Skip to main content

Early Pikmin concepts included creatures with AI chips in their heads

Inspirations included Tim Burton, Richard Dawkins, and indie European cinema.

Blue, yellow, and red Pikmin stand next to the series logo
Image credit: Nintendo

Although Pikmin as we see them today are just a series of funky, little guys, their original concept was a bit darker in nature.

In the latest instalment of Nintendo's Ask The Developer series of interviews, Pikmin creator Shigeru Miyamoto spoke alongside former series directors Shigefumi Hino and Masamichi Abe, as well as programmer Yuji Kando and designer Junji Morii on the origins of the series.

Hino revealed initially the team had planned to feature creatures with AI chips in their heads in the first Pikmin game, and players would be able to control them by assigning different chips. The concept art for this prototype was shown, and the early Pikmin would have looked like round creatures with limbs, a nose, eyes, and an antenna.

Pikmin 4 — Overview TrailerWatch on YouTube

As the team wanted to use a top-down camera, they needed each Pikmin to be instantly identifiable from what was on their head, Hino said. He also revealed the team felt the designs "lacked impact as a character", even though they are quite cute.

Earlier concept of Pikmin, depicting two round creatures side by side with four limbs, a big nose, a pair of eyes, and a coloured antenna
Image credit: Nintendo

Mori later drew sketches featuring the Pikmin looking more like their plant selves, which Abe said was selected "by unanimous decision" by the team. "I was strangely attracted to this design," Miyamoto said. "I liked the idea of plants walking. We were saying things like, it would be cute if it sucked up water from the leaf on its head."

Mori's initial sketches were drawn in a very distinct style, and he revealed at the time he was interested in the works of film director Tim Burton. "I wanted the designs to not just be cute," he said, "but also give a sense of eeriness or some emotional weight," which led to him using lots of lines layered on top of each other.

Early Pikmin sketch
This does look like a scene from The Nightmare Before Christmas, doesn't it. | Image credit: Nintendo

The team wanted to contrast the "bright and vibrant designs" of the Mario and Zelda series, Hino said, so they welcomed the focus on a "sober, mature, and mysterious world". The team watched experimental French film Fantastic Planet together for inspiration, and Hino joked they "all had puzzled looks" on their faces as they watched.

The cinema inspirations didn't end there, Miyamoto said, as he revealed they watched "all kinds of films for inspiration, like indie films from Europe or artistic films you wouldn't find in regular video stores". Hino also said they read The Selfish Gene by Richard Dawkins, as it had lots of information about "the weird ecology of living things".

Tom was able to go hands-on for his Pikmin 4 preview last month, and he felt the game was a return to the roots of the series thanks to cave exploration and the addition of deadly night missions.

Read this next