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Capcom and Marvel went back and forth before nailing down Children of the Atom’s cast.

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X-Men: Children of the Atom: An oral history

Our Street Fighter history series concludes with a look at Capcom’s first licensed fighting game

Matt Leone has written about games for three decades, focusing on behind-the-scenes coverage of the industry, including books on Final Fantasy 7 and Street Fighter 2.

If there’s a lesson to learn from Shaq Fu, it’s that the mid-’90s game industry would turn just about anything into a fighting game. A movie, a TV show, even just a celebrity — drop it into the template, and that was often enough to greenlight a game. So when Capcom started moving beyond Street Fighter and experimenting with other fighting games, it wasn’t a surprise to see it take on a license. This was the company, after all, that made Goof Troop and Yo! Noid.

For its first licensed fighting game, Capcom went for something a bit more aggressive. As part of an attempt to appeal to a Western audience, Capcom brought together some of the key staff behind Street Fighter 2 to imagine what an arcade game starring Marvel’s X-Men could look like.

What they came up with not only became the most successful of Capcom’s fighting game experiments, but the start of a 20-plus-year franchise.

How it came about

X-Men: Children of the Atom wasn’t Capcom’s first game with Marvel. In the days before Capcom became a fighting game factory, it rolled out multiple side-scrolling beat-’em-ups. And in 1993, Capcom and Marvel released The Punisher, a side-scroller in the Final Fight playbook. Marvel execs thought the game was too violent and Capcom struggled to distinguish it among the sea of arcade beat-’em-ups, but both sides were happy enough to leave the door open for another collaboration.

At the same time, Capcom Japan had just hired a new employee who started making noise around the office about his interest in Marvel properties.

Katsuya Akitomo X-Men: Children of the Atom adviser and artist, Capcom Japan

I applied for a job at Capcom around the time Final Fight came out. Because the game had been so successful, Capcom was looking to hire more staff, and I was in college and saw a job listing, so I applied for a job as a graphic artist, animator, and pixel artist. Then I had an interview. I was asked to submit illustrations of the kind of art that I could draw. I remember submitting something Dragon Ball-related. When they saw the materials that I had drawn, they found out that I spoke English and I told them that I really wanted a job related to American comics. [...]

When I joined Capcom, my first project was The Punisher. And during my training, while I was learning how to draw and do pixel art, [side-scrolling beat-’em-up] Captain Commando came out. At the time, the video game market, the arcade game market — the entire video game market — was biggest in North America. North America had 50% of the market, Japan had 30%, and 20% was other territories.

The issue with Captain Commando was that even though it was supposed to be an American-inspired game, it actually looked very Japanized, right? It was a lot like some of the popular things that were around at the time, like Lupin the Third, Speed Racer, Battle of the Planets, and Gatchaman, right? All of these properties tried to imitate American comic book culture, and sometimes they didn’t look authentic. They didn’t look quite American enough, and I felt that if you wanted to go for the authentic American feel, you had to properly culturalize things. We were trying to imitate people who themselves were influenced by American comic books, so our creations were twice removed from the original American sources. [...]

So when I joined Capcom in 1991, I felt I needed to introduce the Capcom staff to more of the authentic, original American comic books.

Takeshi Tezuka X-Men: Children of the Atom planner, Capcom Japan

Akitomo was always a big fan of American comics, even as a kid before he joined Capcom. I remember when he joined the company, he was always giving American comic books to the designers in order to inspire them. So you could say Akitomo was like the Marvel ambassador inside of Capcom.

Akitomo made a strong impression on Marvel’s licensing staff, some of which remember him going by different nicknames.

Dana Moreshead Head of creative services, Marvel Entertainment

They had a great team [at Capcom]. I believe there was a guy who I only knew as “Marvel Fan.” Even on his business card, he also had his name written: “Marvel Fan.” [...] I remember there were a few meetings when — while everybody else was doing business stuff — he and myself and one of the other people were dueling sketches back and forth.

Justin McCormack Executive vice president of consumer products, Marvel Entertainment

I remember fondly Dana and I and I believe one other person — [Marvel creative director] Mike Thomas, I think — going up to [visit Capcom]. They sat us down, and we had a conference room dedicated to us, and they brought in this kid called Marvel Zombie.

While Akitomo doesn’t take credit for the idea behind Children of the Atom, and says he never pitched an X-Men game, former co-workers say that his influence around the office played a role in Capcom pursuing the license, getting Marvel to trust Capcom with the license, and turning many Capcom employees into Marvel fans.

Katsuya Akitomo

Officially, the only game I proposed [at Capcom] was Darkstalkers. But actually, the whole reason Children of the Atom was able to get off the ground was because the comic series Marvels had come out. It was painted by Alex Ross and, I think given the content of the publication, this was the kind of comic that could inform people about American culture, right? They could see what kinds of stories were being told, and that comic books could be seen as a reflection of people’s views on American culture, so I thought it was very important for me to show this to the staff at Capcom. I even translated it from English to Japanese, and after I did that, I think there was this sentiment growing within the team that they wanted to make a Marvel game, and it turned out that [Capcom Japan executive producer] Yoshiki Okamoto had acquired the rights to use the X-Men in a video game. We weren’t sure at the time what kind of video game he wanted to make, just that he had acquired the rights. And actually, at the same time, he also told me that we could use all the Marvel characters. [...] So I think in terms of the initial conceptualization of the X-Men game, I can’t take credit for that. It would be Okamoto.

Alex Jimenez X-Men: Children of the Atom design support, Capcom USA

X-Men was something we had recommended [on the U.S. side]. We recommended doing a Marvel [head-to-head fighting] game using superheroes. Superheroes are made to order for that. And we were told to get one of the most popular ones, and at that time — mid-’90s — X-Men, they were on top of the universe. [...]

The minute I heard [Capcom Japan was interested], I jumped on top of [Capcom USA senior vice president Frank Ballouz] and was like, We got to do this, you know? We got to do this. I’m telling you. It’s going to make a fortune. It’s going to be great. It will cement us. No one else has done this yet. Data East came out with a side-scroller of The Avengers. I’m like, We’re going to blow them out of the water with X-Men, because I don’t know a kid out there in America now that doesn’t want to be Wolverine. So we were just all over it. I pushed it and pushed it and pushed it.

Scott Smith Product manager, Capcom USA

It’s weird considering where Marvel is today, but Marvel wanted to get into the market in Japan, and I think they were looking for opportunities, and video games were one of them, to penetrate the market and kind of make their properties a little more well known.

Katsuya Akitomo

Another thing was that Konami had just released [side-scrolling beat-’em-up] X-Men, which was a big hit for them [in America]. I think it was entertaining enough and people talked about it, but the thing is, a lot of players in Japan thought the game was unfair. For a lot of Japanese gamers, fairness is one of the most important elements of the gameplay experience. So because of that, it didn’t do well in the Japanese market at all. Also, even though the 1991 X-Men comic had come out by then, Konami’s X-Men arcade game was based on an animated pilot [from 1988 called Pryde of the X-Men]. I think only one episode ended up being made. So by the time Konami’s arcade game came out, it just seemed kind of old and the visuals were obviously different from what the comic book had shown us, so I thought it wasn’t really that interesting and it was a little too old. So I felt that we could do better.

Dana Moreshead

[Konami’s X-Men game was in development] right as I came into the licensing group. And you can tell, because honestly, they used clip art [for the arcade cabinet artwork], which I tried never to do on video game cabinets. [...] A part of it was, we would always have to navigate those aspects — like, which continuity is this project from? Is it from the animated series, which was slightly different than the comics? If it was in the comics, what time period was it from? What can we borrow? Which eras can we borrow from?

Justin McCormack

I just remember coming in and my boss, [Marvel head of licensing] Jerry Calabrese — great guy, but he was kind of all about the numbers. For the video games, between Sega and Capcom and I’m trying to remember whoever else, we would do these, like, Dec. 25 end-of-the-quarter deals, and they would be all verbal and Jerry would just whip these deals out. [...]

He really shot from the hip. He was a great guy, great businessman. He was just like, Make it work. Make it work. We’ll do it. And so again, we’d have these eleventh-hour million-, half-million-dollar deals, in order to make budget. But then it would be like, OK. Now you guys sort out the mess that we just created for you guys. So that would be what happened. We would always kind of be bandaging or fixing it up or rehabilitating deals that had sort of been done in the eleventh hour on a cocktail napkin because they were trying to make the quarter.

Alex Jimenez

At that time, luckily for us, Marvel was not doing well financially, you know? They were on the rocks, really on the rocks, and they were more than willing to license us the characters quickly and easily. They were like, Oh, sure. Here. They were desperate for money. They were literally — I mean, they actually did file Chapter 11 in [1996], so they were desperate for cash. So they gave us X-Men, and we took it and ran with it from there. The guys really did a great job with that one.

Dana Moreshead

I think [Children of the Atom] happened relatively early on and would have been very, as they say, easy [to negotiate]. I think [the later games] would have been more difficult. That had nothing to do — or very little to do — with Capcom, as much as it was navigating the other deals in existence. [...] I always had a great respect for our sales teams as they had to navigate all that stuff.

Justin McCormack

We were always touting our hundred — all of our characters. The reality was, obviously Spider-Man and the X-Men were the most popular, but we also had Punisher, which was popular. Silver Surfer — well-known character, but difficult, number one, to render. At that point, the technology wasn’t great. We had people coming at us for Hulk on his own. I mean, there were random characters that people could come in and get licenses for, because those characters had nothing on the dance card.

Six screenshots show the opening cinematic and gameplay from X-Men: Children of the Atom
X-Men: Children of the Atom marked the first time Capcom built a licensed competitive fighting game, with Capcom’s marketing playing up that it was “produced by the same team that created the Street Fighter II series.”
Graphic: James Bareham/Polygon

Nishitani’s choice

As Capcom put together the pieces for the game that would become Children of the Atom, the company needed someone to run the project. While Akitomo knew the license inside out, he didn’t have experience as a game designer or project leader, so Capcom needed someone else to direct the game. Enter Final Fight and Street Fighter 2 planner Akira Nishitani.

Takeshi Tezuka

One day, Okamoto called Nishitani and I into a meeting, and he gave Nishitani the option. Okamoto asked him, “Do you want to work on Street Fighter 3, or do you want to work on an X-Men game?” Nishitani chose X-Men.

Katsuya Akitomo

It was significant, you know? Because Nishitani had made Final Fight and Street Fighter 2. So I thought his presence on this team meant things would go well.

Takeshi Tezuka

I was happy [he chose X-Men]. When you deal with a franchise like Street Fighter, it’s a fighting game, but the characters are basically human, and thus limited to realistic — albeit greatly exaggerated — movements. But with the Marvel series, you’re dealing with superheroes who can do anything, and there had been lots of requests to do something different, so I thought it was a good idea. So, yeah. It was Nishitani’s decision, but even if I had made the call, I probably would have gone with X-Men anyway. Also, Street Fighter 3 would have been a lot of pressure, since it’s such a huge, popular series, and I didn’t have the confidence for that.

Katsuya Akitomo

Nishitani had hit a point where he had done everything he could think of with the Street Fighter series. He felt that there was really nothing left he could do without making changes to the fundamentals of Street Fighter, and so if he were to be involved in it, he felt like there would be no point. With X-Men, on the other hand, once Nishitani saw those characters and heard about their powers, he started getting a lot of ideas. For example, if you look at a character like Cyclops, he shoots out these wicked beams from his eyes, right? And it didn’t seem like there would be opportunities to do anything like that in the Street Fighter series.

Making two games in parallel

Around the time Capcom signed up to make Children of the Atom, it also signed up for a Super NES action game, X-Men: Mutant Apocalypse, and a second arcade fighting game: Marvel Super Heroes. For Capcom’s arcade group, that meant planning Children of the Atom and Marvel Super Heroes in parallel, with one group of artists working on Marvel in the background while another group — along with the planners, programmers, and other staff — initially focused on Children of the Atom.

Capcom ended up releasing Marvel Super Heroes to arcades less than a year after Children of the Atom, establishing its Marvel fighting game series from the start. Some had differing opinions on whether Marvel Super Heroes was a sequel in the traditional sense, though, given the similar mechanics but distinct story and cast.

Takeshi Tezuka

You could say that we made Marvel Super Heroes as a sequel to Children of the Atom in the same way Street Fighter 2: Champion Edition was a “sequel” to SF2. But Children of the Atom only used X-Men characters, and Marvel had more popular characters from the Marvel universe at the time, such as Spider-Man and Iron Man, so when we were making them, we figured they’d be viewed as different games. It’s sort of like, as the creators, internally, we saw Marvel as a sequel, but as a commercial product, we wanted to present it as its own distinct game.

Alex Jimenez

Marvel Super Heroes came on the heels of Children of the Atom. Everyone was expecting us to do an X-Men 2, you know? Everyone was expecting a sequel to that, and instead we came out literally a year, not even a year and a half later [with Marvel Super Heroes]. [...] When I got the word on that, I was obviously delighted, but I was like, Oh, this is a change in pace. I was like, Cool. We’re not just doing an add-on like Darkstalkers [did with its follow-up Night Warriors: Darkstalkers’ Revenge]. We’re doing a whole different game. This is cool.

Marvel Super Heroes marked Tezuka’s chance to direct a game for the first time. After working as a planner on Capcom’s beat-’em-up Cadillacs and Dinosaurs, he played a support role on Children of the Atom while overseeing Marvel Super Heroes in the background. Then, as design and programming staff finished their work on Children of the Atom and rolled onto Marvel Super Heroes — and COTA director Akira Nishitani left Capcom — Tezuka took on a larger role overseeing the team. Asked if Nishitani’s departure opened a slot for Tezuka to direct Marvel Super Heroes, Tezuka says he saw it differently.

Takeshi Tezuka

Actually, it’s the opposite. It was decided from the start that I would be the director of Marvel, so if anything, Nishitani was allowed to quit Capcom because there was another director ready for Marvel.

Controlling the madness

When designing the gameplay for its Marvel games, Capcom made a conscious effort to move away from the Street Fighter template that it had established years earlier. Many fighting games of the era felt like Street Fighter 2 with a different skin — sharing the same moves and character archetypes — but in Children of the Atom and Marvel Super Heroes, Capcom leaned into what made the licenses unique. Characters could leap multiple screens into the air, pull off 99-hit combos, and fill the screen with the sorts of chaos normally reserved for other mediums.

Akira Yasuda X-Men: Children of the Atom artist, Capcom Japan

If you compare X-Men to Street Fighter, the X-Men are mutants with special powers. So part of what we had to consider when we were designing the game was how we could take the move system in our fighting games and express the special abilities that the X-Men have and translate them into the game. While some of the characters in the Street Fighter series could be said to have superhuman powers, for the Marvel games we did like Children of the Atom, all of the characters were defined by being mutants with superpowers, so from the get-go we decided to try and make their special moves more intense and flashy.

Katsuya Akitomo

Children of the Atom was obviously about controlling the madness, and if you have a theme of controlling madness, the result will be something that looks wild, right? Nishitani and Yasuda, I think, were big proponents of this idea of controlling the madness, and I think that that became a very prevalent theme in the game. So at the time, I personally did not have any worries about how that would turn out. In fact, I felt that the more flashy the game was, the more fun it would be, and I think that’s what every team member felt as well. I mean, maybe we did too much with the game. Maybe we went too far. But we didn’t really know that or feel that at the time.

James Chen X-Men: Children of the Atom FAQ writer

The combo system was so free-form, and it was so revolutionary at the time that nobody knew how to do any of the stuff. You could launch people, go into air combos, and all that stuff, and nobody was doing it. But I kind of figured it out after a while because I was obsessed with combos, and that was the game that actually got me started writing my FAQs. I actually got known for writing FAQs at one point, and that was the game that kind of spurred that on.

Ken Williams Assistant editor, Electronic Gaming Monthly

It was all about pulling off these combos — especially a bunch of air combos if you can pull them off, and stuff like that. I didn’t really care for it. There’s not much of a ground game, and I didn’t like the variety of it.

Alex Jimenez

We got a lot of that with Children of the Atom. Because we were doing the double vertical screen, where you had the super jumps going really, really high up. We got a lot of pushback on that. A lot of people didn’t like that. They found it too confusing and too fast-paced, and I countered by pointing out, Well, you guys loved Street Fighter 2 Turbo, and that was 10 times faster than this. As far as the screen being too high, bear in mind: These aren’t martial artists. These are superheroes, you know? So they should be able to go higher, faster. I mean, come on. Half of them fly.

Chris Tang Marvel vs. Capcom design support, Capcom USA

Originally, I didn’t like those games. I thought having a beam cannon and doing many, many hits was cheesy. I kind of felt like — because I was really into skill-based fighting games — doing a combo and making the counter go up to a high number, that kind of meant something. If I got a 20-hit combo, I earned all those hits. [...] [Capcom’s Marvel games] cheapened it. It was like, you do a beam cannon and, Oh, 30 hits just like that, for free.

Takeshi Tezuka

We did do that intentionally, and the reason is because I think everything that came with Street Fighter 2 Turbo and after became more and more focused on hardcore gamers. And more casual gamers ended up getting shut out of that. So for the Marvel games, we wanted to make up for that by putting in a system that even ordinary players could enjoy easily. That’s why we put in all the various combos that were easy to access. Unlike Street Fighter 2, where the different special moves all required their own individual inputs, for the Marvel games we decided to make most of them share common inputs for simplicity’s sake. That way even bad players could enjoy the games.

Matt Atwood Marvel vs. Capcom public relations manager, Capcom USA

I think the big impact and the multiscreen combos and all that stuff was intimidating, but I think that the licenses helped keep people engaged.

A 3/4-size arcade cabinet with a Marvel Super Heroes logo sits on a riser
Arcade cabinet manufacturer Arcade1Up recently released a machine with Capcom’s first three Marvel arcade games included: The Punisher, X-Men: Children of the Atom, and Marvel Super Heroes.
Graphic: James Bareham/Polygon | Source image: Arcade1Up

The Capcom and Marvel relationship

When developing Children of the Atom and Marvel Super Heroes, Capcom and Marvel were simultaneously making games and learning how to work with one another. Though the companies had collaborated before on The Punisher, new staff and rising expectations put more of a focus on the partnership and communication between the two companies.

Dana Moreshead

We were a very small group back then. My team was a grand total of six people; six people including myself. We worked for marketing but spent most of our time with the licensing sales team, and they came in with the Capcom project. And from there on in, we were connected at the hip to Capcom for the longest time. [...]

This is all pre-internet, so we had developed this very unique, longhand form of working together where we would [look over] the game documents, the character reference [materials], which moves they do, what they couldn’t do. [...] We would get these 60-page faxes, or we would get a FedEx or international shipment with a few hundred pages in it [with] the character animations, because it was easier. They would basically handwrite the name. It might be that it was “Super Piledriver Twist,” and then they would sketch it out — an actual pencil drawing of what Omega Red was going to do, or what Wolverine was going to do — and then we would go back in and tweak. Sometimes it would be fine. Other times, we would make little tweaks. And sometimes we’d have to adjust the names because, even though they didn’t always appear on screen, the last thing we wanted was sort of an odd name showing up in one of these reference or how-to books. Once we got that process down, it all went relatively smoothly. A huge “relatively.” So much, so much work.

Justin McCormack

My bosses were more concerned about the money, unless there was a backlash creatively. Dana, because he was more of a fanboy and was charged with creative, he tried to be the enforcer, and I was always brought in to kind of help give Dana backup. You know, yell at people, that kind of thing.

Katsuya Akitomo

Because I knew so much about the Marvel franchises, people often came to me and asked me for information, so I ended up being the one who was also kind of in charge of making sure the right ideas were presented to Marvel. Sometimes people came up with ideas that misunderstood Marvel’s intentions or what they were willing to allow. But if the idea was good and if the idea would make fans happy, then Marvel would obviously approve it. [...]

I spent a lot of time translating comics for Capcom and consulting with the team. For example, I’d point things out and answer their questions, like explaining the difference in size and weight between Juggernaut and Spider-Man, or explaining how dangerous Juggernaut was and his whole “unstoppable” thing, or helping them get the right level of pomposity and arrogance for Dr. Doom’s lines. Lots of little things like that.

Takeshi Tezuka

I remember going to New York and negotiating with Marvel. [...] What kind of characters we should use, explaining how the game system worked, getting their understanding of that. [...] I remember proposing some characters we wanted to use in [Children of the Atom], but Marvel didn’t agree to let us use them. The opposite was also true, where they wanted us to put certain characters into the game, but then, we turned them down because those characters didn’t fit the game system that we were using. [...]

One of the characters I wanted was Venom. We couldn’t put him into the game. [...] Well, he was never in X-Men to begin with, but he didn’t appear in Marvel Super Heroes either, so ... hmmm ... Venom was a really major character, big enough that we probably would have had to get a whole separate license for him, so perhaps Capcom didn’t want to make things too complicated. No one ever said that, though, I should add. But the basic reason, I think, was because we based Marvel Super Heroes on the Infinity Gauntlet storyline, and Venom wasn’t in that.

Dana Moreshead

[With licensing in general] you’d get somebody that wanted to take an X-Men license and they would try to throw in members of the Fantastic Four or Spider-Man or just somebody that showed up in an X-Men comic. We’re like, Well, no. That’s not quite who the X-Men are. And even later, just dividing them up even between the teams — which characters work together, which ones don’t. Are they the good guys or the bad guys? There was always a little pushback. People would try to work in characters or properties, even backgrounds, that weren’t part of the character’s universe.

Alex Jimenez

We [had a lot of back and forth between Capcom USA and Capcom Japan as well], especially on Marvel Super Heroes, more than Children of the Atom. Marvel Super Heroes had a lot of debate on the characters, for who we could and couldn’t use. [...]

I wanted to have Gambit in [Children of the Atom]. I remember I wanted to have Gambit, and they wouldn’t let me have Gambit. They felt Gambit was a crook. He was a thief, so they didn’t want to use Gambit. They didn’t want to use Rogue because Rogue’s powers would be too difficult to reproduce, you know? Her ability to drain other people and take their powers. They thought it would be a little too tricky to do, especially for basically a 16-bit video game. A little hard on that one.

Marvel Super Heroes was the one I really disagreed with. I really disagreed with using Blackheart. I thought there were so many other characters we wanted to use. I wanted to have The Thing — Ben Grimm and The Thing. And Thor. Those were the main ones I wanted to do. They were like, “No, can’t go with that,” so.

Dana Moreshead

That part. Sort of sitting around in a room with arcane faxing and emailing back — well, barely emailing — sending notes back and forth about who the team could be was always one of the most interesting parts. I still remember when we were talking about the Marvel Super Heroes game, they asked for Shuma-Gorath. It’s always interesting, because everybody is familiar with the Marvel mainstays, but when you’re in a meeting and somebody in there, on their list of the first asks, has Shuma-Gorath, [it’s a surprise].

Even our team, which was made up of some pretty hardcore — let’s be honest — geeks, I think half of them just looked at each other like, Who? Is that ours? Is that yours? On my team, there were three of us that had grown up in and around comics, and we all were just like, The Doctor Strange villain? The squid with one eye? ”OK, sure. By all means, you can have Shuma-Gorath.”

Takeshi Tezuka

Unfortunately, Marvel Comics had very little visibility and awareness in Japan at the time, and so I remember when we were trying to select the characters for inclusion into the game, we wanted characters that Japanese gamers could easily identify with as well.

Dana Moreshead

What was interesting is, in some cases, we had other existing deals. Especially Spider-Man. Spider-Man had video games long before X-Men did, so there were existing deals we needed to sort of navigate around. And even when they branched out to do a Marvel Super Heroes game, we needed to make sure that the characters were not only balanced from a performance and play point of view, but from an intellectual property point of view. [We didn’t want the cast to be] three-quarters Spider-Man characters.

Justin McCormack

Gameplay was also an issue, right? Because there were plenty of parents’ groups that were, at this point, kind of hot about the violence in video games. And so that was something that was really the only reason I had to be involved, because I was the one person on our side who had the business clout to say, “No, you can’t do that.” But Capcom was always pretty compliant. [...]

The Japanese, the Japanese companies [...] they kind of did what they wanted to do and they would, a lot of times, just go ahead and then ask for apologies later, you know? Or apologize later, or pretend they didn’t understand what we were talking about. They would just sort of forge ahead. And that’s kind of how the Punisher game came out so violent. Somebody was asleep at the wheel on our side, and it was just like, Wow. This is a pretty heavy game. And it’s a great game, you know? I loved that game. But it was [more violent than the game industry was accustomed to at that point]. [...]

[Relatively, though,] Capcom was chill. We had a good relationship with them.

Marvel’s approvals commonly centered around character choices and visuals, though toward the end of Children of the Atom’s development, Capcom and Marvel came across a new challenge — getting the right voices in the game.

Alex Jimenez

One thing that was funny was, [Capcom Japan] called me up in a panic [...] literally less than two weeks before the game was supposed to be shipped. They called up in a panic saying that Marvel had turned down all the voice [actors] they’d come up with.

All the voice-over and audio for the game had been rejected except for the Silver Samurai; that was the only one they accepted. “They rejected all the others. What are we going to do?” I was like, “Well, who did you get to do the voice-overs?” “Oh, we got English-speaking people.” I’m like, “Were they Japanese? They have accents, you know. You can’t have Wolverine with a Japanese accent. It doesn’t work.”

So they were in a panic. They wanted me to talk to Marvel and get Marvel to go with it. I’m like, “Look, they’re not going to, no matter what you do, so let me see what I can do.” And I called up the head of licensing at Marvel at the time, a gentleman named Joe Calamari. He was the president of licensing. I said, “Joe, who does the voice-over work for the animated X-Men cartoon?” And he’s like, “Oh, it’s a group up in Canada. They’re really helpful,” bop-bop-bop. He goes, “You want me to set you up?” I’m like, “Yeah, please. May I get their number?” So I called them up. I told them who I was, what I was trying to do, and the woman up there was wonderful. She was the head of — it was called Dome [Productions], up there in Toronto.

And they said, “OK, which ones do you need?” And I told her which characters I need. “OK, well, we can get you these characters plus the studio time. Would $5,000 be too much?” $5,000 for all the characters and the studio time? Canadian? I was like, “Oh!” And I immediately set it all up, and I called [Capcom localization manager Tom Shiraiwa] in Japan. I said, “Hey, tell the guys to pack their bags. We’re going to Canada.” He’s, “What do you mean?” I go, “We’re going to go this Thursday.” “Are you sure they’re going to approve these voices?” I go, “Yeah, because we’re using the characters they actually have already, so they’re already preset. Joe Calamari has already assured me they are preapproved.”

So they were delighted. We got to work with the actual X-Men, and we actually used that as one of the sale points that we were using. We were connecting it directly to the animated series. We were using the actors from that.

Dana Moreshead

I do remember [that situation]. I don’t remember it as quite that big a time crunch. But yeah, they submitted, and really what wound up happening is, that first game was very much — it was a lovely trial by fire where all of these creative people, both on our side and their side, were used to working in our own very special and unique ways. Suddenly, we’re working together, trying to get a game done. You know, their team, maybe they had three or four people that spoke English. We didn’t speak any Japanese. So we literally, with the first release, [we] were trying to pioneer the way that we were going to hopefully do more.

I do remember the voices coming in and that basically the path of least resistance was for them to just essentially employ the [actors from the animated series]. And I don’t remember if they got all of the voice actors, but some of the voice actors. They hired the voice-over studio in Canada to do the voices. [...] And I remember it was quick. I don’t remember it being quite two weeks. But I’ll still give them the benefit of the doubt. It makes for a good story, right?

The start of something big

When Children of the Atom hit arcades in late 1994 and early 1995, it made an instant impact on players. There had been plenty of licensed fighting games before, but it was the first to break through to competitive fighting game fans and show that licensed games could stand up well next to hardcore favorites like Street Fighter.

While Akitomo remembers the arcade game selling very poorly in Japan and below expectations in the U.S., those we spoke to on the U.S. side recall the game being one of Capcom’s biggest successes of the mid-’90s.

Dana Moreshead

We couldn’t have planned it better if we tried. [...] It was a huge seller. It’s when the X-Men animated series had come on the air. [...] So it was a huge, huge — I mean, it exceeded everybody’s expectations.

Chris Kramer Street Fighter series public relations manager, Capcom USA

That was the ‘90s, dude. That was the X-Men era. That cartoon was on and making Marvel more money than they would make until the movies started, right? So that was Marvel’s bread and butter at that point in time.

Takeshi Tezuka

Of course, the Marvel games were developed primarily targeting overseas markets, but in Japan, the fact that a Japanese company like Capcom was making those games was obviously its own marketing point. In terms of the American comics market in Japan, I think Capcom’s games helped Marvel become more popular.

Alex Jimenez

[Capcom] banked on the popularity of X-Men. They took a bit of a gamble; I’ve got to give them credit for that. They took a bit of a gamble on it. Children of the Atom was their first hero-licensed game with Marvel, and they took a little gamble on that, and it paid off extremely well. Children of the Atom was a very, very popular game. Very successful title.

Following Children of the Atom and Marvel Super Heroes, Capcom took the series in a different direction with its first crossover fighting game: X-Men vs. Street Fighter. As the series grew, it eventually transformed into Marvel vs. Capcom and became one of Capcom’s long-running staples with multiple sequels — and the only one of Capcom’s fighting game franchises, apart from Street Fighter, to last more than 20 years.

Dana Moreshead

Generally what would happen is, we would have a deal for one or two arcade games. If that went well, [the licensee] would come back and we would figure out [what to do next] — you know, Capcom would come back and say, We want to do more. And we would say either yes or no. And the Capcom relationship was unique in that it really did grow exponentially. So we went from trying out one game to being very happy with the results. And then going to another game, and another game, and another game.

But each time they would expand, they would — we’d try to add more stuff. So, it snowballs. It starts with one and then goes to two if everybody performs. Goes to three and four, and then, when it became relatively easy to port that motherboard over from the arcade game to make the home version, then all the brakes came off, because suddenly we were able to take their area of expertise, which really was the stand-up game, and bring them home. [...]

[When we got to X-Men vs. Street Fighter], I don’t think that we had ever done a character crossover before in licensing. [...] It was a big deal.

They’re like, We want to do this.

And we’re like, Let’s try it. Let’s try it.

We have changed certain game titles and character names throughout this series to reflect their English versions and reduce confusion. Job titles reflect past roles relevant to the topics discussed.

Japanese interview interpretation: Alex Aniel

Post-interview retranslation: Alex Highsmith