Donkey Kong (1994) – Developer Interview

Donkey Kong (1994) - Developer Interview

Taken from Shogakukan's official strategy guide, this interview saw members of Nintendo and co-developer Pax Sofnica discussing the making of Nintendo's 1994 Donkey Kong revival for Game Boy, with the discussion covering the genesis of the project, scrapped characters and concepts, utilizing the Super Game Boy and much more.

Shigeru Miyamoto (Producer)s)
The original arcade Donkey Kong saw the debut of Mario, but it was also the debut for Miyamoto-san. Although his title has changed to Producer, his commitment to game creation seems not to have changed. He is a member of Nintendo Information Development Department. Date of Birth: November 16, 1952 Zodiac sign: Scorpio Blood type: (probably) A Favorite color: Turquoise Person I respect: Hiroshi Yamauchi Favourite hobby: Guitar / making 64-bit games
Takao Shimizu (Director)
Shimizu-san is also a director on the Kirby series. This time, in addition to determining the game specifications, he was in charge of interfacing with the Super Game Boy team, which meant he was even busier than usual. He is a member of Nintendo Information Development Department. Date of Birth: June 29, 1965 Zodiac sign: Cancer Blood type: AB Favorite color: Blue Person I respect: my parents, Shigeru Miyamoto: Favorite hobby: Parenting, pocket radio
Masayuki Kameyama (Programmer)
Masayuki Kameyama is the "command tower" of the programming staff. He was the person in charge of interfacing with Nintendo's staff and helped to make the game a reality. He is also an impressively large guy. He is a member of Pax Sofnica. Date of Birth: October 29, 1963 Zodiac sign: Scorpio Blood type: A Favorite color: Black Person I respect: / Favorite hobby: RC, fishing, cars
Yoshiaki Hoshino (Programmer)
Hoshino-san programmed the movement of Mario and the enemies. As mentioned in the interview, Mario had a lot of new actions this time, so the programming work was difficult. Please observe the results for yourselves. He is a member of Pax Sofnica. Date of Birth: January 26, 1966 Zodiac sign: Aquarius Blood type: 0 Favorite color: Red Person I respect: Oyama Matsutatsu Favorite hobby: Day fishing
Masayuki Hirashima (Programmer)
The map editor tool, produced by Hirashima-san, was extremely effective in creating action-packed and stimulating maps. In this book, he also shared with us the secrets of the bonus game. He is a member of Pax Sofnica. Date of Birth: October 27, 1965 Zodiac sign: Scorpio Blood type: 0 Favorite color: Blue Person I respect: ? Favorite hobby: ?
Hideo Kon (Graphic Design)
Kon-san was in charge of character art and animation, and also drew the images for Mario's many movements. The animations of Mario being charred or flattened are quite hilarious. He is a member of Pax Sofnica. Date of Birth: August 20, 1962 Zodiac sign: Leo Blood type: ? Favorite color: Black Person I respect: Erich Hartmann Favorite hobby: Skiing
Takaya Imamura (Graphic Design)
When it was decided that the game would be compatible with Super Game Boy, Imamura was rushed to work. He primarily worked on the color screens, but he's particularly proud of his self-proclaimed masterpiece, the arcade machine drawings available as screen frames. He is a member of Nintendo Information Development Department. Date of Birth: April 10, 1966 Zodiac sign: Aries Blood type: A Favorite color: Blue Person I respect: Steven Spielberg, John Lennon Favorite hobby: driving his convertible
Kenta Usui (Graphics/Map Production)
Usui-san originally drew images as a designer, but during the latter half of development, he devoted himself entirely to designing stages. Rumor has it that he made most of his maps on the way to/from work and even in the bathroom... He is a member of Nintendo Information Development Department. Date of Birth: June 2, 1969 Zodiac sign: Gemini Blood type: A Favorite color: Red Person I respect: too many to name Favorite hobby: Personal computer

―Donkey Kong's a title with a lot of nostalgia for those in their 20s or 30s, but how'd this Game Boy project get started?

Miyamoto: Initially, there were discussions about making a game with Donkey Kong as the starring character in commemoration of the original Donkey Kong's 10th anniversary. However, at the time, the best we could do was have Donkey Kong Jr. appear in Mario Kart… but now, we've finally achieved our goal. In the end, it was released on the game's 12th anniversary, or rather, the 13th anniversary, as the original game was first released in 1981 (laughs).

―When I heard the title, I presumed it was a remake, but only the first four stages are remakes ― the rest of the game is brand-new.

Miyamoto: From the beginning, we had no intentions of producing a remake; the concept was to produce a new game, rooted in a re-envisioning of the original.

Kameyama: That's why we went back and forth about where to feature the four stages from the original game.

Shimizu: Some people thought that if we put them at the very beginning, players would think it was the same ol' game, so we considered including them as bonus content at the very end of the game. Ultimately, we figured a lot of people would be buying the game out of nostalgia, so we put them at the beginning.

―Are those four stages identical to the originals?

Shimizu: They're not exactly the same. Because the Game Boy screen is smaller than the original, some elements had to be cut ― for example, the arcade version used a vertically-oriented screen, so the first stage was able to contain six levels of iron girders, but the Game Boy version scales them back to four. Also, the difficulty level has been made much easier.

Miyamoto: Arcade games are designed to earn 100 yen every 2~3 minutes, so they're inherently quite challenging.

Shimizu: Additionally, Mario is able to backflip, which is a game-changer. Subsequently, the Game Boy versions have their own unique strategies.

Miyamoto: By using the backflip, you can quickly ascend up the center of the screen.

Kameyama: If use that trick, your clear time for the first stage should be under 3 seconds.

Hoshino: The average clear time for Stage 0 is 4~5 seconds per stage.

Miyamoto: The original arcade game had a timer, but it wasn't for the purposes of speed-running: there are places in Donkey Kong where the enemies aren't able to reach Mario, but it'd be bad if players were to place Mario in a safe spot and then walk away from the machine, as the game would continue running with no end, so we decided to add the timer in order to eventually force a game-over. In the Game Boy version, however, time-attack is a fairly active element. You never know how a game will ultimately turn out.

Clockwise from top-left: Shigeru Miyamoto, Takao Shimizu, Masayuki Kameyama, Yoshiaki Hoshino, Kenta Usui, Takaya Imamura, Hideo Kon, Masayuki Hirashima

―This is the first appearance of items that let you place ladders and platforms into the stage. Where did that idea come from?

Miyamoto: At first, it was part of an initiative to allow the player to create their own stages. Typically, a game like this is restricted to the strategies laid out by the game creator ― that's not that exciting, so we decided to add a feature that'd allow players to reshape the stages in order to construct their own routes. For example, clearing the ladder world would allow the player to place ladders; clearing the floor world would allow the player to place floors, and so on, with the number of items steadily increasing as they continue to make their way through the game. Ultimately, we wanted players to be able to share the maps they made with their friends.

Kameyama: We called that "map edit mode".

Shimizu: Actually, there were builds that contained that functionality. Programmer Hirashima created it as a development tool, but if you had that ROM and a Game Boy, you could make maps on the go. That ROM was what made this game possible.

Miyamoto: It was too difficulty for elementary-school children to use or understand, however, so we decided to integrate it into the game themselves, in the form of those items.

Shimizu: We call them "edit items", and time stops when you collect them ― that moment to think is something that isn't present in typical action games, and it's what led to the game taking the action-puzzle form you see today.

Miyamoto: That's how it all started. That said, the original reason we decided to go in a puzzle-ish direction was largely due to the scrolling of the screen: on the Game Boy, it's difficult to keep track of the characters when they move at fast speeds through long scrolling stages like Super Mario World, so I decided from the beginning that Donkey Kong would have a short scrolling distance of roughtly 1.5 screens. Therefore, if you want to make the most out of such small stages, you need to adopt a high-density style of gameplay. The player has to really learn every little detail of the stage… and if that's the angle you're going to take, then it's more fun if you add puzzle elements for the player to think about.

―Rather than running to the goal a la Super Mario, the fun comes from going back and forth and using your head in order to proceed.

Miyamoto: For that reason, you have to be a little more exacting than you would in a Super Mario game. For example, rather than simply thinking, "grab the vine beyond the crevasse", you have to specifically remember, "grab the third vine from the right-hand side of the screen". I want people to memorize the density of the game to the extent that it's etched into their brains. In that sense, this game will probably make your smarter, as it has puzzles that'll get your brain going, and will also improve your memory (laughs).

A video compilation of DK94's various demo scenes.

―I'd like to ask about the story... to begin with, what's the relationship between Mario and Donkey Kong?

Miyamoto: It's a long story, but from the beginning, Donkey Kong was Mario's pet.

―I didn't know that! In that case, why did Donkey Kong kidnap Pauline and run off with her?

Miyamoto: He did that to get a rise out of Mario. Mario, the plumber, owns a gorilla and worked at a construction site; the gorilla, Donkey Kong, decided to annoy Mario by kidnapping the girl Pauline and running away with her.

―So Mario and Donkey Kong aren't enemies, then?

Miyamoto: Correct. That's why, when creating the ending for the original arcade game, I spent a lot of time thinking around the theme of the player "outwitting the prankster", rather than trying to kill DK.

―...and this story maintains that theme?

Miyamoto: Right. We came up with a lot of ideas, and ultimately decided that it'd be nice if Donkey Kong got his own castle, too (laughs). The story of the original game plays out over and over ― Donkey Kong running away, the player chasing after them, running, chasing ― culminating in Donkey Kong's stomping grounds.

―Is Pauline Mario's girlfriend?

Kameyama: She's his ex (laughs).

Miyamoto: The Mushroom Kingdom looks to be on the outskirts of Donkey Kong's homeland, as seen in the game's ending… I guess Mario met Peach there and his eye started to wander (laughs).

Kameyama: In other words, this takes place before Super Mario Bros. Later on, after Mario became famous, he probably gave Pauline the flick (laughs).

Benimaru Itoh's very rockabilly-inspired depictions of Mario, DK and Pauline, as seen on the cover to the official strategy guide, produced by Shigesato Itoi's former production company APE.

―Mario's gained a substantial number of new moves in this game.

Miyamoto: Y'know, I think action games can be broken down into two main elements: one is aiming for the goal, and the other is enjoying all the various things you can do in pursuit of that goal. Above all else, I think it's especially important that simply moving the character with the controller is fun. To that end, I decided to use the controls to allow Mario to perform as many different moves as possible. The thought process was a little different from something like Street Fighter II, however ― the moves are fun to perform without being difficult to execute. We wanted the player to feel like, "wow, Mario can even do this!", so we gradually added more and more moves, one by one.

Shimizu: There are those little cutscenes that appear after every four stages, right? The initial idea was to use those demo screens to sequentially unlock Mario's abilities.

Miyamoto: That idea was no good, though. We want the people who buy the game to experience the fun of simply piloting the character, so wouldn't it be unfair to deny all the moves to players who aren't able to clear the game? Therefore, it's best to give the player their full toolkit from the beginning. That's my philosophy, pretty much.

―Regarding Mario's new actions, he has a lot of different reactions to being hit.

Miyamoto: In Mario Bros. when Mario touched a flame, he'd catch alight ― I wanted to expand on that idea, so we added more hit reactions, little by little. There was an unspoken understanding among the team to push this direction, so I never had to fret about what they might produce. They really drew a lot of different animations.

Hoshino: There are a lot of different reactions, so I'd like for people to test out all the different ways of taking damage. There are reactions that only occur under specific circumstances: for example, the animation of Mario getting embedded into the wall only occurs in one place.

Miyamoto: It's a beautiful animation, don't you think? Please check it out.

A Japanese DK94 ad that promotes the game as "acrobatics for both the body and mind", with emphasis on Mario's many new moves. Incidentally, many of these moves would be directly adapted for Super Mario 64.

―Kon-san also drew all the enemy characters... do you have a favorite?

Kon: I guess it'd have to be the final boss.

Kameyama: Speaking of bosses, there was also the scrapped boss, Momogaa (laughs).

Miyamoto: It was a flying squirrel-type creature. It was really big.

Kameyama: It was roughly 1.5x the size of Donkey Kong.

Miyamoto: That big guy used to fly all over the place, but he's gone now.

―Why'd it disappear?

Kon: He didn't make the cut.

Kameyama: We discussed adding different boss characters at the end of each set of stages, and that was the first one we made, but we decided not to go through with that idea, as it would diminish the presence of Donkey Kong. Incidentally, on the topic of rare animals, there's the octopus enemy, which only appears in one stage: at first, there were a regular number of them, but they were so strong that all of the testers hated them.. I did plan to retune them and find another way to use them down the line, but I ran out of time to fix them, Ultimately, I ended up only leaving them in that one spot, but it then turned out to be super popular, and they started asking for the octopus to appear more frequently… at which point I thought, "didn't you tell me you didn't like it?!" (laughs) There were quite a few enemies that could've been better utilized if I'd put in a little more work, so in that respect, I'm a little regretful.

From Nintendo Power's June '94 preview article, a peek at the scrapped boss. This boss would go on to appear in a certain volume of Kazuki Motoyama's "Super Mario Donkey Kong" manga, in which he kidnaps DK as revenge for being cut from DK94, only to be met with bewilderment from Mario and Luigi, who have no idea who he is.

―This was the first game made with Super Game Boy functionality, so did you face any difficulties in that regard?

Imamura: Yeah, it took a lot of effort to draw graphics that would look good on both the Super Game Boy and Game Boy.

Kameyama: The Super Game Boy also has its own pre-selected palette, and we worked very hard to select a palette that compared favorably to that.

Imamura: Because we have access to the full color set of the Super Famicom, we were able to create graphics with much better image quality than the Famicom. You can tell just from looking at the map screen that it's quite eye-catching (laughs). I'd say they're not eye-searing… the blues aren't pure blue, and the blacks aren't pure black.

Miyamoto: So, when it comes to custom palettes, we'd reather players didn't alter the colors… but I mean, if they want to play around with the colors, we're more than happy for them to do so. Therefore, the colors we chose have been given priority and display as default, but if someone changes the colors and decides they look better some other way, then we'll be forced to self-reflect on why we were so touchy about people changing the colors (laughs).

Shimizu: Even so, when we asked the people doing the monitor checks, they told us they liked the stock Super Game Boy colors better than the ones we'd worked so hard on…

Miyamoto: There's a difference between liking something more and that thing being objectively better, and it can be tough to decide which is correct.

Shimizu: The colors also differ depending on the screen you're using, too ― that's why, for this game only, Imamura will come to the customer's home and personally adjust the colors on their monitor (laughs).

Miyamoto: Just send your address and a return-trip JR ticket (laughs).

Imamura: If someone were to send us their TV monitor, I'd be on the hook... Y'know what, I'm going to have to decline. (laughs)

The arcade cabinet-esque Super Game Boy border that Imamura was so fond of. This article provides an interesting overview of the craft that went into producing such vivid imagery within the limitations of the Super Game Boy's ability to apply color to a monochrome game.

―Finally, if there's anything else you'd like the players to pay attention to, please let us know.

Miyamoto: As much as possible, I want you to clear the game without looking at the strategy guide. There aren't many especially difficult puzzles, so I think it's most fun to figure them out on your own. Also, when it comes to solving the puzzles, I can say that mashing buttons and trying to muscle your way towards progress is definitely not optimal ― there's a more elegant solution, so please keep at it.

―Are there multiple ways to clear each puzzle?

Usui: Even within the same clear, there are beautiful methods and ugly methods. As the creator of the game's stages, I'd like to encourage the players to really think about each puzzle and find the most beautiful solutions. If you play this game as if it's a conventional action game, you might not have the best experience.

Miyamoto: That's right. If you're narrowly missing a jump and feel like you've just got to push a little further, your way of thinking tends not to be correct.

Usui: If you do it the "beautiful" way, the action component is extroadinarily easy.

Shimizu: Uh-huh. That's why I'd like for the elementary-school students who were introduced to the Game Boy with Kirby to stretch themselves a little and give it a shot.

Hirashima: On the other hand, I'd like for those folk who used to stack 100-yen coins at the arcade to give this game a try. It has a nostalgic vibe, and I'd love for people to immerse themselves in that atmosphere.

Kon: Now that there's a new scoring system, it'd be nice if people went for the counter-stop. If you put in a little work, you can definitely reach 2 million points, so I don't think it's an unattainable goal.

Imamura: Don't forget the Super Game Boy! I'd like for people to experience a new style of visuals that aren't Famicom nor Super Famicom.

Shimizu: That's true. With the Super Game Boy, everyone can play together while looking at one screen, so I'd be glad if people could play and communicate with each other in this way.

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