Back in August Nintendo offered me the opportunity to interview Yoshio Sakamoto, designer of Metroid: Other M and all around Metroid Guru (he's been working on the franchise for 25 years), via email.
It took a while to receive responses to my questions, and some of them might seem dated now that the game has been out for a few weeks and many people have played it, but it's always interesting to get a glimpse inside the mind of a game maker-especially one as experienced and celebrated as Mr. Sakamoto.
Read on to learn how Other M fits into Metroid canon, glean details on how Team Ninja's involvement affected the game's development, and discover why he'd rather not see Samus Aran's body while it's scrunched up inside her Morph Ball armour.
What has Team Ninja, a studio known for producing challenging games filled with sexy characters and extreme violence, brought to the series?
I think Team Ninja is clearly misunderstood. Their methods of extreme expression, which you reference, are only one of the various approaches they have. The truth is that they have a variety of expert technologies and "know-how" and are serious and stoic about bringing those aspects into the games they develop in the best manner.
In Metroid: Other M, they were able to realize wonderful ideas and game system mechanics to enhance the overall experience. To provide some examples, they delivered the free control experience of Samus in a 3D environment only with the D-pad for controls as well as brought some special features like Overblast or Lethal Strike, which were designed by their team. Another one of their unique creations is Sense Move, an intuitive and stylish dodging action using the D-pad, which became one of the critical features for Metroid: Other M gameplay.
One more thing I have to emphasize is that they never brought anything unnecessary to the game, only elements to make the experience better for the player.
Tell me about the way players move between a first- and third-person perspective. What was the rationale for this decision and how does it affect the way the game plays and is paced?
This feature was originally applied to the game design from the first stage of the Metroid: Other M project, three years ago. We believed it was essential to include immersive sight-which is reminiscent of the Metroid Prime titles-or a new kind of gameplay to a 2D platformer game while maintaining the simple control. I'm sure it will positively influence the gameplay by adding excitement and intensity as this perspective has been optimized for Metroid: Other M. Of course I understand it will take some players a little bit of time to become experienced with and grow fond of it, but I am confident that almost every player in the end will understand that our choice was the right one.
Are there other innovations players can expect to see in Metroid: Other M? Will the core play feel familiar to fans of the series?
Metroid: Other M is full of innovation and challenges, but its gameplay is what series fans have been familiar with. This game's advertisements in Japan state that it is "A NES game which utilizes cutting-edge technology." I think this statement represents what the game is all about.
Was your intent to create a hybrid of classic Metroid and the newer Metroid Prime games developed by Retro Studios?
Classical Metroid titles and the Metroid Prime titles have totally different concepts and we had no need to integrate them at all. However, we chose to use the elements that made those games unique and include some of them in Metroid: Other M.
Can you tell us a bit about the story? How does Other M fit into Metroid canon?
The storyline of classical Metroid titles that I have been involved with are connected from the original Metroid for NES or Metroid Zero Mission (a remake on GameBoy Advance), Metroid II for GameBoy, Super Metroid, and Metroid: Other M. It is true that all the Prime titles are chronologically between the original Metroid and Metroid II, but they have so many things that are not in common with the rest of the Metroid story.
Myself, the Metroid Prime producer, and Retro Studios decided that the Prime titles would be different from the original Metroid games from a story perspective. This allowed the Retro team to express what we really wanted to express as freely as possible without being bound to the existing storyline or settings.
Despite being one of the most popular and beloved heroines in video games, I don't think average gamers have a good sense of Samus Aran's personality, her beliefs, or her motives. Will Metroid: Other M change that?
There are many different perspectives of Samus Aran between the series of classical Metroid games and the Metroid Prime titles. However, I don't find they are completely different personas. Samus in the Prime titles mainly shows her cool and professional side as a bounty hunter and represents what Samus Aran is for many of you. For Metroid: Other M, we tried to introduce another side of her and to get more insight into her inner conflict. I hope many of you will understand and empathize with her as you play and discover more about her character.
It's no secret that eastern and western gamers often have differing tastes in games. Why is it that Metroid has crossed cultural boundaries to become a worldwide hit?
I suppose it is because the game has been acclaimed as a great game all over the world. Nintendo, Team Ninja, and Retro Studios have done all we could do for each title. We are grateful that our efforts and challenging spirits have brought about a good fruit that is enjoyed by gamers.
You've been working on Metroid games for decades, designing and directing several of them and supervising others. What is it about these games that excites you? How do you maintain passion for a franchise a quarter century after creating it?
The Metroid world gives us excitement, new ideas, and motivations whenever we need them. As a result, the Metroid realm gets wider and wider. Samus Aran is an important key for me. Even now, she has an inner side which has never been revealed, even to me. That's why I am always trying to understand and depict her in a charming way. These are probably the reasons that motivate me for further Metroid development and enhancing the franchise. Personally, I really enjoy my work as a game developer and Metroid is not the only franchise that I contribute to.
Last question: How is it that Samus doesn't have back problems after years of scrunching herself into a small metal ball?
She must be physically fit and flexible without limit. I don't want to see how she looks while scrunching. And the Morph Ball simply cannot be made up of the normal metals we know today.