From Resident Evil To Strider: Koji Oda's 25 Year Journey To Directing Mega Man
Since Keiji Inafune left Capcom back in 2010, Mega Man has been without a brand leader. Fortunately, game designer Koji Oda has stepped up to the plate to bring Mega Man into the modern era. Mega Man 11 hopes to appeal to long-time fans as well as newcomers, but who is the man leading this charge? Koji Oda has been with Capcom for over 25 years, so we sat down with the designer to get a better understanding of his gameography and how his previous experience is informing the development of Mega Man 11.
Koji Oda grew up on Capcom games. As a young student in the 1980s, Oda would frequently sneak out to the arcades. Whenever he could scrounge up enough money, he would buy games for his NES. Unfortunately, gaming magazines were scarce and the internet was primordial, so gamers rarely knew if a game was going to be good before they bought it. Oda felt like half the games he purchased turned out to be duds.
“Sometimes you would buy a game and it would be a ‘kusoge,’ which literally translates into sh---y game,” Oda says. “But then there was Capcom, which always had the Capcom logo on it. Those games were always promising. There were no ‘kusoge’ coming out of Capcom. That was the main reason I decided to apply to work here. I figured that if a company was able to make games that were this fun, it had to be fun to work there.”
Oda joined Capcom in 1991 and began work on titles like Super Ghouls ‘n’ Ghosts and The Magical Quest Starring Mickey Mouse. During this period, the games industry saw massive growth as video games grew in popularity. On the development side, games took only six months to a year to develop, which allowed Oda to work on several different projects in a relatively short window.
“Honestly, I feel like I joined the game industry at the best time,” says Oda. “Typically, games would take half a year and no longer than a year to develop, so I feel like I was able to take part in a lot of different projects.”
With the transition between the NES and the SNES, the size of video game development teams was quickly expanding. At Capcom, mid-level developers were quickly ushered up the ranks and cultivated for leadership positions. Oda was one of these developers hand-picked to become a director. These new directors were often asked to take charge of projects on the NES, which were often seen as less-important after the release of the SNES. As a result, Oda’s first directorial role was a side-scrolling beat-'em-up for the NES called Mighty Final Fight, which followed the same premise as the original Final Fight in arcades, but featured a cuter art-style.
“I will be the first to admit that I wasn’t great initially as a director,” says Oda. “Around that time I kept working as what Capcom calls a planner, which is a mid-tier designer who works on various things, and I would work as that for other titles.”
Oda bounced around, lending a hand on a number of diverse projects. Then in 1994, Oda got to indulge in his love of horror as one of the early developmental members for Resident Evil.
“This was back before the name Resident Evil had even been assigned to it,” says Oda. “The codename for this was literally just ‘horror game.’ On the SNES, we were working with limited memory, so it’s not like we could dump a movie in there. If we had actually completed it on the SNES, I’m sure it would have been considerably different. For example, it was originally set in a place that had nothing to do with reality – more of a hellish place.”
Oda continued to tap into his love for horror when he directed Resident Evil 0, and over the years he has also practiced his development talents on games like Ultimate Ghosts 'N Goblins for the PSP, and the 2014 Strider reboot – all of which have received favorable reviews.
After Inafune left the company in 2010, Oda began to wonder what Capcom had planned for the little blue robot. Over the years, Capcom received “a few internal pitches” to revive the Mega Man brand. Of course, none of them have actually panned out, so Oda decided to work up a pitch for his version of a Mega Man game.
“I still feel like Mega Man is one of the most important pillars of the company,” Oda says. “At the end of the day, we asked ourselves, ‘What does Capcom need to do for its fans? Should we act like Mega Man is a thing of the past? Should we toss him aside?’ I felt like that would be a foolish gesture. Mega Man is such a treasure to the company that it would be a waste to let him go because someone left.”
The result of Oda and his team’s work is Mega Man 11, a loving throwback to Mega Man’s core gameplay that still pushes the franchise forward visually. After an eight-year hiatus, Koji Oda is bringing Mega Man back into the mainstream. We just hope it’s not a kusoge.
Find out why we think that Mega Man 11 definitely doesn’t look like a kusoge by reading the rest of our month of Mega Man-related content, such as this exclusive concept art gallery and this behind-the-scenes look at the game’s surprisingly analog sound design.