Following the recent release of Metroid Prime Trilogy, members of Nintendo's development teams in Texas and Japan answered Kotaku's questions about what the Metroid Prime series got right, what it missed and more. They even hinted at Prime's future.
Our interview was conducted over e-mail, with questions sent to Nintendo a few weeks ago and responded to by members of the Nintendo-owned Retro Studios in Austin, Texas as well as by the game's Japan-based producer, Kensuke Tanabe. The team had just finished the development of Metroid Prime Trilogy, a compilation of the two GameCube Metroid Prime games, the pioneering 2002 and 2004 first-person adventure gamesin the 23-year-old Metroid series, as well as their 2007 Wii sequel, Metroid Prime 3: Corruption.
The veteran Tanabe was the one who hinted at the future of Metroid Prime — a series that seemed to have concluded with the release of 2007's Corruption. Responding to a Kotaku question about whether the Metroid series has the potential for multiplayer popularity equal to GoldenEye's or Halo's, Tanabe said, "As all I take part in is the Prime series, I am not capable of commenting on the whole Metroid series. But we will keep considering multiplayer for the Prime series. For instance, I think I can come up with some unique ideas using the Morph Ball, which is a specific skill of Samus."
That can of response will make a Metroid fan do a double-take. Tanabe's open consideration for more modes to a series thought by many fans had concluded is a tantalizing comment. Unfortunately, it is also a vague one, and one that Kotaku was unable to clarify due to the e-mail nature of the interview.
But as cagey as Tanabe was with that answer, he and Retro were generously specific in response to other Metroid inquiries.
Take jumping, for example.
How did Retro Studios manage to make — with the creation of 2002's Metroid Prime — arguably the first first-person video game with decent platform-jumping?
"One of the first considerations we had in developing the player package was how to make platforming approachable to the player," Retro's senior designer Mike Wikan told Kotaku over e-mail. "We experimented with many ideas, including having the camera pitch down a little after the jump apex, fields of view, standardized platform sizes and jump heights as well as player gravity to strike the right balance of approachability and positive tension. Once we locked those basic things down, we were able to build the rest of the game around it."
Tanabe explained even more tricks the team used to make platforming in Prime a pleasure: "As Mike just mentioned, we have discussed very, very carefully about the feature of jumping. We decided not to create jumps so high that Samus can only barely reach [them] or long valleys that Samus could jump, or to design footholds larger than our specific basis. At any rate, we solidified these standards by discussing with Retro about including an additional layer of safety, even in areas where we felt when playing the game ourselves that the jumps were doable. "
Platforming worked in Prime, allowing Retro's series to present, in first-person 3D, a version of the leaping actions that heroine Samus Aran performed in the original 2D Metroid games. Bit by bit, other staples of the 2D games made it into the Prime games, including Samus' mid-air attack-acrobatics known as the Screw Attack, which was implemented in Metroid Prime 2: Echoes. One of the only 2D Metroid power-ups that didn't make it into Prime was the Speed Boost, a super-charged running ability that would allow Samus to dash through walls, exploding through dirt and rock-filled caves as if they were empty hallways. It's a cool ability that went missing.
"The Speed Boost was something we were interested in trying early on," Wikan told Kotkau, "But we found that limitations imposed by the scale of our environments — as well as the first-person player viewpoint — made that system less appealing. We discussed the possibility of developing something in third person that might work, but in the end determined that time spent developing that system would take away from so many other things we felt might be better explored."
The Speed Boost wasn't the team's only experiment with series features that was tricky to implement. The developers told Kotaku that they had considered making Samus' ship a more prominent aspect in Prime. The third game, which begins with the player, as Samus, piloting her vessel, was originally going to take that concept further. "Early in development of Metroid Prime 3: Corruption we played with the notion of making the ship a whole system of similar impact to the game as, say, the Morph Ball," Wikan said. "After discussions with [Tanabe's Nintendo development group in Japan] SPD and more thought on Retro's part, we felt that, while the ship was going to be an important part of the game (with the utilization of the command visor), it might take too much of the focus away from Samus and her struggle against the Space Pirates and Dark Samus."
Tanabe elaborated on this one too: "At the time we launched the Prime 3 project, we at Nintendo proposed that Retro plan a game system where the game takes place centered on the space ship, and they gave us ideas accordingly. On the other hand, we and Retro had agreed not to develop another game mode like a shooter in the space ship, which would take us a significant amount of work, as large as making another game title. With many discussions we reached the conclusion that we need a brand new system for this final chapter of the trilogy, and decided to use Hyper Mode utilizing Phazon as a pillar of the game play."
The developers of the Prime games had some unusual priorities. They were developing first-person games that many people would call first-person shooters. But, noted Wikan, "in those games our primary consideration was player movement and jumping in the environment so that they could more easily explore it. Shooting was a very important, though secondary, consideration." He noted that Retro is still proud of the original target-lock-on control scheme that didn't allow players to aim freely. It was featured in the original GameCube editions of the first two Prime games. The Wii release of Trilogy does away with those controls, in favor of the point-and-shot system of Metroid Prime 3: Corruption. Tanabe said the original scheme was ideal for the GameCube controller and that the Corruption and Trilogy method best suits the Wii Remote and Nunchuk.
The Metroid series will continue with 2010's Metroid: Other M, a Nintendo and Tecmo joitn project which involves one of Metroid's original creators, Yoshio Sakamoto, but neither Tanabe nor Retro. Despite their lack of involvement in this next game, the Prime creators spoke proudly of what they added to the series. "The expansion into fully three-dimensional exploration was obviously the most important element," Wikan said, "But it also added a great deal of character and depth to many of the creatures and themes explored in early Metroid games through the Scan Visor system. The Space Pirates, for instance, were given a great deal of character as well as a more unified intent in the series. In addition, the Metroid Prime series explored a great deal of new territory regarding the Federation and the Metroid universe as a whole, with the inclusion of new races like the Luminoth and the Ing. "
Wikan would like to see more of Metroid Prime 3's Galactic Federation and the Space Pirates in future Metroid projects and is hopeful that the visor system and enhanced grapple beam will "live on as well."
As for the Prime team's future, Retro has been working on a new mystery game. While the studio still focuses on a single project at a time, it was able to create Trilogy on the side with just a "handful of people," according to the studio's senior director of development, Bryan Walker. Retro isn't offering hints about what the next game will be. Said Tanabe, "Hopefully we can address some information in the next year."