PGC speaks with two of the lead members of the NST team about the development and evolution of Metroid Prime Hunters.
Earlier this week at NOA Headquarters, we had the opportunity to learn more details about the development of Metroid Prime Hunters from Director Masamichi Abe (pronounced "ah-bay") and Lead Technical Engineer Colin Reed from NST. Bill Trinen served as translator for Mr. Abe.
PGC: I understand both of you also worked on Pikmin as well?
Reed: Yeah, we worked on Pikmin together and 1080° on the N64 together. So we've worked together a lot.
PGC: How large was the development team on Metroid Prime Hunters?
Reed: I think the largest sized team got up to maybe thirty people.
PGC: Is that quite a bit larger than other DS games?
Abe: I think so. (laughter)
PGC: What led to the decision early on to make Metroid Prime Hunters a multiplayer game? Was it influenced by Metroid Prime 2?
Abe: Actually, when we first started the project, one of the main focuses of the DS hardware at that point in time was the wireless functionality and being able to play with other people wirelessly. Because of that, we felt that the multiplayer aspects of Metroid Prime Hunters were going to be very important and that was kind of our starting point.
Then as an idea of introducing a new element to the Metroid series - really bringing in something that we haven't seen before - was this idea of the different bounty hunters. We had this idea early on and thought that would be a good way to introduce this new content and this new element to the gameplay and take advantage of that in the multiplayer.
PGC: Do you think that this new element is going to influence the future of Metroid games, such as Metroid Prime 3 on Revolution? Or is it going to be something that's self-contained, and if it's in a sequel, it would be a "Hunters" kind of sequel?
Abe: I think there's definitely a possibility for it to influence the series. Personally, I don't know what's going on with Metroid Prime 3, but I think that because we've been able to use this opportunity to introduce these new bounty hunters, then I think that just opens up more opportunities to continue to flesh them out and explore different avenues with them in future Metroid games.
PGC: At what point was it decided to go online? I think that earlier they mentioned the feedback from E3 last year.
Reed: Definitely. After last year's E3, we got a whole load of feedback. There was a certain amount of disappointment that we weren't intending to go online at that point. The schedule for when the Wi-Fi stuff was starting didn't really match up with our schedule for finishing. So, that's why at that point we decided to go into those issues.
PGC: Voice chat: was that just a natural extension? At about what point did that come in?
Reed: I have no idea when that got implemented. It's a fairly new technology, and it's just something that came up just as we were finishing up when we decided, "Yeah, why not? Let's put it in."
PGC: So it was pretty easy to put in there then?
Reed: Oh yeah. It was really easy to put in actually.
PGC: Great. That shows that there may be a chance that it will show up in a lot more games.
Reed: I believe so.
PGC: With the DS online capability, most of the games that we've seen have been four players. Is that a technical maximum or do you think that in future games or simpler games that maybe more players will be able to join-in online?
Reed: An online game is always a trade-off between beauty and number of players. So we've tried to take a nice compromise. The thing with the more players is that the more players you have, the larger arenas you have to have. There are always these technical trade-offs that you have to make. I think that we've made a nice balance with this game, but it's not by any means a technical limitation to stop at four.
PGC: That also influences the voice chat functionality? It would be too much information transferring to try to talk and play at the same time?
Reed: It's always a balance that you have to take, yeah.
PGC: What other kinds of elements were added in addition to the online and the voice chat once you knew that you had more time to work on the game?
Reed: I think that it was mostly a case that it gave us the extra time to be able to polish the game. We got the chance to make so many more optimizations, and to get the framerate running at a solid state and to try all these new shiny material kind of effects. It gave us that time to just step it up a notch. So we're actually pretty thankful!
PGC: Yeah, the reflectivity on the morph ball looks really nice.
Reed: It was one artist just hammering away in the middle of the night. He comes to show us what he did, and we were like, "Oh that's cool, let's use that." (laughter) Then the effect just spreads off and starts getting used all over the place. Then we have to reel them back in and say, "Ok. No, he's using it too much."
PGC: Was there ever a point during development when you thought that maybe with this new control scheme and all these other characters that it might be better as a different franchise?
Abe: No, not so much. From early on, one of our key focuses was really creating this as an extension of the Metroid universe while at the same time upholding the traditions of the Metroid franchise, everything from the continuity of the story to the graphics. In that sense, I think it's really always been a part of the Metroid series.
PGC: Who was responsible for working on the designs of the new characters and how difficult was it to try to get them to fit in to the Metroid universe?
Abe: Actually from the very initial stages of game development, our art team worked in collaboration with the lead designer at Retro Studios, who is in charge of the design of the Metroid franchise, the Prime franchise in particular. We had a lot of discussions with them to not only talk about the design of this game, but also in creating the new characters, working with them to make sure that these characters fit into the overall Metroid Prime series.
PGC: Hunters takes place between Metroid Prime and Metroid Prime 2. How does that work out with continuity? Is it not really influenced by either game?
Reed: It's not really influenced at all by either of the stories. It's just a side story, really. It's a separate mission.
Abe: As Richard [Vorodi] was saying earlier, the ship that you see in the game is the ship from Metroid Prime, whereas the suit Samus is wearing is the suit from Metroid Prime 2. So, where the character is, in terms of development, fits somewhere between the two. Maybe there are some events that happen on either side, but that's kind of the general flow of where it would fit.
PGC: Other than the different morph forms, what are some of the gameplay differences between the different hunters?
Abe: In addition to the morph forms, the effectiveness of the weapons can change, depending on which hunter is using the weapon. The simplest example is the charge missiles. When Samus uses the charge missiles, the homing is very effective, and they are able to home-in on targeted enemies very easily. Whereas, other hunters, when using the homing missiles, the homing may not be as effective for them as it is for Samus. In that sense, there's a balance between how effective different weapons are with different hunters.
PGC: How was the single player mode first conceived and how did it change throughout development? We didn't see much single player for a very long time, so it's almost as if it's just been revealed.
Abe: Actually for both modes, development started at the same time. The thing about multiplayer mode is that you've got a variety of different modes. People can pick it up and play it very easily and quickly understand what's appealing about it. Whereas, with the single player mode, you really need to spend a good half-hour or more to really understand what's appealing about it, what's interesting, what makes it different. In that sense, the single player mode was just something that was harder to show to people. We really wanted to show it off earlier, but we felt that we'd rather create demos using the multiplayer mode and show people the appeal of the multiplayer Metroid and save the single player mode for later.
PGC: How did the control layout influence the level design and the enemy design?
Abe: It wasn't really a driving direction in terms of changing level design based on the control scheme, but because we've gone from a control stick to the stylus/touch-screen control, our real focus in designing the levels was just to make sure that the actual gameplay didn't get more difficult or the actual control didn't get more difficult. In that sense, we just took our standard process for designing levels and fine-tuned the level design more for the stylus control. But to say that we had to shift the way we designed the levels wouldn't be very accurate.
PGC: During the presentation, [Richard Vorodi] said that the length of the game is maybe just a little bit shorter than the first Metroid Prime. What kinds of incentives are there for replaying the game – bonuses or harder difficulties, etc.?
Abe: It's pretty standard in terms of what you would expect from a Metroid game, having an unlock system to encourage people to go back through and play the game. But at the same time, just doing a speed run is going to be a lot of fun for people, and I think that people will enjoy the challenge of trying to beat it faster than everyone else.
Reed: There's a couple of other things. When you finish the game, we do actually show the time that you took to get through the game. Also, we keep track of the total enemies killed through the whole life of the game. So each time you play, it keeps adding up and adding up and adding up, and I'm sure there's gonna be forums where there's like, "Ah, I got a million kills. I got two million kills." (laughter) There's all that online competition that I think that will be going on. It's always interesting to see what ways people find to play your game.
PGC: Before, people were pretty comfortable with there being 3D Metroid on consoles and 2D Metroid on handhelds over the past couple of years. Now that Hunters has kind of broken that barrier by putting 3D on a handheld, do you think we'll still see some 2D sequels in the future?
Abe: I guess. I'm sure that they'll probably put out some more 2D Metroid games.
PGC: Just a couple of fun questions. Some of our staff wanted to know what some of your favorite characters and weapons are in the game as well as how you two stack up against the other players in the office.
Abe: I prefer Kanden, and I'm really not very good. (laughter)
Reed: I think my favorite character is Weavel. I like his affinity gun. I love his HUD. I did all the HUDs as well, so that's probably my favorite. And I… don't ever play multiplayer so I'm pretty terrible. (laughter) I'm looking forward to playing once the game comes out. It's just that, obviously, I've been very busy.
There's always a group of guys every day. They're always like down at the end of the office battling away. (laughter) I think that's one of the reasons why all the characters are so balanced. It's just because we've played it so much. Not me personally, but everyone's played it so much. (laughter) Sometimes you’re like, "John, you gotta get back to work you know?" but they're just playing it, and it's all for the good of the game.
That's one of the beautiful things about it. All the characters are totally balanced. We don't think there are any broken, too-strong characters.
One of the things that's really interesting to me - when you start playing team games – is how your combination of characters can influence the way that a match goes because your abilities can help each other. It's going to be very interesting to see how people end up playing the game.
Thanks again to Mr. Abe and Mr. Reed for taking the time to speak with us.