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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 Previous Page 2 of 3 Next

I think Super Metroid really stands out as one of the most elegant game designs the industry's produced. Why do you think that people are still so passionate about this game that was released, at this point, quite a long time ago?

YS: Well, certainly, when we were making Super Metroid, I thought, "I want to make something lasting that will be fun even if played much later." All I can say is I'm really happy that we succeeded in that goal. But, if I had to take a guess as to what the lasting appeal is, perhaps it's the impression left on people by the drama of the game.

You have the baby Metroid who's stolen in the beginning Super Metroid, and Samus goes after the baby.

The baby is getting larger and larger as it grows and feeds, and when they are first reunited the baby Metroid attacks Samus but then remembers who Samus is and runs off. Later, when Samus is in trouble, that baby Metroid comes back and helps her.

All of these dramatic moments really are connected to the strong feelings that people have about relationships, and that leaves quite an impression on you. I guess, if there's any lasting appeal for the game, that has to come from the deep impression that's left by that sort of thing.

That game does a very good job of telling a story with almost no text, and that's part of what makes the game; also, I think just the actual design and the atmosphere, too. But something that we're struggling with as an industry is finding the right balance of storytelling. I notice you definitely are stepping up the storytelling for Other M, so I was interested in your thoughts on story balance and storytelling.

YS: Well, when you're telling the kind of story that we had with Super Metroid -- where Samus has this baby Metroid that is imprinted on her, it grows up, is separated, comes back, and remembers her and saves her -- those are things that can have a really deep impression on you without using words at all because these events are very easy to understand as you view them.

But what we're going to be doing in Other M is more about Samus's internal workings, her feelings, and her background. To express something like that, you really have to use words; it's unavoidable if that's your goal.

So perhaps the best thing to say is that the idea of elegance is to use no more than is needed; and, in this case, we're going to use more words, but we'll try not to use any more than we have to.

Of course, there's a lot of different ways to tell a story, and we're going to have alternating sequences of movies and then action sequences. Both of them really need to hold up in terms of storytelling; they both have to do their share of the work. You can't rely on just one. But from the player's perspective, it needs to feel seamless; the whole thing needs to feel like an action game that has that kind of consistency.

So you really have to sit down and ask yourself what you're trying to express and how you're expressing it, and then, once you've got something out there, you need to look at it very carefully and ask yourself, "Does this work?"

If it works, then that was the right decision; you did a good job. But you can't really be halfway committed to something like storyline in a game. You can't make an action game and then decide at the very end, "You know, this is missing something." Just tacking on a storyline at that point would actually be detrimental to the experience; you should probably just stop and leave it as it was.

The idea is that you have to decide clearly at first, and it even makes sense to follow a little bit of a narrative structure where you think about sort of setting up the background, having a little bit of development to understand the characters and the conflicts, and then some sort of large turn or dénouement and then, of course, the resolution at the end.

This is a Japanese approach to narrative called kishōtenketsu, but it's probably pretty common in Western understanding as well. But, ultimately, rather than talk about how to include a storyline in a game, the best thing I could say is: Please, play the game!

I put everything I know into this, and so if you play through and get a sense of what I was trying to accomplish, then that's a better answer than I could certainly tell you right now.

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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.