Super Mario Sunshine – 2002 Developer Interviews

Super Mario Sunshine - 2002 Developer Interviews

These two Super Mario Sunshine interviews feature a candid discussion between producers Shigeru Miyamoto and Takashi Tezuka and director Yoshiaki Koizumi. The first is from Nintendo Dream and discusses how the unique FLUDD system came out of the GameCube controller design. The second looks at the nozzles, action, and other level design choices.

Shigeru Miyamoto Producer
Takashi Tezuka Producer
Yoshiaki Koizumi – Director

Miyamoto: Not many people have had a chance to try the GameCube controller yet, I think. And we know there may be some apprehension about trying out a different controller. Here at Nintendo, we've been using the GameCube controller exclusively, to the point that we're so used to it now, it feels wrong to use anything else! We thought the N64 controller was a success in its own right, but recently, when we've compared them side-by-side, the GameCube controller definitely feels like the easier, more comfortable of the two. I have a feeling that 10 years from now, every controller is going to be like this one, so please check it out for yourself.

Koizumi: When I first grasped the GameCube controller, I immediately started thinking about what we could do with the rear analogue L/R buttons. Pressing them in, the sensation I was most reminded of was the water pistols I used to play with as a kid.

Miyamoto: There was a very serious debate at Nintendo about the FLUDD water tank. Was it really appropriate to make Mario use tools and items like that? I mean, it was ok for Luigi, so… (laughs) It was hard to come up with his outfit too. We tried giving him a tank top, and it did not look like Mario at all. (laughs)

Tezuka: When Koizumi first showed me the plans for this game, he asked if he could change Mario's clothes. At the time I thought, "It's not really Mario if he's not wearing his traditional outfit…", but I gave the OK for a short-sleeve shirt. We asked a lot of people what they thought, and they said "I could see Mario in a hawaiian shirt, on some southern tropical island." I'm actually looking forward to seeing Mario in different outfits in the future. I think it would be a problem if he was dressed differently for the whole game, or long stretches, but I hope we can see different get-ups for Mario down the road.

Shigeru Miyamoto, Takashi Tezuka, and Yoshiaki Koizumi.

Koizumi: If Mario Sunshine is a success, I'm thinking we'll try giving Mario new tools to use in the next game. If this leads to more eccentric and unusual action for Mario, then I will consider it to have been a worthwhile venture.

Miyamoto actually said to us that he wanted the GameCube Mario to be something wild. Still, when I showed him the pump-looking toy thing, I could tell he was worried about where this was all going. In the end, though, the image of Mario doing his job, spraying water everywhere—it's pretty wild, right? I think so.

Miyamoto: By the summer of last year, we had the basic player movements down, and we experimented with a lot of things, but Mario players felt there was something lacking. I think players want Mario to have a variety of actions, and also things to discover. When I look back at it now, we were being quite conservative then, and the journey in the last year has been one of returning to the diversity of Mario 64.

Koizumi: In the beginning of the planning, the most important thing we wanted to do, was to re-create the feeling we had as children when we were playing. The coldness of the water when you're playing with water guns, the mischievous spirit of trying to spray someone… and playing in the mud! All those children's games are what we wanted to simulate.

We spent awhile figuring out how best to capture the feeling of using a water gun with the GameCube controller. We didn't just want to make a simple gun… so how should we portray the water gun, given Mario's repertoire of actions?

Tezuka: We were very conscious to not make it look like a gun. We didn't want people to associate Mario with a pistol or handgun, so we tried this weird backpack thing.

Dedicated fans have created their own functional FLUDD systems--this one was used as a prop for a Super Mario Sunshine musical fan movie.

Koizumi: If I was pressed to say, it's kind of a firefighter image. He's shouldering this pack and he's there to rescue people. For the rocket nozzle, too, we wanted it to look like a pet bottle water rocket toy.

Tezuka: For this game, we wanted Mario to have a lot of opportunities to use the wall kick. That's why we created the city with really tall buildings. As Mario uses his wall kick and traverses the heights of the city unhindered, we asked ourselves, what could we do with the water gun here? And that was when the idea came up for him to clear grime and graffiti, and we ran with it.

Miyamoto: During our early tests, in addition to spraying water, we also experimented with both erasing and creating graffiti with the water gun. Leaving your graffiti in place was very taxing on the hardware, and it was absolutely something that could only be done on the GameCube.

This is something we struggle with every time we make a new entry in one of our franchise series, but we always want to do something new from the last games. The younger staff, in particular, always want to go in a totally different direction, to do something really bold and surprising. The staff had a lot of new things they wanted to try out. "If Mario is dirty when he gets in the water, let's have oil bubble up."

Tezuka: The stages and characters for Mario Sunshine were finished early on. Personally, I'm the type of person who adds those things and "makes it fit" after the fact. The first thing Koizumi and the others did was use clay and create a model about this big (gestures with his hands spread out), of a dolphin-shaped island.

The clay model of Isle Delfino created by Koizumi. It's hard to tell exactly how big it was.

The young developers… well, I guess they're not really young (laughs), but younger than my generation! As I watched them, I admired the interesting way they went about making a game.

Miyamoto: In the beginning, Dolpic Town just had normal human tourists milling about. However, although this wasn't the Mushroom Kingdom, it still felt weird to have Mario talking to normal-looking people.

The athletic courses (Secret Courses) were something I absolutely wanted to include, since that kind of gameplay is Mario's roots. The perception of a Mario game among players today is that it's all about having a high degree of freedom. Still, I really think there should be a simple, obstacle-based platforming stage like the Secret Course in any Mario game. "I died 200 times, but it was fun!"—that kind of feeling. One thing I somewhat regret, is making it such that you have to clear the stage before you can advance forward. I think we should have allowed people to go the final stage even if they can't beat it.

Koizumi: Mario Sunshine is a very open-ended experience thanks to the FLUDD. Normally, we can design stages in a more linear fashion… a player at point A needs to go to point B to get an item, so let's put this obstacle in his way. But the hover nozzle in Mario Sunshine means there's many possible routes to take.

So putting the athletic courses in a game like that, actually serves to strengthen, by contrast, the open-endedness of Mario Sunshine. I think it's a big plus. It also shows players, "this is what Mario games used to be."

Miyamoto: As a 3D action game, I think Mario Sunshine is something of a breakthrough for us. Jumping from one platform to another in 3D is not easy, but by using the hover nozzle to move around, it's a lot easier. I think players will really enjoy the sensation, it's like a "zero gravity" platformer. In that sense, this may be the most user-friendly 3D action game out there, especially for new players. However, because the jumping is so relaxed this time, it does cause problems with balancing the game. That's another reason the Secret Courses exist, to remind players of how it would feel without the FLUDD.

All the Secret Courses (or Athletic Courses, as Miyamoto calls them--something of a callback to the original "jump game" name for platformers in Japan )

I want Mario to be a game that all audiences can enjoy. Something that Grandma and Grandpa, Mom and Dad, even little children can easily pick up and play, and right away understand what's fun about it. However, I think Mario Sunshine turned out to be difficult for the average user. It's something I very much regret. I want someone who hasn't played a game in 10+ years to play our game, but I think such a person wouldn't know what's going on in Mario Sunshine.

And this doesn't apply to Mario only—I think it's a situation that video games in general are facing. Other famous franchises, if you take a player who's been away from games for a decade, and sit them down in front of something new… they're going be like, "huh? what's going on?" Mario is supposed to be an easy-to-understand game. Even if it's confusing at first, after playing for a day, you should be able to understand what today's games are all about. In that sense Mario is probably the best vehicle out there today for re-acquainting players with modern gaming. If you can stick with it for 3 days and not give up, I think you'll be able to re-integrate into today's gaming culture.

For Mario Sunshine we actually utilized a new development system. With this system, we should be able to produce new games much more quickly. Mario is the first game made with it, and our next project is Zelda. Before, we had to re-draw the characters for every individual game, but now, we create a "standard" design for the characters and they can be readily used and re-used in other games. It's not 100% systematized, of course, but it's pretty close to that. In the future, when we want to make a completely different kind of game that features Mario, it will really speed up the whole process. It's part of our philosophy, of not necessarily trying to create a single game at record speed, but instead focusing on overall improvements to our development environment.

I'm turning 50 this year, and Mario has become something of my life's work. So I hope to continue making Mario games into the future. I want more and more people to be able to play them. Oh, by the way, don't you think Mario's looking sharp? If you play a new Mario game every year, you'll never fall behind the times. (laughs)

Super Mario Sunshine - 2002 Developer Interview

sourced from the GSLA archive

Miyamoto: I didn't give the team any specific instructions at the start. Koizumi and co. came to me with a set of ideas they wanted to do, and I trimmed down the non-Mario stuff.

Koizumi: You know, I was deeply involved in the Mario 64 development, but the biggest challenge, even now, is not losing sight of the essence of what a Mario game is. When that happened I would seek out advice from Miyamoto.

Miyamoto: When I was arguing with the staff, they'd say, "Ok then, just write down what Mario is for us so we know!" (laughs) It's funny, though, because when the development was going smoothly, it's something everyone just implicitly understood without needing any definition. The essence of Mario is really quite difficult to pin down.

Koizumi: It's different from his essence, but we did change his clothes this time. Since Mario Sunshine takes place on a southern island, there was the idea of giving him a hawaiian shirt.

Tezuka: That seemed like a reasonable thing to change, but yeah, it still made me uncomfortable when I saw it. Somehow it fit when we made it short-sleeved. (laughs) I know, it doesn't make sense…

Miyamoto: It was like a dressing room. "Maybe take that off?" "No, try something different?"

Mario Odyssey added an actual dressing room, and indeed includes a "hawaiian shirt" Mario Sunshine outfit.

Tezuka: People who love Mario want to see some continuity in his design from game to game, I think. But as the developers, we want to show something new. The only solution is try it out and ask a lot of different people. Ultimately this is what we settled on, but I don't think we had any major compromises, or any changes that feel too forced.

Koizumi: There's things we changed, but in the end, much remains the same. The advice we received on Miyamoto here was very helpful.

Miyamoto: You know, I have an intuitive sense of what's "Mario-ish" and what's "Zelda-ish". I don't know exactly what it is though. Sometimes, when I'm walking around the development room, I'll look at something and remark, "Oooh, that's very Mario", or "That's very Zelda". But then I walk away and the staff is left scratching their heads. (laughs) I don't know if they understood what I meant or not. Maybe they think I just like hearing the sound of my own voice. (laughs)

Lately, though, certain things about it have been becoming clearer to me. For example, there's no auto-jump in Mario. But there is in Zelda. And why is that? Well, I think it's a different philosophy. In Mario you are simply refining and polishing your action skills. You, the player, are getting better and better. But in Zelda, you're not getting better, so much are you're becoming more familiar with this world you're exploring.

In both games you're playing with the environment. Both of them have aspects of a hakoniwa (diorama), and both involve the player looking for solutions. But in Mario the action is the centerpiece, and we create those games with as wide an appeal as possible, so anyone can play them. Zelda, on the other hand, there's a certain volition required of the player; if you don't independently explore things, you'll never experience much of the game. In turn we don't ask as much of the player in terms of the action in Zelda. Recently, I think this way of thinking about Mario and Zelda has trickled down somewhat to the rest of the staff, too.

Koizumi: A good example of this would be the nozzles. Mario Sunshine has the hover, rocket, and turbo nozzles, but originally there were 10 different types. We just kept adding them whenever we thought of a different situation they could be used in. In the end we whittled it down to just those three though. The reason why, is we felt that the whole playstyle of finding many different items and using them in the right situation was more befitting of a Zelda game.

The nozzles of Super Mario Sunshine: what would the other ten have looked like...?

The concept of the "goop" changed a lot throughout the development. Just having you clean filth was, well… gross and filthy. (laughs) On the other hand, your mission is to clean things up, so it wouldn't do to make it completely un-grimey. So we debated it back and forth, but decided on something that "looks pretty". Then when we were discussing colors, I like sweets (laughs), so I suggested we make it look like chocolate. When we tested it out with that chocolate sauce look, that gross feeling we'd felt before disappeared.

Miyamoto: If you become good at using all the different movements in Mario Sunshine, like the wall kick, the hover, and the side somersault, you can reach most areas. It's so much fun to find your own personal way through the levels like this. I think it also renders meaningless the yardsticks we usually use to measure how fun a game is. The difficulty, the puzzles, all those things lose their importance. You can just enjoy playing freely.

At the same time, because there's so many ways for players to get through the levels now, it made setting the difficulty very hard for us. If someone tells you "go over there", you might use your abilities and take a completely unexpected path. When we saw things like that, we could have put a wall or other obstacle to block that way, but as much as possible we tried not to impede players.

Koizumi: As developers, we put puzzles into our games, and it's sort of like saying "figure this out!" to the players. But in reality the players don't care. If they can get somewhere by another mean, it's a "right answer" to them just the same. Who cares, as long as it's fun.

Miyamoto: When we made the first Mario game, it was a world of single pixels. We were extremely exacting with how we designed the levels… sections could turn entirely on whether your foot caught the 1-pixel wide edge of a ledge. And this had a big impact on how those games felt to play.

However, after Mario 64, we started to become aware of the fact that what we see as developers may not be what the players see. We saw a gap had formed. The players find their joy in things besides single-pixel-precision platforming. So now, we create solid underlying mechanics, and make the gameplay itself looser, more open. You didn't fall and die because you misjudged a pixel—you died because you had the camera tilted slightly diagonally and didn't see the pit. The gameplay now prioritizes adjusting one's view above sheer precision. And so a very important theme for us, is to make the level design broad so players aren't feeling misled.

Koizumi: I think playing a game is kind of like taking a vacation: in both cases you're asking someone to spend their hard-earned spare time. That was one of the reasons we set Mario Sunshine in a resort. We want people to feel like they're going on vacation when they play.

Tezuka: We hope children can play Mario Sunshine with their Dad or Mom who remembers playing Mario way back in the day. Playing with someone else is always the most fun.

Miyamoto: Yeah. I'll be very happy if Mario Sunshine can be something that parents and children bond over. It might be a little hard for Dad, but that's all part of the fun!

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