Metroid creator Sakamoto on Other M, WarioWare

GDC 2010: Nintendo software group manager talks mood, creating games for different audiences, and how Dario Argento influenced Metroid.

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Who Was There: Yoshio Sakamoto, group manager of the Software Planning and Development department at Nintendo. Sakamoto is probably best known for his work on Metroid, having directed or supervised nearly every game in the series since its inception (including the upcoming Metroid: Other M). But his resume extends well beyond action games. Sakamoto was the producer behind microgame compilations like WarioWare: Touched! and WarioWare: Smooth Moves and has even worked on music games, such as Rhythm Heaven.

Samus' adventures were influenced by Italian horror films.
Samus' adventures were influenced by Italian horror films.

What They Talked About: From shooting space pirates in Metroid to sticking fingers up noses in Wario, Yoshio Sakamoto has one of the most varied resumes in gaming. It's so varied, in fact, that Nintendo president Satoru Iwata often comments that he’s unsure how Sakomoto can work on both serious and comical games, according to Sakomoto.

These discussions led to the topic of his talk at GDC 2010, "From Metroid to Tomodachi Collection to WarioWare: Different Approaches for Different Audiences." Sakomoto began by outlining the games he’s worked on in the past, saying that Western audiences probably knew him best for his work on Metroid. Many of his other games, however, were “niche” titles that often don’t make it out of Japan (and even in Japan, he says Metroid is seen as “niche”).

Sakomoto’s current project is Metroid: Other M, and he says his intention was to make it the “ultimate” Metroid game. But his involvement with the series stretches back all the way to the first Metroid on the NES in 1986, when he worked as part of the design team. “When people credit me as the creator of Metroid, I feel a bit of resistance. If anything, I see myself as the one who raised Samus. After all, the one who birthed Metroid was the Queen Metroid, am I right?” he said.

While Sakamoto didn’t work on Metroid 2, he did produce Super Metroid for the SNES in 1994. To demonstrate just how far the series had come, he showed a clip comparing the ending of Metroid II to a CGI sequence in Other M. The sequence (spoiler warning--skip to the next paragraph if you don’t want to know how Metroid II ends and Other M begins) showed the SNES version of the end boss fight against Mother Brain and the death of the baby Metroid and intercut it with an impressive-looking flashback cinematic from Other M.

Sakamoto then switched to the other games in his oeuvre, starting with the WarioWare series, which began with Twisted on the GameBoy Advance in 2005. The latest in the franchise--WarioWare D.I.Y. for the DS--will allow gamers to create their own microgames, and Sakomoto showed off a Metroid-themed one he created that will require players to shoot Metroids within a brief time period. He then briefly touched on two titles not released outside of Japan--the highly successful Tomodachi Collection for the DS (which is about to hit 3 million in sales in its home country) and Famikon Tantei Kurabu, a series of horror/suspense titles. Finally, Sakamoto showed off one of the earliest games he worked on--Balloon Fight for the NES all the way back in 1985.

Sakamoto said that if you looked at his past projects, they could be broken down into two divisions--serious (such as Metroid) and comic (such as WarioWare). He said that in preparing for his talk at GDC, Sakamoto began with examining his influences, chief of which were the films of Italian horror film master Dario Argento. Sakamoto said Argento’s films--particularly 1975’s Deep Red--were the biggest influences on his career, as they taught him that mood, timing, foreshadowing of future events, and contrasting music were key to controlling an audience’s reaction. Other directors and films he called out included Luc Besson (Leon aka The Professional), John Woo (A Better Tomorrow), and Brian dePalma (Carrie).

Sakamoto said the principle of controlling mood, timing, foreshadowing, and contrast was something he applied to all of his games, be they serious or comic. “The experience of scary or funny or cool is all part of the same process, regardless of the feeling. A developer must think about this and figure out how to control the audiences feeling,” he said. “So what is the difference? The answer is there really is no difference; it’s more about technique. As long as one is open to the possibility of new experiences, you can use a single toolset to move people’s hearts in different ways.”

Sakamoto then switched back to his most recent success, last year’s Tomodachi Collection. While Western audiences may be unfamiliar with this DS title, Sakamoto said it was a big hit in Japan. The game uses Mii-like characters and puts them in a series of strange situations. Sakamoto showed a video of his own game, which featured Miis of Nintendo luminaries, such as Iwata, Shigeru Miyamoto, Reggie Fils-Aime, and even Samus Aran. A series of often funny vignettes then flashed on the screen, including Iwata-Mii rocking out to Metallica, Sakamoto’s Mii promising to put diamonds on Samus’ helmet in the next game if she goes out with him, and more.

And finally, Sakamoto again addressed his big next project--Metroid: Other M. He said the game was the synthesis of everything he’s learned about game creation so far. As well as being the producer, Sakamoto wrote the story, which he said would take place between the events of Super Metroid and Metroid Fusion and would reintroduce characters, such as Commander Adam Malkovich back to the mix. He also briefly spoke about his design process and how it worked with their partners Team Ninja. He recounted a story where thanks to Team Ninja’s input, he was still able to get his wish of having a Metroid that controlled solely via the Wii Remote and yet one that still had 2D-like and first-person elements.

Quote/Takeaway: “It’s our mission to give our images shape, which can be conveyed to other people. I want to make the game that makes the best possible reaction from my intended audience.” -- Yoshio Sakamoto, group manager of the Software Planning and Development department at Nintendo.

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