Modern blockbuster games still take inspiration from the classics.
ReCore is one of Microsoft’s biggest exclusives for the rest of year, coming out for Xbox One and PC on September 13. Exclusives like ReCore are incredibly important, especially for the Xbox One, which has to compete with the better-selling PlayStation 4 console.
While most shooters are violent and realistic, ReCore is more lighthearted and has some retro gameplay mechanics. We already talked to its producer, Keiji Inafune, who worked on the Mega Man franchise and recently released a new 2D game also starring a fighting robot, Mighty No. 9. Mega Man combined aspects from action games and platformers to create one of the most fun series for the Nintendo Entertainment system.
GamesBeat interviewed Mark Pacini, ReCore’s director, last month. Pacini was also the director for the acclaimed Metroid Prime trilogy. Those games were famous for setting a new standard for atmosphere and exploration in 3D gaming. We chatted about ReCore’s inspiration from both Metroid and Mega Man, the challenges of finding a fair difficulty for a modern game, and more.
GamesBeat: I remember back when I was playing the Metroid Prime games. I wished that someone would take this and make a Mega Man game out of it. That’s not exactly what ReCore is, but it has a Mega Man vibe, especially with Inafune’s presence.
Mark Pacini: What we took when we were discussing the game — we were taking aspects of the games we liked, what we’ve done in the past, what we’d like to make, what we could do that grows out of that. A lot of what [the game’s hero] Jewel does, in her movement her responsiveness, is very much indicative of that, of a Mega Man game. She jumps, double jumps, dashes, does all that in combat. She has the charge shot. She can change colors and use companions. Item acquisition, companion acquisition. That’s all part of the central themes of ReCore.
GamesBeat: Did you look more at 2D games or 3D games for inspiration?
Pacini: It’s in between. In the trailer you saw [from E3], there are some old-school features. You saw the big caterpillar thing. We wanted to marry some old-school sensibilities with a new style, new dimensions. There’s a lot of bullet hell enemies in the demo here. We’re trying to get a little bit of nostalgia in there, but present something new as well.
GamesBeat: It has a lock-on system, right?
Pacini: Yeah. You don’t have to use it, but the lock-on does help a lot, because Jewel’s movement is very dynamic.
GamesBeat: I remember that was a controversial thing for Metroid Prime before people played it. Do you see it as a sort of necessary evil, or is it something that’s a benefit to the gameplay?
Pacini: Early on, when we were first prototyping the game, we were discovering that having — that ReCore wasn’t a game about aiming. It was a game about timing and movement and using your companions. Adding a layer of aiming while you’re trying to do all of those things didn’t really complement our goals. Including a lock-on system early on allowed us to free up the player’s thoughts so they could concentrate on timing and movement. That’s where we put the challenges, rather than pinpoint aiming at particular targets.
GamesBeat: You talked about having an old-school feel, which people often identify with retro graphics, that pixelated look. The cool thing about this game is that you get that feel, but it still looks like a modern blockbuster. That seems like it would be one of the more challenging parts of development. This game has that desert setting, but it’s still colorful and vibrant.
Pacini: We wanted it to be playful. Our goal was to reach a wider audience. We want the game to reach a larger audience, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that it has to be easy, to be not challenging. Over the course of the game there will be a lot of opportunities for the game to be more difficult, more exploratory, more combative. But what we’re trying to permeate through all of that — it’s all the things I liked playing games when I was young, all the things Inafune liked to create, worked into this game as an underlayer. When we were talking about nostalgia or old-school stuff, that has nothing to do with the art style. It has to do with sensibilities and how we were making decisions for the game.
GamesBeat: Is that a big challenge making a game like this, settling on a difficulty level? You have a larger range of people playing games now, and they all want different things. Is the only solution just having multiple difficulty options, or is there a more elegant way to handle it?
Pacini: That’s a difficult thing to answer. There’s a trend right now toward games being more difficult. It’s something that scratches a certain itch in the gaming public, which is great.
GamesBeat: The Dark Souls trend.
Pacini: Right. I love those games too. That’s not what ReCore is, though. The balance of challenge and pacing that we’re trying to achieve is very difficult to find. We’re not disclosing whether we’re having difficulty options yet. But we want everyone to be able to enjoy the game. That’s important to us. That includes people who don’t enjoy games as their main hobby and people who are huge gamers. We’re trying to include everyone in our decision-making.
GamesBeat: With these robot companions, what comes first? Do you think of the ability — we want something that climbs walls — or is it the design of the robot?
Pacini: It’s a bit of both. Inafune’s group was adamant at the beginning that the robot companions should be more animal-themed. We went with that. All the enemy types in the game, you can tell, and the companions, they very much mimic real-world, relatable creatures. While we expand on that, the abilities come from the inherent nature — like, the spider can climb walls. Duncan can smash things. Mack can find things, because he’s a dog.
A lot of that was just a back and forth on what things made sense for the game. And not only that. All the creatures you fight are mimicking your companions. You’re using them to your advantage, but also fighting against them. We went through a lot of iterations, pages and pages of concepts, on different animal types and what they can do. This is where we settled on.
GamesBeat: Not to hit the Mega Man theme too hard, but it’s hard to see a robot dog and not think of Rush.
Pacini: Yeah, yeah. When Inafune first came to the table with the high-level idea, it was a protagonist that had small robotic companions. He was hearkening back to that. A lot of these ideas were, hey, I would have loved to have done this in Mega Man Legends, things like that. While this has no relation to that, you can’t help but — Inafune admits he has a love for robotic life forms like that. One of the first ideas that came out, one of the first robotic companions, was a dog. We latched on to that. Mac has totally changed and iterated from that standpoint, but the idea and the appeal of it has stayed.
GamesBeat: How big of a game will ReCore be?
Pacini: I’m horrible at gameplay hours. With the first Metroid I said it was going to be eight hours and it ended up being something like 24. I think we’ve put a lot of value into this game, though. It’s the proper length of time for the adventure, the story we’re trying to tell. Take that with a grain of salt, knowing I’m horrible at estimate. It’s eight hours, and take that with a warning.
GamesBeat: The Metroid Prime games are still revered so much. People still play them. Does that longevity surprise you at all?
Pacini: For sure. I was thankful to be part of the team that made those games. When we were making those, that was never one of our goals. We were just trying to make something cool. It was an unexpectedly great thing, that people started to do that. It’s awesome that people are still playing those games, but it’s a big surprise to us.