Yoshio Sakamoto discusses Metroid 64, Metroid Dread and the 3DS
On the day of Metroid: Other M’s European release, games™ met series creator Yoshio Sakamoto to discuss his immediate feelings on the Team Ninja collaboration, the fascinating history of the series and where it might go from here.
Unfortunately I haven’t been able to see the reviews from the gaming press yet. I’m very interested to read them, of course, but I’ve been having problems with internet access while on my European tour. So, maybe you can tell me what the critical reaction has been…
Well we definitely loved the game. General reaction across the media has been mixed, but all within the upper bracket of review scores. One of the challenges we think you must have had, perhaps from a PR perspective as much as a development one, was scepticism surrounding the involvement of Team Ninja. It’s something that nearly every review has mentioned.
When we first announced that we were collaborating with Team Ninja, I think a lot of people were surprised and there might have been some scepticism as to the effect they would have on Metroid and Samus Aran especially. A lot of people misunderstood that Team Ninja has only been making games about sexy women characters. But that’s a simple misunderstanding and the fact of the matter is that Team Ninja is a group of very talented and very experienced people. They have enough ability to make what I expected of Other M. If players and critics have overcome that scepticism and now like the game, I have to say that as a whole team, Nintendo and Team Ninja together, we are very pleased.
We were quite surprised by how well the classic Metroid gameplay and the new elements introduced by Other M fit together. It felt as though the DNA of Team Ninja had merged seamlessly with Nintendo’s DNA. How difficult was it to achieve that feeling?
When I originally thought about the concept of Other M, I was trying to locate a team that would be able to realise my dream. I wasn’t just looking at the teams inside Nintendo but external studios too. I received several recommendations for potential partners and around that time I was also able to play Ninja Gaiden and my notion of the 3D game was changed. Frankly speaking, I have to admit that I am not good at playing 3D games myself, maybe because I have no sense of direction in real life. But after playing Ninja Gaiden I was really surprised because, first, I was able to play this 3D game and, second, because this particular game gave me a really good sensation. So I thought that maybe this team would be able to make my dreams come true. Ninja Gaiden was already doing a lot of what I wanted to achieve with the Other M project so I approached Team Ninja and briefed them with the details of my project and they agreed.
Since you used the term DNA, I think we should perhaps say something about Nintendo’s DNA. We wanted it to play a part in Other M, of course, but Nintendo’s DNA is such that we always want its cells to evolve. And I think that’s the same for Team Ninja. Even though we have to admit that the two companies have very different DNA there are also a lot of common elements, one of which is the fact that we pull no punches in striving to produce quality games and to constantly raise the bar for that quality. Most importantly, we always have the mindset that if something entertains our players then we should still try to improve on it anyway. In other words, although Team Ninja is a group of relatively young people they are a kind of old-school team with the spirit of the veteran game designers. And when it comes to Nintendo we are more of the veteran designers group who are willing to bring our own know-how into development. So the end result of Metroid: Other M was, I think, the optimal fusion between the two DNA of both companies.
As far as the basics of how we construct a 3D game are concerned, I think I’m now understanding a lot better than before we started this project. For example, although I still don’t fully understand 3D gaming, I think I’m now able to tell the feasibility of my ideas whenever I present them to the game designer. But when it comes to the technological aspect, nothing significant has changed because in my entire career I have never had 100% knowledge of any gaming technology. My way of making games is to approach those who are most knowledgeable about a given technology and challenge them to push themselves even further by introducing new ideas to them. Giving out that kind of stimulation I think I am able to grow and nurture individual programmers or engineers. And in that context, for example, I have learned how to communicate with 3D specialists. I’m still saying the same things as I have always done but my vocabulary is more suited to their specific area of development now.
This apprehension over 3D gaming, is that the reason there was never a Metroid 64?
I was actually thinking about the possibility of making a Metroid game for N64 but I felt that I shouldn’t be the one making the game. When I held the N64 controller in my hands I just couldn’t imagine how it could be used to move Samus around. So for me it was just too early to personally make a 3D Metroid at that time. Also, I know this is isn’t a direct answer to your question but Nintendo at that time approached another company and asked them if they would make an N64 version of Metroid and their response was that no, they could not. They turned it down, saying that unfortunately they didn’t have the confidence to create an N64 Metroid game that could compare favourably with Super Metroid. That’s something I take as a complement to what we achieved with Super Metroid.
Can you say who that company was?
Sorry, I cannot.