While Luigi will no doubt remain in the shadow of his spotlight-hogging brother, Mario, the little-plumber-that-occasionally-could has had something of an increase in popularity of late. Given that there was an entire year of Nintendo games and marketing dedicated to him in 2013, this shouldn't come as a surprise, but he's also become a bit bolder as a character recently--who can forget the gifs of him giving dagger eyes to fellow racers as he passed them by in Mario Kart 8?
Nintendo Switch's upcoming game Luigi's Mansion 3 allows the lanky green boy to continue his side-hustle as an exorcist and ghost hunter but puts him up against his greatest challenge yet: an entire hotel full of ghouls to be vacuumed and vanquished. This time Mario and the gang have been captured, and it's up to him to free them and save the day. This will require bravery the likes of which Luigi has never shown before, so could it also be a turning point in his life? Will we get a self-assured, composed Luigi on the other side?
That's one of the questions we posed to Kensuke Tanabe, producer of Luigi's Mansion 3, and the game's supervisor, Yoshihito Ikebata. We also discussed the surprising popularity of the character and what distinguishes him from Mario, as well as how moving to a hotel changes the ghost hunting experience, and Nintendo's thinking on DLC for the game.
GameSpot: During the presentation, you mentioned the Luigi's Mansion games have done really well. Was that a surprise to you?
Tanabe: I was genuinely surprised to see so many people so excited about this game. There was a very long gap in the time between the first and second game coming out, but the fact that the third one came out pretty much right away must have something to do with the fact that it was so popular. So, right now we're talking to [Luigi's Mansion 3 developer] Next Level Games, trying to get more out of the game; creating a more fun game featuring Luigi.
Do you think that Luigi as a character is now more relatable to the common person? Everyone loves Mario but he's a hero beyond reach. He rescued the princess many times, he's been to outer space, and done all sorts of wild stuff. Luigi is still just the scared younger brother. Would you say that Luigi's more popular and relatable than Mario?
Tanabe: Yeah, we agree with you exactly. Mario is just basically the hero, someone to look up to, an inspiration. Whereas Luigi is someone who [people can feel] closer to and I think that's a part of his charm.
How does that translate to designing a game? In a lot of games, you want to fulfill the fantasy of being a hero, but Luigi is scared a lot of time. And he achieves things, but he rarely has the same kind of triumph moment.
Tanabe: Were you able to play the game?
Yeah, I played it.
Tanabe: So you saw things like [the] slam?
[Editor's note: The slam is an ability Luigi has that allows him to grab enemy ghosts, wrangle them, and then slam them into the ground to do damage.]
Yeah. But when he does it, he seems like he's kind of terrified the entire time and scared of doing it. He never quite looks confident--even three games in.
Tanabe: Well, that's exactly it. In terms of the gameplay and how it feels like to the user, that's something we really focus on [to] let the player feel good when they play the game. So, in animating Luigi himself, we want to keep it very Luigi-like. Even if Luigi's terrified, if the player can [be] satisfied by doing these actions, I think they will feel satisfied.
What was it about a hotel setting that intrigued you?
Tanabe: Simply put, I just really wanted a different atmosphere. In addition to that, structurally speaking, in Luigi's Mansion, I really wanted a bunch of the rooms to be interconnected with each other and then have the users visualize that in their minds and make that into a game plan in itself. But, when that's kind of stacked up vertically, it becomes kind of difficult to make that very clear.
But, when it's a hotel, it's very obvious, very easy to visualize. The other thing we wanted to do was to give it a different theme and atmosphere for each of the floors and that's what was facilitated by choosing this.
Do you find it harder to create a consistent atmosphere? Because, as you go from levels that are drastically different in theme, you're almost resetting everything. How do you approach making sure that it's still spooky throughout while also having to start over each time you move up a floor?
Ikebata: Actually, because it's a hotel, it was very easy to come up with completely different atmospheres for each floor. We always had a thing from the perspective of the user, for the players who are going to play it, it's like, "How can we surprise them, how can we keep them kind of anticipating something new each time?" It's really all about the art style. So, by unifying the artistic look and feel of the entire thing, you're able to kind of maintain that same feel.
Did you do any actual research to go to spooky, haunted hotels? There's a few in LA. Did you try any of them? Because the Ghostbusters hotel is down the road, The Millennium Biltmore.
Tanabe: Oh man! Had we known about that haunted house, we totally would have gone. Unfortunately, we didn't think to do that.
Randomizing levels in multiplayer is interesting. What was the thinking behind that?
Tanabe: Because you can play with a lot of people, say four, they can all be in the same room at once if they want to, but it does kind of slow down the pace. Whereas everyone can be dispersed but then they also need to be able to come back together. They're about to battle a bunch of ghosts.
With that in mind, even though the rooms are randomly generated, we want to make sure people are able to come back together if they have to. Just making the layout so that it facilitates that was something I had in mind so we were sure to let Next Level Games know that was something that needs to happen.
Could this game be a moment of decisive change for Luigi as a character? Because Mario is trapped and all of their friends are trapped. We've got a game where Luigi rescues Mario, and if that is the case, is there a chance that he perhaps becomes more self-assured as a character? I think a lot of Luigi fans want to see that, if only for their own confidence.
Tanabe: That's a great observation because that is exactly the reason why we wanted to have the whole gang in there. He's going to rescue Mario. It's good.
I think it's time Luigi was no longer a coward and I think he's proved himself enough times that he should get a little bit of a confidence level up.
Tanabe: Sure. But, he's scared still.
A couple of years ago we had gifs of Luigi in Mario Kart looking at everyone very angrily and it seems like everything's building for him to finally push Mario out of the way.
Tanabe: [Laughs] I think Mario is a traditional hero type whereas Luigi is Luigi. We think that, regardless, he'll go in his own direction.
It was also mentioned during the presentation that Luigi as a character, and also his games as a whole, appeal to a much broader audience than you'd expect. Specifically, women were mentioned as liking Luigi more than Mario. Why do you think that is?
Tanabe: Well, I don't know for sure, but I think it's what we said earlier about the fact that he's not a traditional hero and is [therefore] a little bit closer to us, and I think the fact that you can kind of empathize with him might be what it is.
Structurally, how many levels can we expect the hotel to have and is there room to expand that later on? Are you looking at this hotel format as something you can build upon?
Tanabe: Are you speaking of the single-player?
Single-player and multiplayer, if that's something that you can add to later on. Is that something you want to do?
Ikebata: Right now there are 17 floors [in single-player].
Tanabe: Because like you said, it's a hotel structure with multiple floors, I think it would have been possible to add even more floors. But, I think the hardest part of that is not necessarily the act of adding floors, but it's like ... the story is done, so by adding [more floors], how are we going to expand that aspect? Because I want to experience completing the whole hotel and just feel satisfied that it's done. Adding on new stuff is not really something that gives us that.
What about introducing new elements in multiplayer? Now, when people design games, they don't want others to play it, be done, and move on. Instead, they want people to keep coming back. Mario Kart 8 and Super Smash Bros. Ultimate do well with additional multiplayer options. Is that something you're thinking about with Luigi's Mansion?
Tanabe: This is a pretty important point, but trying to continue to add onto things that are already completed keeps the development team working on that project. What we really want to do is focus on the next thing, it keeps us moving onto new things. I personally don't have that kind of endurance.
That's interesting to hear since much of the industry's going the opposite direction. People spend a lot of time and money creating one thing and then they want to get as much out of it as possible to the point where it can be kind of exhausting for them and the player. What are your thoughts on that trend of people spending years and years and years making the same game? How do you feel about that from a creative standpoint?
Tanabe: Of course, we have titles like that in Nintendo too. Personally, I think there's got to be a couple of content updates over time because it's really fun. But I don't feel like we need to necessarily do that with all of our titles. So, this is entirely based on my personality, but I'm someone who likes to finish something and then move on.
As a player, I like to finish a game and then move on. It's good to hear that Luigi's Mansion has a finishing point.
Tanabe: Of course, there are games like that for those types of people who want to keep playing that type of game, and fans like you who wants to finish a game and move on, so I think it's great that there's a variety of different types of games.
For sure. And moving on helps creators channel that creativity and also get their ideas flowing. Is that something that you actively encourage while making games like Luigi's Mansion--or people to start thinking of the next thing?
Tanabe: I, myself, am like that. Even when I'm creating something I'm constantly thinking of the next thing. Even as we're wrapping up the development of Luigi Mansion 3, Next Level Games is like, what about [Luigi's Mansion 4]? What's going to come after a hotel?
How do you feel about that? Where you have wrapped up [development] and you're in the mindset of wanting to finish the game, and then someone comes along and says, "What about the fourth one?" Are you like, "Let me do something else first," or are you like, "I'm ready, I've got another idea, I want to go now, let's do the next one now?"
Tanabe: So, I personally work on multiple titles at the same time, not just one. When someone approaches me with a new idea, I have no issues. But on the other hand, if you try to make three of the same type of title, sometimes the staff will become exhausted. So, if the same team has worked on the same game three times, I try to make sure they get to work on something else.
Nintendo was a company that made games internally and was very careful about who creates its games. More recently, we've seen Nintendo partnering with other developers, whether it's Japanese companies like Bandai Namco or others like Next Level Games or Retro. What's it been like to have that shift?
Tanabe: I personally have been working since the '90s with external companies. The one thing I always think about is not just letting anyone make our games. We always work with someone who understands the way Nintendo games are. Another reason is that now that a lot of things are in HD and the quality is very high, it's really hard for us to just make everything on our own, so we do have to rely on other companies that understand the way things are made at Nintendo to make this together.
Do you find that these outside studios will bring in ideas that Nintendo wouldn't think of? When that happens, how do you weigh up taking on new ideas that are unexpected with what your fans expect from a Nintendo game?
Tanabe: Nintendo traditionally doesn't do a lot of things that are really grotesque or violent, for example. Our priority is doing something that is [uniquely] Nintendo. So, when people come up with ideas that we don't agree with and they're like, "In our culture, we make it like this." We, in turn, ask them, "Have you made a Nintendo game?" I turn it around and say, "I probably know more about making a Nintendo game than you do. So, how about I tell you how to work together on this?"