Smash Bros. Creator Masahiro Sakurai Works Too Damn Hard

Screenshot: Nintendo

This is Masahiro Sakurai. He makes Smash Bros. games. At this point in his career, he could probably take things pretty easy. He does not.

“My office hours are up to me. So long as I complete the new Smash Bros., I could show up only once a week, or only at night, or even telecommute if I wanted to,” Sakurai wrote in Famitsu back in 2013. In a recent Nintendo Dream interview, he reiterated the same thing. Sakurai, however, comes in every day and even writes the daily report himself.

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Sakurai’s days consist of meetings, hammering out projects and not only overseeing development but being very hands on. He’s the guy who enters, edits and checks the various parameters in the Smash Bros. games. “If I were to hand over the work to someone else, it would be a full-time, multi-person designated workload,” Sakurai previously explained. So he ends up doing all these tasks as well as his own workload. There’s a reason for that, Sakurai says. “It’s faster and more accurate to do it myself than to tell someone else over and over again what to do.”

All this has come with a physical toll.

In 2013, for example, he started suffering from calcific tendinitis in his right shoulder. It was so bad that the multiple ruptures in his arm muscles woke him up at night and prevented him from getting a good night’s rest. The injury made it physically painful for him to do the necessary playtesting for Super Smash Bros. for Nintendo 3DS and Wii U, which he seems to have done regardless.

Two years later, Sakurai’s arm had improved but not completely healed. “I still have trouble with my shoulder and the symptoms of tenosynovitis still remain, so I’m forced to use a special mouse that clicks by inclining for work.” Sakurai wrote in Famitsu in 2015. “If I was to button mash, my arm would give out in 10 minutes.”

In the recent Nintendo Dream interview, Sakurai talked about physical maintenance. He is trying to take it easy, but for Sakurai, that still means a demanding workload.

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“What’s changed now with previous projects is that by principle I feel I need to go home at 10 pm,” said Sakurai. “Recently, many companies don’t endorse overtime.” But as in the past, Sakurai has been confronted with health issues during development, but he hasn’t let them slow him down.

“When talking about staying healthy, I’ve been having bad stomach problems,” he said. “During development [of Super Smash Bros. Ultimate], I had [food poisoning] one or two times. I guess I got that from oysters I didn’t eat.” Sakurai explained that he thinks that his meal’s ingredients came in contact with oysters. “But the food was thoroughly cooked,” he added. “I wonder how I came down with that.”

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Even though he had food poisoning, he still worked on Super Smash Bros. Ultimate. “I didn’t take time off,” Sakurai said. “I just got an IV and then I headed to the office.” (In my experience in the Japanese health care system, IVs are readily given to patients at a rate I did not experience in the U.S. to help them recover quickly. It’s fairly common, with patients briefly resting at the hospital or clinic while getting the IV. Of course, like elsewhere, oral medication is also prescribed.)

Sakurai did tell Nintendo Dream that he was able to take some days off last year—December 22 (a Saturday), December 23 (a Sunday) and December 24 (a National Holiday). He added that he didn’t think he could take several days off in a row, such as during the Japanese New Year holidays, which the entire country, except for Masahiro Sakurai, takes off. “We’re doing the DLC, and I’d make the staff wait for me.”

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When the DLC is done, he really should take lots of time off. Something tells me, he won’t, especially because he seems to love his job. Said Sakurai, “Work is always like this, but I’m doing fine!”

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About the author

Brian Ashcraft

Originally from Texas, Ashcraft has called Osaka home since 2001. He has authored five books, including most recently, Japanese Whisky: The Ultimate Guide to the World's Most Desirable Spirit.