Nowadays “computer games” are all around us, and for today’s children they’re a feature of life from birth. However, for me, when I made Mario, I didn’t feel like I was making something called a “computer game.” It was more like I was creating a “toy”, or some form of “play”, or “a product that will be popular.” And my thinking was that using a computer for that purpose would be very effective.
If I may speak from experience, when making a game, if you don’t change the gameplay system, there isn’t much point in making a new game. So, taking Mario as an example, if you keep the same system but just change the maps, its not going to be very good.
For our development teams, for the beginning of the first year its usually comprised of 3 to 4 people, then about half a year in we start adding people until about the 8 month mark, where we reach a team of 20 or so. A new game system determines about 60% of the game creation process. In my case I work on that nucleus of the game first. The maps, story, etc are all about 10 or 20%.
With F-ZERO, we knew we were going to need a racing series for the new Super Famicom console. We didn’t want to do a port of a pre-existing game, and in our first drafts the screen was horizontal and you viewed the ships from their side. During the prototype phase we tested various ideas, getting a feel for the capabilities of the new SFC hardware as we went… creating that solid foundation is essential for game development.
It turned out that with the horizontal view for F-ZERO, the perspective didn’t allow us to draw three-dimensional objects like bank curves, and without that, how could the game be interesting? On top of that, we wanted to draw player character vehicles that looked more alive and vigorous, but if we added tires to the vehicles the required memory would be doubled. And if you added smoke from the tires during drifting, it would be even more. So because of all that, the cars became hovercrafts. We also didn’t know how to convey the right sensation of turning a wheel with just the directional pad and buttons of the home console controller. That was another problem that came to us during this phase of the development.
The important thing is how the game feels in the first 2 or 3 minutes. That’s the window of time in which the player’s heart is seized. For Nintendo, until we’ve finished that core nucleus of the gameplay, we don’t add graphics. If the game is no good after we create that core, then we throw it all away. In any event, you can’t know until you go through the process of making it.
If you do your experimenting in the beginning like that, you can experience all different kinds of failures. That is an important process too.
a story is not a game
At Nintendo we get many letters with stories and designs from kids asking us to make such and such a game. However, most of them are just imitating Mario or Dragon Quest, and only the stories are different.
But thinking up a story and setting is not the main part of game design. If you only change the surface appearance, you really haven’t changed anything.
Its often said that the heart of a game is its story, but that’s not the case. The story comes only after the core of the game system is completed. Then the characters come into focus and the world starts to manifest.
“Two siblings separated at birth are reunited…” I can’t call that a game design. (laughs) There is no backstory to Mario, after all.
On the other hand, if someone came to me with a proposal for a new system like that of the game Sim City, that would probably catch my attention. Without that, “game design” is just a game of make-believe. I don’t mean to speak negatively about using your imagination like that, of course, but there’s no need for young aspiring designers to do that. What’s important is starting from the fundamentals.
unique qualities of game development
What do you think the difference is between games and movies?
In movies, when the director is watching the footage he’s taken and sees something he doesn’t like, he can’t just go back and refilm it all over. Corrections are not easy to make. But with games everything can be changed up until the very end. Just by changing one section of the code, an entirely different game will emerge. For instance, if you make it so the player can’t die… (laughs)
For example, maybe the reason the game isn’t interesting is because of the gravity? Then remove the gravity code and see how the game plays without it–suddenly, its a lot better. That kind of thing has happened at Nintendo before.
Since changing a single aspect of a game can change the entire game itself, in game development you can’t rest until the very end. That is the most interesting aspect of game creation though. So remember, until the due date, until the very end, you must not give up. Among programmers, there’s many people who think that if no bugs are found its good. But making a game more interesting means always making improvements, right? That kind of tinkering easily leads to bugs, so its best for programmers not to worry about it too much.
the role of the game director
For a game director, I think its important to have enough programming knowledge to be able to persuade the programmers of your ideas. If you don’t understand how to present your ideas, the programmers may end up evading your suggestions.
Sometimes, when you ask a programmer why something isn’t possible, and they ask you why you want to do that, in the course of such talks an entirely new way to solve the problem will present itself. For instance, take a situation where the player and enemy collisions aren’t working right. The director may say to make the enemies smaller. But with over 400 enemies in a game, updating them all would take over a week’s work. Normally the conversation between programmer and director would just end there, but what if you know enough about programming to realize that the problem is really that the collision detection is too strict? Then you don’t need to change the enemies, but by changing just the player you can fix it with one line of code. Finding those solutions is what the director is there for.
In another example, during a test play someone looks at the monitor and says “this game is too slow!” That doesn’t mean you should just immediately increase the scrolling speed. The real problem is that the player sprite doesn’t appear to be running despite the player diligently pressing the buttons. If you understand that, there is another way. By increasing the speed of the sprite’s running animation and making it look like he’s moving faster, the complaint about speed goes away. Changing the scrolling speed is also very difficult for the programmers. Speeding up the sprite animation, however, is easily done.
Finding such solutions, speaking the language of the programmers, and being able to converse in programming logic is extremely important for a director. Being constructive, determined, and positive are also good qualities.
to create is to share
I studied design in college. There, the work you did was ranked and posted for everyone to see. Being ranked high made me happy, but when I ranked low it was frustrating. I’d feel dejected, as if I’d lost something. It ended up being a good experience for me.
In game design, you can’t make it if you have thin skin. You will be making things and sharing them with people. If you get dejected, you’ve got to suck it up and soldier on.
You should pause and ask yourself if you just like video games, or if you really enjoy creating things. And if you still feel like you want to be a game designer, then my advice is to come get involved in the game industry, no matter what form your participation first takes.