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.