A new documentary has the game's directors talking about its development.
A recently-released mini-documentary entitled "Metroid: Other M - The Challenge of Project M" features three of the driving forces behind Metroid: Other M discussing its development. Series creator Yoshio Sakamoto, D-Rockets' Director of Presentation Ryuzi Kitaura, and Team Ninja's Yosuke Hayashi detailed their participation in, and philosophy regarding, the Other M project.
Sakamoto started off by stating that his goal with Metroid: Other M was to create a Metroid game that anyone could pick up and play, including lapsed gamers. With this in mind, it was imperative that the game need only be controlled with the Wii Remote alone; in fact, Sakamoto was so intent on this design that he was willing to scrap the entire project if it couldn't be done. He said that he was "obsessed" with figuring out a method of pulling off flashy moves with Samus using only simple NES-style controls.
Another design challenge that Sakamoto grappled with was finding the best way to show Samus' internal state, a major focus of the game. He wanted cutscenes, but he felt that it was extremely important to tie the story seamlessly into gameplay. In his words, he wanted players to "chase the storyline".
Yosuke Hayashi then discussed his idea of the game. He explained that he had been playing Metroid games since he was a child, but considered them fairly difficult; so much so that he figured that regular people (especially non-gamers) wouldn't touch them. Sakamoto's concept of "flashy but simple" really clicked with him, and they decided to figure out a way to make it happen. What they came up with was Samus having a series of different actions for different enemy types, while keeping the controls the same throughout (and very simple) so that players could react without having to remember a complex control scheme to do so.
Hayashi also discussed the meshing of D-pad movement and the game's camera. Even though they can only move in 8 directions, the player is allowed to move the camera to get a different view of the scene, making it feel like they're in a 3D environment. The Wii Remote view also allows the player to explore their environment like they would in a 2D Metroid game, letting them "bomb around" and discover hidden items around them.
Next up was Ryuzi Kitaura, D-Rockets' Director of Presentation. As the man responsible for Other M's extensive cutscenes, the opportunity to create something completely new that worked well alongside a game really got him "fired up". He said that he had to make sure that all of the the story elements – CG, voice, and music – blended together seamlessly.
This was a project unlike any Kitaura had ever worked on, requiring him to realize the "psychological characterizations" of the characters to a depth he hadn't explored in previous projects. As a character, Samus doesn't talk much and isn't a natural at interacting with people, a personality trait that was worked into her voice acting. The voice actor for Samus wound up using a voice that was very close to her own, and was directed to express feelings without changing her tone to any great degree to reflect Samus' character. Kitaura described the effort of getting the voice acting correct as "very challenging".
He also touched on the game's music. Mr. Haishima was tasked with creating a musical score that blended with the characterizations they were trying to put forward. Echoing his earlier statements, Kitaura stated that the music had to fill in the gaps where he would be unable to communicate a character's state of mind effectively through visuals.
Hayashi and Sakamoto then discussed how they went about hashing out the finer points of Samus' on-screen behavior. For example, how quickly Samus shot her beam was a key point of contention. Sakamoto was adamant that players get an instant reaction from their button press (like in the original Metroid), but Hayashi contended that without a transitional animation the movement would look choppy. Their compromise was to have Samus draw her beam within 2-3 frames, which worked well.
Samus' Zero Suit was also a surprising sticking point. Kitaura's original storyboards had Samus appearing outside of her armor quite often, since having her "exposed" was one of the easiest ways to symbolize her internal vulnerability. Kitaura also felt that it was easier to show Samus' emotions without her armor, since most of her reactions were hid behind her visor when she was wearing her Power Suit.
Sakamoto countered that Samus' armor represented not only her resilience, but also her desire to be the protector of others, and because of this should be given equal footing with the Zero Suit in cutscenes. Kitaura scaled back his cutscene usage of the Zero Suit as a result, and he now admits it was the right choice to make.
Development of the game design and cutscenes was done separately for about a year. While the two teams shared information, they didn't get to see the game and its movies together until over a year into development. Hayashi described the game design and cutscenes as puzzles unto themselves, and when meshed they became two parts of a puzzle that was bigger than anybody expected.
The teams did learn from each other, however. Kitaura explained how he learned a lot from the gameplay team about how to present high-speed action and make it stylish, and Hayashi said that he had to make sure that the sound effects used in the movies were also properly incorporated into gameplay to make it all seem like one world to the player. There was also constant triaging of gameplay ideas and whether or not they'd be more suited to cutscenes or in-game actions; Kitaura said that there were times when his team would work on a cutscene for two months straight, only to have it scrapped and replaced with an in-game action.
However, it all turned out well in the end because their "goal was the same": a seamless gameplay experience. It was very important that the player feel like they're a part of the story at all times, constantly feeling linked to Samus' feelings no matter how crazy the action gets.
The conclusion of the documentary asked each of the directors to summarize what Metroid: Other M is to them. Kitaura responded with the phrase "emotionally seamless". He said that he didn't mean technically seamless, but rather that the "heart", visuals, and story of the game provide a seamless experience for the player throughout the journey of the game.
Hayashi was more direct, describing Other M as "an NES game using the latest technology". He also stressed the importance of the team's mantra of "simple, but not without complexity". Sakamoto echoed his sentiments, stating that his aim with the game was to "create the new form of Metroid". He views the game as a harmony of its three parts (gameplay, story, and movies), and feels that his team has created something "big and different and well-integrated".
Metroid: Other M releases tomorrow on Wii.