We spoke with representatives from Retro Studios and Nintendo to learn all about this eagerly awaited Wii launch game.
Planet GameCube: Could you each explain your position with the game?
Kensuke Tanabe: I am Kensuke Tanabe, Nintendo's producer.
Bryan Walker: I'm Bryan Walker. I'm the senior producer at Retro.
Mark Pacini: I'm Mark Pacini, the game director at Retro.
Risa Tabata: And Risa Tabata, I am (Mr. Tanabe's) assistant, so I am kind of an assistant producer.
PGC: First of all, can you explain the story and background of Metroid Prime 3 and how it connects to what we've seen?
Pacini: Sure. Metroid Prime 3: Corruption is a direct sequel to Metroid Prime 2, and the goal of the game is to wrap up the storyline that involves the material Phazon. It was featured in Prime 1 and Prime 2, and Phazon was the setup for those planets. In Metroid Prime 1, it had corrupted the planet, affecting the life forms on that planet. In Prime 2, the Phazon actually split the planet in two, with the Dark and Light worlds. So in Prime 3, Phazon is spreading a lot wider, it's affecting a lot more planets, and basically the motivation of Samus is to go to these planets and remove the corruption. But it's not only on a global or galaxy-wide side, it's also very personal. Samus herself has become corrupted with Phazon. And that turns into a gameplay gimmick that we use throughout the game, a system based on corruption where the player can use the power of the corruption and go to into a Hyper Mode at any time they desire. The benefit of that is that they become very powerful for a short period of time; the negative is that they could possibly die using this system. So, not only is corruption a story element, it's also an underlying game theme for a lot of the mechanics that we're using.
PGC: I saw the Hyper Mode for the Morph Ball; is there also a biped version?
PGC: In the demo, there's a character, another bounty hunter who helps Samus. Is that Noxus?
Pacini: Uh, no. We've gotten a couple comments on that. The character designer who works on Metroid Prime 3 also worked on Hunters and Prime 1 and Prime 2. So many of the characters may have a similar back story or come from a similar area, but they are two different characters.
PGC: Will there be other bounty hunters? Is this sort of a new thing for Prime 3, how they're working together, or there's a lot more interaction than this?
Pacini: Yeah, there are definitely several bounty hunters in Metroid Prime 3, and they serve as very important fictional elements as well.
PGC: And are they all friendly with Samus?
Walker: It's a competitive industry. (laughter)
PGC: In the press materials for this game, they're listing it as a first-person shooter. That's different for the series. Is that significant, or is that only in reference to the new method of aiming, or does it signal a different direction for the game design? Is it still an adventure game?
Pacini: It's definitely an adventure game. I think it's because the Wii controller allows us to do aiming and pointing better, we can improve that part of the Metroid Prime franchise, and do some different gameplay than we could before, but that doesn't mean it will be any less of an adventure than it was before. So I think the "first-person shooter" name is not appropriate.
Tanabe: He is right.
PGC: We know that the control is still being worked on and finalized…the two things that seemed a little strange to us are: number one, why do we shoot with the A button instead of the trigger button (B), and secondly, with the grappling beam, we can throw it out and then use the control stick. Why can't we just pull it back like a fishing rod or something?
Pacini: Those are all things we're working on right now. The difference between shooting with the A and the B button, at least why we did it this way for the demo, was because Samus's weapons aren't automatic. It was a lot less fatigue to do it with your thumb than with your finger. But that could conceivably be an option later on, where you could switch them if you want. As far as the grapple functionality, we're still working on uses of the accelerometer and how we can integrate them into new and exciting gameplay, and right now we're still in development on the way the grapple works. So the end product may very well be that you pull with the accelerometer, so those things are still under development, and again, this is kind of a proving ground to get feedback on what's most intuitive. That's great feedback to get.
PGC: By the way, I was really happy to see the grappling beam for some different things. So, will this game have any multiplayer?
Walker: Metroid Prime 3 will not have multiplayer in the same context as Metroid Prime 2. That was a fun experiment, but with Prime 3 we really wanted to revisit the core of the single-player experience and make sure that we did absolutely, completely, the best we could with that, do justice to the spirit of the Metroid series. However, we are very excited about the WiiConnect24 functionality, and we're talking about several ways that we can leverage that in Metroid Prime 3.
PGC: So there may be something, but definitely different from the last one.
Walker: There's a lot of potential there, a lot of discussion going on right now, so hopefully we can add something to that effect.
PGC: What's the expected release window for this game?
Walker: It's a launch title.
PGC: That's fantastic. And would you say that the length of the adventure is similar to the past couple of games?
Pacini: Yeah, we're estimating right now that it's similar, twenty-plus hours.
PGC: Do you fly the ship, since there are multiple planets this time around? Do you have any kind of shooting stages or anything like that?
Pacini: Samus doesn't directly fly her ship. You do go to different planets with your ship, but you don't have direct flight control over it. However, we are using the ship for gameplay as a tool for Samus. She has a new visor called the Command Visor, which will allow Samus from the third-person to control her ship remotely. So you can call it in to do air strikes, you can have it come in and lift large things out of your way or move them around in the environment, as well as use it as a platform, things like that. It's another tool, a unique way to use the ship rather than just fly it around, diluting the gameplay.
Walker: We wanted to offer the ship in a format that was relevant to the Metroid experience, not as a tacked-on, watered-down Wing Commander.
PGC: When you talked about moving to different planets, is that completely linear and decided by the story, or can you go from planet to planet at will?
Pacini: It's kind of like how the Metroid Prime series is, it's pretty non-linear to some extent. The ability to fly to different planets will be somewhat non-linear. So it's not just straight-up "go to this one, go to that one". It won't be like that.
PGC: What is the feedback that you got on the last game, and how has that affected what you're doing with the sequel?
Tanabe: Because we live in Japan, and they are in the U.S., it's hard to say, because we get different kind of feedback from Japanese fans and U.S. fans. So it may be better to ask them to hear the market feedback.
Pacini: As far as the U.S. market, the feedback that we've gotten about the past two games is that "re-traversal" (backtracking) is a very important part of the Metroid series, but maybe the amount of re-traversal that people had to do was maybe excessive, or not as straight-forward. So we really paid attention to that while still maintaining the true Metroid exploration, the Metroid Prime feel. We're definitely addressing that situation, making the re-traversal a lot more approachable, as well as the difficulty level of the game overall. It was probably a bit too hard for people, and while we're still going to make it challenging, we are definitely keeping that in mind when we're tuning the game, as far as boss difficulty and overall difficulty. Make sure that it's balanced well for a Wii product but also for people who enjoyed the Metroid Prime games before. So those are probably the two biggest pieces of feedback we've had.
PGC: We saw that you used the motion sensor to grab and pull a lock. Do you have a lot of other ideas like that you're putting in? Can you give any examples right now?
Pacini: I don’t want to give any other examples. (laughter) With the E3 demo, we wanted to give a glimpse of what we're doing. That's one of the very basic things you can do with the controller, and we wanted to get people's impressions of what things they liked and didn't like about it. And we have so many other ideas that we're planning to implement with using the unique features of the controllers. It's important to understand what people think about it, but as well I don't want to say too much about it.
PGC: I noticed with the Morph Ball, it's controlled entirely with the joystick. Are there any plans to incorporate motion sensing with the Morph Ball too?
Pacini: There's definitely a possibility. Again, we're looking into that as we speak.
PGC: Is Retro working on anything other than Metroid right now? Do you have any plans to work on anything other than Metroid?
Walker: We won't close when Metroid Prime 3 ships. (laughter)
Pacini: What would you like to see Retro do? Any ideas?
PGC: You guys seem so creative. I'd just kind of like to see what you come up with.
Walker: To that effect, I'd like to point out that the Metroid series is really a collaborative effort between Retro and Mr. Tanabe's team. I think here in the States it's easy to look just at the North American aspect, but it's a very closely coordinated team effort.
PGC: I promised one of our readers that I would ask if you knew anything about this game, it was hinted at last year, called Metroid Dread for the DS.
Tanabe: I also heard that rumor, that Mr. Yoshio Sakamoto, the original director of the Metroid series, is working on this game called Metroid Dread, but I am not sure if it is true or not.
PGC: Is Mr. Sakamoto involved in the Metroid Prime series? Does he give advice?
Tanabe: Well, because he is the original director of the series, he needs to supervise Samus in Metroid Prime.
PGC: With the sensitivity, will there be some type of option for people find the way that's most responsive for them?
Pacini: Yeah, in the E3 demo there is Standard and Expert, and we are getting a lot of feedback about what people like and don't like, so the sensitivity issue is definitely an open palette to find out what people want or what people are expecting. And also what we want to do as a studio. At this point, we can't say how granular that sensitivity will be or how many options, but we are not going to have just one setting.
PGC: I tried the Expert setting and found that much easier.
Walker: Almost everybody does.
PGC: Well, for one thing there's a problem where if you move the controller too far off to the side, it loses track of what you're doing and has to re-calibrate. After I put it on Expert, I never had that problem because I didn't have to move the controller as far.
Pacini: What we found, especially after working with SPD (Software Planning & Development, a division of Nintendo Co. Ltd.), is that Standard is more of a standard setup , the camera doesn’t move as much, so maybe it's a lot easier to shoot for players who aren't used to these types of games. However, people who have played first-person games before, with mouse and keyboard, they may want more sensitivity. They may want the camera to move around a bit more. I think there's no one solution for both, so you guys bring up really good points and we're definitely aware of the desires of a lot of people who want more sensitivity or less.
PGC: A lot of people, when discussing the control scheme of the first two games, said that they thought it was extremely important that you had one joystick that was dedicated to changing weapons very quickly. And it's not very clear to me with the Wii controller how you change weapons. You're already using the D-pad for the visors and missiles, apparently. What are your plans for that?
Pacini: Well, that's because the weapon system is different for Metroid Prime 3.
PGC: How is it different?
Pacini: Prime 1 and Prime 2 are based on weapon switching, which was done on the C-stick. In Prime 3, we went with a system more similar to Super Metroid, which was beam stacking. So the idea is that the player will get additional beams that stack on to their original, which will have different attributes, but they will continue to have their attributes even after they've been stacked. And every weapon that Samus has does that. So beams, missiles, and grapple will all stack.
PGC: Will you be able to go to a menu like in Super Metroid and turn off specific ones?
Pacini: It's always a possibility. If it's necessary, if we find there's a use for it, sure.
PGC: One of the upgrades from Super Metroid that has never been in the Prime series is the Speed Boost. Do you have any ideas on implementing that? Any plans?
Tanabe: I don't know how we should do that. Should we implement that?
Pacini: Maybe. (laughter)
Tanabe: Because Prime 3 is a first-person game… We cannot say if all abilities from the 2D games would work in a first-person game. In case we decide to do that…anyway, we cannot say but if it works well and we find a good implementation…well, anyway…
PGC: I could see if maybe it was something that could be used in third-person, like maybe if you had to go through a Morph Ball section that was really complicated, and then later on you could just Speed Boost through it. That's kind of how the backtracking worked in earlier games.
Tanabe: Oh, that's a good idea. (laughter)
PGC: Referring to the powers that were in previous games… The Grapple Beam is a power that we've had before, but now we're using it in different ways. Can you tell us about any other of the abilities that are maybe not fundamentally changed, but now you can do more things with them?
Pacini: One of the things that we're doing is, well, the X-ray visor will be used in Prime 3. In Prime 1 it was mainly used to see through objects or find invisible objects. Well, that still would be the case, but we're matching that visor with a particular beam you get that can actually shoot through materials. So now you would have certain puzzle elements or even creatures where you can flip your X-ray visor on and target behind metal objects or walls and shoot or destroy or interact with this beam. So instead of being two independent systems, they work together. That's a basic example.
PGC: Is the scan visor pretty much the same as before?
Pacini: That's one of the things that we've put a lot of research into, what works and what doesn’t work, what people like and don’t like about the scan visor. We still feel the scan visor is important as a tool to learn about how to do things in the environment, things like that. But also we're making it a lot quicker and easier to use for people who don’t like scanning. Other than that, the scan visor is going to stay similar in aspect to past games.
PGC: I saw that the Screw Attack is back. That's good. (laughter) Are you doing anything different with that?
Pacini: Well, you get it earlier in the game. People really liked the Screw Attack, but there were a lot of complaints that they didn't get it until late in the game. That was done on purpose, but the Screw Attack is used much more in this game because it's gotten earlier. But as well, we're able to connect Screw Attacks… before you could only Screw Attack or Wall Jump, now you can Screw Attack into a Wall Jump and then continue the Screw Attack. Just simple things like that to expand upon it. Also, Screw Attack is used in combat as well.
PGC: I used it in combat in the last game!
Pacini: Well, more on purpose now. (laughter)
PGC: What are they called…the Rezbit guys. Since they are shielded, I just always killed them with Screw Attack. Even in the vertical shaft, I just made very short jumps so I could get into it in time. (laughter) One last thing…the boss, Ridley, in the demo. It's more like a shooting gallery section where you don't move as much. Is that sort of a one-shot deal, or are you planning to do more of that kind of thing?
Pacini: The basic idea with the Ridley battle was, we're always trying to do new and unique things with the bosses. That's kind of a staple of the Metroid series in general, as well as in Prime. So what ended up happening with the Ridley battle is that one of the main things we wanted to do is a falling battle. Obviously inspired by Lord of the Rings. We thought, "Man, it would be great to play that." So what came out of that was that it seemed to be a perfect marriage of using the Wii controller for pointing, and we can have a really cool boss battle early in the game, so the player wouldn't have to worry so much about moving around. Because this battle does happen fairly early in the game, as far as hours-wise. So we thought it was a really good way to introduce solely the pointing aspect of the Wii controller into a boss battle where the player wasn't really forced to move. So that's why the decision was made. As far as other boss battles like that in the game, let's say the Ridley battle is pretty unique.
PGC: On that note, do you have any plans to showcase or use anything really interesting with the speaker in the controller?
Tanabe: The speaker function was very confidential before E3, because this is the first time we have announced this function. So that's why we didn't implement it in the Prime 3 demo. But yes, we have many ideas…
We'd like to thank Mr. Tanabe, Mr. Walker, Mr. Pacini, and Ms. Tabata for taking the time to talk with us. Interview conducted by Daniel Bloodworth and Jonathan Metts.