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I'm reporting live from the floor of GDC! I just finished hearing the talk on Donkey Kong Country Returns, and it was fantastic! We learned a lot of interesting things about DKCR, including some fantastic information about how the game was extensively prototyped - initially off the Metroid Prime engine, which had been in use for a decade! It was also incredibly difficult for Retro Studios - both the art team as well as the engineering team - to adapt from a serious sci-fi action game to a light-hearted, cartoony game, not only in terms of art assets (making sure those trees look like Donkey Kong trees rather than Metroid Prime trees!) but also other practical applications such as changing from a 3D game to a 2D game and moving from a small number of animations required for Samus' gun to the 2000 polygons required for a single character in Donkey Kong Country Returns! This was made possible through the process of rapid prototyping, creating many tiny demos to test the look and especially the feel of the game, even spending an hour getting down the rhythm of the ground pound mechanic and animation. In fact, Retro got so good at this that with remote conferencing between the Retro and Nintendo producers and the development team that they could often implement game modifications less than an hour into the meeting to verify whether the designs worked as expected!
At the end of the talk, Michael Kelbaugh was asked a question about how speedrunning was implemented into Donkey Kong Country Returns. Well, it turns out that the folks at Retro Studios LOVE the speedrunning community! They recognize how much Metroid Prime fans love to speedrun, and also saw how much the Donkey Kong Country community also does. So while speedrunning wasn't considered at the start of development, it was definitely on their minds after the core of the game had been polished. I also talked with Retro Studios senior software engineer Aaron Walker - who is also very friendly - about speedrunning and the Trilogy. There were plenty of changes made to the Metroid Prime Trilogy, a large number of which were cutting out sequence breaking. While Retro Studios loves the care that speedrunners put into their games, Nintendo's producer Kensuke Tanabe was obligated to cut them out for the Trilogy release. D'oh!
After the talk, I asked Michael whether Retro Studios would continue to work with Nintendo IP or if they would begin developing their own IP soon. His response was that Retro's resources are put where they are most needed, and that they enjoy working with Nintendo IP, but are also interested in developing new works as well. They work with prototypes and experiments all the time, some of which are Nintendo-based, and others which are original material. However, we shouldn't expect to see any new IP coming out, as Michael says, "tomorrow"! Whether their next game is Donkey Kong Country Returns Again or Doki Doki Panic (as Michael mentioned an old game he'd love to tackle during the Q&A session), it sounds as if it will of course be awhile before we see what new things Retro can cook up!
Yesterday, I also ran into Tommy Tallarico, who was (not) credited with the SFX to Metroid Prime (though he did all of them!). In an earlier interview, Tommy had also mentioned he worked on one of the early trailers, but hadn't remembered which one exactly! Well, I asked him which one, and it turns out this was the Spaceworld 2000 trailer with Samus running down the corridor chased by all those parasites! That's Tallarico Studios audio quality in action!
Expect a more detailed overview of the talk later in the day!
Until next time...