#10: ROBOT RACISM
When the PSP released Mega Man Powered Up in 2006 it created an original game based around the original 6 Robot Master "boss" characters from Mega Man but also included 2 brand new robot masters to round the field out to 8. Those new creations were of course Time Man and Oil Man. During development however, it took only 1 look at Oil Man from an American eye to cry foul.
Oil Man has a drop of oil for a head, has 2 large eyes, and has a humanoid body to make him mobile. To fit with the theme of oil, the development team decided to make Oil Man black in color. To allow him to speak the team gave him 2 very large, exaggerated pink lips, not that dissimilar from Mr. Popo in Dragon Ball or Jynx in Pokemon. To a Japanese eye this may look harmless enough, but to the culture of America whose history is copious in racism and friction along racial lines, Oil Man looked much like the caricature-ish, cartoon-ish depiction of African-Americans historically used in racist expressions such as blackface theater/film. While the Japanese version of Mega Man Powered Up retained the original color scheme of Oil Man, Capcom North America chose to alter his depiction by changing his black skin to dark blue, and his lips to yellow instead of pink.
The box art for the North American version of the first Mega Man is widely regarded as being one of the worst box arts in gaming history as it totally disregards the most fundamental foundations of the game. While the game features a heroic boy robot named Rock dressed in blue armor with a cannon for an arm, the box art seems to feature an out-of-shape middle-aged man dressed in a blue and yellow laser tag uniform holding a squirt gun, standing in a holographic land and surrounded by gum drops. Yet as is the case with most embarrassing episodes in life, there is a story behind this.
The Japanese box art for Mega Man features Mega Man surrounded by the game's 6 Robot Masters with an armed castle in the background, and all drawn in the style of anime. When the game was sent to North America to be distributed to the public, the staff at Capcom's North American branch felt that this presented box art represented a problem. Those who objected felt that the anime drawings on the box were too juvenile and "cute", and would therefore be off-putting to American consumers who, it was felt, would respond better to something more rugged and masculine. Why they thought this abomination would be more appealing is something I'll never understand.
Nevertheless the decision was fashioned to change the box art before distribution. The challenge however, was that this new art had to be generated so hastily that the hired artist could not play the game, nor could he even see footage of the game beforehand. The only research offered to the artist was a brief description of the game and its contents, and a well-known debacle scarred Mega Man boxes around the continent shortly thereafter.
This box art version of Mega Man is a long-standing joke to the extent that it has almost become its own entity. It has appeared in numerous Mega Man comics and was even a featured character in the PS3's Street Fighter X Tekken. Could I have drawn a better picture? Well, I certainly couldn't do any worse...
#8: FAN LOVE
Believe it or not, there was once a time when Capcom cared what its fans had to say about its games, and even wanted input from those fans in the development process. Oh how times have changed! But back when Capcom was receptive it asked for help designing its Robot Masters, and boy did the gaming public respond!
All of the Robot Masters in the first Mega Man game were created by developer Keiji Inafune, but from Mega Man 2 through Mega Man 8 Capcom held contests through fan submissions for the design of its Robot Masters. In fact every Robot Master in Mega Man 2 through Mega Man 7 and 6 of the 8 Robot Masters from Mega Man 8 came through these contests, and are appropriately credited to the contest winners in each game's closing credits. These contests appealed to fans for a drawing of their character idea and a brief description of how he would operate, then Capcom would tweak the design to make it feasible for its game, and the fan design would be included!
All such fan submission contests were only available to Japanese persons with the exception of Mega Man 6 whose contest information was published in Nintendo Power, and therefore open to the world. For this instalment 2 designs were chosen from fans outside of Japan: Canada's Daniel Vallie's Knight Man and the USA's Michael Leader's Wind Man were selected, and are still known as the only Robot Masters created from the international community. In honor of this accomplishment, both Knight Man and Wind Man are featured on the box art of the game!
Without question the best Robot Master contest to win was for Mega Man 4 as the 8 winners received a special gold colored cartridge of the game as a grand prize. It is unknown how many of these gold copies still exist, but the ones that do cost nearly $6,000 USD to add to one's collection.
By the time Capcom stopped holding these contests, over 700,000 Robot Master ideas had crossed the desk of Capcom through the mail. I'd settle for even just 1 person caring enough to write to me *tear*.
I think it is safe to say that we have all thrown a rage-fit or two after numerous failed encounters with the Yellow Devil. This fiendish creature stands guard in Dr. Wily's castle and is made of a goo-like substance that can dismantle into pieces, project itself at Mega Man across the screen, and then re-assemble on the other side. Its only weakness is its red eye which Mega Man has a limited opportunity to attack before the Devil's assault begins anew. Jumping and avoiding these fast-paced projectiles is a herculean task for even the best gamers, and has led to countless deaths. The Yellow Devil is definitely worthy of the name...but it wasn't always so.
When the character first appeared unnamed in Mega Man and Mega Man 3 it was up to gamers and video game magazines to introduce a descriptive name. While Japanese magazines adopted the term "Yellow Devil" Nintendo in North America had a very strict policy against using any religious references in its video games. Due to the fact that the Christian faith refers to the personification of evil as "the Devil", the term "Yellow Devil" was disallowed to appear in Nintendo Power Guide. Instead, North American gamers colloquially referred to this enemy as "the Rock Monster" since that is how it was described in literature, and due to this censorship, many older gamers still use this terminology today.
Homogeneity in this creature's name did not exist until 1994 when the Sega Genesis released an updated compilation version of Mega Man 1-3 with its publication of Mega Man: The Wily Wars. As Sega had no such censorship over religious references, it deliberately attributed the name "Yellow Devil" in its version. With this seemingly harmless change, people felt more emboldened to use the term, and ever since the name "Yellow Devil" has been used worldwide.
I always used other names for this enemy, but all of them were very vulgar and profane!
#6: GOODBYE, VIETNAM
Regional censorship in video games is a common enough experience, and with the proper understanding of history it can be appreciated why a single offensive aspect could be construed as abhorrent. This list discusses episodes of such censorship for North American releases, but international censorship occurs just as frequently. This ensued in 1992 when the South Asian country of Vietnam found one feature of the game to be so insulting that it explicitly banned the game from its borders. What vile feature could illicit such a response? Napalm Man!
Without getting into too much historical detail, it is common knowledge that America deployed its military to Vietnam during the Cold War era in an attempt to stop the spread of communism throughout the region. During that time the United States employed a chemical weapon called Napalm as one of its primary weapons. Napalm is a highly flammable, extremely sticky substance that adheres to its target, and combusts into flame that burns 12 times hotter than boiling water. Officially its purpose during the war was to burn jungle and expose enemy combatants, but it was also used against the population in Vietnam both directly and indirectly leaving many with burned homes, destroyed communities, and horrible burns and scars that remain with them to this day. The least fortunate recipients of course were killed, and in large numbers at that.
Having been on the receiving end of such a catastrophic and destructive weapon, it is not surprising that when it was revealed that Mega Man 5 possessed a Robot Master called "Napalm Man", the Vietnamese government was more than a little sensitive. When the country's protests for alteration to the game went unanswered the ruling government saw no choice but the censor the game by abolishing it from distribution.
Napalm Man's stage likewise holds several similarities to the war in Vietnam that could similarly be interpreted as offensive. Windblown palm trees are similar to those found in the southern region of Vietnam, Mega Man must navigate numerous compact tunnels like those used by militia fighters known colloquially as "Viet Cong", and there are a plethora of traps a player must navigate resembling punji sticks and others adopted by the Viet Cong during the war. This depiction of perhaps the country's most turbulent time is not something the Vietnamese government wished for its populace to re-live, and so the game was and still is forbidden.
#5: UGH...YOU AGAIN?
While every game needs a good antagonist some games benefit from the use of a rival character. A character who appears periodically throughout the game, someone who challenges the protagonist to a stalemate before departing, and someone whose motivations are dubious and shrouded in mystery. The Mega Man series indeed has such a rival character, right? Were you thinking of Proto Man? Perhaps even Bass? Both are true, but what if I were to tell you that it could have been Quick Man?
Quick Man is a Robot Master that is lightning fast, difficult to defeat, and has a notoriously arduous stage in Mega Man 2, but he was originally conceived as being Mega Man's rival. When Mega Man 2 was still in its infancy developer Keiji Inafune advocated for a rival character; one that would interrupt Mega Man's progress at various points in the game for a fight. Initially Inafune's suggestion was that this rival character be Quick Man. It is unknown as to why Inafune ultimately discarded the idea for a rival and instead made Quick Man a normal Robot Master--but his love for the character is certainly evident. The gold boomerang affixed to Quick Man's helmet shines when you fight him, and that same gold boomerang penetrates the boundaries of his portrait on the stage select screen making him the only character in the Mega Man series to do so. When asked about these displays of favoritism in an interview, Inafune had this to say:
"All of those things were intentional. We were trying to give him a special role in the game as Mega Man's main rival. I guess you could compare him to Bass and Proto Man in the more recent games. We definitely gave him some preferential treatment as we put in at least one and a half times more effort with him than we did with the other characters."
Starting in Mega Man 3 the idea of a rival character would be revisited and inevitably created with the introduction of "Break Man" who would later be known as "Proto Man." The gaming public was lucky in this decision if you ask me. Can you imagine having to fight someone as hard as Quick Man in every game? I shudder to think...
While the first game follows the hero Mega Man almost exclusively, not many people know that his sister Roll was actually initially intended to have a much larger portrayal, and was meant to be an integral component of the story. While many games before and after 1987 centered its plot around the antagonist kidnapping a significant female character, Mega Man has often been celebrated for its refusal to conform to this overused design. It is interesting to note however, that the original concept for Mega Man did indeed comply to this stereotype.
A booklet called "The Rock Man Character Collection" is a piece of Japanese literature distributed to all those who participated in the above mentioned contest for the Mega Man 4 Robot Master designs in 1991. Towards the end of this booklet is a transcript of a conversation held by members of the Mega Man development team, including a few who helped create the character in 1987. During this conversation it is revealed that the earliest conceptualization of Mega Man focused on the malevolent Dr. Wily kidnapping Mega Man's sister Roll and holding her prisoner in his castle. It would then be up to Mega Man to volunteer to rescue Roll and return her safely to Dr. Light. The piece goes on to explain that once inside Dr. Wily's castle, the player would at some point battle a giant mechanized version of Roll created by Wily. Any further detail was not revealed, and will sadly have to be left to the imagination.
Developer Keiji Inafune reflected on this direction and rightfully concluded that the whole "damsel in distress" approach was too stereotyped, and wanted his game to be different. Therefore instead of being a central character, Roll was relegated to being a mere footnote. She only appears once during the ending credits alongside Dr. Light, is not acknowledged in the game's instruction manual, and was never even mentioned by name until Mega Man 3. Just remember Roll: there are no small parts, just small actors.
One of the challenges to creating an original character is to invent a cool, catchy name, and that rarely happens on the first try. Most people already know that in Japan Mega Man is known as "Rock Man" which is a tribute to rock and roll music. After all, Mega Man's sister is named Roll (making the two together Rock and Roll), has a pet bird named Beat, enemies named Bass and Treble (after the musical clefs), and even his rival--who we know as Proto Man--is named "Blues" in Japan in reference to the musical genre that pre-dates rock and roll (also note that Proto Man pre-dates Mega Man in the same way).
However, even before the determination of "Rock Man", there were a number of different names proposed during development. Among the top contenders were "Mighty Kid", "Battle Kid", and "Knuckle Kid". Despite these early ideas focusing on the adolescent with the word "kid", the name that came the closest to being official was "The Battle Rainbow Rock Man". A 1987 Japanese video game magazine published an article with developer Keiji Inafune in which Inafune admitted to his team's agreement on this otherwise bizarre name, but at the time there was already a show on Japanese television called "Rainbowman" and Inafune's proposal would have infringed on its copyright. With that in mind, "The Battle Rainbow" was dropped from the character's name, and would from that day forward be known in Japan as "Rock Man". Although not explicitly stated in the article, the "rainbow" portion of the name likely referred to the character's ability to change color while equipping a new weapon. Let's just be thankful that it was removed!
For those curious, Japan still refers to this character as "Rock Man", but when the game was released in North America in 1987 the title was changed to "Mega Man". Capcom's Senior Vice-President of American Operations at the time, Joseph Morici, said that he made the change because he did not like the sound of "Rock Man" and thought that American consumers would relate better to something like "Mega Man". That sounds pretty senseless to me personally, but then again I didn't sell millions of copies of the game, so who am I to argue?
If you were conceptualizing a robot, what color might it be? The likely answer is metallic silver, such as the Terminator, Ultron, or RoboCop, right? Regardless of conventional perceptions or slight variances from the norm, I am willing to bet that the color blue would not be a popular choice. In that respect, we and developer Keiji Inafune are not so different.
Blue is the color most associated with Mega Man as it envelopes him from head to toe, and has become such an iconic characteristic that he has been appropriately nicknamed "the blue bomber". However, when the very first Mega Man game was still in development, Inafune balked at the proposition that his new creation be blue, even calling the idea "gross" when a member of his staff first made the suggestion. So how were we ultimately imbued with our favorite blue hero one may ask? That is a great question, and one that I am glad you asked.
As funny as it sounds to our ear today, Inafune wanted the 8-bit graphics of Mega Man to be as strong as they could be, and that meant giving its main character the most descriptive, dynamic colors conceivable. As Inafune would soon learn however, the best conceivable and the most achievable are two very different realities. The original NES was limited in its abilities, including its color palette which only consisted of 54 total shades. Of those 54 shades there were slightly more blues available, and remaining congruent to his dedication to the best possible character design, Inafune was eventually convinced to make Mega Man blue, despite his personal dislike for the idea. In fact, Inafune has bluntly stated that the reason that Mega Man is blue is due to the limitations of the NES, and nothing else.
Imagine if the NES had more shades of pink or beige or something. That's not a world in which I would want to live...
As many people will immediately recognize, every game in the Mega Man series pits Mega Man against 8 unique Robot Master "boss" characters before eventually confronting the heinous Dr. Wily. That is to say however, all except for the original Mega Man which only has 6. This deviation from what would become the norm was not always the case.
During the development of the first Mega Man Keiji Inafune had always intended for the game to include 8 Robot Masters and in fact already had 7 designed when he was tragically informed that the technological limitations of the day could only support 6 Robot Masters, and that he would reluctantly have to remove one of his 7 creations. The unlucky robot chosen was called "Bond Man".
The Robot Masters of Mega Man are themed around construction/production, and Bond Man was no different. While fan-drawn images of Bond Man exist today, no knowledge of an official concept has ever been confirmed. Bond Man was intended to be a robot wielding an incredibly strong adhesive that would affix a target to a specific spot when a shot connected. While Bond Man never made it to the game, this "freezing in place" mechanic was indeed adopted and incorporated into Ice Man's Ice Slasher weapon. While it is unclear as to why Bond Man was chosen for removal, it is theorized that it is because of the weapon select menu itself. Each new weapon gained by Mega Man is identified on this menu list only by a single letter representing the Robot Master from whom it was acquired. As "Bond Man" and "Bomb Man" share the same initial, it is unclear how the conflict may have been resolved, and could explain why one of the two had to go; this game just wasn't big enough for the two of them.
When Mega Man Powered Up was released on the PSP in 2006 and recycled the Robot Masters from the original game, Inafune had considered including Bond Man as one of the two new Robot Masters that were needed to bring the number to 8. In an interview on that subject in July 2008 Inafune had this to say:
"I thought about reviving Bond Man, but it was a little tough. What we could present in [Powered Up] was a little different than the time that I created Bond Man. So rather than throwing him in hastily, I decided to leave Bond Man as the 'legend' he is, and I created two new characters instead."
What could have been Bond Man...I guess he and Momo will remain as urban legends.
Keiji Inafune worked as a game designer at Capcom from 1987-2010. A long time to be sure, but certainly influential. How many childhoods would have been drastically altered if not for his dedication, art work, and insights to a character that so many of us love? The Mega Man series is celebrated today as one of the best platforming titles to ever hit consoles, and I suspect that reaction will never dissipate. Despite its moderate success in 1987 it has grown to be a worldwide phenomenon that will undoubtedly endure for an additional 32 years to come.
I hope that you have enjoyed this list and found these factoids insightful, and I hope that they only enhance your Mega Man experiences going forward. Thank you for reading, and always commit at least a portion of your gaming time to the blue bomber!
List by Hanzaemon_ (08/13/2019)
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