The full transcript from our interview during E3.
During the 2004 Electronics Entertainment Expo, PGC and IGN sat down with Kensuke Tanabe who is overseeing Metroid Prime 2: Echoes for GameCube and Metroid Prime: Hunters for Nintendo DS. Jonathan Metts and Daniel Bloodworth represented Planet GameCube, and Matt Cassamassina was there from IGN. We asked him a few questions regarding Metroid Prime 2: Echoes, and NOA’s Tim O’Leary translated.
The interview starts with some background on Mr. Tanabe:
Tanabe: I started at Nintendo in Japan in 1986. I was in EAD until last year, and I started working on second party titles about ten years ago. The first game I directed was Super Mario 2 on the NES. On the Super NES, I’m the Link to the Past guy. Once I started working with second party stuff, the first game I did with that was on the N64 was Star Wars: Shadows of the Empire, and as far as second party titles on GameCube: Metroid Prime, and now Metroid Prime 2 as well.
IGN Matt: Are you based in Texas or do you work out of NCL as well?
PGC Jonathan: What is the goal of Metroid Prime 2? What are you trying to do? What is the game really about as opposed to the first game?
Tanabe: Our obvious goal is to build another game for people that enjoyed Metroid Prime. It’s just an enjoyable game for them to play so we can continue this franchise.
IGN Matt: There’s a rumor going around that Retro lost some of it’s artists. I was just wondering if you can confirm that.
Tanabe: They lost artists? They haven’t lost anybody.
IGN Matt: So it’s the same team entirely?
Tanabe: Right after the completion of Metroid Prime, a couple people left. There was an engineer that left, maybe two engineers, but it wasn’t all on the creative side, but it was a very limited number of people.
PGC Jonathan: Can you explain the light and the dark themes? I’ve seen how they work in the world: you go from the dark side to the light side, but I don’t understand the beam weapons and how those are related to the light and the dark worlds.
Tanabe: First of all, the doors between the two worlds are called portals. The portal into the dark world is the dark portal – the light world’s the light portal. To go into the dark world you need the dark beam. So, to open a portal from the dark world to the light world, you need a light beam.
In each world there are different beings, different opponents. The creatures that inhabit the dark world are called Ings, and the Ings are vulnerable to the light beam. And vice-versa, the creatures that inhabit the light world are more susceptible to take more damage from the dark beam.
PGC Jonathan: I noticed that the light beam and the dark beam have limited ammo, and other than very special weapons like missiles and power bombs, typically the Metroid games all the weapons have unlimited ammo. So I wanted to know why did you decide to take these weapons that are apparently very fundamental to the game and give them limited ammo?
Tanabe: I’m sorry if I gave the wrong impression early when I said that the dark creatures are effected by the light beam, but they’re also effected by other weapons. It’s just that the light beam is the most effective, and if we give the light beam and the dark beam unlimited ammo then when you’re in the dark world, why would you use anything other than the light beam -- it’s the most effective one -- and use it all the time? We don’t want the player to do that. We want them to have to use some strategy and figure out some different ways to defeat enemies rather than just bringing out the big gun every single time. We wanted to introduce that choice, that element.
IGN Matt: Why is it called Metroid Prime: Echoes? Does it relate to the new visor mode that lets you see sound?
Tanabe: Well there is going to be an echo visor, and you’re right does make it so you can see sound in certain ways, but that is not where the name came from. The name itself refers to the two planets existing simultaneously, each one being an echo of the other.
IGN Matt: When you’re in the dark world, currently, you take damage when you’re outside of a protective shield. Will Samus be able to gather a suit that allows her to exist in the dark world?
Tanabe: My thought is that you’re probably on the right track…
PGC Bloodworth: With the multiplayer, that’s a new thing for the Metroid series entirely. What led to the decision to do that? Was it a natural thing with what people are used to with first-person games or do you have some other creative ideas that you wanted to add to that?
Tanabe: You know actually, we wanted to have a multiplayer mode in the first Metroid Prime. However, we just didn’t have the time to do something that would be of sufficient quality. So our plan right from the beginning of Metroid Prime 2 was definitely to include a multiplayer factor. We also thought that’s something the fans wanted. That’s something we wanted to do as well.
IGN Matt: I have a two-part question. The first is: Will you be able to play as Dark Samus for any reason – as a special unlockable or a second mode. The second is: Is there any link functionality at all between the DS Metroid Prime: Hunters?
Tanabe: Well there’s no plan right now to have Dark Samus as a playable character, and there’s no plan to have any connectivity with the DS as well.
Editor's note: During a roundtable interview on the following day, Tanabe-san mentioned that so many people had asked him about connectivity during these small interviews that he would begin considering such a feature.
PGC Jonathan: With the multiplayer mode can you give us some examples of the things that you’re doing to balance the multiplayer so that for instance, the lock-on doesn’t become too derivative. So that players can’t just roll into the ball and roll around constantly and make the match go on forever. Obviously, there’s so many things about Metroid that make it play differently than the deathmatch that we’re used to. What is your approach to dealing with some of those issues.
Tanabe: That’s something we’re still trying to figure out ourselves. We really don’t see it as a problem in that everybody wants to have someone win the game, and obviously we have the death ball that you can go into as well. I just feel that once people start playing, they’re going to go back and forth between the morph ball. I don’t envision people just rolling around forever and not try to get to the end of the game.
IGN Matt: Can you detail a little bit more about what you’re calling the Echo Visor and how that works?
Tanabe: Well we’re not showing on the floor, and it’s one of the things we purposely chose not to show because we wanted people to have something to look forward to. As you can derive from the name, that’s pretty much all the information that we can add to this.
PGC Jonathan: We saw in the video yesterday [at the press conference] what appears to be Samus gaining multiple lock-on targets, I think with using that visor, but perhaps you can do it at other times as well. I’d like to know how this feature works and how you work it into the game.
Tanabe: That’s a new ability of missiles actually.
IGN Matt: In terms of first-person gameplay and morph ball gameplay, how much of each would you say is in the game? Are there any more third-person elements?
Tanabe: As far as the percentages, it’s probably not very different from Metroid Prime. Most people are probably going to be playing in first-person for the majority of the game. The other third person element we’ve added is the screw attack. That’s not in first-person; that’s in third-person because first-person would make you ill.
PGC Jonathan: Will you explain how the screw attack happens? Can you do it anytime you want? Can you only do it in certain places?
Tanabe: Once you get the item, you can do it anytime you want, but it’s designed to allow you to wall jump up chasms. So doing it in a big open courtyard – you can do it if you want, but if you want to define where I can use it as far as effectively in gameplay, it’s going to be designed just for a few areas.
PGC Jonathan: Is it also used as a weapon?
Tanabe: It’s not one hundred percent finalized, but it’s not really designed to be a weapon per se – more of an exploratory device.
PGC Jonathan: Can you use it in multiplayer?
Tanabe: It’s not in there right now. I can’t envision places in a multiplayer match where you’d use it. But if there is an outcry to have screw attack in multiplayer, by a lot of people, we’d consider it sure.
PGC Jonathan: (raises hand) Outcry.
IGN Matt: Will multiplayer mode support LAN capabilities?
PGC Bloodworth: I came across hacking mode in multiplayer. I didn’t have enough time to figure out exactly what it’s for, but I wanted to know whether it’s just a multiplayer function or is it a single-player function and exactly how it works.
PGC Jonathan: I was hacked, and I lost missile capability.
Tanabe: Fundamentally, in multiplayer mode there’s really no place to use the visors right? We really wanted to, so this was the point to utilize those. If you’re scanning you can infect your opponent with a virus, and that gives the character damage. It just wasn’t very interesting?
PGC Bloodworth: I just didn’t understand how it worked.
Tanabe: In the production version, there will be a manual to show you what to do (laughs) or you can write how to do it in your magazines.
IGN Matt: What’s the name of the planet that Samus is exploring?
Tanabe: It’s Aether.
PGC Jonathan: So you’ve figured out a way to use the scan visor in multiplayer. Will the other visors be available?
Tanabe: We don’t have any plans for that right now. We would like the multiplayer mode to be pretty straightforward, pretty simple.
IGN Matt: How will the story be delivered? Is it a lot of scanning again or are there going to be cut-scenes or voice work or anything like that?
Tanabe: We don’t have any voice or narrative plans so far. I believe there are more cut-scenes in this game than the previous game, but the scan visor is used to drive the story elements.
PGC Jonathan: Can you explain the changes made to the scan visor? I noticed that it worked much differently than the previous game.
Tanabe: Same functionality, just the design, the look of it, has changed. The designer who is in charge of the visor display and elements said, “I don’t want to use the same one. I want to change it. I want to make it seem like it’s different, it’s new.” So it’s the same functionality, just a different cosmetic look to it.
IGN Matt: We talked about the screw attack. Are there any other abilities for Samus to acquire in the game?
Tanabe: Nothing really big. That’s the big one. The biggest difference in this game, more so than the ability and functionality of Samus herself is that huge diversity between the light world and dark world. That’s the big new thing.
IGN Matt: I take it Dark Samus will be the prominent figure in the game, always hunting Samus.
Tanabe: (laughs) We’ve had that question a bunch actually. In the video you saw featured yesterday, Dark Samus was featured really prominently, but in the game, not as much as that video suggests. Dark Samus’s role is not delineated as a hunter or a hunted. It’s more mysterious than that. It’s not the main enemy. –Maybe. (laughs) We’re afraid that the video maybe gave a little bit of a wrong impression.
IGN Matt: From a technical standpoint, what are you most proud of with this game that you guys have accomplished?
Tanabe: In the first game we were really happy with the short load times. I know that they really continue to want to make those things even shorter and shorter. They’ve put a lot of effort into that.
PGC Jonathan: In the demo, in the single-player mode, there’s a section where you go into the sort-of 2D morph ball stage, and it’s very slow because you have to keep having to set bombs to jump up. Are there any plans to incorporate the spring ball upgrade perhaps so you could move around a little more quickly, more easily.
Tanabe: No plans right now. I want people to take their time. Slow down. You guys are busy in every other aspect of your life. You can go slowly through there.
IGN Matt: How big is the development team now?
Tanabe: About the same as last. About forty people.
PGC Jonathan: Are there any changes to how the spider ball works from the first game? Would you use it more than you did in the first game?
Tanabe: I can’t give you any details about that. I think it moves better this time. The controls have been improved for the spider ball.
PGC Bloodworth: I guess this is probably a funny thing. What led to the crystals? Is that an internal idea or has Final Fantasy led to that at all?
Tanabe: No, we didn’t have any outside influence on why we wanted to do these crystals, but we needed something to shoot to create these safe zones that allow you to travel through this dark world and you know, crystals are pretty and they’re easy to see and they look good.
IGN Matt: How long would you say the game is overall if you compared it to the first game?
Tanabe: I haven’t played it from beginning to end, so I can’t give you a definite, “It’s going to take this long,” but I think it’s pretty close to the first one. There’s roughly the same amount of gameplay.
PGC Jonathan: Are there locations that you can explore other than planet Aether? Is there any other way that you have incorporated Samus’s identity as a bounty hunter into the story or the gameplay than has been done in past games?
Tanabe: Aether is our location. This game’s not going anywhere else. I really didn’t focus on Samus’s identity as a bounty hunter anymore than we have in other games. She’s a hired gun; she comes here for a reason. If you’re looking for more of the kind of bounty hunter aspect, you’d want to look at Metroid Prime: Hunters on the DS.
PGC Jonathan: Are you involved with that game?
PGC Jonathan: Well, that’s another interview.
IGN Matt: Hmm. Yeah, that is another interview. Who’s developing the DS version?
Tanabe: We’re not sure we’re supposed to—It’s not Retro. It obviously has some Retro assets, but I’m not sure if we’re supposed to— If Mr. Iwata says, “OK,” then I can tell you.
Special thanks again to Mr. Tanabe and Mr. O’Leary for their time.