The Rockman Unity blog has published a multi-part interview with Makoto Yabe, character designer and scenario writer of the ZX series, among other roles. So far, there are two parts to the interview and we're happy to bring you a full translation courtesy of our good friend Sidier. We'll have a translation for part three when that becomes available as well.
In the Meantime, you can read parts one and two after the break!
Makoto Yabe (KOU) Profile
Character Designer and Scenario Writer of “Rockman ZX” Series. After working at another company, he joined Inti Creates in 2003. He joined the “Rockman Zero” series from “Zero 2” on wards. He’s currently a freelancer.
▲ Mr. Yabe and myself. I met him for the first time the other day but felt like I’ve known him for a long time. He’s a very kind person and easy to talk with!
■ The road to “Rockman ZX”
Mr. Yabe was in charge of the “ZX” series character design and scenario, but there’s been little chance to know the details of your job, so I wanted to ask you about what led you there. To begin with: when you began drawing pictures, how old were you?
Mr. Makoto Yabe: I remember my first drawing being in my early elementary school years, copying the “Taiyo Sentai Sun Vulcan” drawings from “TV Magazine” (laughs). I began properly drawing things by junior high, by drawing stuff using poster colors. As for game illustrations, I was impressed by Mr. Hamakawa Shujiro (Shuzilow.HA) and his illustrations.
I see! Which of them made the biggest impact on you?
There were few game illustrations that used anime or manga-esque methods back then. He [Mr. Hamakawa Shujiro] used the anime drawing style as basis to draw a pop design, it felt like my beloved worlds of anime and manga were being interconnected into games. Ever since then I vaguely felt like drawing illustrations for games.
True. Game illustrations at the time often used a real tone through airbrush and gradation.
Shujiro and “Super Street Fighter II X” from the Capcom Design Room were when such methods began to be used in game illustrations. Afterwards I joined a specialized school, and began working at another game company. There, I went through my first experiences as character designer and game scenario writer.
▲This is the illustration of “Super Street Fighter II X” (1994, Capcom) done by Mr. Bengus. During the 80s and 90s, a lot of game characters that would become well-know began to pop up.
Are there other illustrators that you like apart from Mr. Hamakawa?
Seeing the illustrations of “Rockman Zero” led me to join Inti Creates so Mr. Toru Nakayama would be one of them, too. I also like Mr. Alex Ahad who worked on “Skull Girls” (2012, Reverge Labs). He used an American cartoon style as basis, and knows a lot about Japanese fighting games and “otaku” culture such as “Vampire” [Darkstalkers].
I see. What led you to joining Inti Creates, then?
When I quit the company I was working at in 2002, I happened to read a game magazine and saw an article on “Rockman Zero” and “Rockman.EXE”. I played the original “classic” Rockman when I was a kid, but I was shocked. “Is it a good idea to arrange it in such a stylish way!?” “This is great!”, I thought to myself.
There were indeed a lot of surprising changes from “Rockman” to “EXE” and from “Rockman X” to “Zero”. “EXE” was a program-like figure and was neither Reploid nor Robot.
▲ The “classic” Rockman and EXE, and the Zero from the “X” series and the new Zero are being compared. Both are indeed surprising arrangements!
As for “Zero”, Mr. Nakayama’s stylish patterns had rebuilt and arranged the character in a surprising way. I looked up the maker and found it was Inti Creates, and was in Chiba Prefecture, Ichigawa City, very close to where I lived at (laughs)
(Laughs) “Closeness” was also an important factor within the choices, then?
And so I contacted them and, thankfully, they hired me. Back then “Rockman Zero 2” had begun development, and since I said I’d seen the 1st game and became inspired from it, they put me in Zero 2's development team. But...
I was put to work on “backgrounds”. At that time I only made character sprites, animation and scenario text, but I never worked on backgrounds.
Is that so!?
But since the 1st game had already been made, the format had been established, and the company had a manual on making backgrounds so it’s not like it was too much of a hassle to get used to the process. I also made moving background objects such as doors.
Oh yes! The doors in the "Zero" and "ZX" series have a complicated structure but open with a loud sound, open and close and they’re fun stuff!
Thank you. I made the door movements in “Rockman Zero 2”. All of the staff poured out ideas as we planned how stages were to be played.
▲ What you see to the left is a “Rockman Zero” stage door. It feels good to their complicated structure are in gear when opening and closing!
You were in charge of the scenario of “Rockman ZX” but how did you end up in that position?
The initial scenario of “Rockman Zero” was done by Director Kawano (D-Kawano) and Inti Creates but he was very busy and by the later half of “Z2” development, he was temporarily transferred to Inti because he spent the whole time there.
Oh my dear! Was the game's development stuck or wasn’t advancing? Were you able to go back home, Mr. Yabe?
I tried doing so whenever I could (laughs). At the time some of the Inti staff ,as well as D-Kawano, felt like they were living there almost the whole time. Their homes were close so they went back home to bathe and then came back to sleep at the office or something like that (laughs). Others were worried and asking them “are you alright”? Seeing that landscape made me realize one must put a deadline on things and I tried to leave unless we were really busy (laughs).
I’ve heard that happened here at Capcom, too (laughs).
And so D-Kawano went back to Capcom after “Z2” was done; when we were planning the next game’s scenario, Inti Creates were making “Rockman.EXE Battle Chip GP”. And since I had scenario writing experience, I was put in charge of some of the scenario to give it a try.
I see, so that was how.
I worked on the prototype of the whole scenario, as well as the full scenario of the original characters Kaita Todoroki and Mari Towa. I made use of my experience as a character designer there.
You also made the scenario for “Battle Chip GP”!?
▲The two characters that appeared in Mr. Yabe’s first “Rockman” series scenario, in “Rockman.EXE Battle Chip GP”. Kaita looked up to Netto as his idol.
Afterwards, I wrote the “Z3” scenario under the supervision of D-Kwano. I did the “Z4” scenario all by myself.
By the way, what was it like working with Mr. Toru Nakayama?
I joined Inti Creates because I idolized his illustrations but… since he was very quiet, I rarely ever talked to him.
I see. Since he was like your idol, it was hard to talk to him (laughs). Does he feel like he quietly goes on doing his job?
▲The main visual of “Zero 1”. His stylish patterns are of big support to the world of Zero!
I worked on the “Zero 3” scenario, so he did ask me advice about the storyboards he made for the event scenes drawings. However, I don’t feel like we talked that much still. By “Zero 4” it was Inti Creates’ Mr. Maeda (Katsuya) who worked on illustrations, and I did see both of them interacting. It felt like looking at my idol standing atop a cloud, through the (workspace) partitions.
(Laughs) I see. By the way! There’s illustrations by both you and Mr. Nakayama of the main characters of “ZX”, yes?
The initial period of Rockman ZX's development inherited the illustrations by Mr. Nakayama, yes.
Ah. So that’s why his illustrations also existed back then.
Correct. The package, main characters illustrations, Vent, Aile, Girouette, Model X and Model ZX were done by him before he left, or so I remember.
▲The Nakayama version of Vent and Aile (left) and the Yabe version (right). Mr. Nakayama changed the touch of “Rockman Zero” to bring out a bright atmosphere while Mr. Yabe added his touch to deform them into manga-like characters; truly interesting!
▲The soft-hearted Mr. Yabe and our fun conversation (was really fun!)
Today we’ll cover the beginning of “Rockman ZX” development!
There’s spoilers for those who haven’t played the games so be careful!
We’re finally going to delve into the start of “Rockman ZX”. Was it decided from the start to inherit the world of “Rockman Zero”?
Truth to be told… At the start it wasn’t decided whether we were going to make “Rockman Zero 5” or the wholly new “Rockman ZX”. And both Capcom and Inti Creates spent a long time studying which plan to go with.
Huh!? Something like that happened!?
Yes. Since Inti Creates’ wish was to conclude the Zero series with Zero 4, we decided to create a whole new game instead. And after I was tasked with planning and designing the characters, I dropped by Capcom to say hello. Our conversation was like, “this will be the next 'Rockman' game." “Oh; that’s nice”.
That actually happened? (laughs)
There was work going on, like a gradient, in the interval between deciding if we’d go with the new “ZX” after the “Zero” games. Our intent was to draw in “Zero” fans and so we had Mr. Nakayama do some of the visuals such as the package illustrations. He did the main visuals because Director Kawano from Capcom wished him to do so.
▲Mr. Nakayama did the above “Rockman ZX” package illustration, split in 3 parts. And this one is a promotional visual by Mr. Yabe.
Since it’s related to the world of “Zero”, did it influence your drawing style for you, as the person in charge of character design?
I did hesitate a lot at the start. I did think of making it similar, but since Mr. Nakayama has a unique drawing style, there are portions I couldn’t really imitate.
▲A weapon introduction illustration for “Rockman ZX” that Mr. Yabe drew imitating the touch of Mr. Nakayama. It’s very close to the latter’s “atmosphere”.
He does have a unique touch, yes.
I did start by drawing similar illustrations but since he has a unique way of drawing lines, he uses multiplication to add a filter, as well as using a special noise layer effect. The shadows on the Cyber Elves have a “sprite” effect to them, too. And so I concluded that “I could never come up with such an idea." Towards the end I decided that, unless you eat the same kind of things and build the same kind of muscles, you can’t make the same type of drawings (laughs).
▲Mr. Nakayama’s illustration of a Cyber Elf of the “Zero” series. He uses a “sprite” mesh to express the gradation of shadows.
(Laughs). So while there was an idea to make a “Rockman Zero 5” at first, what led to “ZX” being made instead?
The CEO from Inti Creates, Aizu-san, his opinion was make it so that it could go either way [Zero 5 or a wholly new game].
(Laughs) Talk about an unreasonable order! It must’ve been a hardship!
(laughs) I had an order from the start and some framework to work with. It was “keep the atmosphere of the “Zero” series but it’s not Zero himself, rather, a protagonist who inherited his strength”. So I went on making designs that met thatidea. Also, taking into account that, since the “Zero” series had gone on for 4 years, the players had grown older as well.
Good point. While a lot of new fans emerged, it was hard for new players to play them.
Around the same time, “Rockman X7” and “X8” were made and the role of character designer shifted to Mr. Yoshikawa Tatsuya. The “X” series evolved from designs with a strong base color to "stylish designs" for more grown up players. I was worried during development whether the audience of both series [X and Zero] would overlap. I think the intent Aizu-san had was to go back to square one; to make a wider world that could draw in younger audiences as well as newcomers, like those who played the “X” series when in the beginning.
▲The Zero of “X8” (left) and the “first” Zero (right). X8 was done by Mr. Yoshikawa Tatsuya, and so the height and silhouette became more “realistic”.
Did the plan to make ZX into a “transformation hero” game exist from the start?
It was Aizu-san's idea that the protagonist would "inherit Zero's power somehow." But in terms of story I didn’t want to drag on the "karma" of the Zero series because it concluded. That led to the idea of transforming with the “Live Metals”; relics that would pass on power itself... Or so was my intent but, then it turned out that “Shooting Star Rockman” (2006), was being developed by a different team, were also using the same idea. I was baffled when I was told about it! (laughs)
(Laughs) True! I guess they were also surprised, too! Guess it was “synchronicity”!
▲The protagonist transforms (EM Wave Change) to turn into “Rockman” into “Shooting Star Rockman”. He can turn into many forms and you could have PvP battles.
Also… at first, the Live Metals didn’t speak.
Huh!? Is that so!?
When I first finished the scenario, the Live Metals, when they were spoken to, would glow in a meanigful, mysterious way. But since this game was going to be made for the Nintendo DS and its increased hardware, I was told we could have a fully-voiced game.
I see, I see.
▲“Live Metals”; each one has their own personality. But at first they didn’t have a will of their own!?
Since the voice actors of the “Zero” series CD Dramas were pretty popular, sound director Mr. Ippo Yamada (Inti Creates) requested the Live Metals to be able to talk. And so they turned into “buddy”-like characters.
I see! The evolution in hardware specs reinforced the settings of the “Live Metals”!
Indeed. If the game were on the GBA, that wouldn’t have happened, I guess. But then that meant I have to add conversations with the Live Metals, so I ended up rewriting the whole scenario.
So the unreasonable request from the Sound Director ended up giving the Live Metals a will of their own (laughs).
Since we shifted from the GBA to the NDS, we now had the double screen and touch pad and so on. We wanted to take advantage of all these new things. It was a rather unreasonable but compulsive idea (laughs).
That was the flow of things, yes. Shifting to the DS brought in advantages and disadvantages?
One big advantage was being able to have a fully-voiced acted game. And the increase in graphical capabilities made it easier to make “huge characters”. The bosses were mostly human-shaped in the “Zero” series so I suggested that we add huge bosses too. I did work on the backgrounds for the final boss battles from “Zero 2” onwards. Back then, if you made a large-sized boss you’re forced to use the background to properly show it on screen. But that reduces the number of elements you can add into the backgrounds.
Oh! I see!
There were only four background layers in the GBA; the life gauge and other UI elements used one layer, the boss(es) also used one layer, so the remaining two layers had to be used for the backgrounds. But thanks to the NDS, we could make bigger bosses and be able to make better backgrounds and gimmicks.
I see. So that’s why in “ZX Advent”, you could suggest ideas such as transforming into a boss, climb through ivy, and play with objects in the background as well.
▲Transforming into Rospark and moving up and down using a wire can be done by the protagonists of “ZXA”. The evolution in hardware specs increased the amount of gameplay elements!
And what were the disadvantages?
Workload increased considerably (laughs). The deadline to record voices had to match the schedules of the voice actors, so I had to complete the scenario before then.
But when there were changes to the story, there’d be no voices for the characters in those scenes.
Also, if the graphics weren’t fully done, I’d have to show them concept art and storyboards and would have to tell them “this is the character you must voice” . I would have them use their imagination to voice them.
The proccess ended up like the “line recording” of the anime (a recording method where VAs are told when to talk using lines marked with another color when the animation isn’t finished by the time of the recording)
Exactly. But since I’m the one who said “let’s do this!”, I guess I brought that upon myself (laughs). As for the full voice acting, the Sound Director was a pretty stoic person so he said “let’s do as much as we can!” When the game was released, I felt satisfied and thought to myself, “I'm glad we went with it”.
The Next part of this series will cover the secrets to the birth of the new protagonists of “Rockman ZX”! Look forward to it!