We talked about Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle with the game's Creative Director, Davide Soliani.
The transcription of this interview has been edited for clarity.
During E3 2017, Nintendo World Report was fortunate enough to sit down with Davide Soliani, Creative Director of Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle. Read the interview below.
NWR: Starting off, could you tell us how this collaboration came about?
Davide Soliani: Sure. It’s a pleasure. So everything started because of the strong relationship that exists between Ubisoft and Nintendo during the last 20 years. We've done many games on Nintendo consoles. We have been one of the first developers participating at the launch of new Nintendo consoles, with Just Dance, Zombi U, Red Steel, and one day they told me that I had a chance to work on a project with Nintendo that could feature both Rabbids and Mario. We immediately understood this was a once in a lifetime opportunity.
NWR: The gameplay is something that hasn’t been done with either Mario or Rabbids so how did that come about?
Davide Soliani: We decided since the beginning to break the rules. First of all with the Rabbids, but then we spent night and day brainstorming on how to find something unique, how to merge those two worlds that seem separate together, in order to find something to use for both Mario and the Rabbids. As we are tactical fans, we said why not try to bring something completely new in the world of turn based combat, but at the same time we wanted to stay true to the Mario universe with exploration, the adventure, being able to immerse yourself in a colorful world with puzzles, mysteries, and fun new characters who could help along the way. So at that point we said why not mix the combat phases with the exploration phases, and try to propose something completely new.
When we felt that we had a solid idea throughout Ubisoft, we organized a meeting with Nintendo. We were not ready to have this meeting only three and a half weeks later, and when I finally presented the idea I was the one in front of Mr. Miyamoto and since he’s the creator of my favorite game, and he’s the inspiration of my career as a game designer I felt like I was divided in two, the Nintendo player, and the Ubisoft creative director. The urgency to ask for an autograph because I really wanted an autograph and the responsibility to present the idea on behalf of the whole team. But it worked out because Mr. Miyamoto said he was impressed and he asked me, “how did you have Mario and Luigi in your prototypes, who gave you those characters?” And the truth is, we were so crazy and we wanted this game to happen so much that even if we only had 3 and a half weeks, we recreated from scratch, Mario and Luigi, the models, the animation, the rigging, in order to transport the essence in our prototype and I do think that was the moment when Nintendo was really able to see our passion and commitment.
NWR: Throughout the process, did Nintendo work closely with you on continuing to make the game?
Davide Soliani: Absolutely. After that meeting we met several times in Kyoto and we did several prototypes. When we finally had a go, we established weekly conference calls with Nintendo. Daily exchanges of mail. So the collaboration was mostly on a daily basis. And once in a while we were going to Kyoto, Nintendo, because the human contact is important to show the game.
NWR: Can you tell us a little about the exploration parts of the game?
Davide Soliani: Sure, I don’t want to spoil much, but I will say it’s 30 percent of the overall game. It’s needed to connect the combat phases, but I didn’t want to ever just have a hub where the player could load battles. I wanted to create an seamless experience and that’s why we said players should really immerse in the exploration, and you know every world is divided into 10 chapters, like the chapters of a book, you can read just a chapter, or you can read multiple of them. There’s are some secret chapters in each world. In each world there is a mid boss in the middle of it. There’s a boss fight at the end of it. There are secret chapters, and in between you have exploration where you can collect treasure chests in order to find collectibles, but also cool weapons that can upgrade your character. You can solve puzzles to advance and you can meet several other heroes that will start to be part of your roster. And each of the heroes has unique abilities; these will open up new possibilities in terms of strategy gameplay for the players to be applied on the battleground.
NWR: Can you tell us a little bit about how the strategy unfolds over the course of the game?
Davide Soliani: Sure. Players at the beginning will start with three characters. Those three are Mario, Rabbids Luigi, and Rabbids Peach. As I said, all the three of them possess unique abilities. Each hero on the battleground can perform three types of action, those actions are what we call 'MAT,' movement, attack and techniques. Techniques are a very indirect way to deal with an enemy, those are almost like spells, like powerful magic. There are techniques that allow the heroes to regroup the enemies in one zone, or you have techniques that scatter the enemies away. Attack phase; it’s a direct way to deal with the enemy, and each hero has a different weapon that can be categorized in a primary and secondary way. The primary are direct weapons that deal damage to a single enemy. The secondary weapons are more powerful, have cool-down, and they can create an area of damage. Then we have the movement phase where the player is able to really plan where to put his hero without the stress of synchronizing camera, dexterity, and all this stuff together. Whether that's being protected under cover, dash an enemy, team jumping, and as the player advances through the game he will be able to acquire new weapons, new heroes, and unlock the character skill tree.
The more secrets players find in the exploration phase, the more power-ups they will collect. And power-ups are the currency that the player will use to buy stuff on the character skill tree and upgrade each hero in different ways. So here's a small preview of what could come later on. You saw Rabbids Peach and witnessed the team jump and the dash. Later on in the game, Rabbids Peach can triple dash the enemy, run towards a teammate, team jump, and land behind cover and that's just in the movement phase. In the attack phase, she can shoot an enemy and her weapon isn't there to just deal damage. There are also super effects that can be applied. When they hit, they can for example apply the bounce effect so the enemies start to fly in the air. Mario could be nearby and he could use a technique called Hero Sight that activates as soon as there is an enemy near him. So at that point Mario shoots in the air, and maybe Mario hits again with another super effect such as the burn effect. With the burn effect, the enemy lands, and will start to scream on the battleground with their bottom on fire, and as the super effect features propagation, if that unit touches other enemies they will start to propagate fire.
NWR: Earlier you mentioned this is kind of an evolution for the Rabbids. How have they changed and where do you see them going?
Davide Soliani: We already decided from the beginning in this game to break many many rules. Many rules than what you saw today are already in the game later on. In other words, there will be surprises. We changed their size, we changed their psychology, we changed their behavior because we created archetypes so the player could find them in terms of strategy and tactical experience. We also created different kind of humor compared to the past. We are showing a different palette of emotion within the Rabbids. We hope that we’ve been able to create an honest and solid game and with the help of the players and their feedback I do hope we’ll be able to create something even more unique in the future.
NWR: I know the music composer of the game (Grand Kirkhope) is someone who’s worked on many great games in the past and was very interested in doing a Mario game. Could you talk about how he joined the team and how it’s been collaborating with him?
Davide Soliani: As soon as we understood that Nintendo was happy with what we were proposing, everything started to happen at light speed, and the team grew quickly, and after many meetings, we decided to call Grant Kirkhope, and he’s one of my, I would say my favorite video game composer apart from Koji Kondo, sorry Grant for that. He did many great scores such as Banjo-Kazooie, Donkey Kong 64, and GoldenEye. I have such a respect for that guy. When I was playing his game and hearing his soundtrack I was really a fan so it was a dream come true for me to be able to call him. The guy is so passionate and so crazy that when he understood the type of game and saw it, he fell in love. He’s so crazy that he started to, my mobile phone would ring at 3am in the night and I would hear “Hey Davide you should listen to the latest music I sent you it’s awesome.” “Okay Grant, but I’m in Italy and you’re in Los Angeles, that’s a seven hour difference.” So it was truly an honor to work with him. Actually the first month and a half I was almost ashamed and scared to ask for changes, give feedback because he was an idol to me, but it’s so easy to work with him and he’s so passionate that we are truly friends now.
NWR: That’s great.
Davide Soliani: Thanks a lot guys.
NWR: Thank you very much.