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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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