Culture ClashS

The man behind Mega Man is very busy these days.

Not because of his 1987 creation and the more than 50 games it spawned since. No, Keiji Inafune's work is sadly free of the blue humonoid robot and his endless battles. Nowadays Inafune spends most of his time traveling the world keeping an eye on Capcom's other creations.

As the game maker's new head of global production, Inafune says he has only one goal: To make sure that all of Capcom's games have that, to borrow a French phrase, je ne sais quoi.

"It's a common comment I hear that games created in Europe aren't really Capcom games, that games created in Japan are true Capcom games," Inafune recently told a gathering of journalists at their annual Captivate event in Hawaii. "I want to put an end to that, basically saying that whether games are created in America or Japan or anywhere in the world, I will be the one overlooking it and so it will have that Capcom flavor that fans know and love."

The news comes after a mixed year for Capcom. The past 12 months or so saw the publisher help to reinvigorate the fighting genre with the release of Street Fighter IV to consoles and the continued success of their Resident Evil franchise, but it also saw a few flops including Bionic Commando and January 2010's Dark Void.

Capcom's biggest disappointments of the past 12 months have to be Bionic Commando, which received middling reviews, and Dark Void which was perceived, at best, as forgettable. Both were products of a new initiative by the Japanese developer to try and blend the aesthetics, artistry and mechanics of Western and Japanese game design.

That initiative was announced at the 2009 Captivate event in Monte Carlo. At the time Inafune said that Capcom knew it needed to figure out how to climb out of what he called a pit that had Capcom at the bottom of the industry. The key, he realized, was to focus on globalization. The first result of that effort was the widely acclaimed Dead Rising, a game that other developers, he noted, said looked Western but felt Japanese.

So last year they decided to push things further west, perhaps a bit too far west.

Now, Inafune says the company is working to perfect this idea of collaboration not only between studios, but cultures.

Dead Rising 2, for instance, is being created by Canadian studio Blue Castle Games, but Inafune is making sure that the game will still have that Capcom feel.

"One of the biggest things we do is have more staff visits," he said. "We have a deeper collaboration through the sheer amount of communication, a lot more meetings, a lot more emails.

"Rather than have the development team do what they want to do by themselves, Capcom is trying to inject the Capcom flavor into it."

And, judging by what I saw earlier this month, it seems to be working. Dead Rising 2 feels like a game that has found the sweet spot between Western and Japanese game development.

While Inafune may have been overstating things last year when he said that Japanese game development has one foot in the grave, he's right to be worrying over his own company's health in an increasingly global gaming market.

The key, though, will be for Capcom and other Japanese developers to find a way to make games that appeal to a broad spectrum of gamers without losing a sense of where they came from and who they are. And that means being willing to make some bad games and learn from those mistakes.

The coming year should show whether Capcom is able to put into practice the lessons that Dark Void and Bionic Commando seems to have taught them and produce a game that is the best of two worlds.

Well Played is a weekly news and opinion column about the big stories of the week in the gaming industry and its bigger impact on things to come. Feel free to join in the discussion.