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The Elegance Of Metroid: Yoshio Sakamoto Speaks
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The Elegance Of Metroid: Yoshio Sakamoto Speaks

April 23, 2010 Article Start Page 1 of 3 Next

As creator of the Metroid franchise, 28-year Nintendo veteran Yoshio Sakamoto has seen many evolutions on the series over the years.

The quirky designer, whose versatility and unique approach has allowed him to build properties as different from Metroid and from one another as Wario Ware and Tomodachi Collection, now has the opportunity to guide Metroid's newest adventure -- the upcoming Wii title Other M, in collaboration with Team Ninja.

Here, Sakamoto talks to Gamasutra about why he feels the Metroid series has endured for so many console generations, despite changing developers over the years -- expanding on the widely-praised elegance of Super Metroid and the root of the game's emotional impact.

He also talks about working with Team Ninja on Other M, and why the game's narrative goals necessitate a new approach to storytelling for the franchise.

I find the idea that Nintendo can do casual and hardcore games with the same group of people very interesting. Can you talk about that?

Yoshio Sakamoto: I'm always picking up little funny or interesting things that I find here or there and adding them to my own mental archives. Whenever I need to work on a serious or casual title, I can reach into the bin and find something appropriate for either one. I'm very passionate about both, so I'm able to deliver on each kind of approach.

Do you find that you're more inspired by things outside of games? Very often, game creators are inspired by other games.

YS: Yeah, that's probably the case. I mean, I've certainly played a lot of games in the past, and of course I would find a lot of inspiration when I did so; but, normally, it comes from all over the place.

Nowadays, if I take a trip or go see a movie or even just conversations that I've had with people -- those can all result in some sort of moment or interesting image that I cough up later when I'm working on game content.

But, of course, even now, if I saw something in a game, I don't think I would be stealing it so much as recognizing, "Oh! That's a really interesting way to do that."

But I have to say that I haven't really seen anything lately that has come up as a huge hint for how to proceed in creating the next game, in other games.

When you look at Mario, the progression is very smooth. But the evolution of the Metroid series is not, because it's repeatedly changed developers. I don't think that it's made the Metroid series worse; it actually makes it interesting, because we're always going to be surprised by how it evolves. Is that intentional, or is that just the circumstances of how it's developed?

YS: When we worked on the very first Metroid game, please keep in mind that was very early in video game history. At that time, no one really paid a whole lot of attention to who made what part of the game; rather, an entire department made a game. It was a collaborative effort. Of course, we did contract out some of the coding on the game to Intelligent Systems at the time. The idea of the design game from the entire department.

Now, once we got into the days of, say, Metroid II, this was on Game Boy. By that time, a lot of people had developed a lot more know-how, and even the programming techniques had improved then, so it was possible to do things with a smaller team. There were even some projects where we did not need to include Intelligent Systems.

I came in again after Metroid II came out, so that was the sort of environment that I came into. I think I may have discussed a little bit in my GDC speech how I was very moved by the last scene in Metroid II, and that stimulus became my motivation and inspiration in creating Super Metroid.

But when I worked on Super Metroid, Intelligent Systems was helping with the coding -- now, when I say Intelligent Systems, by that time it was already a completely different set of people who then went on to code Super Metroid. Then I went on to make Fusion and Zero Mission, after which was the Prime series.

Now, the Prime series was made by Retro, of course, and, being a different developer, they had a very different worldview for this game. You can say it's still the same Metroid, but it's a different, original concept. There isn't necessarily a direct connection between those initial concepts.

From Super Metroid on -- these were mostly handheld games through this period -- even if the partner changed, I was still working on the project. The central character of Samus, the strong fighting woman who didn't shoot that baby Metroid at the end of Metroid II, was something that I made sure I protected, even as we went through all of these different projects with different partners.

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Michael Kolb
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The main reason Super Metroid did so well was the exploration and rpg elements such as finding the missile launchers to open up red doors and such. You can see this with the classic Doom game as well where the player always had to hunt down colored key cards. Shadow Complex did this again and it was very well received. Small things like that go a long way for the game's depth. I really enjoyed Fusion and Zero Mission, tend to like the retro looking Metroid games more than 3D first person although I feel there is room for both to exist.

Joshua Dallman
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The first Metroid like the first Zelda had an open-ended world that expanded one's imagination and begged exploration. Forget GTA3 these were the first open world sandbox games filled with secrets, mini-games, meta-game, the works. Super Metroid had an opening that was downright cinematic up there with Another World etc. I discovered Metroid Zero on GBA only last year and it was the best game I had played all year on any system, so many good design points I don't know where to start, immense design accomplishment.

Kale Menges
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All I know is that Metroid is the game that made me want to make video games when I grew up. The original is still my all-time favorite game ever. One thing that I wish maybe had received some form of mention in this article is the primary difference between original Japanese version of Metroid (for the Famicom Disk system) and the North American Release, that being the North American version had a password system implemented en lieu of the disk version's save system. Personally, I find that the password system created an amazing meta-feature for the game. I probably spent as much time exploring the password system as playing the game itself. The passwords worked, effectively, like a debugging console for the game, allowing the player to more often that not create "impossible scenarios", i.e. be in an area without items that would've been required to get there in the first place. And who can forget the infamous "Justin Bailey" codes? If you really wanted to break the game, entering "NARPAS SWORD ------ ------" would give the player every power-up, infinite missiles, and God mode. If I recall correctly, this code was actually a testing mode, implemented to allow developers to quickly move through the game to test levels and features. Interestingly, though, no other Metroid game ever featured anything like the password system again (although the same system was found in a few other first-party Nintendo titles of that era). I could talk about Metroid forever... Gumpei Yokoi and Yoshio Sakamoto are two of my heroes as a game developer.