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20 Years of Mana: Secret of Mana's Enduring Influence
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20 Years of Mana: Secret of Mana's Enduring Influence

August 9, 2013 Article Start Previous Page 3 of 3

From: Christian Nutt
To: Douglas Wilson

So that opens up the question: What do you intend to do with the formula as established by Secret of Mana, and how do you hope to make it into something old but new?

From: Douglas Wilson
To: Christian Nutt

Our upcoming game Mutazione is more directly influenced by Another World and Majora's Mask. It's primarily character-driven, and doesn't feature any combat. Still, there's a lot I draw from Secret of Mana.

For example, I am so, so enamored with the Secret of Mana menu system -- those circular wheel menus! Swoon. It feels so good to spin those wheels, navigating between menu items. And when you switch between menu layers, the wheels "vortex" in and out via a simple but super satisfying animation. It's so tactile! To be honest, I'm shocked that more designers haven't ripped it off. It's a menu that's enjoyable to use in itself! So, I can tell you, we're drawing some direct inspiration from those menu wheels as we design and iterate on Mutazione.

Image taken from Greatest Video Games Ever: How Secret of Mana Perfected the Action RPG

From: Christian Nutt
To: Douglas Wilson

I find it interesting that you say you're not including combat, but Mana is still a big influence for you -- it's a pretty combat-heavy game, being an RPG (and I mean, it has "sword" in the title.) You've talked about music, you've talked about the menus (and the hard to articulate "feel" of them -- I agree, they're wonderful.)  In the end, as an adult and a designer, with your analytical viewpoint, how do you distill and incorporate the elements of a game you cite as an influence?

From: Douglas Wilson
To: Christian Nutt

Yes, it was a combat-heavy game, but it's not actually the battles that have "stuck" with me the most. The game features such a beautifully rendered world, as well as so many other details (yes, like the menus and the music). I suppose that's the takeaway lesson here -- the combat felt meaningful precisely because it was contextualized within an evocative world. I'm interested in all those accompanying audiovisual and design details that helped build that context.

I think "influence" operates at a number of different levels, in a variety of ways. On the most basic level, Secret of Mana was a game that engaged me at a young age, helping to spark my interest in video games and virtual worlds. But that kind of inspiration only takes you so far. As I already mentioned in regards to the Secret of Mana menu system, I also like dissecting particular systems and designs that stand out to me.

Secret of Mana's Japanese boxart.
Japanese title: Seiken Denstesu 2 (Legend of the Holy Sword 2)

And there are other forms of influence beyond direct inspiration. For example, Nils didn't grow up playing Secret of Mana, but like me he's also a big fan of the game's luscious boxart. Coincidentally, there's a lot of resonance with Nils' concepts for the world of Mutazione. Mutazione features a derelict world overgrown with tropical plants and colorful characters. At the center of the town of Mutazione stands a huge tree, not unlike the Mana Tree. Nils' concept wasn't directly inspired by Secret of Mana (the "huge tree" thing is a common folk story trope), but it's useful for us to compare our own approach to what other game developers have done before us. Doing that kind of "due diligence" can help you sharpen what's unique about your own take.

There's this small scene in Secret of Mana that has always stuck with me. Later on the game you travel to the Sunken Continent, which hides an ancient city. At some point, down in the city ruins, you enter a subway station and train that feels oddly contemporary (see above video.) It's especially noticeable because nothing else about the game world -- which is a pretty typical fantasy world -- feels so familiar or modern. It's evocative because it suggests that the story of Secret of Mana happens in our world (or some world like it), just many years later. It's certainly not the most unique plot twist, but it worked well and made an impact on me. Even as a kid, I appreciated that the designers never tried to explain what that ancient city was. It was just thrown into the mix, and we players were left to ourselves to try to explain what had actually happened. That kind of device, when used in moderation, is terrific at energizing imagination.

And, of course, that "ancient" subway resonates with the core premise of Mutazione's derelict world. It almost feels like fate that I'd gravitate towards a similar premise, two decades later! Over the years, all sorts of "seeds" of inspiration get planted in your imagination, and I guess my obsession with that Secret of Mana subway scene is one of those seeds that actually got to grow, thanks to Nils. We've got our work cut out for us, but I hope we can cultivate that seed into its own little Mana Tree! (Um, and I promise we won't write any such forced metaphors in the game itself, heh.)

Oh, and Christian, let's remember to chat again in 2019 for the 20th anniversary of Chrono Cross, yeah?

Article Start Previous Page 3 of 3

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