Nintendo EAD's Takashi Tezuka discusses everything from Super Mario Galaxy and Super Paper Mario to Wii Sports and the remote.
On the last day of E3 2006, PGC had a chance to talk with Takashi Tezuka, who is supervising many of Nintendo's newly-announced titles. Through his translator, Tim O'Leary, Mr. Tezuka comments on Super Mario Galaxy's development, Wii Sports' appeal, side projects, and more.
PGC: What is the story behind Super Mario Galaxy—why is he in outer space?
Takashi Tezuka: Basically, I think that they just wanted to take Mario outside of his normal confines and put him in a new place. Plus, Mr. Miyamoto had done experiments with Mario on a round playing surface in the past, so that married up to this idea of taking him somewhere new. And of course, round objects…outer space…it all worked out.
PGC: Were the little planets at all inspired by the classic French children's novel, The Little Prince?
TT: I don't think so. Not that I'm aware of.
PGC: Is the gameplay on display only a small part of the larger game, such as a hub between planets, like the castle [in Super Mario 64]?
TT: This was a show floor build. It was made condensing a bunch of little stuff to make it very easy for people to see what's incorporated in parts of the game. So rather than a specific hub—again, it's a show floor version of the game.
PGC: Yesterday it was said that Mr. Miyamoto upended the tea table with Super Mario Galaxy. What were some of his concerns and suggestions for the game?
TT: Oh, well, you heard that, huh? Probably what that would be referring to was that they had done a ton of different experiments with the Wii remote and the Wii functionality to make a whole new set of Mario moves, and probably what the whole tea table incident would refer to was Mr. Miyamoto saying, "Well, this is where we'll be playing the game, so let's pare that down to stuff that matches this and get rid of everything else." So that was probably it, coming in and just disrupting that "these are all the moves we can do" to "well, we only have room for these, let's get it worked out."
PGC: So what we're seeing with the remote now is a lot of pointing to collect the star shards and the elastic bands. You think that we will see more interaction with that, because right now it is fairly limited.
TT: Well, the way we have it right now, you can use it to collect the star shards or fragments as you travel through space, and you can use it to activate the gravity on those little gravity stars, and they'll pull you from place to place and move around the screen. So those are obviously some new elements to the Mario franchise, and we will also be implementing or increasing some of the things we can do as long as they remain intuitive and we feel [they] are compatible with what we're trying to do with the Wii remote. So you'll see some more.
PGC: Where did the idea come from to have the player interacting with the world through the cursor?
TT: It wasn't one lighting-in-a-bottle type thing. It was just a series of different events and tests, people talking about different ideas, and it gradually took shape. I'm not exactly sure when it was decided or how it came about specifically, but it was the result of a long series of trials and consultations….
PGC: How did feedback on Super Mario Sunshine influence Super Mario Galaxy's development?
TT: I think that the director of the team that's worked on both games had a lot of internal discussion and a lot of internal feedback, that post-mortem discussion of how we can do this or whatever. But I don't think there was a lot of influence from outside of that team.
PGC: So what things did the team think needed to be improved upon from Super Mario Sunshine?
TT: To be honest it would be the team structure, who's in charge of what and who's going to be doing what. And then just a lot of technological issues, since we were going to be working with a new system. So mostly it was spec issues like that.
PGC: One of the most interesting differences that we've seen on the showroom floor is the camera—it's mostly fixed in Super Mario Galaxy versus the very free, user-controlled camera in Super Mario Sunshine.
TT: Yeah, I think that was definitely a conscious decision. They looked at it this time and said, "Hey, the ability to move the camera can complicate things unnecessarily, and we want this game to be very accessible and very user-friendly and very intuitive," and they did a lot of camera experiments and they decided this was the best way to go.
PGC: Can we expect any sorts of power-ups in Super Mario Galaxy?
TT: I'm sure the director is probably thinking of things like that, yes.
PGC: One of the bosses on display is a giant mech. A lot of us are thinking that it might have been be inspired by Shadow of the Colossus… (laughter) …is there any chance that's the case?
TT: I think that was probably designed before they saw that…so…just a supposition, I'm not really sure.
PGC: In the past you've said New Super Mario Bros. was designed to be simpler and go back to that old-school feel, and Mario Galaxy in contrast is furthering that more complex, full world. Why do you think there is that difference in the two titles?
TT: I think that's just because we have fans that like both.
And right now, as an additional comment, the Super Mario Galaxy world that you're seeing…I think a lot of people are saying, "Wow, this is brand new, this is taking Mario out of this…" But once we get the thing completely finished and you see the game in its entirety, I think people will feel that it fits right in with Mario, and there will not be any sort of "this doesn't belong" feeling.
PGC: Might the Shroobs [from Mario and Luigi: Partners in Time] be involved, since this is in outer space?
TT: I don't think they will be making an appearance in this game.
PGC: (laughter) OK. You're supervising a lot of the Wii titles. What kinds of difficulties are there with sensitivity for the pointing device?
TT: For us it was just a matter of time, with trial and error and talking with people and having people play it and look at it…. And finally we were able to, over the course of time and many monitor sessions, we were able to adjust it to a comfortable level. And that's what we feel we've been able to do. There were many, many prototypes.
PGC: We've seen in the background of the game what looks like a very, very large planet way in the distance that it looks like maybe all of the smaller moons and planets are orbiting. Does that large planet play into the game at all?
TT: Please, I hope you look forward to finding that answer out.
PGC: A lot of the people explaining the game on the show floor have been saying that is best to stand as far back as possible. Is that just a rumor, or does [the remote's pointing sensor] really get more sensitive as you get closer?
TT: It's just a matter of if you're too close the sensor has problems picking up the motions. So rather than being too sensitive or too fast, it's just a matter of not being able to pick it up. But of course if you're too far away it's not good either.
PGC: The remote has many new features. How do you think developers should approach them, since there are so many?
TT: I haven't had to think about it too much since all of the developers we've been working with and listening to and talking with, they've had so many ideas and they're trying so many things that we've just said, "Well OK, go ahead." We haven't had to give out any advice because it's very simple to use and they've had so many interesting ideas.
PGC: I have another question about Mario. When you look at the game it looks like it is very open in that you could basically do whatever you want, you're in outer space and confronted with all these planets. But when you get in and actually play it in the demo there are three set paths, and each leads to a different boss. Will the game be very linear like that, or will it be freer?
TT: I don't have that answer, and I cannot reveal that information.
PGC: For the DS we saw Yoshi's Island 2, which I believe is being built by Artoon…
Tim O'Leary: Yes.
PGC: Are you at all involved in supervising that project?
TT: I have been asked to oversee their work on the game. From time to time I'll meet with their development team, look at the latest version—whatever they've been doing—and we'll have discussions and I'll provide feedback.
PGC: You recently announced the speaker in the remote. Right now we've seen things like coin [noises] coming out of the speaker. In terms of gameplay mechanics, what do you see down the line?
TT: One example would be, perhaps you're playing a multiplayer game that is turn based, so Player 1 could set his sound, and Player 2 would have his sound. So when it comes to your turn it would go "bum-bing!" That's an example of one thing I'm envisioning for speaker use.
PGC: I've heard rumors that there's a small amount of memory inside the controller. Can you make any comment on that?
TT: Uh…no comment.
(Awkward silence, then laughter)
Tim O'Leary: Well, there's nothing more of a conversation killer than that.
PGC: Which Wii titles are you supervising?
TO: The teams under his supervision are working on pretty much every NCL-produced game on the floor. Personally, he's getting ready to ramp up on a Wii title that was not shown or announced.
PGC: Wii Sports seems very different from a lot of what Nintendo has done in the past. What is Nintendo's philosophy on Wii Sports?
TT: The idea behind the Wii Sports package actually came from Mr. Miyamoto, and it is a direct result of our philosophy behind Wii itself, and I'm sure you've heard this before, is to have a game console in the home that would not be attached to one specific person in the family. Everyone would feel this was a device [they] could use and have access to. We didn't want something that seemed intimidating or frightening. Let's face it, a lot of older people look at game consoles and say, "That's not for me." We wanted something that, through its design and its intuitive nature and simplicity, would have people feeling that they too could use this device, much as they use other devices in their home.
In order to further that, Mr. Miyamoto was thinking that we need some software that could be played by multiple persons that, again, seems non-intimidating and accessible. What do people like to do together in groups for fun that doesn't have to be too serious? A lot of people get together to play sports, so let's put together a simple sports group that will bring in new people.
PGC: Do you think Western markets will embrace the cuteness?
TT: I look at it and think that it is something successful and open to pretty much any culture. I don't see it as something designed for any market. So I think people will be very accepting of the Wii and its overall aesthetic.
PGC: We saw at the press conference that when everyone was playing tennis, they had Mr. Iwata's face and everyone else's face put on the characters. Are there any thoughts of putting in a system were players can draw their own faces?
TT: Yeah, that's going to be a part of [Wii Sports] and it's going to have hardware functionality, that you will be able to use some set images and match them up together to create faces. You can also do some editing of your own to create stuff that's closer to yourself and your friends. These will remain in the hardware system so that you can use them throughout the Wii Sports titles and maybe with other software titles, too. We'll just see how that works….so we'll have a character-creating piece of software, I guess.
PGC: One of the most exciting games that we've heard about that wasn't on the showroom floor was Super Paper Mario. Are you at all involved in that game?
TT: Actually, in the same way I'm working with Yoshi's Island 2, just about the design, but getting together and giving feedback at about that level.
PGC: How far along is it in development?
TT: It's very, very far along. The only reason it is not here is that there was a decision not to put the GameCube on the floor this time. But don't worry, it's coming along great. It also takes you out of what you would traditionally expect in a Super Mario game. There's a lot of really fun stuff in it.
PGC: We saw in the video that at times he is walking normally, side-scrolling, but at times it looks like the entire environment turns. Does that happen at set points in the game or can you do that whenever?
TO: Actually, we're both asking ourselves, "Can you do that?" I haven't seen enough to remember it directly. There are definitely certain areas that once you're in, will rotate the camera to allow the player to proceed through the game. To the best of our knowledge, at certain points it will automatically do that. Whether or not the player will be able to do that, we are not in agreeance, we don't really remember, so we probably should not say anything. I'm sorry.
PGC: Will his paper thin nature play a role in the gameplay mechanics, like the paper plane in Paper Mario 2?
TT: In the previous titles we've asked Intelligent Systems, "Hey, why don't you do more of that kind of stuff?" So they've answered us in this game. There's a lot of that, more than in the past.
PGC: Intelligent Systems is also working on a Fire Emblem game for the Wii. Is that still at the planning stages?
TO: You saw part of it, it's in the video. There's a little stage there, so…
(Mr. Tezuka speaks)
TO: He has no further comment.
PGC: I think we're pretty much out of time.
TO: Yeah, right on time. Thank you very much.
PGC: Thank you!
PGC would like to thank Mr. Tezuka and Mr. O'Leary again for their valuable time during E3. Interview conducted by Michael Cole and Mike Sklens.