Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Where do we go from here?

As far as I'm concerned, the biggest story in gaming right now is Keiji Inafune's shocking resignation from Capcom, where he had spent the last 23 years, and for whom he had still been doing press and promotion within the past month.

Best known for his involvement with the Mega Man series, he eventually rose to become head of R&D and global head of production at Capcom. To many, however, more than being the head of development at Capcom, Keiji Inafune was Capcom. A Capcom without Keiji is almost as unthinkable as a Nintendo without Shigeru Miyamoto. We've still yet to get the full picture, and for now we can only speculate as to what it all means, how it came to this, and where Capcom and Keiji each go from here.

Looking back, it's not as if there weren't signs. A famously candid interviewee, he has many times made clear his dissatisfaction with the gutless direction of the Japanese games industry, even criticizing Capcom specifically. Of course, he was hardly the only one, and I just thought it was his way of lighting a fire under his subordinates.

As a mere consumer, I mostly just shrugged any time I heard talk of the Japanese games industry collapsing. But this is Keiji Inafune himself, securely the number one man at one of Japan's most distinguished publishers, leaving behind the company and property that have been his career, and I think this drastic move is undeniable proof now that things are not well in the Land of the Rising Sun.

It seems he was truly and deeply unhappy with his job. Although he was the number one man on the development side, he still felt constricted by the way Capcom ran the business end of things. But Keiji says he's not done with games, and apparently he's looking forward to becoming more involved again with the creative process.

It's hard for me to imagine what he might do without Mega Man, which I think he needed more than it needed him. I don't know how involved he was with any other titles that bore his name, but I've mostly thought of him as an executive producer of late. I am reminded of Hironobu Sakaguchi, father of Final Fantasy, who gambled as big as anyone, only to lose almost everything. Far from shaking things up, he now persists in obsolescence and irrelevance. Or perhaps we can look to Yuji Naka's career, post-Sega and Sonic.

I'm as lost and clueless as anyone, but I felt compelled to say a few words, because I honestly think this is the end of Keiji Inafune as a meaningful contributor to the games industry. Is it the end of Japanese games as well? Well, also within the past week, we've seen Shinji Mikami's studio get bought by an American company, and there's also the very reliable rumor that SOCOM developer Slant Six Games is developing some kind of squad-based Resident Evil. So these people are all now working with and for one another anyway, and I'm guessing that, in time, the distinction of "Japanese game" versus "Western game" will simply disappear. Frankly, I'm already kind of over it.

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