"We've probably only hit about 60 per cent of the Xbox 360's potential," says Keiji Inafune, reclining in a Bruce Campbell shirt up in Capcom's lofty meeting area, overlooking the throng of the E3 showfloor. Speaking to us through a translator, Inafune talks of his admiration for Microsoft's next-generation format and brushes off the suggestion, put forward by one of the handful of press joining us for a chat, that early titles haven't lived up to the pre-launch bluster. "It's very cyclical," he says of game development. "The more years you study a platform, the better you get. Some of the games you'll see in three of four years will be truly amazing."
If it takes that long. With games like Gears of War on the not too distant horizon, you might argue it's closer than that. And then of course there's Inafune's own pairing, zombie hackandslash Dead Rising and third-person shooter Lost Planet, both of which were fully playable on the showfloor. Lost Planet, in fact, was released in two-part demo form on Xbox Live Marketplace during the show - and it was that game that stole the focus during our brief chat. Having already sampled the demo at reasonable length, we had some niggly questions. And some proper ones, obviously. Although he wouldn't answer our one about which body parts he'd eat first if he were a zombie. Or maybe we forgot to ask it, which seems more likely.
So, read on for a quick pick of Inafune's brains, and then, providing you downloaded it, you'll be well set to take Lost Planet in context. It's due out this winter.
Eurogamer: One of Lost Planet's key differentiators [this is what a trade show does to you - it's a miracle I avoided the term USP] is the way you have to manage your thermal energy. How far does that extend?
Keiji Inafune: We wanted to make sure we were using the hardware to its fullest potential - to not just do pretty graphics for the sake of pretty graphics. We wanted to make them mean something. So for your energy gauge, it is affected by the weather, which we spent a lot of time realising on-screen. If you're out in the cold and the wind, the speed at which you utilise your energy will quicken. If you're out of the cold, you don't need as much of this heat energy to power your vital suit. So there are a lot of different strategic elements. You're going to have to plan which areas to go through based on how much fuel you have, and of course killing enemies will yield more fuel so you'll have to ask yourself if it's worth fighting them to get more, or just to let them go.
Eurogamer: All the same it seemed quite easy to remain alive for all the ammo being thrown around. Is the demo deliberately set up that way?
Keiji Inafune: I guess it's pretty standard practice that if you release a demo you don't want to make it so hard that people are dying in 30 seconds. It wasn't that we set out deliberately to make it easy, but it does sound like a lot of people who've played it in the West think it's a little too easy whereas a lot of the Japanese actually think it's a bit hard. Because the standards of what makes a difficult game differ so much from country to country, we have more balancing problems, and we'll do that as the game goes on. We might adjust it for the West, but that's just a maybe for now.
Eurogamer: Onimusha 3 dabbled with timelines and you saw some success with that. There's an element of amnesia to this main character. Will you repeat the trick?
Keiji Inafune: With O3, right from the start you intentionally knew there were going to be parts in ancient Japan and parts in the future. Here we're using the past differently - to add a bit of mystery to the story. So you'll see little fragments of perhaps the past all throughout the different areas you visit. It's not something I want to overtly state in the game, really; I'd like the player to figure out what's going on in the world.
Eurogamer: What kind of multiplayer modes will Lost Planet have?
Keiji Inafune: Currently we're working on multiplayer modes so there are a lot of areas we haven't quite determined yet. That being said, our current goal is 32 people online at the same time. Well, that's my goal. The team keeps saying 16's more realistic, but I keep telling them to do 32. A lot of it'll be determined in the next few months, but we know we'll do the standard set of modes, and we'd like things like different factions of snow pirates fighting each other, with a kill-all mode, a territorial mode - and that'll obviously be slightly different to other similar games because colder, windier territories are going to be tougher to keep hold of because of the way they use up fuel. There'll be strategy to it. And of course you'll be fighting over the robots. We'll have people leaping into robots, and the guys outside reacting by ripping the weapons off the side of it and using them against it. There's a lot of potential and obviously we're going to try and exploit it all.
Eurogamer: Given that Xbox is more of a Western phenomenon, did you develop this and Dead Rising for Japanese players primarily or with a whole-world view?
Keiji Inafune: The way that most Japanese developers used to work was of course that you'd focus on what you know. So we'd always focus on Japanese players. But we're adapting to the international market, and trying to make games thinking of gamers overall - we're not looking at it in terms of national groups any more, because we can't afford to. Right now I'd say Asia has different tastes to the rest of the world, so there's this gap that's making it tough for us, but there are games that everybody likes and we need to start focusing on that as an industry.
Eurogamer: In the past a number of former Capcom employees, Yoshiki Okamoto included, have said that it was hard to get Capcom to agree to make original games. Do you think that's been true in the past and how has Capcom changed to get to where it is now?
Keiji Inafune: You know, I think it's the opposite of that. It's well known within the Japanese industry, and you can ask a lot of other companies this, that Capcom has always been a company that has gotten a lot of talent because people knew that Capcom was going to make creative games; they could make the kind of games they wanted to make.
We've had a lot of different franchises, a lot of innovation, that we've created - the fighting genre, the survival horror genre, a lot of different genres - because it was Capcom. Because they allowed us to make original games. Yes Capcom makes sequels, but that's a no-brainer. If you're going to make a hit game, you're going to make a sequel - and that applies to any form of entertainment really. As far as creativity goes, Capcom's the company you could go to to get your idea realised.
It's not the same now. These days games cost so much to make that you can't just have a creative idea and then just make it on a whim. You need to have people controlling the finances and which games to make needs to fall to them, and sometimes that means making an original game is not the right choice for the company. You have to plan that stuff even better than you did before. So the creators themselves aren't necessarily given the freedom they need or want in the way they once were, but if you are somebody with a creative idea that really works, and people believe in it, then Capcom can get it off the ground.
Keiji Inafune is currently working on Dead Rising, due out later this year, and Lost Planet, which is expected to hit sometime in early 2007. Both games are Xbox 360 exclusives.