Super Mario Galaxy: Q&A with Yoshiaki Koizumi on the Finished Game

We chat with Galaxy's game director about the making of the game and the future of Mario.

Games don't get much bigger than Super Mario Galaxy for Nintendo Wii, a game that has not only brought a Mario platformer to the console for the first time but has also rocketed the plucky little plumber into, of all places, outer space. With its release basically a month behind us, we took time to sit down with Galaxy game director Yoshiaki Koizumi to get his thoughts on the making of his masterpiece, the challenges of bringing Mario to the Wii, and the future of Mario's never-ending video game quest.

Mario's latest adventure takes him to the stars.

GameSpot: Did you have any expectations on the reception of the game when you were working on it? Or were you just so focused on getting it done and making it right that you didn't really have time to anticipate that response?

Yoshiaki Koizumi: So, of course we wanted to make something that people like, but during development…we were very much focused on the game. Yes, of course, [I was] just very happy; it's only been a month since the game has been out, but I've had the chance to see a few of the reviews and [I have] been very, very happy with what I've seen

GS: Can you give us a sense of the team's background? Because it seems like a lot of the team had worked on Donkey Kong Jungle Beat.

YK: The EAD Tokyo office was started in 2003, and their purpose was to go there and try to hire some of the talent that exists in the Tokyo area--because those people might not want to move otherwise, I suppose--and with those new hires, to start making games. So one of the first things they had to do was to teach them how to make games the Nintendo way. So, that meant bringing a lot of people from Kyoto over to Tokyo and spending quite a bit of time with them. The first game that was produced by EAD Tokyo was Jungle Beat and then… [Super Mario] Galaxy.

GS: When the team got tapped to do Galaxy--a Mario game--it's kind of like getting the keys to dad's car. Did they feel any pressure when they were working on it? Because not only was it the new proper console Mario game, but there were a lot of expectations on what a Wii Mario game would be like, so can you shed some light on how they all wrapped their heads around that?

YK: It wasn't so much pressure that [we were] making a Mario game, specifically, but rather just making a game for Wii I found to be rather daunting because the possibilities are so broad, it's hard to know where to start and where to stop. And not only that, but I felt like the 3D action genre itself is kind of a daunting one to jump into. So, much more than worrying about making a Mario game, those were the more prevalent sources of pressure on my mind.

GS: Let's talk about how you approach a Wii action game. Can you give us some insight into the design process? Obviously, if it's a Mario game, you already kind of have a framework. But how do you fill the framework? How did you brainstorm on how to use the Wii controller?

YK: The initial concept for Galaxy was in place actually, before we knew anything about the Wii, and what we did was, we created a prototype of an early version of the game with a small team and began to show that around. And as we were starting to get feedback at that point, a lot of us began to incorporate some ideas for what it meant to fully use the possibilities for Wii.

GS: As far as concept and gameplay, is the system that we see in the final game exactly what they were thinking of initially, or was there something that over the process of development they decided to take out because it wasn't working out?

YK: Of course a lot of fine points changed over time. But when I think about the entire game, I feel like it's not a very terribly different sort of a thing at all. Of course, all of the ideas were in place, like the playing surfaces were going to be flipped over and turned around, you can walk on the undersides. And I had this idea for like a really big boss robot that you could climb all over with enemies coming out of it. And so as development went on there were a few touches here and there that were added, but the broad strokes were all certainly in place.

GS: I have a question from a Luigi and a Yoshi enthusiast on staff. Why is Luigi only playable once you've already cleared all the game content? And where is Yoshi?

YK: OK, so, in regards to Luigi. Certain members of my staff asked me about it also, like, "Why can't we bring out Luigi a little bit earlier?" And my answer at that time [was], "People tend to think of the 3D Mario games as something you have to get 120 stars, that really makes up the main body of the game." So, if we were going to bring in Luigi earlier than that, we felt like it would... break up the experience going up to 120 stars. Plus, we needed something to motivate people to get 120 stars in the first place, and this seemed like the right way to do it. Not only that, but the one last factor that you can't leave out is, our concept of the character of Luigi is that he always plays second fiddle to Mario, and he has like a complete neurosis about it. So, we really have to feed that story back into it every single time.

Before Galaxy, the EAD Tokyo development team worked on Donkey Kong Jungle Beat.

As for Yoshi, we certainly thought about including like, a rideable Yoshi character for Mario, but there were already so many elements that we were putting into the game, we didn't want to dilute everything we had already done by including too much in that sense. Plus, the main functional quality that Yoshi brings to a game from a developer's standpoint is that he allows for that delay of hover jump, where he can do his little swoop right at the end there. And that functionality was already in the game in the form of the bee suit. So, from a functional standpoint, we didn't feel it was necessary.

GS: An excellent segue. Speaking of the bee suit, a lot of people were very excited to see the suit's return, and they were wondering were there more suits that were going to be in the game? Also what was the thinking behind making the ice and the fire suits timed?

YK: There were a couple of Mario abilities or transformations that didn't make it into the final game. Most of these were for balance reasons at the time. We didn't want to take out the difficulty of certain stages. But because there's a really high chance that we'll end up using these eventually in another game, I don't want to say exactly what they are right now.

Mario's different power-ups were carefully balanced in the game.

In answer to the next question about ice and fire, these were felt to be a little bit too powerful. They're very strong power-ups. That's certainly true for fire, because it's so easy to take out enemies. But for ice, it's sort of a slightly different matter because you didn't want to take out all of the risk. [For example], if you could stay in ice form the whole time, and walk over frozen water, it just wasn't quite as exciting as when you have the danger of that timer eventually running out and you falling into cold water.

So, unlike the other suits, ice and fire are considered to be power-ups, whereas the others have certain demerits or disadvantages to them [to force the player] to make a little bit of a judgment call. Making the player undertake a kind of nuanced judgment is very interesting. Whereas for the power-ups, you just can't leave them with that much power for too long.

For the bee Mario suit, that was in there, of course, to give the hover jump, like the functionality we were talking about earlier, and we ended up implementing the bee Mario and the boo Mario. I implemented the functionality, but the ideas of its appearance and things like that came from various members of the staff. For example, there was a female member of the staff who said, "You really need to appeal to female gamers more, and this bee illustration that we came up with is really cute. So, you should go with that." Whereas, similarly, the boo Mario, there was a staff member who took a boo toy and then stuck a nose and a hat on it, and was like, "You got to make this." And so, I was like, "OK, OK, I'll do it."

GS: Regarding the two-player game, had any thought been given--especially in the wake of something like the GBA and DS Mario and Luigi games--to some kind of actual two-player co-op to have Mario and Luigi in the game? Or perhaps why that wouldn't work.

YK: On the screen at the same time?

GS: Yes.

YK: Of course I'd like both Mario and Luigi characters onscreen, but I never had a chance for two people to control each different character on the screen at the same time. And this has always been sort of a big problem that I've tried to think of ways to implement this. When you have two people onscreen at the same time, they want to go in different directions. They have different ideas about what to do next at any given moment. You know, if one goes to grab a bunch of coins, then those are coins that the other player can't grab. And so sometimes both wanting to do the same thing, it might hold the other back, even though they want to do the correct action from a play standpoint. But having two people onscreen at the same time, you can't--it would be a big problem in terms of screen movement as well. You have the problem of, if you have a scrolling game, what happens when one player gets scrolled out of the screen? It's very difficult to deal with.

But when you can find a way that the screen is not a problem and the differing wills of the players are not a problem, then you've more or less come to a solution. And that's what I feel happened here where you have like a breakdown of roles where one person is controlling movement and the other person gets to pick things up and stomp enemies and shoot at them and stuff like that.

In this case, because each person has a slightly different role, they need each other, and they have to work together in a complementary sense. And that feels much better in terms of overall gameplay.

GS: This is your first time working on the Wii and doing a Mario game. What did you learn in the process? And based on how the game turned out and what you learned, how do you think the Mario series' core gameplay mechanics will evolve in future games?

YK: Things that I learned from making the first Mario on Wii, I mean, there's just so many it's hard to really start to pin down a few of them. But in particular...it's especially important to think about the fact that new hardware always has new challenges. And in this particular case, the challenge of Wii controls, was the fact that it had so few buttons. A lot of the people were actually anticipating that you'd have difficulty finding the right type of control scheme for Mario-style gameplay using a controller with limited button layout like that.

But because I had experience making Donkey Kong Jungle Beat, you know, that felt like a very good place to have learned a lot of lessons for implementing a simple control scheme into like very engaging gameplay, and doing so in a way that feels very new. So, I was very happy about that.

As for where will Mario series gameplay go next, I feel like I've just finished this journey with Galaxy, so there's still a lot of thinking to do about it at this point. But certainly the next project will involve some of the things that I had wanted to do on this project but for one reason or another wasn't able to include. Those things always get re-used eventually, and those ideas become incorporated.

He's been into outer space, so where does Mario head next?

But another thing is, I'm still in the period of evaluating Galaxy and how it's being accepted by players. Of course, the reviews are good and the sales are very good right now, but there's something to be said for looking at how people's impressions of the game change over time. [That kind of] calm, cool, sort of dispassionate look at the game is, you know, maybe a year or two out. And not only that, but I don't only work on Mario games. There's other franchises that I get involved with. But of course, as soon as I have access to a new technology, new ideas about different functions, everything starts to change layers at a time as they go forward.

GS: That's a perfect closer. Thanks for your time.

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Discussion

125 comments
derren22
derren22

this game was ok but i wanted more 2 do

nickythenewt21
nickythenewt21

I love Galaxy with a passion that burns deep within my soul. So deep, in fact, that when time and space itself expire, my love towards Galaxy will still live on. I think any SD card works for the Wii, but I'm not entirely sure.

petervaht
petervaht

One of my all time favorite games, the only thing is the game was SO easy i hardly ever died but it spiked in extreme difficulty during a few timer missions, which was very frustrating, i cant stand timers.

punkdsk8erdude
punkdsk8erdude

A question about the Wii please, do any SD memory cards work on the Wii? Because I'm getting one for christmas and the Wii SD cards are so expensive!

Eckford007
Eckford007

The 2 player aspect of Mario Galaxy is amazing. The secondary player can be just as important as the main player in many situations. We call the 2nd player "shinegetter" and is very crucial throughout the game, especially near then end with obtaining the final stars. Kudos to the development team for including a second player in a totally new way...

yeahdogg
yeahdogg

Yes, there should have been a spoiler warning, but (*sigh*) what can we do now?

SuperMarioPaper
SuperMarioPaper

Super Mario Galaxy to me is like the triquel to Super Mario 64. Cause first is this game, then the one I call the sequel, Super Mario Sunshine, And now Galaxy!

Distinctive_Fin
Distinctive_Fin

Is anyone else thinking along the lines of Mario 64 DS? The option to switch characters was great, it would fit into the storyline as a "save Mario" thing. Maybe Mario had enough time to send the "grand star", but lacked the strength to escape himself.

KingKoop
KingKoop

I miss Yoshi, he should be a mandatory character in every Mario game!!

WaterProblem
WaterProblem

Gamespot should really give us spoiler warnings...

NND1
NND1

Most reviewers dont know what they are talking about anyways, He got fired / he will find another job like everyone else who "Works" ..... Get over it people!!!!!

kevbo77
kevbo77

When you get all 120 stars the Jeff Gerstmann playable character is unlocked.

ChickenHounk911
ChickenHounk911

So this Jeff guy worked on Mario and he got Fired?!?! I don't get it. Mario Galaxy is Awesome! Playing a 3rd time over.

Quatar
Quatar

*** WARNING - This interview contains a major spoiler. I read elsewhere that the reward for collecting all 120 stars was well worth it. I was really looking forward to the surprise. Thanks for the warning, jerks.

RaiKageRyu
RaiKageRyu

If the old GameSpot gang ever decide to start a new site, I'm there in a heartbeat!

Gamer_152
Gamer_152

I came here to read an interview on Super Mario Galaxy and this interview was excellent. Cut all this Jeff rubbish, I'm as sad as everyone else but there's a place where you'll be better heard and accepted, go and talk about Jeff there.

arinas1974
arinas1974

I'm with Jeff. If he opens a new site, I'll check that site instead of Gamespot if it really was fired for pressure from EIDOS. They made a crappy game, even just watching the videos the game looks crappy. Make good games instead of pressuring so people will talk favorably about them. That's totally antidemocratic and is just pure crap. Let's follow Jeff wherever he goes. I didn't always agree with him, but firing someone because the owner of the product didn't likw what he had to say about it... pfffff. Shame on you, Gamespot.

Phazevariance
Phazevariance

Wow, is every forum post on this site about "jeff"? He's gone, too bad so sad. Yes, he asn't the best reviewer around, and fans often disagreed with him HOWEVER some times he was honest about things. The reason he was fired was a bad situation, and really hurts gamespot's credibility in terms of reviewing future games. But Jeff is gone, get over it, now focus on credibility instead. Are games reviewed on this site actually reviewed or bought reviews? I hope the next mario game is as sick as this one was only a little harder thoguhout.

Rect_Pola
Rect_Pola

I hope they can pull together another one on the Wii. It's been so long since a sequel on the same system.

NdsGuru
NdsGuru

WTF!!!!! This contains a major SPOILER

tamir1014
tamir1014

Jeff Gone so will be my User name and password for game spot. This is crap ain't worth reviewing game reviews with the other guys on here. they got no talent what so ever and they sound annoying at least jeff sounded real guys way to close your site up on the fast process AM I RIGHT GUYSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSS?

chrisdojo
chrisdojo

great game. they have some talent there @ nintendo.

xgalacticax
xgalacticax

'lemec78 - I CANT BELIEVE THAT NO ONE IS TALKING ABOUT HOW IDIOTIC IT WAS TO FIRE JEFF GERSTMANN. AND THE REASONS, IT COMPLETLY DESTROYS GAMESPOT'S CREDIBILITY. LETS ALL GO FIND A SITE THAT REVIEWS GAMES BASED ON A GAMES MERIT, AND NOT ON HOW MUCH A COMPANY PAYS THEM IN ADVERTISING! RISE UP AND QUIT USING GAMESPOT, AND LETS FOLLOW JEFF WHEREVER HE ENDS UP! BOO TO GAMESPOT!' This place is for comments on the interview with this Yoshiaki Koizumi fella about super mario galaxy and not about why jeff was fired. Thats the reason why no one should talk about jeff on this forum. the guy's been fired, some other big shots run the show, get over it.

123itezasdoremi
123itezasdoremi

Ive had it with this crap. With Jeff gone....I dont want to go to ign to hear their stupid reviews. I want Jeff's honest proffesional opinions on games. If anyone finds out where he goes next, (if it be any editorial website) light up the forums with its url. Gamespot. You've made a huge mistake

lawsond
lawsond

Gamespot has always had completely biased reviews towards their advertisers (Halo). I hated Jeff (disagreed with a number of his reviews) but the fact they fired him over this is absolute crap.

mmnin
mmnin

Jeff was one of the longest running editors on the site but was forced to leave even after all his tenure because he wrote a negative review about a sponsor 's game. In other words, advertisers influence Gamespots content.

evilsurfingkid
evilsurfingkid

what happen to this jeff guy and who was he/whatd he do?

Vamenti
Vamenti

Another great addition to the Mario series. Jeff? who is Jeff? who the **** would be stupid enough subscribe? rofl nothing surprises me anymore. Cut out the Jeff crap before I get you all silenced for unrelated and off topic comments. Make a thread for Jeff.

Rank_Reaper69
Rank_Reaper69

I lost my taste for Mario and It's not on the X360.....

capitalthoughts
capitalthoughts

I choose not to have high expectations for Mario games. Not because I think they will be bad, not by a long shot, but because if I base all of my points of views on the last mario game, I believe I would be disappointed. People grow too fond of one particular element of a game that when the sequel comes, they will hate it because that one element was overlooked, such as Yoshi or the red coins. The only thing every Mario game promises is that Mario will be in it, and you will be doing something new. Mario Galaxy is like a dream. I feel, just like every mario game before it, that it transports you into worlds and situations that have never been encountered before. I can't remember the last time I had so much fun playing a game. A game that I couldn't put down. A game that showed me something new with every star. Just fantastic.

Cypher_187
Cypher_187

Mario Galaxy is a fantastic game. Kudos to the tokyo studio. PS. Jeff deserved it in my opinion. I really felt that his reviews weren't cutting the mustard anymore. Just an opinion. No hate.

Radek3887
Radek3887

lemec78, I second that. I want to know exactly what is going on and the return of Jeff/ Else, I'll take my money elsewhere.

lemec78
lemec78

I CANT BELIEVE THAT NO ONE IS TALKING ABOUT HOW IDIOTIC IT WAS TO FIRE JEFF GERSTMANN. AND THE REASONS, IT COMPLETLY DESTROYS GAMESPOT'S CREDIBILITY. LETS ALL GO FIND A SITE THAT REVIEWS GAMES BASED ON A GAMES MERIT, AND NOT ON HOW MUCH A COMPANY PAYS THEM IN ADVERTISING! RISE UP AND QUIT USING GAMESPOT, AND LETS FOLLOW JEFF WHEREVER HE ENDS UP! BOO TO GAMESPOT!

powley
powley

O I forgot something.....as for the screen............................they can either simply not let another player advance on their own...........and once again it is up to you and your playing partner to figure it out between you which can be half the fun..........(this idea prolly isn't realistic or 100% ideal though)......... ......or maybe they can put in a feature where you choose to separate (whether it be just by walking away or by selecting some kind of option) and then the game goes into split screen. Something like that anyway. And for levels that scroll............well........either you keep up or you take a hit on health.....................and/or you get bumped along (similar to Mario's burning butt when he touches lava?...dunno)...........or you goto split screen...............or w/e. There are a million ways to do things in videogames. Anyhoo...........to me..................I'm sure they could make it work very well and very interestingly (tying it into neat missions and new gameplay modes, etc.) if they tried. I just have a hard time believing they couldn't.

powley
powley

I don't get what all the concern is with 2 players on screen at once.......it's been going on since wayyyy back. Contra was OK. WTF. You simply figure out with your friend who gets what power-up based on turns or who needs it most or w/e. Or you fight for em. The whole process is half the fun. I don't get how that could be so hard to figure out....it took me about 1 minute to come up with ideas. (and they aren't even new) Maybe I am missing some key details but I can't see it being much more complicated than that right now. I mean shoot.....you could easily have something like "bonus" team missions where you need to work together in creative ways to access certain parts...etc. There's tons of possibilities if you really start thinking about it. BTW they easily could have put Yoshi into the game if they really wanted to. They gave Mario new powers....so big deal.....give Yoshi new powers if his old ones don't fit in. Or make new uses for them. (i.e. put the player in different situations) With that being said though..................................for what it was..............I loved this game nearly 100%. (my only real beef was with flying with the red star...I thought the camera didn't turn with you fast enough....it made flying less responsive and made it tough to see where the hell you were going.....annnnd.....I'm only at about 90 stars but so far I think red star flying is way underused) Anyhoo that's enough. Great job with SMG. Very well done....very fun game.

Shishio817
Shishio817

Super Mario Galaxy is great, but I don't think it's the best 3D Mario ever (I think 64 probably is). Also, Jeff was the best. What happened?

donvarriel
donvarriel

Joshua Larsen over at Cnet is the man who had Jeff Gurstman Fired.

WapoStyle
WapoStyle

Well, with Greg gone, and now Jeff forget this site. Especially if the Kane & Lynch thing is true. Subscription cancelled. Does anyone know a solid review site besides IGN I could check out?

KriobaKeys
KriobaKeys

Where does it say Jeff was fired Jeff was the best :(

sephiroth_4
sephiroth_4

I'll cancel when the time comes because I already paid up until May! ;(

violet_yoshi
violet_yoshi

I forgot to mention something else. I think alot of us female gamers, like to taunt the guy gamers with the idea that we have a Pink DS. It's funny, cause it really disconcerts them. It's like, "Ha, female gamers DO exisist!" LoL.

violet_yoshi
violet_yoshi

I don't think Nintendo has to worry about appealing to the female gaming audience. It seems they're the only company who is trying to appeal to female gamers. As far as other game companies go, they act as if female gamers simply don't exsist. It's nice to see the Super Mario Galaxy team was concerned about putting alot of cute factor into the game. I however think the bee suit is cute, but not nearly as cute as other things in the game. Like the Lumas, they are super cute. They're like the cutest characters I've seen in the Super Mario series. I also like how Toad and the other mushroom people are involved with helping Mario find power stars. I really like when one of the mushroom people are standing on the cake at the end of the Sweet Sweet Galaxy level, and when you go to talk to them they sing "I love mint chocolate!" The boo Mario also is cute. It's funny how the boos fall in love with him too. As well as when you do the boo race in the Haunted Mansion Galaxy, and he's wearing the little race helmet. Maybe all of you at Nintendo have such a natural ability at creating cute characters, you don't even realize it. Also, I've heard that a great deal of Japanese culture is based around cute imagery. It's why alot of girls really love Anime. So I wouldn't worry about you finding loyalty with female gamers, you already have.

higgs64
higgs64

I enjoyed Super Mario Galaxy quite a bit, having just finished going through the 120 stars for that second time. While the game is certainly less open like Mario 64 and Sunshine, I thought getting all 120 stars was harder in Galaxy than in the previous two. Mario 64 was hard because a 3D platformer was still a new thing, and it was a great game because it helped usher in a new era. Knowing these skills now however, you find Mario 64 is actually a pretty easy game. That being said, there weren't any spots in the game that I found frustratingly difficult, though some would require 10+ tries the first time through. The second time through it took me less than one fourth the amount of time to get those 120 stars despite Luigi's harder control.

3G-ENIE
3G-ENIE

Jeff deserve to be fired. Move on with your life and play your games.