Adam Riley, Operations Director at Cubed3: When you originally planned to make a shooter for 3DS, what was the initial setting going to be before it became Kid Icarus?
Masahiro Sakurai-san: The very first plan was to have a shooting game with both air and ground battles. So the same rules as what we have now. And along side that, I was thinking maybe we could revive a franchise that had been out of the spotlight, considering our experience in making Smash Bros. and the love that users were showing towards the character. When we combined these two ideas we ended up with a new Kid Icarus game with the angel Pit who is only able to fly for 5 minutes. We had already brought Pit back in Smash Bros. Brawl so this idea was easily adopted by everyone.
Adam Riley: With your excellent experience now, what suggestions would you make to Treasure, or any developer, about making a shooter on 3DS?
Sakurai-san: There is nothing I could really say to them. Developers all make their own games following what they think would make the game good. Since it all comes down to a difference in values, I am not in any position to be able to give such advice. I will continue to make games with my own personal values.
Adam Riley: Nobody really compares the land battles in Kid Icarus: Uprising to any other game. Do you perhaps think this is because you have taken a familiar idea and transformed it into a unique style of play?
Sakurai-san: By a familiar idea, do you perhaps mean the basic design rules for a shooters that we see in normal FPS games? Since the game needs to be played in a 3D environment, we needed controls that would allow the user to move both the character and the camera at the same time. We tried to create our own controls that were more revolutionary and had more active input, so they didn’t originate from FPS games.
We make decisions about the game so that they fit with the values at the core of our plan. I think that it is important to not simply copy existing ideas, but to properly understand what is fun about your game in order to decide what should be emphasised and what should be discarded.
Adam Riley: There has been some criticism of the control system for the land battles, from both media playing early preview versions and even people playing the final game. What is your response to the feedback so far?
Sakurai-san: This isn’t something unique to Kid Icarus: Uprising, but my games always seem to get such a response. When Smash Bros. first came out, it suffered terrible criticism from people who were stuck in the perspective of traditional fighting games. Of course, by now most people can understand it.
A theme we had for this game was “challenge.” A game is a challenge. This can be seen clearly in the Fiend’s Cauldron system too. We had ideas for features that would make the controls easier for users such as having the camera lock on to enemies, but the more of these we added the more I felt it was becoming just another game like all the others. We decided to stop avoiding the problem by turning to such features and instead, developed these controls that allow the user to aggressively control both the character and camera at high speeds.
You do need to get used to them, but the controls aren’t really that difficult. If even these controls aren’t good enough for users then we probably can’t hope to see advancement in gaming; and new and innovative control systems in the future. But I believe in the intelligence and strength of gamers.
People who say their hands get tired are clearly holding it too tightly, I would advise them to just relax. Personally, when I hold it in a more relaxed way, I can play for hours without my hands getting tired.
Adam Riley: Were there any ideas and features you considered including in the final game, but eventually removed? Could you please share one or more examples?
Sakurai-san: There were lots of such ideas, but I’d rather not talk openly about them. In development we came up with lots of ideas and had to abandon those which we would not be able to implement in time. Also, when we were first coming up with the storyline, we actually had 3 more chapters that we had to give up on quite early on.
Adam Riley: If there had been more time for development, would you have liked to have further integrated the Circle Pad Pro into the game?
Sakurai-san: I presume you are referring to using the Circle Pad Pro for aiming. The length of the development time wasn’t the reason we weren’t able to do this.
From the early stages of development, Kid Icarus had been designed to get the maximum performance out of the Nintendo 3DS. We didn’t have enough left over processing and flexibility to allow the user to move the Circle Pad Pro independently. You could even say it is a miracle that we were even able to have it work in place of the other Circle Pad for the benefit of left handed players. I feel it is unfortunate how the Circle Pad Pro appearing towards the end of development ended up creating such a negative impression towards the controls. If we had both the processing power remaining and the time to implement it, then I think we would have. Still, as I’m sure you will agree if you are playing properly, someone using the Circle Pad would have no chance against someone using the high speed aiming on the Touch Screen.
Adam Riley: What lessons did you learn from FPS controls on the DS that were applied to Uprising’s touch-screen controls?
Sakurai-san: There is almost nothing we took directly from them. I played games like Metroid Prime and Call of Duty on the DS. It felt to me somehow like rowing with an oar. That’s because those control systems had been inspired by mouse controls. When you wanted to turn round you would need to move the stylus over to the right and back to the middle and keep repeating that action. The flick controls used in Kid Icarus: Uprising I would say are closer to a trackball. It moves with inertia and you stop it. This whole mechanism is different, so we didn’t use those games as much of a reference.
Adam Riley: The level of humour in the dialogue is very impressive. Did you always want to make the adventure as ‘light-hearted’ as this, or was there a temptation to make the theme darker and more serious?
Sakurai-san: The game is based on Greek mythology and we were very careful not to let the story or graphics go in the same direction as games such as “God of War.” The original Kid Icarus was released in Japan in 1986, and at this time we were seeing releases such as The Legend of Zelda, Metroid and Castlevania, each of which had a rather serious approach, whereas Kid Icarus had comedy touches in many areas, which made the game somehow humorous.
In keeping with such a background, we have made the story of Kid Icarus: Uprising cheerful and fun. Heroes of modern games tend to be plunged into painful or scary situations, and are often troubled by confrontations with the enemy or the betrayal of their allies. Lots of things that aren’t so pleasant for players. So by having a hero who is cracking jokes while fighting, I thought we would be able to create a game that has a bit of a different feel from the other games out there.
Adam Riley: What made you choose to have the majority of dialogue sequences spoken during the actual gameplay, rather than having long, separate cut-scenes? Was there any concern about distracting the player with too much conversation in the background?
Sakurai-san: First I would like to apologise for not being able to have voice acting for every language in the European version. Considering also the space on the Game Card, we just weren’t able to do this.
In Kid Icarus: Uprising you are plunged straight into the battle without any briefing or anything beforehand and you are told about the aim of the mission as you are actually playing the game. We also tried to make the actual cut-scenes as short as possible. The amount of time people actually spend playing the game is important to me, and this can be seen in my other games like Smash Bros. too. The time spent watching cut-scenes has been getting longer in recent games, so we put a lot of effort into making them short and compact. This is because we want to encourage people to play their favourite chapters over and over. If you are having trouble listening to the conversations you can lower the intensity and listen to them as you play at a more comfortable difficulty. If you want you can even turn the voice off all together and just play along listening to the music. I like the freedom we are able to offer to users. And not in the sense of it being an open world.
Adam Riley: Do you believe that the multiplayer aspect is as addictive as Smash Bros.? Would you recommend that gamers invest an equal amount of time on the single- and multi-player modes?
Sakurai-san: I’m happy to leave that up to the players themselves. There are lots of types of players in Japan: those who just play the single player, those who are really into the multiplayer and those who just keep on playing both. Of course, the game is very addictive, even one of the musicians on the game, Yuzo Koshiro is really into Free-for-All and in the month after release racked up 5,000 kills.
The important thing is just to first put away your prejudices and learn to play the proper way. For example, I saw a video online of someone playing in multiplayer where they were using a staff and using standing continuous fire at close range. And another where someone just kept using side-dash charge shot against a boss. If I were to compare this to Smash Bros. it would be like performing just a series of weak jabs. If you properly understand the techniques while playing, you will almost never experience such situations and be able to enjoy the game on a deeper level.
Considering how you can use the powers too, there is an awful lot of strategy to the game. I think communities of users who properly know how to play is essential for more people to know about this, but I am worried that it might be difficult for such communities to exist in Europe due to language barriers.
Adam Riley: What are your plans for Pit after Kid Icarus: Uprising? Will he merely be a guest character in the new Smash Bros., or will you challenge yourself to create a sequel to Uprising that improves on the original?
Sakurai-san: I don’t think I’ll make a sequel. I am making Smash Bros. next and I don’t suppose anyone else will make it without me being involved. I don’t think the structure of the company, which was created by lots of people coming together, is suited towards making a sequel either.
In Kid Icarus: Uprising we included surprising developments in the story coming from, for example, the different armies coming into conflict. It would be very difficult for us to do the same thing in a sequel, but at the same time users would be expecting this from the beginning, therefore losing the surprise factor of the game. I think there are lots of things like this.
I’m not saying that there is sure to never be another Kid Icarus game. I hope that perhaps in another 25 years someone else will come along and do something with the franchise.
Adam Riley: You have mentioned how you like to breathe new life into forgotten franchises. Now that Kid Icarus has been completed, what other old classic would you like to look at? Ice Climbers, Star Tropics, MoleMania…or something non-Nintendo?
Sakurai-san: I am planning on doing my best to bring old characters back in Smash Bros. From that perspective, I am probably in the most fortunate position in the world.
Adam Riley: Kid Icarus, and other recent projects from you, have all been extremely fast-paced action games. Being an expert at making games with such a sense of speed and control, would you ever consider resurrecting F-Zero or creating a ‘new’ racing product?
Sakurai-san: There is actually a racing game I made called “Kirby’s Air Ride”. This game was also subjected to prejudice, but it was a ground breaking game featuring a mode called City Trial, which created a kind of open world game where we haven’t seen one before. It is a fun game even now, so I recommend playing it with friends if you get a chance.