkness clouded over the Mega Man franchise, it seems as though it has lifted – and more importantly from Capcom itself. Now we wait to see what the publisher has been planning for the better part of a year, and to see how a gaming icon is reinvented or revived. And in the meantime, we’ve got some Street Fighter warriors to shoot with the Mega Buster.
Rich is an Executive Editor of IGN.com and the leader of IGN’s Nintendo team. He also watches over all things WWE, Resident Evil, Assassin’s Creed and much more. Follow him on Twitter, if you dare!