This story is part of our feature on independent Japanese studio Platinum Games. Check out the rest of our stories here.
"So what did Lightning Head say?" director Yusuke Hashimoto says shortly after we're introduced. He's talking about Saito--his former floormate at Capcom nearly two decades ago--and the patterns shaved into his hair. This kind of playful name-calling and banter appears to be common of the studio's inhabitants; they're always referencing each other with verbal pokes and prodding.
Hashimoto is the co-director on Star Fox Zero, being developed as a partnership with designer Shigeru Miyamoto's team at Nintendo. A fan of Miyamoto's work and the Star Fox franchise, Hashimoto never thought he'd end up someday working on the title. He started his career in video games with Capcom in 1997, and his first game was Rockman and Forte (or Mega Man and Bass, as it's known internationally). From there he moved under the leadership of Shinji Mikami, the "godfather of Resident Evil" as Hashimoto calls him, and stuck with the team through. After that he branched off to work with Clover Studio on God Hand as a visual effects designer, and followed that team when they split off to found Platinum Games.
Star Fox Zero isn't Hashimoto's first rodeo with Nintendo either. After designing enemies and producing for Bayonetta, he stepped into a directorial role for Bayonetta 2, an exclusive for Nintendo's Wii U. Hashimoto's enthusiasm for the Nintendo collaboration is what eventually landed him the Star Fox gig.
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"When we were making Bayonetta 2, I thought, we should be doing some kind of collaboration," he recalls. "Of course we started talking about how we would do that with Bayonetta and Bayonetta 2, and [Bayonetta creator Hideki] Kamiya-san was the first to jump in and say, 'Okay, I want Bayonetta wearing Mario clothes.' It ended up being a Princess Peach costume, and Samus, and Link, and stuff like that. But I thought, 'What's in this for me?'
"Besides just a costume, I thought it would be cool to make a collaboration that changes gameplay, something that maybe changes how you can play the game. That's how we got the idea for the Chain Chomp weapon in Bayonetta 2. But also, I'm a Star Fox fan, back when he was a fan, and I didn't want to do just a costume. Instead we made an Arwing for one section of the game and put them in."
Hashimoto's team decided that Star Fox deserves more than just an optional costume, and they added the Arwing they created into one of Bayonetta 2's shooting stages. The team was so enthusiastic about the project they actually forgot to ask Nintendo if the addition was okay. It's easier to ask for forgiveness than beg for permission, right?
"Afterwards we thought, 'Oh, we need to actually ask Nintendo if this is okay. It's okay, right?'" Hashimoto says. "And they were cool with it. They were on the same page with us, so that was fun!"
After seeing a stage presentation of Bayonetta 2's Arwing level, Nintendo was convinced. They approached Platinum about collaborating with them on an in-development Star Fox title.
"It's crazy to think about how it happened," Hashimoto adds.
Later on I spoke with Kamiya, who told me that he has always wanted to make a Star Fox game, but when Nintendo came knocking he was too busy. Knowing Kamiya was swamped with work on Scalebound, Hashimoto didn't hesitate to volunteer to head the project.
"I also want to make a Star Fox game, but Hashimoto beat me to the punch," Kamiya says, with both wistfulness and cheekiness in his voice. "I was busy making Scalebound when the pitch came. If there was no Scalebound, maybe I could have done Star Fox."
But given Hashimoto's unbridled enthusiasm for the title, it's hard to see anyone else in the driver's seat. According to Hashimoto, his and Miyamoto's teams are "in meetings together," and Star Fox Zero is entirely a collaborative effort.
"Obviously we have a very strong history of action games, whereas Miyamoto-san and his team have a strong history of everything, so it's very stimulating for us to work together with him," Hashimoto says. "There's a lot that we learn, lots of different new ideas that get thrown around all the time, so it's very cool for us to be able to have that opportunity."
Like Splatoon, Star Fox Zero is a shooter attempting to utilize both the TV and Wii U GamePad--not an easy development challenge.
"Thinking about how we can make it fun, how we can make it interesting," Hashimoto explained, "that's something that neither side really has [done]. It's just new for both of us. That's where you get stimulated: what ideas, what can we do there? It's always fun to think about. We've been working with action games long enough. We understand how the players play an action game, how they respond to an action game, how they'll move, what they'll do in the situational stuff. What we're making here now, it's totally a new learning experience for us, which is kind of fun to find out."
While Star Fox Zero may not be the only Wii U title Platinum Game is working on--the team was mum, but cheeky, when asked about the possibility of a Bayonetta 3--it is the only one they're talking about right now. Working with dual screens continues to be the biggest challenge, for Hashimoto and his team. He remembers working on Bayonetta 2 and thinking how the unique controller could be incorporated into a shooting game scheme.
"We've got them both moving at 60 fps, which is big for a lot of people, I think," he says, dropping the famous number. "But I think that it's kind of a milestone in gaming, in a way. It's not something that we have done ourselves before at Platinum, and it's just not even something that has been done in gaming before. So it's a lot of new challenges."
My visit to Platinum's headquarters came less than a week after Miyamoto announced Star Fox Zero's delay. In a heartfelt Facebook post, he explained that the game would be pushed from November to early 2016 in an effort to add additional polish, which included changes to level design and "the tone of the cut scenes." When asked about this, Hashimoto's tone is also sincere, and his answer similar.
"We want to make it feel as great as possible, give it that Platinum feel," he explains. “It's easy to say [it was delayed] to increase its quality, or whatever, but that entails a lot, whether it be visuals, or controls."
There's pressure on Platinum to produce a Star Fox game worthy of its legacy. The series' last game launched nearly 10 years ago--Star Fox Command for the Nintendo DS--and we haven't seen the titular protagonist outside of Super Smash Bros. game since. Years back there were rumors of a canceled Wii iteration of the franchise, and other than that, we've heard and seen little. But Hashimoto speaks confidently of his team's endeavors in the face of its delay. And given how well-received the most recent products of Platinum's working relationship with Nintendo have been--see Bayonetta 2 and The Wonderful 101--it stands to reason that, by handing over the keys to Star Fox, Miyamoto and company have expressed the highest confidence in Hashimoto's team as well.