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Star Fox Developer: I Wanted To Say "Screw That" To Shigeru Miyamoto

Posted by Damien McFerran

Dylan Cuthbert reveals the magic of working with Nintendo

Star Fox is one of the Super Nintendo's most enduring classics, thanks largely to its ground-breaking use of 3D and tight, immserise gameplay. However, had Dylan Cuthbert — one of the game's key developers — had his way, it might have turned out very differently; something he now admits would have been a massive mistake.

Speaking at GDC, Cuthbert has revealed that during the game's development — which you can read more about in our Making of Star Fox feature — he and the other British developers found the process of mixing western know-how with eastern game design to be quite frustrating, at least initially:

We were very cocky British programmers, thrown into this Japanese environment. We were in awe and in shock at the same time about their process, as we went in intending to make a full 3D shooting game inspired by Starglider 2. But in the process I learned from Miyamoto that ‘No idea must go into a game, even if they are good ideas.’

This was very confusing for us, because at the time British games were full of good ideas. We were at the forefront of 3D, even with isometric games back in ’83, but what we did in Britain was just stuff all these ideas in and then sell it. It’d sell, but people would find, like, half a game. Most of the games I bought in the 80s I would never finish.

So Starglider 2 was initially what we were trying to make: a 3D roaming game. For our first months of working with Nintendo, Miyamoto would add ideas, and then remove them. And it felt like we weren’t really getting anywhere.

Things almost came to a head when Miyamoto came to work with a "big grin" on his face, stating that he had solved their problems:

He said, ‘we’re going to limit it. It’s going to be on rails, and it’s going to be fun and playable and a Nintendo game.’

If we had been in Britain we would have been like ‘no, screw that.’

Thankfully, Cuthbert wasn't in Britain, he was in Japan. And he soon discovered that Miyamoto had in fact hit the jackpot:

In our Starglider concept, you couldn’t really see lasers coming from behind you and it could be very hard to find where the enemies were in 3D space. It was a very difficult process for the player. [The change] allowed us to make much better boss battles; you were always flying forward and you could always see the boss.

At the time all British 3D games were first-person to be more immersive, but the change allowed us to make it fun to manoeuvre between buildings, and allowed the barrel roll to be visible and intuitive.

With Starglider, the 3D roaming feature was such a big thing in our mind as British programmers we never considered other ways to do it. It was Miyamoto and Nintendo who came up with these ideas because they didn’t have this background in 3D development.

Just goes to show that when East meets West, great things can happen.

[via edge-online.com]

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User Comments (56)

Burning_Spear

#4

Burning_Spear said:

Another misleading headline. The point is that Cuthbert ultimately found that Miyamoto's suggestion improved the game.

Bobhobob

#6

Bobhobob said:

hehehe east meets west is the name of my local chinese food shop
But I think I like this better than what the Brits would have done by themselves.

Ducutzu

#9

Ducutzu said:

Ofcourse the headline has to be something with a bit of an impact.

Ahh, I'd like to see more articles like this on the site and less reporting on Pachter's ongoing reality show.

gojiguy

#11

gojiguy said:

nice. I'd love to play this game again. It's been years. Wonder if it will show up on the VC...

Burning_Spear

#14

Burning_Spear said:

@DarkCoolEdge There's an Iwata Asks somewhere that suggests that the developers were the ones who scrapped the RPG elements, not Miyamoto. Apparently, Miyamoto's suggestion was to limit the enemies to those found in Super Mario World.

Nintenjoe64

#15

Nintenjoe64 said:

Maybe someone at Rare should have said that to Miyamoto when they made Star Fox Adventures!

RandomNerds

#16

RandomNerds said:

Telling Miyamoto off would have been career suicide. On that note how come we have not seen this game released on the virtual console? That's a day one buy for many I'm sure.

Blue-Thunder

#17

Blue-Thunder said:

To the few comments above me, he is only a man and it is a fact of life that the older a person becomes "remember he is 60" the less creative they become. Just look at any great musician.

Whopper744

#18

Whopper744 said:

I think it shows Miyamoto really knows his stuff when it comes to games.
...and why are people always criticizing the writers on this site? seriously.

NImH

#21

NImH said:

@Joshers744 I was just thinking the same thing about the critics on the site. I think that there are a load of wannabe Game Reviewers that were initially inspired by the writers here... But now the "student becomes the master" mentality nonsense prevails. Foolishness.

Shiggy saves the day, once again... And to actually feel the need to point out a flaw in the accomplishments of Shigeru Miyamoto is really pitiful in my eyes. Without Shiggy there is no Nintendo.

Chrono_Cross

#22

Chrono_Cross said:

There will always be a Nintendo. Though, one without a mascot.

I enjoy most of Miyamoto's games but he's not God, he's a video game director.

NImH

#23

NImH said:

@Chrono_Cross so Miyamoto's only a mascot... not the creator of the most epic and lasting characters and IP's in videogame history. I am now wiser for your comment.

Kirk

#24

Kirk said:

That's very interesting because in later Star Fox games where some of the levels went outside that on-rails design I found I didn't really enjoy it as much.

Just goes to show that some decisions really do make a lot of difference.

Chrono_Cross

#25

Chrono_Cross said:

@NlmH

Mascot, icon. Contra has been running for over twenty years and look how successful that is by today's standards.

Konami are gods.

eviLaTtenDant

#26

eviLaTtenDant said:

This game has to be released on the Wii U's VC. And to get a 3D Classic version. I'd love to play though it to finally be in the position to say it's one of the best games ever made.

Whopper744

#27

Whopper744 said:

No game developer or developors are God. There is only one of those. But Miyamoto really knows how to make some interesting and very fun games. I think he will probably always be my top game developer

AcesHigh

#28

AcesHigh said:

@Burning_Spear you are correct. The only rules Shiggy gave the Sticker Star team was to keep the characters to the known SMB universe. The designers decided to dump the other RPG elements.

Zodiak13

#30

Zodiak13 said:

When did this turn into a Sticker Star forum?? Interesting story, I enjoyed the read Damien. I had no idea that there was a British development team that worked on that game. Cheers mates!!

PvtOttobot

#31

PvtOttobot said:

Wow, very interesting, I wonder how creative games will come about now with 'no limitations' on the PS4?

Zodiak13

#32

Zodiak13 said:

@PvtOttobot One will have to wait and see what Nintendo does 1st, so that Sony and MS can , um, use it as inspiration. Yes thats it.

Davidiam007

#33

Davidiam007 said:

@Chrono_Cross Konami is great, but jump man/ mario have been around longer then contra. I agree with comment from another post that no developer or anyone here in earth is a God. Just awesome developers.

Sabrewing

#35

Sabrewing said:

And then Miyamoto turned around and made Rare shoehorn the StarFox name into a game that didn't need it... Poor Dinosaur Planet. :(

DerpSandwich

#36

DerpSandwich said:

@Damo I can see where he's coming from. When I read the headline I assumed this was going to be about Dinosaur Planet or something, because it sounds like a person wishing they had gone against Miyamoto's wishes. The headline ultimately works, but it pops a different idea into your head.

GuSolarFlare

#37

GuSolarFlare said:

Miyamoto can screw things up sometimes(just like everyone can) but I guess when people consider someone a genius(or something close enough) they can't make mistakes without too much criticizing... lucky me I'm STILL an average joe!
also I wonder what the first star fox looks like(never got to play it...)

Wyvernqueen

#38

Wyvernqueen said:

@Sabrewing @Nintenjoe64 Actually Miyamoto did not tell them to change it to a Star Fox game he casually made a comment that their main character looked like Fox and the team took his worrd like gospel and ran with it. Miyamoto was just making a casual true comment.

ecco6t9

#41

ecco6t9 said:

Once again it's that Nintendo "tweak" that makes a good game into a great game.

GreenDream

#44

GreenDream said:

A headline such as "Star Fox as we know it almost did not exist" would have been equally effective, while inciting a sense of historical mystery. This headline is kind of... tabloid-ey. It is technically true, but emotionally, it incites social monitoring- which, of course, does not accurately describe the article contents.

Then again, there have been previous times in the past where Nintendo Life has reported on life-changing events, so they probably didn't want to create a redundant headline. Unless... an "almost never happened" sort of series is formally begun! There's already been a good string of articles on this subject, including this one.

GreenDream

#45

GreenDream said:

This article highlights a good point, which I feel is still demonstrated today by the differences in Eastern and Western mentalities on game design. This was an example of an Eastern mentality decision bringing innovation unto a console game, at a time when dabbling in 3D was starting to become popular in the PC space. Yet, this 3D modeling company wanted to work with consoles, which had less potential in the matter... so, it's interesting that they took on such a challenge in the first place.

The conflict encountered in the article dealt with a clash of values on which form of presentation feels best. This was an important point, for one of the most important aspects of a user interface is spatial recognition. Whether at eye level or overhead viewpoint, 2D or 3D playing field, first or third person perspective, etc; Eastern developers in the early ninties seemed more likely to favor an interface with overhead view, 2D play field, and third person perspective. Western developers, on the other hand, were more likely to favor an interface with eye level view, 3D play field, and first person perspective. This becomes more apparent when considering PC titles.

That's not to say everyone stuck to popular conventions, nor to the old mentalities, but there seems to be a cultural proclivity at work here. The developers of their respective titles might say, "This is how I would want to observe and interact with this experience", and their implementations seem culturally distinct to me in any case.

A Western developer never would have made a series like Suikoden, and a Japanese developer never would have made a series like Baldur's Gate. Westerners could only dream of replicating the Mario series finesse and success, and the Japanese might likewise be curious about how the Might and Magic series could have it's own brand of deceptively incredible depth within a seemingly cliched world.

A series like Star Fox was only possible through mixing and mingling different mentalities. That's why it stands out so much from other titles- it was developed in a situation which could not be easily replicated.

Zombie_Barioth

#48

Zombie_Barioth said:

‘No idea must go into a game, even if they are good ideas.’
Gotta agree with Cuthbert on this one, I think I get Miyamoto's point but thats still really confusing. Its really fascinating to think about how some games might have turned out if things played out differently.

skjia

#50

skjia said:

@Zombie_Barioth
I think the point of that statement that no matter how much a developer may like an idea, it shouldn't be required in the game if it ends up working better without it. Which is a very good mentality for devs to have. (I think it's more of an eastern philosophy of having no attachments. Or he's a Jedi.)

GreenDream

#51

GreenDream said:

@Zombie_Barioth It's a statement with a sort of duality, I think. On one hand, iteration upon core concepts is crucial, but at the same time, the Mario series is often a perfect example of being very dead-set on keeping a rigid set of ideas. It works, but it seems to be a fragile process... Not many project teams are able to nail down working design plans like the Nintendo veterans.

rayword45

#52

rayword45 said:

Sounds like some of the ideas for Starglider went into X-Scape. Damnit I want a sequel more now.

Zombie_Barioth

#53

Zombie_Barioth said:

@GreenDream and @skjia
I take it as meaning don't go into development with preconceived ideas of what the game should look like. Miyamoto has said that he starts with a basic concept of the gameplay and builds around it, deciding on whatever they feel makes the most sense as they go along.

But for all we know we're all right, or perhaps none of us at all. The only one that knows for sure is Miyamoto, who seems to like pulling a Jedi mind tricks with his advice.

wiggy

#54

wiggy said:

Now if they just hadn't canned StarFox 2 right as it was being completed...

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