[Editorial Tuesday] The History of Capcom

I’m sure you gamers all know Street Fighter, Resident Evil, Mega Man, Ace Attorney and Devil May Cry. What do all these games from different genres all have in common? They all come from the same company, Capcom, who for the last 35 years have been one of the most dominant developers in the industry! So how did they become one of the top leading developers and publishers in the industry? Read today’s Editorial Tuesday to find out!

Kenzo Tsujimoto

In May of 1979, Capcom was founded by Kenzo Tsujimoto, who is still presently the CEO. Tsujimoto was born and raised in Nara Prefecture, which neighbors Osaka, where Capcom is based out of. However, his journey to video games is rather surprising. In his early 20s during the 1960s, Tsujimoto inherited a candy store from an uncle, but the business was an unfortunate failure, and it forced him into millions of yen of debt. Shortly after, Tsujimoto opened a factory making dagashi, a traditional Japanese treat, in Osaka, and his products became a national success within 2 years. Around the same time, Tsujimoto also entered the pachinko industry and made a lot more money through his pachinko machines.

Thanks to his success with pachinko machines, it paved way for Tsujimoto to get into the video game industry by opening up shop with IPM, or International Play Machines, in the 1970s. It would later change its name to IREM the following decade. Throughout the 70s, IPM produced and distributed arcade games for dagashi stores (his first business love) throughout Japan. Towards the end of the decade, prior to starting Capcom (or previously started as Japan Capsule Computers), Tsujimoto helped produce domestic versions to arcade classics of Space Invader and Breakout (before Taito got the exclusive rights for Japanese releases to those games) with Nanao Electronics, which is presently known as Enzo, a nationally famous electronics company. Even when Tsujimoto left IREM towards the middle of the 80s, they would still contribute to the industry by making R-Type, Spartan X (or Kung Fu in the West), 10 Yard Fight, and the Imagefight series for arcades, the Famicom, and the PC Engine.

As business was winding down partially due to the video game crash in the US in 1983, thus ending the Space Invaders craze, Tsujimoto thought it would be best to move on with Capcom, which was originally named Sambi. So where did the name Capcom come from? It comes from a Japanese style contraction of Capsule Computers, one of its other original names, the company’s way of explaining arcade games in its infancy.

Yoshiki Okamoto and Tokuro Fujiwara

So what game debuted under the Capcom name? Street Fighter? Resident Evil? Mega Man? No, their first game was Little League, a game where you win medals. Just like how in US arcade establishments such as Chuck E Cheese’s have ticket games, medal games are the rage in Japan. So, what was their first actual video game? It would be an arcade shooting game called Vulgus, released in 1984. If you’ve played overhead rail shooters such as 1942 (which is also another Capcom release) or Ikaruga, that’s pretty much what Vulgus is. As opposed to playing in World War II, you are fighting in space. It came out during a time when such games were starting to get popular, so it became a smash hit and after that, the sky was the limit for them.

After that, Yoshiki Okamoto and Tokurou Fujiwara, who made their debuts in Konami, would instantly jump ship to Capcom. In the case of Okamoto, he was offered more than double his salary at Konami as an incentive. While at Konami, he was making 135,000 yen a month (in 1984, which would equate to $540USD and in 2018, or $1312USD), while Tsujimoto hired him with a starting salary of 350,000 yen a month ($1400USD in 1984, or $3401USD in 2018). While at Konami, Okamoto served as an illustrator to Time Pilot and Gyrus, and Fujiwara was a programmer for Pooyan and Roc’N Rope. When they offered their services to Capcom, both men played roles in further cementing the company’s identity and its present legacy.

During Okamoto’s time at Capcom, he contributed by making promotional material for the original Street Fighter, Final Fight, 1942, and Side Arms. While working as a producer for the original Street Fighter game, he recruited Akira Yasuda to be a character designer for Capcom, who would later further contribute to the company. Then in the 90s, Okamoto was the head of development of the first Resident Evil game. As for Fujiwara, he made his impact with Ghosts ‘n Goblins, Commando, and Sweet Home, which was the predecessor of the Resident Evil series.

As a matter of fact, Resident Evil was conceived as a remake to Sweet Home for the Famicom. And during the development of Resident Evil, he became a mentor to Shinji Mikami, who would later be the face of that franchise. Fujiwara also assisted in the development of Strider, the original mega Man series, DuckTales, and a large majority of Capcom hits between the mid-80s and mid-90s. Thanks to the combined forces of Tsujimoto, Fujiwara, and Okamoto, Capcom became an international household name.

Staple Franchises

We can agree that Capcom’s games may have not paved way or been the origin of certain genres, but they certainly contributed to gaming by simply improving or refining them. As we have shared in context to fighting games in a good number of our previous articles, Capcom’s Street Fighter II was the first to allow players to select more than one character with their own unique moveset, and thanks to that, Street Fighter II became the standard to modern day fighting games. With Mega Man, what made it distinct compared to other platform games of the time is how it allows players to freely select a stage and upon beating that boss, you can take its abilities as your own. However, it did popularize the concept of the survival horror genre with Resident Evil.

Shinji Mikami

When Capcom initially released Resident Evil, Fujiwara thought it was going to be a cult hit and he was content with his expectations. Little did he know, it would become an instant success selling five times more than what he anticipated! As previously stated, it was inspired by an older title of his, Sweet Home, which also happened to be an adaptation to a famous horror movie in Japan. A significant number of Resident Evil’s features originated from Sweet Home such as its limited inventory system, the puzzles, taking place in a mansion, and multiple endings based on who survived. Since Sweet Home was based on a movie, the remake was intended to use psychological and supernatural elements of Japanese horror. Instead, they took inspiration from classic Romero zombie movies.

With its controls, fixed camera angles, art style and other mechanics, it solidified the survival horror genre. Though tank controls don’t work in today’s gaming, the controls to Resident Evil in relation to its debut created more tension in context to being a horror game. As opposed to killing zombies and other creatures of the night, there are times you don’t have to fight and the key is to survive. With Fujiwara serving as producer, Shinji Mikami became the director, and he would be another big name with Capcom for years to come. As for Mikami, how he got into Capcom may be typical for some Japanese college graduates who find jobs before graduating, but his is an interesting story.

Shortly prior to graduating from Doshinsha University’s business school in Kyoto, he applied to Capcom during his job hunt at his school’s job fair. His initial application was actually rejected but he claimed that they hired him anyway the following week. While Mikami is most famous for Resident Evil, his first game for Capcom was a Japanese exclusive quiz game for the Game Boy, Capcom Quiz: Hatena? No Daibouken. Shortly after, he helped make Who Framed Roger Rabbit for the Game Boy, and the SNES releases to Aladdin and Goof Troop.

After the release of Goof Troop, Mikami was finally assigned Resident Evil. Ironically, Mikami felt uncomfortable with making a scary game despite his love for horror. As to why Resident Evil was changed to a zombie game, Mikami shared that it was his personal response to Zombie, an old film he personally didn’t like. Thanks to the success of Resident Evil, it spawned a franchise and it would also pave way for him to use the game’s engine with Dino Crisis. As opposed to the survival horror nature of Resident Evil, Mikami wanted to make something different with Dino Crisis called Panic Horror. Since the zombies in Resident Evil tend to be slow and stiff, the dinosaurs are bigger, faster, and more intelligent creating a different kind of scare. Dino Crisis was a hit, but never became as big as a franchise as Resident Evil.

Takashi Nishiyama

Though Mikami was one of Capcom’s biggest contributors between the 90s and 2000s, Takashi Nishiyama would be the company’s alpha dogs in the 1980s, and served as a producer to the original Mega Man games. Prior to working for Capcom, he also made games for Tsujimoto’s previous company, IREM. Many of gamers and media figures within the industry may give repetitive praise to the likes of Shigeru Miyamoto, Gunpei Yokoi, and Yu Suzuki, as they rightfully should. We aren’t here to deny their legacies to the industry, but compared to these titans, Nishiyama is criminally underrated.

So, what did Nishiyama do for the industry that puts him on the same pedestal as other gaming figures? For starters, while at IREM, he created Moon Patrol, the first game to have parallax scrolling, meaning the background can move in real time, which was a big deal upon its release in the early 80s. In addition, he was also the creator of Kung-Fu Master, or Spartan X, which some people consider to be the prototype beat ‘em up.

And what game can be considered his grand legacy with Capcom? That would be the first ever Street Fighter game. In addition to enjoying games, Nishiyama was also a martial arts enthusiast and wanted to create a game featuring multiple fighting styles. It was also the first fighting game to introduce gimmicky moves like fireballs (considering that Dragon Ball was popular at the time), and Ryu, the main character, was a tongue-in-cheek reference to Takashi’s name since the kanji character to Takashi’s name (隆) can alternatively be read as Ryu.

The Two Akiras

Coming off of the original Street Fighter, if there are two men responsible for Street Fighter II, it would have to be Akira Nishitani and Akira Yasuda. Before they officially made Street Fighter II, they made Final Fight, which was actually intended to be a sequel to the original Street Fighter, since its original name was Street Fighter ’89. Due to feedback, they changed the name since it was nothing like Street Fighter. Much of the game’s design was taken from the cult film, Streets of Fire, which many members of the development team were a fan of. A lot of the enemies were references to rock musicians of the time such as Axl Rose, Gene Simmons, Sid Vicious, and Billy Idol. Poison, another interesting character from the game, was named after the band. And for old school wrestling fans, Hugo was inspired by wrestling icon, Andre the Giant. As for what it did for beat ‘em ups, it introduced largest sprites and how it became a genre that was difficult to master due to its notorious difficulty.

Although the first Street Fighter game wasn’t exactly a hit, Capcom was still determined to work on the fighting game genre. Thanks to hardware developments, most notably that of their CPS-1 arcade hardware, they also were able to find ways to succeed in making multiple selectable characters. And the rest is history.

Much of Nishitani’s contributions to Capcom are mostly through fighting games. In addition to Street Fighter II and Final Fight, he also created the 3D-oriented Street Fighter EX series, X-Men Children of the Atom, and Super Dragon Ball Z. But prior to joining Capcom in 1986, when he was part of a home brew developers club during high school, Nishitani wrote about video game strategy for Beep magazine, which is owned by SoftBank, one of Japan’s present leading cell phone providers. Due to the articles he wrote, Okamoto called up up in the spring of 1986 and invited him to work at Capcom. Nishitani took the offer and joined.

For Yasuda, his work goes beyond video games. He has also worked as a designer for anime, most notably, Turn A Gundam. Initially, he wanted to be a manga artist but felt he couldn’t work with such the demands it takes to be a manga artist (which we have an Editorial Tuesday dedicated to). Unlike a majority of the Capcom developers, Yasuda was a native of Hokkaido, the northern tip of Japan, as opposed to Osaka, or its neighboring prefectures. After dropping out of an art college in Tokyo, he worked part-time for Capcom in its Tokyo branch office in 1986, and contributed to the designs of Side Arm and 1942. The following year, Yasuda was transferred to the main office in Osaka. During his time with Capcom, he worked as a character designer for a majority of their projects beyond Street Fighter. Between 1986 and 2000, you name a Capcom game, Yasuda probably did some design work on it.

Keiji Inafune

While a lot of people reasonably associate Mega Man with Keiji Inafune, his initial role within the franchise was that he was the lead character designer. Like a good majority of his co-workers at Capcom, he is a native of Osaka, and is a graduate of a local art school. He initially wanted to work for Konami, but instead chose to work at Capcom due to its office being a more convenient commute for him. As for how he got the idea of Mega Man’s design, or Rockman in Japan (the Japanese name mostly serves as a homage to rock ‘n roll, since his sister is named Roll), Inafune took inspiration from Astro Boy. In addition, considering how you may need a certain ability from another boss to beat another, it felt like a game of rock-paper-scissors, so it was another reason why Rockman was chosen in Japan as his name.

Though it is indisputable within the fans and the media that they give Inafune credit for making Mega Man, Inafune admits that he did only half the work since his mentor(s) already had the concept ready for him even prior to joining Capcom. But after the release of the first game, his contributions progressed to both the franchise and to Capcom. In addition to working on Mega Man, Inafune worked on the original Street Fighter, Lost Planet, Dead Rising, and Onimusha.

Hideki Kamiya

Prior to opening up PlatinumGames, Hideki Kamiya also played a huge part in developing one of Capcom’s newest franchises, Devil May Cry, which popularized the hack ‘n slash genre. He started his career at Capcom by working on Resident Evil. During the development of Resident Evil 2, Kamiya and Mikami had numerous disputes over the direction of the game, which contributed to numerous changes from its initial concept to its final product. It created numerous delays since it had to be started from scratch due to its rocky development.

During the development of Resident Evil 4, Capcom wanted to do something new with the franchise and make it more action oriented. The team went to Europe as research on how to create its newest setting and wanted to use a fixed camera system to best compliment its new action oriented direction. As development progressed, Mikami felt that the game didn’t represent Resident Evil. As opposed to axing the project, he encouraged to make it a new game instead.

Kamiya would then take inspiration from the Divine Comedy, and feature supernatural demons. Likewise, he named the main character, Dante, the main character from the Divine Comedy. Kamiya created Dante in a way that made him both presentably heroic and relatable. For Dante’s personality, he took inspiration from Cobra from Space Adventure Cobra, and as to why he wears red, it is considered to be heroic by Japanese standards like in super sentai, where the leader is always the red ranger. The game became an instant hit, and become a franchise of its own.

In addition to Devil May Cry, Kamiya is also famous for Viewtiful Joy, a modern 2D side-scroller. What makes it distinct from its predecessors is how it allows players to use VFX Powers, where the player can slow time and attack enemies as will. The intention of Viewtiful Joe was to make it a cross homage to both American superheroes, and Japanese superheroes akin to Kamen Rider and super sentai. While it didn’t get a lengthy franchise like Resident Evil or Devil May Cry, many fans to this day still love it.

Another game we can’t forget is certainly Okami. A distinctive title that educates native Japanese and non-Japanese on Japanese mythology. Though it was intended to have generic 3D graphics, the team and Kamiya felt it was best to use cel-shaded graphics to provide a more cultural presentation by taking inspiration from sumi-e and ukiyo-e art.

Shu Takumi

Another recent big name at Capcom is Shu Takumi, who joined Capcom around the same time as Hideki Kamiya. What makes him a character compared to other people mentioned here is that he admits to enjoy drinking on the job. Takumi feels if he can’t have his booze, then he can’t work and come up with ideas. Although numerous companies tend to ban drinking alcohol, we can probably conclude that Capcom either doesn’t have such a policy, or that Takumi is a notable exception to the rule.

Prior to breaking out with Phoenix Wright, Takumi worked on Resident Evil 2 and the first two Dino Crisis games. After that, he was given his shot to make his own game. Initially, he wanted to make a detective visual novel game for the Game Boy. But after seeing Rockman.exe, or Mega Man Battle Network for the Game Boy Advance, Takumi chose to develop for that platform instead and make it into a court proceeding visual novel.

While many non-Japanese gamers associate it with the DS, it actually debuted on the Game Boy Advance in Japan back in 2001! But when the game was ported to the DS, it finally got an English release in 2006. What’s also funny about the DS versions is that Takumi voiced Phoenix (or Naruhodo Ryuuichi) in the Japanese version, while Benn Judd, a translator for the localization (and Keiji Inafune’s personal translator), served as the English voice.

Prior to Phoenix Wright, visual novels were pretty much non-existent in the West, and it became a sleeper hit. Considering how the original Japanese version uses humor based on its own culture and language, we have to give credit to the localization team for managing to make the necessary changes for an English speaking audience.

Final Thoughts

Last, we cannot deny Atsushi Inaba, who served as a producer to many of Capcom’s biggest hits from the end of the 1990s and throughout the 2000s. Many of Capcom’s games all later became not just hit games but multimedia franchises. Street Fighter had a live action movie, a North American animated series, and numerous anime adaptations. Mega Man also includes a few mangas and animated adaptations between North America and Japan. Devil May Cry got a brief anime series, as did Viewtiful Joe. As for Resident Evil, it managed to spawn a movie franchise. In turn, Capcom also took some existing franchises such as Disney’s hit Saturday morning cartoons from the Famicom/NES era, and made them into unique platform games. Who would have thought that Capcom would make it to the big time in this kind of way?

To this day, Tsujimoto still works for Capcom. As for the rest of developers who were once part of this great company, many of them have gone on to forming their own studios. After making the first Street Fighter, Nishiyama jumped ship to SNK and continued to contribute to the fighting game genre by creating Art of Fighting and Fatal Fury. However, he returned to the development of Street Fighter IV much later on with his company, Dimps. Inafune did what he could to make his own version to Mega Man with Mighty No. 9, which he funded through Kickstarter. As we shared earlier, Kamiya went on to start PlatinumGames, which you may recognize for developing Metal Gear Solid Rising. Though they may be gone, we can never forget their roots and how they not only contributed to a company, but to an industry.

Space-Invaders-book [Editorial Tuesday] The History of Capcom


Author: Justin "ParaParaJMo" Moriarty

Hello, I am originally from the states and have lived in Japan since 2009. Though I watched Robotech and Voltron as a child, I officially became an anime fan in 1994 through Dragon Ball Z during a trip to the Philippines. In addition to anime, I also love tokusatsu, video games, music, and martial arts. よろしくお願いします

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