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How Retro Studios Achieved Backing from Nintendo

Posted by Trevor Chan

Simple in theory, anything but in practice

Nintendo has a brand image that's as solid as a rock, so what does it take for an independant studio to get backing from the company and the opportunity to develop games based on its IPs for its consoles? Retro Studios president Michael Kelbaugh highlights a few qualities needed to do just that.

During a Gamasutra interview, Kelbaugh spoke about how Retro Studios got to where it's at today and how having a hands-on approach is important in making Nintendo titles:

It's patience, mentorship — a lot of mentorship, a lot of help from our friends at Nintendo. It's investing in the right people. It takes time. There's not a book that I could say, "Read this and you'll know how to make Nintendo games." You learn how to do it by experience, and that's really, experience and mentorship. That's really the only way you do it.

Kelbaugh continued to explain the importance of hiring staff members that share the same mindset going into a project, and how even though Retro Studios isn't short of experience ― having developed Metroid Prime and its sequels on the GameCube and more recently, Donkey Kong Country Returns on the Wii, there are still things to be learned and changes within the industry to adapt to:

It takes a lot of time and a lot of investment and, again, it's getting the right people. You have to hire people that are motivated by making quality product, not by how many units they sell. So it's really as simple as that, but it's not simple at all. It takes a lot of work. Ten, years, well 12 years, and we've made a lot of progress, but we don't have it down yet. We still have a lot to learn, you know. It changes. As the industry evolves, so do the demands of the developer, so it's not easy, and there are not a lot of developers that really get it.

[via gamasutra.com]

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User Comments (34)

Punny

#1

Punny said:

Even Retro Studios knows practice makes perfect and that patience is a virtue. Keep up the excellent work, Retro. :)

Wildfire

#3

Wildfire said:

Man! I love Retro Studios!!
They really understand what nintendo is all about! And only they can bring StarFox back to awesomeness!!

moosa

#5

moosa said:

Nintendo has taken in a few as-yet-unknown developers over the years and supported them/published their work. Thus we have some of the more obscure and less successful Nintendo games like Geist and Disaster. Why on earth they would take a budding studio like Retro and give them Metroid to work on is completely beyond me, but given that that became my most favorite game of all time I'm certainly beyond glad that it happened.

SwerdMurd

#6

SwerdMurd said:

alright...so no disloyalty or lack of love for retro...but that told me absolutely nothing. I think he picked all his quotes directly from the dictionary-definition of vague.

Now make us a new F-Zero :)

NintyMan

#7

NintyMan said:

You can't rush anything after all, but patience is the key to getting something done right. You know how gamers get impatient quickly when a certain upcoming game doesn't come out for several months, but I bet these guys have the patience and work ethic to get the job done smoothly and correctly. It took them two years to complete Donkey Kong Country Returns, and they had to adjust to the differing time zones of America and Japan, but they managed it in the end and they got a better game as a result. I don't work for Nintendo, but I can see how mentorship can play a key piece of their cake. If a team can act like Nintendo, they get things done the right way.

bboy2970

#8

bboy2970 said:

This is why Retro is just awesome. They really learn how to make a Nintendo game and realize it isn't an exact science. They are obviously an outstanding developer but still remain modest and admit they aren't perfect and there is always more to learn. This is the level of maturity all developers should have. There are far too many developers that make one decent game and think they know it all. I am quite confident in Retro to handle ANY Nintendo franchise, even Mario or Zelda. They can clearly be trusted with even the most precious IPs.

Chrono_Cross

#9

Chrono_Cross said:

I dont mind if Retro makes a new F-Zero, Star Fox, or even another Metroid. As long as they make games for as long as possible I'll be very content. :D

Stuffgamer1

#12

Stuffgamer1 said:

@moosa: I'm pretty sure it was because Metroid hadn't had a game in years, was less popular in Japan than in America (at least, that's the case for Super Metroid...don't know about the other two), and was nearly a dead franchise. They took a chance on Retro because there was relatively little to lose. Same reason they let Rare do Donkey Kong Country, really.

dizzy_boy

#14

dizzy_boy said:

i really wonder what the truth is behind nintendo`s reason to sell rare.
i just hope that retro don`t fall into the samevtrap, because they`ll have bright future ahead of them working for/with nintendo.

moosa

#15

moosa said:

@Stuffgamer1 That's an interesting idea, but I disagree. Whether or not Super Metroid was more popular in NA than Japan, that was a tremendous game in a really cutting-edge and well respected franchise. Electronic Gaming Monthly magazine named Super Metroid the best game of all time a few years back. Gamers waited 10 long years for the next entry in the Metroid franchise, meaning not only did Retro have to create something that was worthy of the franchise, but they were tasked with bringing it into the modern day with something that could impress by the current standards the way Super Metroid did in its day. Metroid Prime is the Metroid equivalent of Ocarina of Time as the first 3D Metroid, and it was just as ambitious a project as that game was. I think Nintendo had a whole lot to lose with the development of Metroid Prime, and had Prime been a substandard release after 10 years, the Metroid series would have almost completely lost the respect of gamers save for those who had played and loved the old classics. Instead, the series has continued on strongly and has had a number of successful releases since that time.

Lolza64

#16

Lolza64 said:

For now Retro is almost like the new Rare, and by that i mean the Rare of old that gave birth to such awesome games like Goldeneye and Banjo Kazooie. They really are a talented developer and i can't wait to see what their next project is going to be.

I hope they either a) Make a new F-zero or Starfox for project cafe or b) Make an entirely new IP of their own.

Henmii

#17

Henmii said:

"i really wonder what the truth is behind nintendo`s reason to sell rare"

We never know for sure, but you bet it has to do with them being to expensive and not being efficient among some other issues.

Retro, on the other hand works very efficient (well, not from the start. But they learned to work efficient). And I guess they are a lot cheaper.

They are almost as good as Rareware. Retro doesn't have that same kind of humor though, but you cannot expect them to be a 100% copy of Rareware. I think they do very fine. Really looking forward to their next game!

Chris720

#20

Chris720 said:

Nintendo and Microsoft both owned 50% each of Rare, Nintendo didn't want to share Rare with another tycoon thinking Rare will spill the beans on Ninty's ideas and sold Rare, giving Microsoft full control over Rare. After that, most of the key developers at Rare left. Easy, really.

Retro have done a marvelous job with Ninty's IPs, but I think Zelda should stay strictly Nintendo only.

kevohki

#21

kevohki said:

@20 Zelda hasn't always been strictly Nintendo. Capcom made some of the best Zelda games. For me the Zelda formula has become stale and could use a revamping from another developer with Nintendo overseeing things.

Chrono_Cross

#23

Chrono_Cross said:

@21

Yeah and there's a definite difference of quality between Minish Cap and Link's Awakening now isn't there?

AltDotNerd

#25

AltDotNerd said:

"i really wonder what the truth is behind nintendo`s reason to sell rare"

Nintendo didn't "sell" Rare, Rare had a contract with Nintendo. I think Rare broke up with Nintendo, then Microsoft went and fully bought out Rare. Stupid move on Rare's part because all the games they made for Microsoft suck. Banjo-Kazooie Nuts & Bolts being the worst of all. Nintendo should buy Retro Studios. They can't afford to lose talent like their's.

phoenix1818

#26

phoenix1818 said:

I think Nintendo should take a leaf out of Retro's book, since each one of Retro's games is a masterpiece of its own. Would love to see what they can do on Nintendo's next console!

motang

#28

motang said:

Looking forward to see what their next game is, we all know it will be Project Cafe game.

Winslow

#30

Winslow said:

I really, really hope they do a new StarFox game.
it's just what the series needs.
Miyamoto said so himself that he lost interest in the series.

XyVoX

#33

XyVoX said:

For me Retro Studio's have made the 'from Gamecube onwards' best video game that i have played that being METROID PRIME, utterly outstanding Game & Tech. Resident Evil 4 following close behind. Very talented people

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