LOS ANGELES — Keiji Inafune is best known as a game designer who created hit Japanese games such as Mega Man, Onimusha, and Dead Rising. At the Electronic Entertainment Expo this week, he showed off his newest titles, Mighty No. 9, an indie that fans backed on Kickstarter.
He also surprised everyone during the Microsoft press briefing by coming out to talk about ReCore, an exclusive coming next year for Microsoft’s Xbox One. In this game, Inafune’s Comcept USA and Aramture are collaborating to create a new world and intellectual property.
The demo video showed a female lead character, Jewel, on a desert landscape with a robot dog. Enemies attack, and the dog sacrifices itself to save Jewel. She saves the “core” of the dog, and the question becomes whether she can restore that faithful dog to another machine.
I had a translated conversation with Inafune as well as Mark Pacini, development director at Armature, which is building the game with Inafune. It’s expected to come out in 2016.
Here’s an edited transcript of our interview.
GamesBeat: Can you tell us what the game is about? How did this get started?
Keiji Inafune: Prior to forming Comcept, back in my Capcom days, we worked on a project with Armature. Even at that time, I knew there was something special about this relationship. We were very much in sync in terms of the ideas being there, being able to collaborate and exchange ideas. We weren’t able to fully realize that project, but since forming Comcept, we’ve been talking to Armature about what we can do next and how we can work out this partnership.
We came to Armature with the initial idea of what is today ReCore. At the same time, Armature was looking to work on some projects with Microsoft. We got together and presented the idea to Microsoft. There was a great reaction from the Microsoft team.
Typically we hear about the challenges that naturally come with eastern and western developers partnering. But in that sense we feel like we’ve already built a great trust and foundation from when we were working with them before Recore. It’s been a true collaborative process in the best possible way. We know each other’s strengths and weaknesses. We know where to pick and choose which idea should work in this project. It’s a true collaboration between parties on this project.
GamesBeat: What’s the backstory for the game itself?
Inafune: At a very high level, the image or illustration of the story background—this main character, Jewel, as far as she’s concerned she finds out that she may be one of the last remaining survivors in this world. At the same time, it’s ruled by these robots. She doesn’t know why or how these things happened, but she quickly figures out that this dog, this robotic companion, is someone she can partner with.
Throughout the progression of the game, a lot of the mysteries of the world—If I’m the last remaining human survivor, how is this world going to continue to live on? What’s my purpose here? All that will be unraveled as you progress through the game.
GamesBeat: It’s interesting to see a woman as the main character. That seems like a big trend at E3 this year.
Mark Pacini: Jewel just fit the story we were trying to tell. There wasn’t anything more intentional than that. She fit in the world that we were trying to create and the story we wanted to tell, that struggle for humanity. It made sense for us very early in development to have a woman as the protagonist.
GamesBeat: Was there any particular inspiration that led you to pull this world together, or the character?
Inafune: Mark and I both get asked about inspirations. What I think, for a lot of us, is that it’s not a specific movie or show or actor or actress or anything like that. We’ve all individually experienced, in many different ways, different types of entertainment, whether it’s TV, games, anime, comics. I have my own way of processing those things. They’ve left memorable impressions in my mind. Mark probably has his own set.
With every new project that I challenge myself to take on, it’s the culmination of all these great memories and inspirations. There’s something that I can squeeze out of all that, all my experience, and put that into the new project. For example, this is clearly not a Japanese anime, but there’s a sensibility or core element of anime that I know is in there, because I’m putting it in there. On the other hand, there are also a lot of influences and experiences, lasting scenes and memories, that I’ve gotten from big Hollywood feature films. Part of that is also in there. And that just comes from me. Mark has his own set of things that goes in.
In short, I wouldn’t call out a specific title or character. It’s layer after layer, and what comes out of all that is what’s represented here.
Pacini: This isn’t the best answer, but when you’re asked by an executive to sum up your game, you usually compare it to other games, to give them a frame of reference. There are so many aspects to Recore that are pulled from a lot of different things I like that might seem like complete non sequiturs if you compare at the game itself.
For example, I’m a big fan of Monster Hunter. There’s a little bit of Monster Hunter in there somewhere. Or Pokémon, or Animal Crossing, or Zelda, or Metroid. All through your gaming experience, you gravitate toward things you like, and then you try to make them new and interesting. The thing for me is, creating a new IP is very difficult. It’s very easy to lean on certain things that already work, that are current or relatable to people. That’s a hard question to answer. In trying to come up with something new, you’re going to be influenced by lots of different things.
GamesBeat: This looks like a game that could be a very global title. It doesn’t seem to emphasize any one particular culture, East or West.
Pacini: When we were talking to Microsoft, that’s one of the things that was very appealing to them about the idea of ReCore. It has the potential to reach a broader audience. It’s not so genre-specific or age-specific. I don’t want to say that was completely intentional on our part. It’s just part of the sensibilities that we came in with. This is what spit out the other end.
The joint appreciation and excitement about games that have exploration in them, games with platforming and action and companions that aren’t necessarily traditional companions—all those things together have a promise and potential to maybe reach a broader audience.
GamesBeat: Is there a particular story you want to tell, or an emotion you want to inspire in the player?
Inafune: Obviously, in debuting a brand-new IP, we want to set the stage so that people have an easy time understanding what it’s about. From a narrative standpoint, from a gameplay potential standpoint, and from a character design standpoint, I think all of that’s in there, but there is one moment in the trailer when our robotic dog companion character sacrifices his life. His core, his soul, is left remaining, and Jewel, the main character, goes and picks it up and attaches it to a different robot, a humanoid robot.
That moment, I think—a lot of people had some sort of reaction to it, whether it’s because you have your own dog in real life, or whether we all feel that a dog is man’s best friend. There was some sort of pull to that moment that hopefully came out of this trailer. Without saying too much about what kind of emotion that was, we want to bring out that emotional factor. That was an aim in creating this trailer.
The game, hopefully, will not just have one of those moments. But as you progress further in the game, there is going to be that sense of a deep emotional layer throughout. If we can get that across and elevate the player’s expectation—I want them to feel that this isn’t just a 3D action game. There’s something deep, something unique about this. That’s what we wanted to deliver.
GamesBeat: The Internet has the same question for you that they have with Fallout 4. Is the dog a playable character?
Inafune: I can’t say yes or no at the moment. I think it’s great that we can hear and see the opinions and ideas and expectations of users when they see this. What do they think? Do they think they can also control the companion character? Is it going to be just the player commanding them? I’m all for hearing out all these ideas. The more we hear, maybe we can also acknowledge that this is something we can explore further. Maybe we need to dive in deeper and think about how different mechanics to work.
Going along that path, though, it has to be more than just a cool idea. It has to have a sense of purpose. The execution needs to be correct. It needs to be done in the right way. With that scenario, we’re still exploring. But I’m all for hearing everyone’s reaction and what they’re expecting after viewing this trailer.
GamesBeat: This is a very big, very ambitious game. Do you prefer working on this kind of project, or do you enjoy the smaller, more indie productions?
Inafune: If go way back in time to year one, and look forward all the way to now, initially I started out with a team of about five people. By the time I left Capcom we were talking about teams of 100 people. I can say with confidence that I’m willing to take on any challenge, whether it’s a small, tight-knit, indie team to something like this. ReCore is not an indie-style game. I need every partner’s help. I need every staffer at Armature. This can’t be done, we cannot carry out our vision, without investing all those resources and all that budget.
It’s just a matter of what’s the best fit, the best structure for any project. This happens to be a very ambitious, bigger challenge. I’ve committed to it. That’s not to say that we don’t have smaller teams within our studio that work on indie titles. But it’s a natural decision that’s made once the project concept is fleshed out, whether something can go on its own as an indie title or whether we’re all in to build something bigger.