News Article

Masahiro Sakurai Outlines the Challenges of Debugging for Super Smash Bros

Posted by Thomas Whitehead

That explains the Wii U wait, then

Masahiro Sakurai often emphasizes the underlying complexity of Super Smash Bros.; with good cause. His team is no doubt furiously finishing off the Nintendo 3DS version at present, before attention will shift to the Wii U iteration that's due in the Holiday season.

In his latest Famitsu column — translated by Kotaku — Sakurai-san goes into a little more detail on the challenges that face the debugging team, as they painstakingly look for bugs and errors that can then be fixed prior to release. In fact, it's this process that's highlighted as a reason for the 3DS and Wii U releases being separated.

Checking is done both domestically and overseas, so for a game like Smash Bros., several hundred people are employed. So, debugging alone becomes a huge project. So much so that one of the biggest reasons for the separate release dates for the 3DS and Wii U versions was so that we could shift the debugging periods.

Some of the problems found can be surprising, and the rare nature of some errors perhaps explains why a number of games ship with bugs that are then fixed in post-launch patches. Nintendo, for its part, still aims to finalise the product as much as possible before launch, even if it's now also more active in issuing software updates.

In a previous Smash Bros., we found a bug during the debugging process where if fighter A hits item B and fighters C and D are simultaneously affected, the game would freeze. Considering not only the different fighters, but items, stages, color settings, play rules, and game modes, the number of varying combinations are astronomical. In order to properly debug, every pattern must be tried, but such a task would be impossible no matter how many decades or centuries you take.

There are many reasons why a game's release date will be delayed, but eight or nine times out of ten, it's usually because a bug couldn't be fixed in time. But it's better than releasing a product like that.

We're certainly hoping that no late bugs delay the Wii U version, in particular, which is yet to be given a firm release date. That said, Sakurai-san's devotion to detail bodes well for the final games living up to expectations.


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User Comments (58)



Mega719 said:

Idiots online think this game was delayed because Nintendo thought 3DS would sell more



unrandomsam said:

It might be somewhat true but adding Amiibo / Mii Fighters must have effected it in some way.



mastermp2 said:

That delay is gonna be good for the game. The game froze once during E3 (Wii U version) in the treehouse friendly match between the invitational champions and I think that twice during SDCC (3DS version) during Bowser's final smash

Nintendo is one of the best companies in terms of quality. Almost none of their games that I had played have had any bugs so far



Kaze_Memaryu said:

Developers really need to read Sakurai's words. Carefully. Twice. Every Day,

Sakurai makes a sacrifice invented by lazy developers. He and his team truly finalize a game, even under the risk of people losing patience, just to show off a clean first impression. Barely any other developers do that nowadays, instead patching the games after release. And while that's better than not fixing issues at all, it's still an approach that doesn't respect the consumer.
It's as if someone ordered a ham and cheese sandwich with ketchup and mustard from me, but I forget the mustard. The customer takes a bite, and immediately notices something's not right. He opens the sandwhich and realizes that the mustard is missing, so he goes to me to complain. And all I do is hand him the mustard bottle with a smug grin and tell him: "Here's the mustard, get it on your sandwich, problem solved!" And then I go away, thinking I have a happy customer behind me, while he squeezes the mustard bottle to stop himself from wanting to throw it at my head.

Weird metaphor, eh? But you get my point: it's rude. Yet it's becoming common practice.



TheFatLucario said:

At least the delay helps on what version i'm getting first, I plan on getting both the 3DS & Wii U versions.

Lets put it this way, No WAY AM I PASSING UP Super Smash Bros. on the go!



Mega719 said:

@ikki5 you can't rush perfection that's something 3rd parties need to learn. Nintendo doesn't take a year to make a full blown game like this (although they are more experienced than most developers)



FritzFrapp said:

With his tendonitis problems now affecting his left arm too, I hope that he has a very long period of recuperation after the games are finished. Nothing is more important than your health.



SavoirFaire said:

Think about some guy at EA seeing this article and suggesting they should do this for their releases at a high level meeting! Oh the hilarity!



BigDaddysPizza said:

EA is exactly what was on my mind when I read this article. I love how Nintendo puts effort into their games, unlike some companies....

I'm going to wager a guess and say that Sakurai was talking about Brawl. I believe it was delayed twice but for good reasons, I see. It's much better to postpone a game instead of release a crappy product early.



DreamyViridi said:

Delays always suck, but it's well worth it if it leads to perfection. That happened with Brawl and if Smash 4 Wii U gets delayed a bit, then so be it. Hopefully, it'll be released before 2014 though; for the sales if anything.

Play testers are heroes with this kind of stuff. They're the reason why a fantastic game doesn't suck because of bugs. I saw a comment on this mention the possibilities of how many documents and waivers you'd need to sign as a play tester, for a game as big as Smash Brothers. Having knowledge about it well before anyone else... and then Nintendo Ninjas come to your door if you say a word...



Phantom_R said:

This is his third big Smash game and Sakurai's still working himself to death. I don't mind taking another delay to the face if it means this guy can survive the week.



Takerkaneanite6 said:

As long as the Wii U version is as good as it can be, then I don't mind the extra wait between Wii U and 3DS versions...Remember, Miyamoto once said something along the lines of, A delayed game can be good, bit a rushed game will be bad forever, sorry if I screwed it up, if anybody knows exactly what he said, then don't hesitate to correct me...



ikki5 said:

@Mega719 who said anything about rushing perfection? All I want is to know what the Wii U version will have that the 3DS one will not aside from stages and trophies,



Inkling said:

That's what I call the Nintendo touch. They test their games very carefully and polish them very well, and not just rush them out to market. But they're still a lot of fun!



Sparx said:

@ikki5 they'll probably reveal that after 3ds version is out for a bit, that way showing the stuff Wii u will have won't affect 3ds sales negatively



aaronsullivan said:

@unrandomsam @MoonKnight7 Are you suggesting it was added last minute and that delayed the Wii U version? Do you have any evidence of when Amiibo functionality was added to the project? I'd guess the Amiibo thing has been in planning since before Pokemon Rumble U which was a test bed. Just because you saw it later doesn't mean it hasn't been in the design from the beginning.

It's certainly possible that it was added later in the development, but there's little to no evidence I've seen.

Either way, debuting Amiibo on the biggest Wii U game of the Holiday season is a smart business move.



Jmaster said:

@unrandomsam You do know all the characters that'll be in the game -including Miis- are decided at the beginning of development, right?



DarkKirby said:

even if it's now also more active in issuing software updates.

Well, releasing patches to fix not literally game breaking problems almost never is better than actually never!

Nintendo is still by far the absolute worst major console company when it comes to after market support. No, pay DLC or DLC developed during the main game development is not "after market support".



Hy8ogen said:

Publisher X: Delays Game X, So other platforms can get it at the same time when it was suppose to be an exclusive.

Publisher X: Delays Game X so they can shift resources to work on other versions. Other versions suffered from a lot of bugs and glitches.

Sakurai: Delays game, to make sure the game works 100% with no game breaking bugs and glitches.

In my 20+ years as a gamer, I have never experienced any game breaking bugs or glitches in ANY Nintendo games. This is why I will always own a Nintendo system. Their games are absolute quality and unparalleled.

@aaronsullivan and then sends you pickles instead.



Porky said:

This Smash Brothers has been rushed though. That's why Namco is helping this time to meet a 2014 release.



Yoshi said:

@Porky I don't think it's been rushed, though. Haven't they been working on it, or about to start work on it at E3 2011?



BSFsontails1012 said:

One of the many reason smash is the best, Sakurai polishes his games the best! Also, in an organized matter.



WinterWarm said:

I understand, did anyone else watch the SDCC Bill Trinen challenges? Mario's head got stuck in a platform twice, stretching his body like crazy.



Phantom_R said:

@DarkKirby Nintendo has the least after-market support, but Nintendo games still sell more, and they stay on shelves for longer.

After-market support means nothing when Nintendo's games are better out the door than EA's by the time the EA game is replaced by its next yearly installment.



Mr-X9000 said:

im still waiting for an explanation for why Waluigi isnt playable!!!
also, i honestly thought sakurai was working on this by himself



MoonKnight7 said:


"Either way, debuting Amiibo on the biggest Wii U game of the Holiday season is a smart business move."

Well yes. This is one of the reasons @unrandomsam suggested that amiibo very possibly effected its release date.

Sure we don't know how long it's been in development, but given that we still don't know much about amiibo tells me it is a bit last minute, or at the very least, in rush job mode trying to get it finished in time. The news only broke after the shareholder's meeting this year as part of their business plan to make extra revenue utilizing their IPs in 2014-15 (apart from amiibo, look at all the other toys coming out at Target, Gamestop, etc.), and to step up the use of the gamepad. I have no recollection of this kind of fully fleshed strategy at last year's shareholder's meeting. Is that "proof?" No, but I do think that's enough to raise the question.

Even now we still didn't know much about amiibo; we haven't even gotten price tags. Is it smart? Sure it is, but it does feel a bit shoehorned due to the lack of information.



Porky said:

@brewsky Not sure, but Sawota announced an upcoming SSB game at one E3 without Sakurai even starting on it and then he waited to finish his current Kid Icarus game for 3DS before starting on SSB.



Zio_Ziodyne said:

Shigeru Miyamoto said, "A delayed game is eventually good, but a rushed game is forever bad."

True-er words were never spoken, and also one of the biggest reasons I love Nintendo overall



HyperSonicEXE said:

Wow, that scenario happened?

Ok, I'm no coder, but wouldn't a good engine or set of physics alleviate this?



LztheQuack said:

@DarkKirby I'm failing to understand your point. Are you saying it's a bad thing Nintendo does not continue on projects? I can rebut that with the fact that Nintendo is making new games and the teams move to different projects afterwards.

Or you are saying that they don't patch their games?

Also, the Miyamoto quote is "A delayed game is eventually good, but a bad game is bad forever"



Tamalesyatole said:

If the 3DS version and the WiiU use the same engine, I wonder if the glitches/issues/bugs can be debugged from both versions... that way the WiiU version would need o ly to implement the fixes.
Also, if wiiu debugging starts after 3ds debugging, I guess there's more time to polish the WiiU graphics while 3ds debugging.
And finally, "Considering not only the different fighters, but items, stages, color settings, play rules, and game modes, the number of varying combinations are astronomical. In order to properly debug, every pattern must be tried, but such a task would be impossible no matter how many decades or centuries you take..." is one of the QA basic principles: extensive testing is impossible.



Shugo said:

This is why I still regard Nintendo and their second-party studios as being the highest-quality game producers in the industry. They're one of the only companies left who actually puts the effort into making a good, complete game. Like Sakurai said, a game with such open-ended gameplay and countless combinations of settings and situations as Smash Bros. would require a massive amount of people and time to debug it. And that's exactly what they do: they get that massive amount of people and give them that time.

Meanwhile you have other open-ended games such as Skyrim and Watch_Dogs releasing in incredibly buggy states, sometimes unplayable without patches (see: Skyrim PS3). Watch_Dogs was delayed constantly and yet the PC version released with horrible performance and crash bugs across all hardware. What were they doing with all that time!? Did anyone at Ubisoft even play the PC version? Because it didn't run well on literally any hardware setup, and I believe many of its performance issues remain unpatched.



Manaphy2007 said:

@unrandomsam maybe but they are dedicated to make both versions come out with little to no bugs, well minor bugs that doesnt affect the gameplay or the game itself.



Rin-go said:

You don't decide something like that on a whim, though. I would assume it takes a lot of time to search for a company which could produce them, to evaluate prototypes etc. Just because it wasn't talked about last year doesn't mean that it wasn't in development or planning long before. It was way smarter to mention it this year and release more information and the actual product in the same year. Otherwise we would have seen lots of "Where is the NFC project you talked about!?" comments and "I guess they canned it" speculation. You know how it goes.



ikki5 said:

@Sparx but at the same time, it'll hurt the Wii U sales which really, should be the one that matters most. 3DS sales are fine and doing well where Wii U sales are tanking.



MoonKnight7 said:


"You don't decide something like that on a whim, though."

Well of course not. When I say last minute, I mean last minute to get the train moving and get it out in time for the holidays. I would assume they've been working on this concept ever since Disney Infinity was successful. Waiting to see if lightening would strike twice, so to speak.

I believe you're discounting the importance of the shareholder's meeting. Once the shareholder's meeting happened they needed to have answers as to what they were going to do to increase profits, since we all know just making software/hardware alone wasn't doing the trick. I believe their production of amiibo was put into overdrive to get it out by the holidays this year, largely because they have to do something to keep the shareholders happy and to increase profits. After three straight years of losses, they have to strike black ink this year, Iwata's word (and very possibly his job) depends on it. Don't get me wrong, I'm very thrilled about the decision. As long as it diverts their attention from mobile games, I'm happy. That said, I believe this to be the secondary reason for the rollout this year.

Do we know when they put it into SSB? No, but I do believe the amiibo concept was intended for another game and not intended for SSB originally. Therefore, it was, and I mean this respectfully, prematurely shoehorned into SSB to get them out this year. The lack of information about amiibo leads me to believe this theory. If they've been working on it as long as you say, don't you think we'd have more answers by now? It's almost September and we know just as much about it as we did during E3. It seems Nintendo doesn't even know the answers yet, as they've been quiet for a very long time.



Trikeboy said:

That's the Nintendo difference right there. They would rather delay a game till it worked than a buggy mistake and many patches.



Megumi said:

Get this game bug and glitch free Sakurai!...Unless the Black Hole Glitch exists here, leave that in. lol



mariovslink62 said:

EA should take lessons from Nintendo after they rushed Battlefield 4.

I know who's gonna be my main...Pac Man!



erv said:

There's a bug in this game that sometimes, when I get hit by accident, makes me fly off the screen. It makes me lose matches sometimes. It's broken! Fix it sakurai!



earthboundlink said:

These delays have been commonplace with Nintendo since the earliest days when people began caring about video game release dates. They have always put forward aggressive deadlines, and when the deadlines are not met, they push them back for the good of the game. They do it with consoles too. I remember I almost spent my money on a Playstation back in the day, but held out for the 64. One of my better decisions, I'd say.

They have always had an undying commitment to quality and polish. It's why so many of the old games are still fun, and why so many of the old systems still work. People can disagree as to whether Nintendo makes the best games (subjectively speaking), but it's hard to argue against the fact that they make the most polished games. And you can argue with Nintendo's marketing strategies, but you can't really argue with their dedication to their products.



Siskan said:

I thought it was a rather good metaphor actually. And I fully agree.
If I may continue, just like that mustardless bite was ruined, the match where the bug occured would be as well. So even if a game or sandwhich can be fixed afterwards, one experience has already been ruined.
This may be even worse in an RPG etc. where you may lose hours of progress since your last save, or even make a whole save file useless.
I guess this is where you try to assemble a model kit, just to find out there were some defect parts and you need to start over with a replacement?

I know there have been such bugs in Nintendo games too, but they seem rare. If I remember correctly, Skyward Sword was one example? But it's surely a lot harder to blame them when they put this much work on trying to avoid these things. Though I suppose some people would see it differently and say there is no excuse after spending that much time on it. But you can't deny the fact they tried.



Senario said:

@erv Lol I laughed because that is how Sakurai seems to be designing smash bros from brawl onward. The game isn't really inclusive of competitive players and nor does he make a decent effort. And don't give me crap about "For glory" That is not what the competitive community wants, they want depth to play in a competitive setting.

Delay the game as much as you can to remove bugs. Just remember that sometimes not all bugs are bad. Combos in street fighter were a bug, but they were by far some of the best things to happen to the fighting game genre. As it stands there are a few things I could argue that were an exploit in smash but the overall benefits outweigh the cons for some, right now decent amounts of depth is most important so better get that first.



Cooligan said:

It all makes sense now! Sakurai and his team are so dedicated to what they're doing! Respect!

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