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Exclusive Canadian Interview - Metroid: Other M

Exclusive Canadian Interview - Metroid: Other M

Platform: Nintendo Wii
Category: Action Games

During the madness that is known as E3 2010 (June 15th-17th), I got a chance to sit down with Team Ninja’s Yosuke Hayashi and Nintendo of Japan’s Yoshio Sakamoto (Lead Developer) to discuss the upcoming release of Metroid: Other M for the Nintendo Wii this August. We were the lone Canadian outlet to get an interview with these two incredible people, so I was quite honoured to get a chance to due so. As I sat down to chatted with them I realized that these two individuals bring an incredible amount of talent and expertise to this latest Metroid which is set to be released in just over a month. So without further delay, here is a transcript of what we talked about. I hope you find the content informative, I know I did.

Kirby Y - Taking such a storied franchise such as Metroid, how much creative freedom was Team Ninja given during the development of the title.

Y. Sakamoto (Nintendo) - Actually I do feel like there was a lot of freedom for [all of] us as there are always new ideas occurring to us and new experiences we can provide the players. So in that sense, we do not feel we are bound by past Metroid games, rather we want to continue to define the experience we give gamers in the future. Every time we evaluate a new feature we have to be very severe to ourselves and make sure it is an appropriate idea, it works well, and has a value in of itself before we go on.

Kirby Y - I had a chance to play the game on the show floor. I noted that the game has both a 2D gameplay element as well as it incorporates the 3D first person shooter elements of the more recent games. Is Metroid: Other M paying homage to both the 2D roots of older Metroid titles as well as to the games that took the series into the realm of 3D first person shooters?

Y. Sakamoto - I wouldn’t say we are paying homage to 2D and 3D. We were just looking for something that works. As you know, I have been developing Metroid games since the NES era and perhaps as a result of that history I feel the most natural way to control Samus is the use of the d-pad and the two buttons for jump, run, and shoot. This is something that has always defined the series. it is a game that has a comfortable control for jumping and action and that is a desirable feeling when we are working on these games. So it is not a sense of keeping the legacy, we just want to make something that works. We want to make games with impact so we have to think about using camera angles to dramatic affect in a 3D space. It is not something we can do in a first person perspective where the camera is centered on the player. We have the ability to switch the perspective of the first person when there is a moment that is particularly dramatic from that special angle or shoot missiles or examine something more closely in that environment. So it is not that we are paying homage or protecting the legacy but we are thinking of what works or brings the best experiences. The people that made that happen who helped us realize this dream were the people at Team Ninja like Mr. Hayashi with their technological know how.

Kirby Y - Metroid has a storied history since the NES days. There are going to be a lot of older people playing given they first played it on the original NES, but now you are introducing the game to a lot of younger people who have never had the chance to play any of the former games. How are you balancing the weight of satisfying the older generation as well as the younger and newer generation?

Y. Hayashi (Team Ninja) - I should start by saying that we are making this game with a clear theme in mind, and that is that we want to use the most advanced technology to create a game that has the simplicity and accessibility of play that a NES game would have. So in that sense, if we want to appeal to a younger generation that might not have played a Metroid game in past. They might see this as a very slick 3D action game and that is fine if that is the way it appeals to them and bring them in, but at the same time for people who have been playing the game since the beginning of the series, but perhaps felt left out by the ever more complex control schemes of newer games, this is a chance for them to see the Metroid game they have always loved but this time see that it has a simple control scheme using the d-pad and two buttons; so they might even think that “oh, I can play that, great, I have been wanting to get back into Metroid”. So for that reason you can have old fans and new players both having the same enjoyable experience of this one game.

Kirby Y - I don’t know the history of how this project came to be, so did Nintendo come to Tecmo (Team Ninja) or did Tecmo come to Nintendo. How does Team Ninja feel that they are now the creative force behind this new Metroid game?

Y. Sakamoto - When I first decided to make Other M as a game, this was more then three years ago. I had this design firmly in my mind and I knew I wanted to make it on the Wii, but considering I only had experience making 2D games we were a little bit stuck and we could not start right away even though we had a plan in mind. We did not have the technological know how. At that time it made sense to look for partners, and we saw that Team Ninja would be a good fit, so it was Nintendo that approached Team Ninja.

Y. Hayashi - I have to say that I have always been a Metroid fan, so when I knew that I was going to get to work on a game featuring a heroine with worldwide recognition like Samus, I was excited. I had only worked on rather complex 3D action games up to that point, so this was going to be a new challenge knowing that they were only going to use the single Wii Remote as the control input. I thought this was an interesting concept as action games have been becoming so complex that they have been leaving people behind. This was a chance to bring both worlds together and considering the history of my career, and what I have been working on, this was a very good challenge in terms of growth, so I decided to accept.

Kirby Y - Team Ninja has been known for making some hard and difficult games. This is not an insult as this is what they do, they make them challenging and reward the gamer for their effort. Given that you are now making a game that is coming to the Wii, and the audience is much broader and not so mature, how are you able to address the challenge so that everyone can enjoy the game?

Y. Hayashi - So when you think about the kind of action games we have been working on, certainly Ninja Gaiden comes to the forefront, and I would have to say that a very big challenge is the essential element of Ninja Gaiden. People play the series because they know it is there, but this is not our identity as developers, but it is of the series. If I had to think about some of my own personal goals, I want to make games that people can play without reading the manual. This is one of the concepts we are trying to take to development of Metroid: Other M in this case. And when we think of how to balance difficulty, we think of what is the appropriate difficulty for a Metroid game, it is not based on Wii Users being a specific kind of person and they cannot accept a challenge of this level so we have to make the game this difficulty, rather [we think of] what is the appropriate difficulty of a Metroid game specifically, and that is how we are approaching this problem. I have to say that most Metroid games have a good level of difficulty and they are not simple games certainly. I think that this game will fit nicely with the rest of the games in these terms.

Kirby Y - There has always been talk of Japanese gamers being a different type of gamer from North American gamers. Are Team Ninja taking this into account when the project is eventually released world wide? Is there going to be a differentiation between the two or they looking for the one game, one piece fit all?

Y. Sakamoto - I certainly would not say that the difficulty level will be different. If you have to say how the gamers in Japan and North America differ, I would have to say there are different levels of reaction and interest in Japan and North America. For example, there are many people in Japan who love Metroid, but the overwhelming reactions we get in the U.S. always seem to dwarf those that love the game in Japan. It is a very different level of acceptance I think. The game is going to be the same, the difficulty is going to be the same, perhaps the only difference is the voice acting (Japanese in Japan, English in N. America). The story and the message are exactly the same. We don’t think about separating our audience in that way when designing a game, rather I think about the people who played Metroid games in the past and have stopped. I think about how I can bring back those people to the game that they loved. I emphasize a unified approach to gamers in both U.S. and Japan.

Kirby Y - Team Ninja has been known for the graphical abilities on the next generation consoles like the PS3 and Xbox 360. This is now your first high profile graphic intensive Wii game. I am curious to know of any technological challenges and if you had to alter the plan/vision of the game for how it looks and how it plays?

Y. Hayashi - Well certainly we didn’t feel we would have to change the essential way Metroid games have been expressed visually in the past. For example, we weren’t going to decide that the game should be cel-shaded because it is on the Wii. We actually wanted to see how far we could carry a realistic look on this hardware. Of course it is different technology, but you have to understand the way that people are developing games on the Wii in 2010 that can still result in real realistic and real beautiful looking games and that was our aim all along. I wouldn’t say that there was anything that we had to give up on or jettison from our original plans or intentions on how the game was going to play, or look, or control. Rather we aimed for everything we could.

Kirby Y - During my time with the game on the show floor, I noticed how the story is paramount to this current game. I am interested to know how much work went into the story such as the number of writers, the time they may have spent developing the plot line, and doing the cut-scenes as the story is a big part of carrying along the experience.

Y. Sakamoto - Yes, we did spend a lot of time on the scenario. I wrote it myself. Five years ago I tried to put it all together thinking I wanted a story that brought out a bit more of Samus’ background and I had to fill the gap in the storyline of the entire series as it happened between Super Metroid and Metroid Fusion. I knew that overall we were going to end up with something where the Other M story flow was going to fit very well as a component of the series; but I had to get the story of this particular game right in my head first before I could really set it down, and it was all mixed up until I really started talking to Tecmo and we were able to condense it down to a really clean narrative.

So one of the most important things of the story is that we had to come up with something we felt that was convincing. It was a Metroid story, it had to be very persuasive all on its own but it also had to be paired well with the cut-scenes. Now this [game] is an exciting, yet comfortable to play, action game with simple controls, but there is another important element: you have to make sure the action leads people into the story and that the story is an interesting motivation that drives people to continue on the action game and the two elements have to work together in tandem and blend very well. So when thinking of what we needed here we realized that we would need very good images to tell the story as well. To accomplish this we had one other very important partner that I want to tell you about. In addition to Tecmo we worked with D Rocket which was our cinematic team. Together D Rocket and Tecmo made some really amazing movies that made a really cinematic experience that matched the game well. We feel very confident about the overall presentation of the game and can’t wait for people to get their hands on it and tell us how they feel about it.

Kirby Y - I guess my last question is where do you hope to take the franchise from here, both from Nintendo’s side and Tecmo’s side? Would Team Ninja like to continue with it? Given the unveiling of the 3DS, would Team Ninja like to carry this series over to that console given they now have a more powerful portable medium to work with?

Y. Sakamoto - You should probably ask both of us as Mr. Hayashi and I may have different perspectives on this. I will start first. I feel personally the Metroid universe has many more stories to tell so you can certainly expect to see future Metroid games on future hardware using each of the unique aspects of each new platform. In fact, there is also a good possibility that there is more we can do using the technological framework that we have already created for this game, the M System, that probably has a few more stories it can tell as well. As for the collaboration with Tecmo I can’t say for sure it will continue immediately after this project, we don’t have any firm plans to do so, but I can say that we were able to overcome company lines to create an amazing Metroid game, so if suddenly someone asked me to find a better partner I don’t think that would even be possible and would be a nonsense proposition, but before I give too much effuse praise someone should ask Mr. Hayashi if he feels the same way.

As for 3DS Metroid, we don’t have any plans for something like that right now. We have been putting all our energy into Other M, so we wouldn’t be finishing in time to start a development cycle in time for a 3DS launch. This means we will have the time to see the earliest 3DS games and learn from them and think of what they have done and what some of the lessons might be there for when we want to make a Metroid game. We are certainly going to try and think of what is going to be a perfect experience on the 3DS, something that you can only do on that on that platform and carry it on as far as we can.

Y. Hayashi - Well I do feel wonderful to hear Mr. Sakamoto say all those nice things about us, and of course I am very honoured to have been able to work together in this collaboration and very happy I made the decision to do so. When you work together with someone like this it can be really hard to find such a good close working relationship and I have been grateful to have that. When I first started on this project I was struck by what a perfect challenge it was for me, for where I am going next, and the types of games I am challenging myself to make. You have to understand that developers spend years on each project so they have to choose them very carefully and think about what directions it will take them. This turned out to be a very good choice for me. Having considered that I also love Samus as a character so much, this ended up being very fortuitous. Moving forward I guess the thing to do is think about what is the best next challenge for me, it is important to consider that direction.

Kirby Y - Thank you for your time.


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