Nintendo spent Wednesday afternoon fouling up our meticulously planned Wednesday evenings here in Los Angeles by keeping us tied up in an hour-long press conference to unveil Super Smash Bros. Brawl, as you may already have read about. Still, it was their own party in West Hollywood they were forcing us to miss, so perhaps there's no harm done.
In any event, you'll probably feel it was worth it for the unusual opportunity to hear Shigeru Miyamoto and Masahiro Sakurai, formerly of HAL Labs and currently employed by Nintendo to develop Smash Bros., answering a number of questions Nintendo had collected during the day from heavily embargoed journalists.
Miyamoto began the evening session by smilingly getting everyone in the audience to say "Wii" together, which we duly did. He went on to reiterate Nintendo's three-pronged strategy to attract new gamers, reinvigorate old ones, and keep the core happy at the same time, arguing that Nintendo was no longer in competition with Sony and Microsoft but with other forms of entertainment entirely - and that in taking these on it would expand the gaming audience.
He pointed out that the complexity of controls is overcome by Wii; that in Zelda, you no longer wonder about the inversion of the aiming controls because you just point. He also joked about how poor he was at playing Zelda left-handed. Wii games are almost better for complete newcomers; "We've hit the reset button to play control," he asserted, before launching into the reason for our being there: a slick computer-generated trailer for Super Smash Bros. Brawl, subsequently confirmed as being due out on Wii next year.
Brawl will feature a wide range of characters; those in the trailer were Mario, Kirby, Link, Samus, Pit from Kid Icarus, the Metaknight, Pikachu, Zero Suit Samus, Wario and even a Nintendog. But the biggest cheer was for the next bit - a Metal Gear Solid style codec sequence during which Solid Snake was asked to join in. "Hrmph," he complained to Colonel Campbell, only to reveal that he was actually hiding in the background of a fight, in a cardboard box.
With the game out in the open, Masahiro Sakurai came on stage and talked about his role - how he'd formed a development team with Nintendo employees after Satoru Iwata asked him to develop the game. Sakurai had previously become independent from HAL Labs, where he made Kirby, and worked on the likes of Meteos with Tetsuya Mizuguchi's Q Entertainment. And from there, with a couple of hundred journalists watching and (in worryingly quite a few cases) struggling to contain their delight and mirth, the pair went on to accept questions from the Nintendo compere. What follows is the transcript. Straight from my fingers to your face.
Nintendo: Now that the Wii is a reality, does it inspire you to revisit some of the old Nintendo franchises that fans have been asking for?
Shigeru Miyamoto: I think it opens up a lot of different possibilities. Obviously one of those was with Kid Icarus and you can see we've come back and recreated Pit in full 3D now. Even if I'm just taking a past game like Starfox and just replacing the control system with the Wii controller opens up a lot of different opportunities and new ideas that we could implement into past franchises and past games, but unfortunately right now I've got so many other brand new ideas that I'd like to bring to fruition first, that I don't think I plan to put my hands on those yet but maybe at some point in the future.
And of course now with the Wii remote you can point directly at the screen and interact with it in that sense, it might be possible that Virtual Console can offer games that could take advantage of that functionality and just change the feel of the game.
Nintendo: What are some of your ideas for the Wii that you haven't shared?
Shigeru Miyamoto: There's not really any new ideas that I'm prepared to talk about here today, but one thing I can talk about is Super Mario Galaxy, which is playable on the Wii right now on the show floor. And one thing I always wanted to do with a Mario game, for many years, is have one player play as Mario and for other players to join in and play, and help out and that sort of thing. And with the way the Wii remote works, given that we can have up to four remotes using the player functionality simultaneously, one thing we're looking at doing for Super Mario Galaxy is allowing for multiplayer that would allow for one player to control Mario with the second, third and fourth players using the Wii remote to help him out, perhaps get in his way - and so we're looking at different ideas with how to work with that. And that sort of functionality implemented into past games could make for some very exciting changes.
Nintendo: How will Super Smash Bros. on the Wii take advantage of the controller?
Masahiro Sakurai: Well I almost feel a little uncomfortable getting this question directly after Mr Miyamoto, but we've actually been working with some different ideas and we've found that trying to implement too much of the pointing device or the motion sensing stuff gets a little bit in the way of the gameplay so rather than just trying to implement too much of that in the game we're trying to keep the control simple as it has been and allow people to play in that sense. Of course you all probably know that the Wii hardware has sockets for the GameCube controller as well so I'll just say now that you may not want to throw away your GameCube controllers just yet.
Mr Miyamoto and Nintendo have encouraged developers to really take advantage of the Wii functionality with the remote and the nun-chuck and the motion-sensing and asked people to really make it an objective to implement that into their games, and so I really look at my role as being to offer something different to what people have offered. In that sense, I'm going in a different direction and trying to come up with something that's more of a standard type of control feature that a lot of you have come to expect. And I think that by having this kind of broadened line-up of functionality, you can appeal to a broad base of users.
Nintendo: [At this point, the Nintendo PR guy on the podium receives a text message. It is very funny, he tells us. It says:] Will Wario have a fart move?
Masahiro Sakurai: Yes he will.
Nintendo: Will the game's roster be expanded to include more Nintendo characters than what we've seen?
Masahiro Sakurai: Of course there are plenty of other characters we're thinking about in particular, none of which happens to be shown today. Actually I almost want to ask everyone here what characters they'd like to see. [Laughter. Someone yells "Sonic", someone yells "Olimar". Someone yells "Master Chief". "Reggie". More laughter. It's a total love-in at this point. We've stopped trying to shield the dictaphone from the whooping laughs of those around us.]
Nintendo: Will the game take advantage of the Nintendo Wi-Fi Connection, or can you explain if the game will be online?
Masahiro Sakurai: My plan is to include Wi-Fi Connection compatibility and online functionality. Actually one of the primary reasons the Super Smash Bros. game was created was that Nintendo staff both in the United States and in America [we assume he meant the US and Japan - Ed] said that when taking the home console online, the best title to do so would be Super Smash Bros.
But, at the same time, I think it may be a lot of work for us to try to come up with a system that will allow four players to play simultaneously and try to find out who's number one. We're mainly focusing more along the lines of bringing lots of people in together to play simultaneously in perhaps some new and different ways.
Nintendo: It's great to see Zelda now displayed in 16:9. 480p. Will most Wii titles be displayed like that, or will some appear in higher resolutions?
Shigeru Miyamoto: First of all, our standard is going to be 480p, but if you put that on a very nice television it's going to look very nice.
As for the widescreen, you know obviously the Wii is capable of displaying the widescreen. Zelda is a game that displays the widescreen because it makes the game a lot better when you can see more of the world, so in that sense obviously with Zelda we're going to display in widescreen. I think it's really up to the developers in terms of whether they want to use widescreen or not. Because we implemented this fully in the Wii, we at Nintendo tend to take advantage of it as much as we can.
In addition to that, obviously the Wii is much more powerful so when it displays in widescreen... so with a game like Zelda it runs much better in widescreen than it would in three-by-four. So you can expect great things out of that.
Nintendo: What is your current favourite Wii game so far and why?
Shigeru Miyamoto: Actually right now I'm having a lot of fun with tennis. I've been playing it a lot and part of that's because everybody picks the controller up and immediately they know what they're doing and they know how to play and they're all at the same level, but also the gameplay is actually surprisingly deep in terms of what you're able to do with your swing. And so I'd have to say I really enjoy tennis.
Masahiro Sakurai: Actually I've only just played Zelda and Mario today for the very first time, but I did like the plane demo; I thought that was very fun.
Nintendo: How different is the experience of playing Twilight Princess on the Wii versus the GameCube?
Shigeru Miyamoto: In terms of the experience itself obviously the interface is different, so that opens up for a very different experience between the two games. I've actually already gotten used to the Wii controller for Zelda, and because of that I'm incapable of going back. We've already talked about the 16:9 widescreen, which is obviously another difference, and then again if you take the Wii version and played that on the three-by-four television, it's not going to strip down; it'll actually change, it'll cut off the edges of the screen, so that also offers a different experience as well.
Nintendo: With Smash Bros. be a launch title?
Masahiro Sakurai: It will not be a launch title. I've been told that I can say it will launch in 2007, so it will launch in 2007 and you can look forward to it then.
Nintendo: [At this point, the Funny People get involved again, offering the hilarious, "Does Samus have any special fart moves?" Nobody bothers to answer. Perhaps they'll stop.] What were some of the biggest challenges to overcome when developing the Wii hardware?
Shigeru Miyamoto: Well of course for me, you know, working on the Zelda games I wanted to have an interface that's intuitive that uses the least amount of buttons you can have, but still functional, so really for us the biggest challenge was in terms of the controller. Determining how many buttons to have, where to position them - those types of decisions were very challenging.
Nintendo: Could you describe the story for the new Metroid title?
Shigeru Miyamoto: Actually I'm not the producer on Metroid Prime: Corruption this time around. Mr [Kensuke] Tanabe, who has been the producer of the series since Metroid Prime, is handling all of the responsibilities on Metroid Prime: Corruption, so I actually don't know about it, but I think Bill [the translator] might know more than I do. To which I [Bill, the translator, surreally] say actually I don't know. I've played it a little bit but I don't know much about the story. [And now the PR compere gets in on the act, saying, "we'd like to rewind that to say it's a secret". What japes!]
Nintendo: What type of special moves will Solid Snake have [in Super Smash Bros. Brawl]?
Masahiro Sakurai: That's a good question. We thought a lot about what to do with Snake and his moves in Smash Bros. because Snake as you all know is the type of character who in most games is walking around with a gun. Whereas in Smash Bros. I didn't want to try and bring in the real weaponry like guns and rifles that people can get their hands on into the game, so that was a bit of a challenge.
But conversely I thought that if we could use things like rocket launchers and other explosives, that would be fitting for Snake, but also something we could use in a very comedic fashion in the game, and so we're looking at that - and who knows, maybe he'll end up just exclusively using explosives.
And he'll use a cardboard box. [Laughter]
Nintendo: Given that the Wii is such a physical system in terms of body movement, how do you plan to make that appeal to casual players?
Shigeru Miyamoto: When creating games, one thing I often think about is how do people who are playing the game look to people who are watching them play, and so one thing with the Wii controller that I think would be very nice is that when you're actually playing the gameplay itself that who are playing will look like they're having fun, and that what they're doing is very entertaining, and so in that sense people who are watching them play would also want to pick up the controller and also play. So I'm thinking in terms of how I then take advantage of that in creating software that makes it look fun and enjoyable to play the games and not make something that makes people look uncomfortable.
So I think that people have an idea of what it looks like when you're playing videogames, and there's a stereotype that you're in a darkened room, and there's a young kid, and they're sitting in front of a TV gripping a controller, the light of the TV is kind of reflecting on the child's face, and it's kind of a negative image but it's a serious result of playing videogames and I think with the Wii controller we're trying to erase that image.
Nintendo: [This question was, and I'm not making this up, delivered to the PR man on the podium by paper aeroplane.] Why is Wii not an HD system, or why wasn't that the push?
Shigeru Miyamoto: Well I think if you look at the technology that's out there and the companies that Nintendo has partnerships with when creating the system, obviously if we had decided to create an HD system we could have very easily. But if you think about what a videogame is, a videogame isn't just graphics. A videogame is a combination of the interface you use to interact with the game, a combination of the graphics, the sound, perhaps the network, and all these other elements that come together, and creating a brilliant videogame system isn't about just thinking of the abilities of each of these, and we thought at this time going in the HD direction was leaning too much to the graphics.
If you look at the penetration rate of HDTVs, it's really not that high yet. Of course I think five years down the road it would be pretty much a given that Nintendo would create an HD system, but right now the predominant television set in the world is a non-HD set, so rather than target a gaming system at a very specific TV set, we thought it would be better to create a system that allows you to interact with any TV set you have in your home in an entirely new, different way, and even kind of turn that into a toy for your TV that anyone can pick up, interact with and enjoy rather than only the people who have a very high-tech, specific kind of TV set.
Nintendo: Is Mario a launch title?
Shigeru Miyamoto: It is progressing along quite well, but as some of you may have heard, it's often said that when I get involved with a project I upend the tea table, and that tends to delay things. So rather than promise everyone that it would be a launch title right now and then have them break that promise later, I'll just say no for now but say that if it's not a launch title on launch day then it'll definitely be there within the first six months.
Nintendo: Will the single-player of Super Smash Bros. be the same as it was on the GameCube?
Masahiro Sakurai: No, we're going to change it. I think we're going to try and make a single-player mode that people can enjoy a little bit more than perhaps they did on the GameCube.
Shigeru Miyamoto: This is actually something Mr Sakurai and I have had a difference of opinion on since the very first Smash Bros. game. Mr Sakurai always wanted to have a very deep single-player game, and on the N64 version I just said to him, you know, we've got plenty of very deep single-player games, why don't you hurry up and just focus on multiplayer and don't worry about the single-player. And Mr Sakurai said no, no, no, I want to have some kind of single-player in there so I just said well, make it really short so we can focus on multiplayer and get the game done. And we kind of did a little bit of that on the GameCube, but a bit more single-player than that. This time we're getting a lot of time to focus on Smash Bros., plenty of time to develop it, so people can expect a very robust single-player game.
Nintendo: Did Nintendo approach Konami about Super Smash Bros. or was it the other way around?
Masahiro Sakurai: Actually, what really brought about the Snake character was from a conversation I was having back when I was developing the Smash Bros. game for GameCube when Hideo Kojima phoned me and practically begged me to put Snake in the game, saying please, put him in there, I want him in there!
But at that time we were already deep in development and I was thinking I wasn't able to get him in there and that we'd probably be making another Smash Bros. game afterward, so I kind of gave up on the idea and said it's too bad you hadn't brought this up earlier. And that was kind of the end of the story. But when this project came up, because Mr Kojima had contacted me, we reinitiated talks and managed to put Snake in this time.
It's not so much a corporate level discussion but really more on a personal level between myself and Mr Kojima, but obviously a lot of people have been interested in the introduction of other characters in the Smash Bros. games, and Sonic has been brought up many, many times. Part of it is you have to have someone you can trust to take care of your character and do your character good, so we're looking at various possibilities. There are probably possibilities for other third-party characters as well, and it may be that even now there are corporate discussions going on at a high level about what characters to include, but maybe we'll talk to you about that a little bit later.
Right now Snake is the only third-party character that has been confirmed for Super Smash Bros., but I think because we've announced Snake is in Super Smash Bros. that might open up opportunities for other third-party characters to also be included.
But more than anything it's not just about having a character, but about having a character that's going to be fun to have in there.
Nintendo: Who would be the character you'd most like to see in Super Smash Bros. in the future?
Shigeru Miyamoto: Well if there was such a character I would just put them in this version. It's difficult finding the right balance. Everyone has their own opinions about what characters they'd like to see, so that's why I'll be trying to gather as much information as I can from people in terms of what direction to go in.
Super Smash Bros. Brawl is due out on Nintendo Wii in 2007.