This week sees the launch of Super Smash Bros. for Nintendo 3DS, the first portable iteration of the famous fighting game franchise. As you'll already know if you're a seasoned reader of Nintendo Life, we've delivered our critical verdict of the game and found it to be something of a smash hit, and in order to celebrate this momentous release we were lucky enough to speak to Game Designer and Sora Ltd. founder Masahiro Sakurai, the man behind the series and one of the most notable Japanese developers of the modern era.
Nintendo Life: Can you explain how you pick the third-party characters? The new game has Capcom, Sega and Bandai Namco characters such as Mega Man and Pac-Man. Can you explain the process for picking these characters and reaching agreement with their IP holders?
Sakurai-san: First off, I think about which third-party characters would make suitable guests for the game before beginning any negotiations. It goes without saying that Mega Man is a guest who could fit Smash Bros. with his range of moves and attacks, but PAC-MAN as a guest fighter needed some careful consideration. With Bandai Namco Games being the developer for this title, it was definitely one of the reasons I wanted to include him, but I also knew that in order to make this round ball of a character into a proper fighter I would need a lot of good ideas and a strong feel for what kind of moves would fit him.
In the end, I decided to embody classic Namco, and I think it really worked out well. I’ve heard that Bandai Namco had also thought about using the older style PAC-MAN before, but they just weren’t able to find something that worked well. Some of the staff have even said how surprised or thrilled they were that we were able to represent the classic PAC-MAN so well in the modern day.
This is the largest roster yet in a Smash Bros. game — was it a tough decision to go with such a sizeable line-up, or did you always plan to work on this number of characters?
My priority is to provide the best experience possible to consumers and so I want to make as much as I possibly can for them. The number of characters (not counting alternative versions) was more or less decided from the beginning, however, I worked with the understanding that we might need to cut some characters if the development was progressing too slowly. Fortunately, we were able to finish just about everything.
In actual fact, since the development team is different for this game as compared to previous iterations, even the veteran characters were remade from scratch. Although this meant an increase in costs, it is precisely because of this and - in no small part - thanks to the efforts of the development team, that we were able to put so much content into the game.
We could always have reduced the number of characters and played it safe, so to speak, but I believe that having all these characters is an important part of what makes the Smash Bros. series special.
You've spent a lot of time with this game - do you have a favourite character you always use, and can you explain why that is the case?
There’s no single character I use more than the others, I have to use them all equally.
Roughly how much time goes into designing and balancing each character? What do you need to be mindful of when creating a character in a fighting game of this type?
I get the planning for each character done remarkably quickly. For example, after learning about Greninja and its abilities one evening, by late night I had already completed the design for that character’s moves and features.
The process, however, of actually creating a character often takes well over a year, where we are constantly working on the model, the animations, the audio and the balancing. For the game balance we have a testing team playing almost every day and we make adjustments based on their results. I was working from morning to night with my responsibilities as director, so I was only able to spend Wednesday evenings and weekends on the balance.
One of the important things for me was having a large difference between the characters, which I call their “dynamic range”. In a typical fighting game where you just square off against an opponent, other things like the environment have less of an impact, so even small differences between characters can be very noticeable. With Smash Bros., however, I want to bring out the individuality in the characters and I think it’s rare to see a game with such a wide dynamic range as this.
So although it may end up that some characters are stronger than others due to way the game works, we have focused on allowing a lot of “accidents” to happen in a party game sort of way – resulting in things that make players laugh – so the emphasis is on variety rather than making Smash Bros. into a sport.
What was the main reason for bringing the Smash Bros. series on to a handheld device as opposed to keeping it solely on the home consoles, where it has traditionally been?
With each iteration of Smash Bros. we have tried to push beyond the limits of what content we can put into each one. This is inevitable as long as we are developing for home consoles, with the push for even more characters, or better graphics. I felt we needed to a way to break out of this cycle, and look at new ways to play instead.
In particular, I really liked the idea of being able to provide new ways to play due to the game being on a handheld too.
Also, a major reason for developing the handheld and home console versions simultaneously is that since I don’t have my own development company and I’m working freelance, for each project I’m working with different staff, so once a team is disbanded, that’s it. It takes a lot of work to have new people take over a project, therefore developing both versions at the same time was a way for me to finally release a Smash Bros. game on both home console and handheld platforms.
Where did the idea for the Smash Run mode come from?
It’s based on an idea we had back when we were developing Kirby Air Ride on GameCube. The idea was that introducing changes to competitive games makes them richer, and this can be satisfied through allowing power ups change various stats. I felt like this idea would be a good match for Smash Bros. too. It allows for a completely different experience from just a normal battle and the more you play, the more you get out of it.
How have you taken advantage of the portability of the 3DS, and its connectivity options, such as StreetPass? How will the portable element of the game change the way we play Smash?
I personally think people should be able to play games in a way that fits with their lifestyle. So I didn’t want to impose any rule that people would have to play this handheld version of Smash Bros. in any specific way. I think what’s important is that users now have more options, and more choice.
The fans have been very vocal about which aspects they enjoy about each game in the Smash Bros. series and which ones they don’t enjoy as much as others - has the collective voice of the fans been an influence on decisions made in regards to the game?
I know that some sequels focus on fixing problems with the last game, but if we had taken that approach then we would have had less than half as many new characters, and the game wouldn’t have felt so different from the last one.
I believe that Smash Bros. games need to offer something that can also be enjoyed by a wide range of people, such as those who might just be getting into gaming when they are released. To do this we need to listen not just to the biggest fans, but to a whole range of different users to give everyone an experience that is fun.
Having said that, there are lots of things I want to improve on from the last game and I’m fixing those on my own initiative.
We'd like to thank Sakurai-san for taking the time to speak with us, and also Nintendo UK for arranging this interview.