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.
The first part of the interview is with Eguchi Masakazu, writer for the Battle Network series and model for the Eguchi Meijin character (known as “Mr Famous” outside of Japan) who appears in the games.
The interview begins with Eguchi being asked about how the series was conceived. He says that he was actually working on a project for a horror game for the Gameboy Advance at the time, which would attach a sensor to the handheld to measure how scared players were. One day, a different project was suddenly proposed, for a game which would combine Capcom’s strengths at action games with the collection elements of card games, which were popular at the time, and thus the project he was working on turned into an “action + card game”.
Eguchi says that children were playing action games less and less at the time, and the Battle Network series aimed at breaking the pattern of how children who were better at action games would always win, by implementing card game elements and making it so that players who collected strong chips would be able to overwhelm their opponents. The series’ “Program Advance” system, in which specific combinations of battle chips would allow the player to use unique, more powerful moves, was also implemented with this in mind.
Development on the games involved a lot of trial and error, however, and Eguchi mentions how they initially started with a “tug of war” system: While the final game simply has the side with their HP reduced to zero losing, with the “tug of war” system the player would fight over a shared gauge with their opponent, which would go up when the player dealt damage and go down when they took it, with the winner being the side dominating more of the gauge when the match timer ran out. Eguchi says that they decided not to go with this system due to it not being good for the flow of the game, and being overly complex.
Eguchi was not in charge of the battle system, and says that the person who was was under a huge amount of pressure to come up with something innovative due to the “action + card game” concept being unprecedented at the time, and later heard from them that they got through due to a superior telling them to do away with the complex stuff and just go with hit points.
The interview next moves on to discuss the setting of the series. Eguchi says that while the original Mega Man series focused on robots, portraying a machine-based world, when coming up with Battle Network they thought about how to come up with a more modern Mega Man, and the answer to that was the internet.
Another core element to the series was the PET personal terminals. While it has become natural for children to have smartphones now, cellular phones at the time were mostly used by adults, and Eguchi says that they wanted to have children wanting to play at being adults as an axis for the world. Each character having their own PET, which was based on cellular phones, was a result of that.
Eguchi further elaborates on the setting, saying that that they sought to make a world that was neither real nor fantasy. They also designed gadgets to look sleek, and incorporated terminology that might be difficult into the story in ways that players would understand them. The games using computer terminology like “bugs”, “viruses”, “networks” and “EXE” had the intention of making the game look cooler to children by having difficult-sounding terminology used by adults.
The interviewer points out that the world of Battle Network managed to predict the future in many cases: People now have smartphones, terminals with AIs in them, and Battle Network’s household appliances controlled via networks are similar to the smart homes of today. The interviewer asks how they managed this, and Eguchi that they did not consult experts but simply came up with what they thought would be cool, and what they felt they wanted the future to be like.
Fridges and microwaves did not have internet connectivity at the time, and they simply thought about what could be possible if they were. Eguchi says that the fundamental desire for things to get even better is what leads to the advancement of technology, and he says that real life catching up simply means that mankind has taken more steps closer to the world they dreamt of.
How the Battle Network series also depicted risks associated with the internet is also discussed. Eguchi says that the Undernet was modelled after the dark web, and underground websites which were more prevalent back then, and that it was included because when a child learns about a suspicious website that their big brother knows about and is told to stay away, they would certainly want to take a look. He says that with social media and people having secondary secret accounts now, if Battle Network were to be made in the present day, they would probably have depicted the network world differently.
The Battle Network games are available on the WiiU’s virtual console
The interviewer says that Battle Network 2’s main antagonist Obihiro Shun, a child who was tricked by malicious adults into carrying out cyber crimes, left a strong impression. Eguchi says that communicating with people through the internet was still new at the time, and the story was written thinking of how things could turn out.
Battle Network was not created just as a warning about the risks of the internet, however, and Eguchi says that just as the first game’s Japanese poster’s slogan “we are all connected” said, the main theme of the series was bonds between people: Even if connections are made through the internet, these connections are still between living, breathing people. This is why the Net Navis in the games are depicted not as tools like Apple’s Siri, but as friends or partners. In the case of protagonist Netto (Lan in the English version), his navi Rockman (Mega Man) is based on the personality of his twin brother Saito (Hub), making them family.
Additionally, this allowed them to depict heavier themes involving life and death which they otherwise could not with human characters, with the deletion of navis. Eguchi says that the manga adaptation did a particularly impressive job of putting this to good use: There is a part in its story where Gutsman, who is Dekao (Dex)’s navi, is deleted. Though Gutsman returns via a backup, Dekao remains sad, saying that this Gutsman is a different one from the one that was deleted.
Next, the interviewer points out how Battle Network 4’s story has the final boss, Duo, declare that he will destroy mankind if he deems it to be evil, and draws parallels to AI eschatology. Eguchi says that the main theme of 4 was good and evil, with the Dark Chips, “illegal” battle chips that were extremely powerful but came with the risk of reducing the player’s maximum HP, were part of that.
Whether or not to use the Dark Chips was entirely up to the player, and they were supposed to have children think about good and evil. The message that he really wanted to convey here is that the internet changes depending on how one uses it, and that everyone has a dark side to them, and what matters is how one deals with it. The ending says that Duo is ultimately just a judge, and that the players are the ones really making the decisions, and Eguchi says that it was written with the hope that they make good ones.
Eguchi says that he feels that the internet is still in its early days: While the technology has advanced greatly, he thinks that mankind has not yet managed to catch up with it, citing cases of people using anonymity to attack people, sometimes maliciously and sometimes in groups thinking themselves to be righteous. He says that internet society will only truly move on to a new era once “bonds between people” take root.
Part 2 of this article is available here
This article was originally published on 22 January 2020