These two short interviews with Metroid Fusion and Zero Mission director Yoshio Sakamoto cover the changes in Samus’ design, the contrast between these games and previous Metroids, and the challenges of training a new development team. Interestingly, there is a note of condescension towards this “Wario” team that is hard not to notice.

These interviews were found at the GSLA, a Japanese a website that, among other things, preserves game developer interviews from older, now-defunct print sources. The GSLA often redacts the original interviewer questions, so the text ends up reading more like a narrative than an interview.

Metroid Database

Metroid Fusion – 2003 Developer Interview

with director/writer Yoshio Sakamoto

After Super Metroid was released for the Super Famicom, the Game Boy Color was too underpowered for us to release another Metroid game. Then the Game Boy Advance came out, which exceeds the specs of the Super Famicom. It was a system that we in the mobile games division definitely wanted to work with.

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Yoshio Sakamoto, ca. 2004.

For Metroid Fusion, Samus has a new look. The first designers who I handed the work to came back to me with a pretty outrageous request: “We want to change her design.” When I asked why, they replied, “It’s been the same for way too long.” (laughs)

But changing the design of the hero of the game is a big deal, right? They were going to really need to convince us. Even though Samus’ design from Super Smash Bros. was popular, it was still no small thing to deliberately change her traditional Metroid design. That’s why I told them that if they were going to change it, they’d need to introduce some new element, and a good justification for it.

Samus was given a fresh redesign for the Super Smash Bros. games, and those designs were very popular; nevertheless, I told the team that deliberately changing Samus’ design was nothing to take lightly. So rather than have them thinking about simply changing her design, I tried to get them thinking about new gameplay elements they could introduce, and the necessity of having a solid reason, in-game, for doing so.

The Metroid Fusion team is the same team that made Wario, if I can be frank with you. The very first thing I needed them to understand was what kind of game Metroid is. I told them they were like a lowly enka singer who had suddenly struck it rich… but I don’t think they understood that. (laughs) My goal, of course, was to impress upon them how important it is that the team that makes Metroid really understand what Metroid is all about.

Of course, individually they all had a slightly different understanding of what kind of game Super Metroid was. Some of them told me they thought it was one of those masochistic, hardcore Nintendo games of old. Naturally, with a game that’s 9 years old, keeping the same difficulty balance was going to be a tough sell to players today. And of course once I had the team play Metroid, they all said “yeah, this is definitely for the hardcore.”

So one thing we had in the forefront of our minds during this development was: how can we make Metroid easier to play? Super Metroid divided the game into clearly defined sections to make things less stressful. On the other hand, you can’t just verbally tell players what to do, so Super Metroid had parts where the narrative unfolded for you just by playing. You would explore all these different places without any guidance, and finally realize through the process of elimination where you’re supposed to go. That was a problem for us as developers, and I think it was for players, too.

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The SA-X appears.

I think we’ve retained that “Metroid-ness” despite our pursuit of a Metroid that is easier to play. That was paramount. With the crisis that befalls Samus from the outset, and the introduction of the SA-X, I think we’ve managed to preserve that Metroid-ness even though there’s an actual guided narrative.

You see, modern game balance and older game balance are two different things. Whether that’s a good thing or not, I can’t fully say, but naturally we want many people to play our game. We absolutely don’t want to abandon our pride as game designers, but our stance is that, above all, we want modern audiences to understand our games and actually play them. That was a goal we pursued all the way through the Metroid Fusion development. And compared with older games in the series, I think this is much easier to casually enjoy.

As for how we made it easier, one thing we did was to greatly simplify the controls. We spent a lot of time on that. Take firing a missile: in Super Metroid you had to choose items with the select button, but that’s not going to work for modern gamers. We were worried that players might think we were dumbing down the game, but ultimately we decided that making it easier to play was more important. Personally, I’m part of the old guard who prefers that older control style, but the staff convinced me that the simplified controls were better. In the end I agreed, and felt “this is great!” Other developers at Nintendo gave the Metroid Fusion staff some good ideas too; it was a fun development. Compared with Super Metroid, my role was a little more removed this time, but it was a good experience for me.

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There’s no shortage of great Metroid fanart on pixiv. This one is by Seeker.

Metroid Zero Mission – 2004 Developer Interview

with director Yoshio Sakamoto

For the previous game, Metroid Fusion, we put more emphasis on the story, and made other design choices that were different from the traditional series. Many players’ first exposure to the world of Metroid was through Metroid Fusion, and with Metroid: Zero Mission, I wanted to give those players a taste of what an older Metroid game was like–that is, an action game with a higher degree of freedom. To do that, I knew I’d need to update the original Metroid’s gameplay, story, and world. In addition, the second half of Zero Mission was added so that players who had played the original would have something fresh and new too.

We decided early on for Zero Mission that we would depict “an untold continuation” to the original Metroid’s story. In this game, after defeating Mother Brain, Samus would have some kind of reversal of fortune and find herself in dire straits. However, it wasn’t until the very end of the development that we figured out that Samus would lose her powered suit. That was typical of our creative process, though: we’d have some big, general idea and then flesh out the details as we went along and got further into it. In the end it turned our rather well, I think. It was pretty stressful for the staff though. (laughs)

Our image for Samus’ new equipment after the escape scene from Zebes was designed in the image of the SA-X from Metroid Fusion. We wanted to try our hand at it once more, and challenge ourselves to incorporate it into the game system in a bigger way.

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“Valentine’s Day,” by genzoman.

We thought the image of the armorless Samus, completely defenseless, would really excite players and make her situation feel real and threatening. It’s like a scene out of a classic horror movie: an ugly, evil beast giving chase to its prey, whose weakness has now been exposed. I think being direct like that is the most effective way to raise the tension. Samus is at the peak of her power when she fights Mother Brain, so having everything taken away and being left powerless was also going to make for the ultimate contest, which was one of our goals too.

The cutscenes we’ve inserted are intended to heighten the mystery of Samus’ adventure. I do realize, though, that some people feel a deeper sense of mystery with a narrative that is not conveyed with words.

Our next project is Metroid Prime 2. I’ll have a supervisory role in it. I can’t say yet whether I’ll be directly involved with making it. I do have a lot of ideas for it though!