Special articles, columns and features exclusive to the MDb.
These special interviews with Metroid Fusion and Metroid Prime's Japanese development and production staff were featured on the official Japanese Metroid Prime and Metroid Fusion website as part of the Nintendo Online Magazine March 2003 edition. Sadly, this interview was never translated by Nintendo. This is our exclusive translation of those pages. Enjoy! You can view the original page of the Metroid Fusion development staff interview here. Huge thanks to Sami R for translating this article for the Metroid Database!
For this fourth interview, we are introducing to you Retro Studios, who've opened the way for a new kind of first-person game. These people respect the Metroid series more than anyone else. What kind of challenges did they face while making Metroid Prime?
Retro Studios is a developer located in Austin, Texas. They have all of the latest game development facilities, like a motion capture studio and a movie theater.
Many of Retro's staff members have experience working on games aimed at PC gamers. In particular, they possess an extremely high level of expertise and know-how concerning first-person games. Metroid Prime, which was released in America in November last year, is the studio's first game and has received a strong critical reception in the West. In 2002, 100% of their shares were bought by Nintendo, making them a subsidiary of the parent company.
- Around how long did the development of the game take?
- Mike: Broadly speaking, the game took about two and a half years to make.
- Since this was your first game for the Gamecube, were there any particular areas that you experienced hardship with? And was there anything that was different from the games you've made before?
Mark: The Gamecube is extremely powerful, so as a game developer, we were able to achieve many more things and create much more content than ever before. Even though we've enjoyed a tremendous improvement in technology, at the same time, you now have to spend much more time creating the game world with many fine details, and game content, which is put together in an increasingly sophisticated manner. This is why our work load as developers has also grown immensely. The fact that we've managed to create Metroid Prime with the necessary level of quality and amount of detail is a testament to the talented staff - artists, designers, engineers ? we employ in each field.
- How was making a game in a major franchise like this with Nintendo? Is there a particular episode you'd like to tell us about?
Mike: From the very beginning, when we were making decisions on the overall design of the game and its direction, we were working together with Nintendo EAD. Communication played a major role in ensuring the high quality and the right direction for the game. We exchanged hundreds, thousands of emails during the production of the game and held a great many video and teleconferences. And to further compensate for the lack of direct communication, we had Nintendo staff members come over to Texas, while some of our own staff travelled over there.
- Was making a "3D Metroid" your objective from the first planning stages of the game?
Mark: Back when making a Metroid game was first proposed to us, Miyamoto-san (the general manager of Nintendo EAD) was imagining a game played from a first person perspective. Therefore, 3D was a part of the game design from the very earliest stages of development. The decision to make a game played in first-person perspective brought an essential change to the focus of the game system. First, we had to investigate which of Samus's abilities could be expressed properly in first-person view (the Screw Attack proved to be extremely difficult to pull off). In addition, we had to invent new, exciting elements, like the Visor System, which would utilize the first-person perspective. While designing the concept of a 3D Metroid, we didn't concentrate on "what we can't do." Instead, we focused on "what Samus should be able to do in this new state." While we were making progress on the development of the game, we found this way of thinking very helpful in imagining what the end result should be like.
- While taking the Metroid series into 3D, how did you capture the essence of the series?
Mark: I think the essence of the Metroid series can be encapsulated into three basic characteristics: "atmosphere", "exploration", and "Samus." The atmosphere of Metroid is that of an extremely eerie, ominous sort of science fiction. We were certain that in 3D we could bring that to life very well. The games in the series up to now have been 2D sidescrolling adventures. It's surprising that they've been able to create such an atmosphere like that. Through the power of the Gamecube hardware, while we are of course continuing this Metroid-like atmosphere, we could also create a concrete sense of 3D space, which the players can explore.
The element of "exploration" in Metroid was a very good fit with the first-person perspective. Miyamoto-san said to us that for surveying the environment around you, switching to first-person perspective was the best solution. So since the main objective of the game is exploration, it was ideal that it would be played from this perspective. Therefore, with this set in our minds, we went on to create a world in which the player would have to look around in order to discover things.
In the US, Samus is thought of as one of the coolest game characters ever created. This time, the challenge that was laid down before us was to not just to recreate the impression she made in previous games, but also to let the players somehow really feel like they were Samus. This was very difficult, to say the least. With Nintendo's help, we came up with and tested many features which would really help the player to get the impression that they were the ones behind each action. For example, the way enemies' body fluids splatter on your visor, how your visor is interfered with by currents of electricity, how Samus's face is sometimes reflected on a section of the visor, or the way her left hand comes up to the screen when she has suffered a heavy blow from an enemy. These elements don't just make you feel like you are a part of the action, but they also put the players in a position where they will have to make the same kind of tactical decisions Samus would. We concentrated our efforts on making the players feel like they were cool, like Samus herself.
- Out of all the appealing features of Metroid Prime, is there something in particular you'd like Japanese players to experience?
Mark: First of all, I'm sure Japanese players will enjoy the new Visor System. By using the system properly, players can make different kinds of discoveries. If you'd like to know more about the enemies or the story of the game, just scan the things around you. If you'd like to see an enemy moving covertly in the darkness, just use the Thermal Visor. If you'd like to see objects hidden within the environment, use the X-Ray Visor. We hope that the players will enjoy exploring the magnificent world of Metroid Prime that we've created.
The Morph Ball is another feature of the game that stands out with its unique feel. This item has a really fun, playful feel to it, but it can also be put to practical use in various situations within the game. We've designed it on purpose to be of limited use in battle. Instead, players can use it as a way to move around the environment, find hidden paths, and solve puzzles. The Morph Ball is an important component of the game, which really sets it apart from other first person games.
- Metroid Prime belongs to what is called the FPS genre. As the producers of the game, did you have any aspects in mind that would set it apart from other games in the genre?
Mark: From the very beginning, we recognized that Metroid games are, above all, about exploration. While shooting is an essential component of this game, you can't say it's the focus. We made this way of thinking the base for making this game. Thinking about what the player would do in the world we were creating directed the majority of the game design choices we made during the production. The moment we decided to concentrate on adventure instead of shooting, we started calling this a "first person adventure game."
Most of Samus's abilities are about exploration. The various visors she uses in this game are an example of that. Through the different visors, you can affirm the state of your surroundings and solve various problems. This gameplay system is a major step forward in changing the current concept of what first person games can be.
It's not just the Visor System that separates this from other first person games. The Morph Ball is another important element like this. It also proved to be one of the major challenges we faced while making the game. Back when we were first conceptualizing Metroid Prime, we acknowledged that making a Metroid game without the Morph Ball would be impossible. Everyone agreed that to use the Morph Ball the way we intended, it would have to be from a third-person perspective. While creating the shift from first-person perspective to third-person was extremely challenging, we were able to pull it off unexpectedly well. After that, we had to focus on what kind of role the Morph Ball would play in the game. In contrast to the first-person mode where Samus holds her arm canon on the screen, we intentionally designed the Morph Ball to be unsuitable for combat situations. Being wrapped up into a ball is not a state which gives you the impression of power, so it felt by nature to be ill-suited for battle. Instead, to make the Morph Ball a handy, cool item, we made it play a role like a key in the progression of the game.
And then, the massive bosses which appear in the game are another aspect which separates Metroid Prime from other first-person games. Each boss demands the player to use different items or master different skills in order to be defeated. The boss battles in this game are very exciting and not something you'd tend to see in other games in the genre.
When it comes to the game controls themselves, acknowledging the risks, we intentionally made them with a new kind of approach in mind. The lock-on system employed in this game is very different from other games in the genre. We feel confident that all kinds of players will find the controls easy to handle.
- When it comes to FPS games on home consoles, because you can't use a mouse to control the game, they can be rather hard to play. Because Prime has auto aiming and lock-on features, you get the impression that it's very easy to play. When you were designing the controls, was there anything in particular that you paid close attention to? And were there any aspects that you found particularly troublesome?
Karl: First of all, step number one was figuring out why controlling first person games made for home consoles is so difficult. Our conclusion was that it's because with current controls, even something simple like aiming at your enemies, placing them in your field of vision, is difficult. Our solution was the lock on system, by which you can set your target in the middle of the screen when necessary.
While going through with this proposal, we had the fear that the game would end up too simple. We think that by moving the focus of the game from "aiming at the enemy" to "making tactical choices" and steadily modifying the attack patterns of the enemies, we were able to overcome this potential problem. We're extremely satisfied with the end result and feel that this special characteristic of the game will make it easily enjoyable to all kinds of players.
- Even though the game takes place in a full 3D world, because of the map screen, it's really easy to make out the shape and size of the game world. When you were designing the map system and its interface, were there any features you found particularly hard to do?
Karl: We had agreed from the very beginning that a 3D map was the best way to guide the player around a 3D game world, so designing the system went along very well.
- Could you please tell us about the story behind the very impressive, "virus-like" title screen? Is there some kind of a meaning behind it?
Karl: The concept was that Metroids would capture members of an enemy species. We were then thinking about showing the process of biological regeneration. In any case, we had this "virus-like" image in mind. Finally, it ended up playing as the opening animation in the title screen. It gives out the kind of atmosphere that's evoked throughout the game.
- Are there any plans for a sequel? If so, what parts would you like to "power up"? And is there anything you'd like to change?
Mike: While there are some discussions going on concerning a possible sequel to Metroid Prime, we are still in the process of just enjoying the favorable reception the first game has received.