TV Tokyo’s digital content website Tere-Tou Plus has published a two-part interview the developers of the Mega Man Battle Network series (known as Rockman EXE in Japan) where they discuss the conception and possible future of the series.
In addition to series writer Eguchi Masakazu, who was featured in the first part of the interview, the second part includes designers Ishihara Yuuji and Hashinaga Tomoyuki, programmers Matsuda Kouetsu and Kataoka Michinori, and Mega Man series producer Tsuchiya Kazuhiro.
The second part of the interview begins with them discussing the “Eguchi Meijin” (known as Mr. Famous outside of Japan) character who appears in the games, who is based on Eguchi, and was a persona Eguchi adopted to promote the game in real life. The interviewer asks what led to the creation of the character, and Eguchi says that in 2001, when the first game was released, they needed someone to promote the game on stage midway through Golden Week. Everyone above him refused, but as he was still new to the company, he was unable to, and ended up being the one to do it.
Initially the persona was not called “Eguchi Meijin” (“meijin” being a title given to masters of crafts or games) but “Professor Eguchi”, but Eguchi says that simply being knowledgeable is not something that gets children excited, and so they came up with the background story that he won 69 matches in a row, and gave him the “meijin” title. Though this record is fictional, however, Eguchi says that he definitely has an actual record of more than 69 wins in a row, constantly winning at events which had more than 30 participants.
Though Eguchi kept winning at events for the first two games, however, players started to get far stronger from 3 and on. Eguchi says that he carried his Gameboy Advance everywhere up to 2 and would agree to fight anyone who challenged him, but as he started to lose more the other staff told him to stop carrying it around as losing would not be appropriate for Eguchi Meijin’s image.
The interviewer also asks about Eguchi Meijin’s catchphrase, in which when addressed as “Meijin-san” he would say not to add the honourific (in English versions, this is rendered as Mr. Famous asking to be addressed as simpy “Famous”). Eguchi says that this first showed up in the anime adaptation of the game, and he reverse imported it into the character.
The designs in the game are the next topic. The interview comments on how the operators and their Net Navis come in sets, and Ishihara points out that in many cases the two were designed separately. Though this was not as common in the first two games, from 3 and on where there are more characters, the operators and navis were almost always handled by different people. The orders for designs always came after the story was decided on to a certain degree, however, and the two characters would usually share similar motifs or colours. There were outliers, however, like Maha Jarama (Yahoot) and Magicman, who were a stereotypical Indian person and a stereotypical European wizard, and Ishihara laughs saying that he himself wonders why they turned out like that.
Ishihara says that when designing the navis, the first thing they had to think about was how to come up with something neither man nor machine. While the setting would allow them to come up with things that could not possibly exist in the real world, they felt that going too far would result in players being left behind, and so constantly tried to balance originality with familiarity.
Hashinaga adds that since the target audience was elementary schoolers, they also aimed to have designs that children could draw easily, and Ishihara elaborates on this, saying that they tried to reduce the number of lines on the designs, which made them easier for both children and the animators working on the anime adaptation to draw. Human characters were designed with regular modern fashion in mind, but as they would only be seen as small sprites and face portraits in-game, they were designed to have unique features to make them more identifiable.
When asked, Ishihara says that his favourite character is Blues (Protoman). One of the earlier designs, Blues was the first where Ishihara managed to get the hang of the series’ direction.
The interviewer next brings up the program NPCs in the games, and asks where the idea for them came from. Eguchi says that with Rockman himself as a sentient program, they came up with the idea that all electronic appliances should have characters, and those are programs, which Eguchi says are fairy-like. They extrapolated from there, doing things like having separate programs for different functions like the gas pedal and brakes for a car, and this would result in them being able to naturally come up with story ideas: For example, the program in charge of the brakes might fall sick causing a car to go out of control, and the player might have to fix it.
Eguchi is asked what left an impression on him when writing the games, and he says that coming up with story sequences for the fire-themed villain Hino Kenichi (Mr. Match) gave him trouble, as he appears multiple times throughout the series and Eguchi felt that he had to do something more impressive each time. Additionally, his causing fires was also troublesome for development because they had to make graphics depicting the aftermaths of the fires, which resulted in them coming up with things like Flameman in EXE 3 who did not start a fire and instead simply caused the temperature to rise.
The interviewer next asks what sort of trouble they ran into in development, and Matsuda and Kataoka say that the memory limits were a constant problem, with them constantly trying to cut down on data by the byte. Hashinaga says they did things like reduce the number of kanji or variations of NPC sprites in the game, and that the increase in number of text characters displayed in the English version resulted in them running out of memory and having to cut the jack-in movie. Ishihara adds that cutting even one frame of the movie freed up a lot of space, which resulted in more and more of it getting cut as the series went on, and it ultimately being animated via the program in 6.
Kataoka says that as they had one year to work on each game, including bug checking and fixes, the development schedule was constantly tight. Matsuda adds, and Kataoka agrees, that development on 4.5 was particularly hard: They started on 4.5 immediately after 4 was completed, but development on 5, the English version, and a collaboration game with another franchise began at the same period, which meant they had to work on four games at the same time. Eguchi notes that despite the increase in work, there was no increase in the number of staff they had, and so they had to just persevere through it.
The interviewer notes how 2, which was released just 11 months after 1, had a large number of fixes to problems with the first game, and asks how they managed to pull this off in such a short time where they could not have gotten a large amount of feedback. Matsuda replies that there were many things that they themselves wanted to change, but could not due to the schedule and EXE 1 being a GBA launch title. When development on 2 started, they immediately fixed such problems, like the Escape chip: In 1, players could not escape from battles except by incorporating an Escape chip into their deck, drawing it in battle, and using it.
Next, Eguchi recalls how 2’s “prism combo”, which they first learned of at a tournament, surprised them. Using a Prism on the enemy’s field, and then throwing a Forest Bomb (TreeBom) at it resulted in ridiculous amounts of damage dealt to the enemy. Matsuda says that this was technically not a bug: During development they actually designed the game so that things like the prism combo would not happen, by having it so that when a player used battle chips which set objects on the field, previous objects would be destroyed. When making adjustments, however, the Prism and Forest Bomb somehow ended up being set at the same priority level, allowing them to exist at the same time. Tsuchiya says that though they have a “tuning team” which playtests games and adjusts balance, this cannot be compared to how once a game goes on sale tens of thousands of people might play it in one night, and so unexpected issues do still occur.
Next, the interviewer brings up how many fans are waiting for ports of the Rockman EXE arcade (Rockman EXE Battle Chip Stadium) and mobile phone (Phantom of the Network) games. Hashinaga expresses surprise, having not known that there was a mobile game. Eguchi says that he will take note that fans want a port, and Ishihara says that he never played it aside from tests, and would like a port himself. Ishihara also recalls that the director of Phantom of Network was very pleased with his design for the character Jammingman.
As for Battle Chip Stadium, Kataoka says that there would probably be many technical issues with porting an arcade game, and even if they could manage to overcome these, there is also the hurdle of it requiring card readers and physical cartridges.
Hashinaga chips in saying that as a designer, he adjusted the colours to match the GBA’s screen’s brightness, and that he would prefer people to play the games on the original hardware rather than ports.
Finally, the interviewer asks what a new game in the series would be like if they made one now. Eguchi says that he thinks that they managed to make the games the way they were because the internet was not fully mature at the time: The games were made with them putting in what they wanted the future to be like, or what they expected the future to be like, and in most cases these have either come to pass or been surpassed by reality. He says that it has become harder to fit what people think of the future into a single game, due to how people no longer have similar ideas of the future: In the past, people on the internet would gather in one place, on message boards, but now people use social media more. He thinks that the age has shifted from one of societies to one of individual people, who see different futures, and that it would be difficult to portray that in a game’s setting.
Tsuchiya says that each of the Rockman series has its own passionate fanbase that wants sequels, and that they do not have any rules about not making sequels. However, they are aware that Rockman EXE was one of the top contents of its time, and that an ill-conceived idea would not be able to live up to expectations. If they were to make a sequel, everything would have to be absolutely perfect: They would need meticulous ideas and preparations in addition to trends and market chances on their side.
Eguchi says that though much of it was coincidental, the fact is that the series matched so much of what was to come that people say it predicted the future, and it would not be easy to outdo that. He says that if they are sure that the requirements are met for them to be able both meet expectations and surpass imaginations, there might very well be a chance.