Davide Soliani was the quiet hero of last year's E3. The creator of the now-beloved Mario + Rabbids: Kingdom Battle, Soliani shot to gaming fame as he wept with pride and relief in the audience of Ubisoft's press conference while his game - a huge gamble for him and his team, after years of behind the scenes work with Nintendo - was unveiled on the world's biggest stage to excitement and applause. That camera shot of his reaction is one of my favourite E3 moments - a glimpse behind the glitz and the glare, of someone simply seeing their work appreciated.
By E3 last year, work on Mario + Rabbids was beginning to wind down - but Soliani and his team still had plenty to do. Work was already starting on this year's huge Donkey Kong expansion - and, spurred on by the reaction to the game's announcement, Ubisoft decided to nearly double the size of the project.
Speaking to Eurogamer at E3 2018, a year on from being thrust into the spotlight, Soliani discussed what happened after he returned home, how Donkey Kong suddenly became a much bigger deal - and what what else the future might hold.
What was it like returning to your team back in Milan after the announcement last year? They must have been incredibly proud.
Davide Soliani: It was a surprise for me. When I arrived back I was completely confused by everything. I was dizzy. They were expecting me and made a mini party and gifted me a T-shirt of myself crying at the conference. So they made me cry again.
I would say almost everything changed after E3 - I felt the team was completely changed. We were already a family. Many of us had worked together 20 years already. But with this experience, I felt we were united. It doesn't happen often in the video game industry. It's rare, you have to treat it as a rare thing.
Because of the player support, they were acting in a positive way. So, if before they were hard workers, now they were very hard workers. It's not like you had to push them - they were pushing automatically.
And for you personally?
Davide Soliani: Just before E3 2017 I had 23 people following me on my Twitter account. Now I have more than 10,000. People follow me, send me messages, follow my bickering with [video game composer] Grant Kirkhope - which happens in real life as well as online. I get home, and at 10pm or midnight Grant - who's in Los Angeles and doesn't care about the time difference - is calling me on Skype. I tell him I want to sleep, but he says 'no, you have to listen to this!' Okay, but we can we do it tomorrow morning? 'No, I will be sleeping.' Okay, I say, let me turn on the Mac.
When did you settle on the Donkey Kong idea? How did that start?
Davide Soliani: We started work on Donkey Kong just after E3 . We had to prove to Nintendo why we were proposing Donkey Kong, so we started by working on his physicality, grabbing enemies, teammates, cover, throwing them everywhere.
There was no time to think about how we'd done because we were already anxious to expand the universe. But player reaction was so positive, we decided we should do something with DLC to thank fans. So we did the versus mode, which was not planned, but we managed to do it anyway for free.
How did Donkey Kong change after the reaction?
We reprioritised ourselves. It was going to be a small experience, two to three hours, one world. But in the end, it is almost half of the main game. In the main game you have 27 minutes of cinematics. DK has 20. In the main game you have four worlds, this is one but it is as big as two. It's 10 hours of gameplay. We've put everything in - all our passion.
Grant has added 45 minutes of new music. It was a nightmare to make him work for 45 minutes - he's not used to work. He's a little bit of a diva, a little bit of a slacker.
We wanted to change the feeling of the game as well. No battle is equal to another. Our programmers, when I told them, started to panic because it meant we'd have to rework from scratch the combat system. But it was worth it. People who've tried it say it feels different. Now I'm anxious about the player reaction. I always am.
You must still have more ideas for Mario + Rabbids, though, right?
Davide Soliani: We still have loads of ideas. We used one tenth of the ideas. But now the DLC is done... what I can say is we are working out, for the future... [pauses] who knows!
I don't believe you, I think you do know! [laughs]
I have no idea [laughs]. We'll see! I don't believe me either! We need time to work on something which makes sense. We are taking that time to see how it goes. You need time to think what you can do to bring something new for players.
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