Metroid Prime

The announcement of Metroid Prime 4 was one of the most surprising reveals at E3, and though the game is nothing more than a logo at the moment, it’s still exciting that Nintendo is choosing to continue one of its most critically acclaimed series. The Metroid Prime trilogy was a major moment in Nintendo history, as a relatively mature series being developed by an outside studio.

Jack Mathews is a developer who worked at Retro as the Technical Lead Engineer for all three of the games, and Shinesparkers recently got ahold of him for an interview about the development of the trilogy. Interestingly enough, he mentioned how Metroid Prime 2: Echoes was originally supposed to be a multiplayer title, with a single player focus being decided on relatively late in production. Here’s what was said:

Well, I just feel that the game should have been either one or the other. Metroid Prime Hunters did this really well – it knew it was a multiplayer game and spent all its marbles there. When we started development on Prime 2, multiplayer was actually going to be the focus (I think we internally thought of the project as Metroid Prime 1.5). We were even going to have the ability to play as a Space Pirate and have things like wall grabs and such.

As we moved back towards a primarily single-player focus, we should have ditched multiplayer altogether. There was a ton of effort put forth to make multiplayer happen: we had to actually author third person Samus animations, we had to have support for multiple “players” in a game world, we needed to author all new lower quality effects, add game modes, et cetera et cetera. It’s all work that took quality and mindshare away from the single player.

Plus, as a Metroid fan, I just feel like single-player is how the IP should stay – seeing multiple people run around as Samus never felt right.

Metroid Prime 2 was also supposed to have more visually distinct light and dark worlds, but the time and budget ended up hamstringing development. Here’s what he said:

As for improvements? It’s hard because development is so iterative – many good things are built on the backs of failures. And many failures are the result of unmovable limitations. Like, for instance, I would have loved more differentiation between the light and dark worlds of Prime 2, but there was not time or money for it. We wanted to go the route of reusing environments between light and dark, because we could make a schedule work that way – we thought it would be great! More bang for the buck!

But of course, we could never find a technical solution to make the dark world variants different enough to be interesting, and it turns out that completely dark worlds are just not fun – the first concepts had Samus pretty much walking around with a spotlight emitting from her, and it was just impossible to play.

So, the artists had to do a ton of work to make the dark world variants work and, well, it was a ton more work than anyone had budgeted for and was completely unplanned. In fact, the Sanctuary Fortress was the only area built with this plan in mind, which is why both light and dark actually look visually distinct and amazing. But there was no time (immovable limitation) to really rebuild the rest of the game, but at least we got the Sanctuary Fortress. So what’s the solution? Plan better? Have less content? Be smarter? It’s hard to know, with the info we would have had then, what we reasonably could have done differently.

Another fascinating tidbit was that Metroid Prime 3: Corruption was supposed to be oriented around Samus actually being a bounty hunter, with the player picking up jobs and flying all over the galaxy. Nintendo ended up shooting down the idea because they had a different definition of what a bounty hunter does. Here’s what he said:

I don’t recall any code being written to support the concept, but I remember it being documented and thought through extensively. The inventory system as it was would not have needed significant changes to support the design, and while my recollection is hazy, I believe that the whole misunderstanding of the “bounty” in “bounty hunter” was discovered and talked through pretty quickly after we presented the game concept to Japan. I don’t know how much of the story was fleshed out at this point, Dark Samus or otherwise. I just remember that the original core concept revolved around Samus and her ship doing jobs around the galaxy to both get stronger.

What do you think? Which game from the original trilogy was your favorite? What do you hope Metroid Prime 4 will be like? Share your thoughts in the comments below.