Game maker Akira Kitamura, who once worked for Capcom, was interviewed for a behind-the-scenes Mega Man fanbook called the Rockman Maniax Collection. The book only came out in Japan in 2011, and a fan translation wasn’t made until recently. Kitamura worked as main planner for the Mega Man series, and in the interview he revealed a LOT about the process. What follows is the level of thought and detail it takes to create the average Blue Bomber platformer, which is more precise and calculated than you might think:
Kitamura: Two of my personal goals for Mega Man were to create a game where all the stages could be cleared in an hour, and to make something that players would want to come back to again and again. To that end, I actually calculated the total number of stages by measuring Mega Man’s walking speed and seeing how long it would take to get through each stage. I then split that up so that the first half of the game would be the robot master stages, and the second would be the Wily stages.
Ariga: Whoa! You really did that?
Kitamura: I also created some rules for myself about enemy placement and design.
#1: Single, weak little enemies would appear in “waves” of 3 or 4 individuals (and to the extent possible, I’d avoid mixing up multiple enemies);
#2: they would all use the same attacks;
#3: I would use differences in terrain and enemy placement to adjust the difficulty of a given section;
#4: The difficulty of each enemy in the wave would gradually rise, but the last enemy to appear would be easier.
Ariga: Ah hah!
Kitamura: The first enemy you might just have to jump and shoot. The next one you have to actually dodge his bullets, and it’s a little more difficult. Then for the final enemy in the wave, it would be easier: you can just stand there and shoot him head-on. All the enemy waves in Mega Man follow that basic pattern. Actually in the first Mega Man, I applied this midway through the development, but for Mega Man 2, I did it for the entire game.
Ariga: Now that you mention it, yeah! That is how it’s designed.
Kitamura: Making the last enemy encounter in the wave easier was a key idea. It leaves the player with a softer impression of the game’s difficulty. I think the reason that people don’t replay games—even good ones—is that when they remember playing the game, their minds go back to the extremely difficult parts and enemies, and then replaying the game starts to seem like tedious work. I wanted the player to feel like he was improving at the game too, and that was another reason to make that last enemy easier, I think.
These weren’t my only “tricks” for how to get more replayability, but they were some of the big ones.
He reveals far more than this. Read the full interview at Shmupulations.com.