Star Fox Adventures – 2002 Developer Interview

Star Fox Adventures – 2002 Developer Interview

This lengthy interview from Nintendo Dream with long-time Star Fox series steward and character designer Takaya Imamura covers his early works at Nintendo, the conception of the Star Fox series, the backstories behind many of its characters and his recent forays into external collaboration, with a particular focus on his work merging the world of Star Fox with Rare’s unrelated action-adventure game Dinosaur Planet.

Takaya Imamura (Designer)
Born in 1966 in Nara Prefecture. Blood type A. He joined Nintendo in 1989 after graduating from the Osaka University of Arts. Since then, he’s been involved with the development of marquee Nintendo titles including the F-ZERO and Star Fox series and The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask. Known as “Ima-occhan (Uncle Ima)” to [Shigeru] Miyamoto-san and his colleagues.

—What’s been the response to Star Fox Adventures since its release?

Imamura: Once a game is released, I always make a point of listening to and reading the reactions of players, including those shared online, but it’s always an emotionally turbulent experience… I either end up feeling really happy, or really depressed (laughs).

—It’s the same for us guys making game magazines (laughs).

Imamura: The internet has grown more and more popular since the release of Star Fox 64, and I’ve been keeping close tabs on it, but the reaction’s pretty much in line with my expectations: in the beginning, some people who went in comparing the game to Zelda were a little disappointed, but once they reach the latter half of the game, where the tempo picks up and it really starts to feel different, their feelings became more positive.

In that regard, it seems like the general consensus on the game is improving over time, as we move further from the release and more and more people clear the game. I strove to make this game feel unique, and I think that’s starting to come across.

—Gotcha. For today, we’d like to talk not just about Adventures, but about the Star Fox series as a whole. [Shigehisa] Nakaue from the editorial department is also with us today. First off, how did you initially come to be involved with Star Fox, Imamura-san?

Imamura: Next year (2003) will mark exactly ten years since the release of the original Star Fox for Super Famicom; I joined Nintendo in 1989, and that game came out during my fourth year at the company.

—How did you come to make Star Fox?

Imamura: At the time, the majority of “3D” shooting and racing games were achieved via 2D fakery; polygon technology was beginning to emerge, and Miyamoto really wanted to use polygons to create an authentic 3D shooting game with genuine depth. From there, talk began of the Super FX chip, and that’s when the prototyping started…

Takaya Imamura (2002)

Actually, I worked on F-ZERO immediately after joining the company, and after that I worked on The Legend of Zelda.

—You worked on A Link to the Past.

Imamura: I made over half of the game’s bosses, I want to say.

—Oh, like the one with all the eyeballs?

Imamura: Right, right! That one’s my favorite (laughs). I put a lot of work designing something around that translucency effect, so I felt really happy with myself once I realized, whoa, this is actually pretty cool! I still remember that vividly.

—So you were being handed important work from the very beginning of your career?

Imamura: That’s right. I was fortunate to get my start with F-ZERO: for that game, I worked on the course design, pixel art for the vehicles and designed the logo, and when the game was wrapping up, I started working on character designs. I’d been drawing a lot of pictures—doodles, basically—and presented them like, “how about something like this?”, and after a lot of back and forth, they sort of just ended up being adopted as the characters. For the comic that was printed in the manual, I told them “I want to do something in the style of an American comic”, and I drew all the original panels and had them finished up by an overseas studio.

Coming off the back of that project, I was planning on drawing more cool characters in the F-ZERO vein for Star Fox, but then Miyamoto blindsided me with “how about animal characters?” and I was like, “…come again?!”


Imamura: I was really thinking to myself, are we actually going to use animal characters in a shooting game?, but the idea certainly was attention-grabbing, so I put it to the three members of Argonaut, who were working with us at the time.

—That was the company that developed the Super FX chip, right?

Imamura: Right. They’re British, so I asked, how do people feel about animal characters overseas? and they told me they wouldn’t be off-putting, so I figured I’d take a shot at designing an animal character, and someone commented “well, the Fushimi Inari-taisha shrine is right by the office, so maybe a fox would be good?” (laughs)

—Who said that?

Imamura: Miyamoto (laughs). At that point, he said “a fox, a penguin… maybe try a rabbit, too.” (laughs)

—A penguin?!

Imamura: Now, by “penguin”, he was saying stuff like, “you know those ones with the whiskers that grow above their beak? How about it?”, and as I’m sitting there listening like, uh-huh, sure…, images of animals from Japanese folklore started to emerge in my mind.

—Ah, I see…

Imamura: So, I ended up trying my hand at a fox, a rabbit and a pheasant. So yeah, Falco’s a pheasant (laughs). For some reason, people seem to think he’s a falcon, but… (laughs)

—…he’s actually a pheasant (laughs).

Imamura: From there, I asked myself, what should I do for one more character?, and I was like, oh yeah, how about a toad? (laughs) My thinking was that it’d be more interesting to swerve hard in a different direction with the final character, so I dared to add a toad (laughs). We made that decision more or less on the spot. I still have the first sketch I drew for Star Fox, and the design is pretty much the same as the final.

—Wow, I need to see that!

Imamura: Let me bring it out for you (laughs).

—In an interview given at the time, Miyamoto said that the Inari elementary school had a baseball team named the Inari Foxes.1

Imamura: Ah, I remember hearing that at the time as well. After all, Fushimi Inari’s famous for foxes, and they are the gods of prosperity.

—They’d be a good omen to ensure high-selling software (laughs)

Nakaue: That’s kinda cool though, Fushimi Inari-taisha being in a shooting game. (laughs)

Imamura: At the time, we’d half-jokingly say to each other, ‘let’s make a torii out of polygons!” (laughs) I remember we did actually make one and added it to the Super Famicom game, but it felt out of place, so we ended up taking it out.

—Was it easy deciding on “Star Fox” as the title of the game?

Imamura: Initially, we suggested names like “Star Glider” and “Starcraft”—we were the first ones to come up with “Starcraft” (laughs). We were working around the premise of “star-something” being the title.

—Were you influenced by Star Wars?

Imamura: Yeah, that’s right, and since the main character’s a fox, it seemed like “Star Fox” world work. I think it’s a great title: it’s simple, and it’s cool.

Imamura’s early Star Fox character sketches, complete with a torii down by Fox’s feet. At this point, Fox’s teammates were tentatively and imaginatively named “Rabby”, “Falcon” and “Toad”.

After “Ganondorf” came “Andorf”

—Did you also come up with the backstories for all the characters?

Imamura: Yeah. I had the relationship between dogs and monkeys in mind when I came up with the idea of a conflict between a force of dogs and a force of monkeys.2 Originally, Fox and the others were members of the Cornerian army, but Miyamoto said “let’s make them outlaws, sort of like the Foreign Legion”, and that’s when they became a mercenary unit.

—Were you thinking about the personality of each character as you designed them?

Imamura: When it came to the Super Famicom version, I didn’t give them a ton of characterization, but I did come up with little touches, like Slippy’s “help me, ribbit~’ (laughs)

—Some people were sad that Slippy didn’t say “ribbit” in Star Fox 64 (laughs).

Imamura: In the Super Nintendo version, Peppy’s age was in line with the other characters, but for the N64 version I decided he should be more of an uncle-type figure and aged him up.

—By the way, I read on the Star Fox 64 website that planet Zoness was Peppy’s honeymoon spot (laughs).

Imamura: Now that’s a gem, right there (laughs).

—You guys really like those little details, huh? (laughs)

Imamura: Those of us who create our own characters, be they for Zelda or anything else, inevitably form an attachment to them, and so we naturally end up fleshing them out in that manner.

—In F-ZERO X, you came up with detailed backstories for every driver, didn’t you?

Imamura: Yeah, and I did almost all of it on my own (laughs). I had free reign to do what I wanted (laughs).

—I suspected that might be the case (laughs).

Imamura: It’s all I’m good for.

—Is there any behind-the-scenes info you can share about Star Fox’s characters?

Imamura: Hmm… the antagonist Andross was modeled after [redacted]-bucho… but I’m sure he’d think otherwise.3

(everybody laughs)

—I also heard that General Pepper was derived from Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.

Imamura: That’s right. I’ve always loved The Beatles, and whenever I think of military uniforms, I immediately think of Sergeant Pepper (laughs).

—Miyamoto-san is also a big Beatles fan. Are there any other stories you could share concerning the names of the characters?

Imamura: Well, there’s Andorf… when Ganon showed up in A Link to the Past, he appeared as the desert thief Ganondorf, and so that must have been rattling around in my mind, but I’d forgotten all about it when I came up with the name Andorf, so it wasn’t until later that I was like, oh, they’re quite alike (laughs).


Imamura: Also, I was told that “Andorf” had to be changed for the west, due to that name having Nazi overtones,4 so his name became “Andross” for the overseas versions, and afterwards I thought to myself, I wish I’d unified that name from the beginning (laughs).

—The name “Andorf” is derived from “Andromeda”, right?

Imamura: Right. As for Fox and Falco… well, I can’t say I too hard about those names (laughs). The main programmer at the time came up with Peppy, and I was immediately like, “ah, that’s good!’, but it wasn’t until later that I realized it was similar to Slippy (laughs).

—It’s also similar to Pepper (laughs).

Imamura: Yeah, and now this game has added Tricky, too (laughs).

—That’s why we sometimes get characters’ names wrong, much to our embarrassment (laughs). On the subject, I heard that the tanuki character who appears in Star Fox 64’s training course is named “Yaru de Pon”.

Imamura: Ah, so it is (laughs).

—I think a lot of people might not have even noticed that character—I myself didn’t know about it until after the fact, when someone pointed out, “there’s a tanuki character as well” and I was like, whoa.

Imamura: You know, I came up with Yaru de Pon right before I got married, so my own wife was the motif (laughs).

—For real? (laughs)

Imamura: My wife has a tanuki face,5 so I figured a real tanuki would probably look pretty similar (laughs)

(everybody laughs)

Imamura: That was around the time I first met you, Sao.6

—Ah, that was at E3…

Imamura: Yeah, in Atlanta. At that time, our wedding was scheduled for around a month after that E3.

—Congratulations! (laughs)

Imamura: Afterwards, you gave us a great write-up in 64 Dream and I was really pleased (laughs). I remember it well.

—I’m sorry to say I’d completely forgotten all about it (laughs).That was in 1997, I think?

Star Fox 64’s Yaru de Pon appears only in the training mode and the ending screen and is not named in-game, and is also the only character in the game to lack voice acting (which was remedied in the 3DS remake). According to the Japanese Star Fox 64 website, Yaru de Pon is president of Space Dynamics, the company that designs and manufactures the Arwing and employs Slippy’s father, Beltino Toad, and there are rumors that he’s secretly dealing under the table to the enemy.

The neverending experiment that was Star Fox 64

—I understand that the Nintendo 64 version of Star Fox was conceived as a “complete” version of the Super Famicom game.

Imamura: Let me offer a little background… when we transitioned to the N64, that large-scale shift from 2D into the world of 3D had everyone asking “now that everything’s gone 3D, what do we do?”, and so all the programmers and designers were fervently getting up to speed with 3D development. 3D’s the norm now, but back then, it was a real struggle.

—Coming up with software can’t have been easy.

Imamura: At that time, I was working with a programmer (Kazuaki Morita) whom I’d worked with since A Link to the Past, and the two of us began experimenting on our own. He was new to 3D programming, so creating something brand new right off the bat would have been tough. On top of that, we didn’t have the final N64 hardware itself; we were working on a large dev computer, and the controller was also a prototype.

So, irrespective of whether our experiment would or would not go anywhere, the two of us plugged away at this project for around six months; eventually, we became attached to it and really wanted to realize it as a commercial product, but at that early stage, we weren’t able to get anyone higher up to give the go-ahead… on the contrary, the vibe at the time was more, “when are you going to let this go?” (laughs). However, along came Space World, where we exhibited the N64 for the very first time…

—That was Space World 1995, held before the release of the N64.

Imamura: Right. We were able to display a promotional video there, maybe ten seconds of footage. That was our first time showing the project to the public but even so, I don’t recall ever being formally told our project had been greenlit; we just kept plugging away at it surreptitiously, and eventually found ourselves in full production.

—So you didn’t begin development with the intention of making a Star Fox game?

Imamura: Correct. The project began with a very long period of experimentation, and when the director Takao Shimizu came on board, it started production in earnest.

—With regards to those early experiments, were they rooted in a port of the Super Famicom version?

Imamura: Rather than porting the SFC game per se, it’s more that the SFC game had already established a simple 3D system—you could scroll in one direction with genuine 3D depth and control the fighter as buildings and other objects move towards you—and it was easy to grasp from a programming perspective, so our preparatory experiments used it as a foundation. From that point, we started to make more and more headway, and then more people came aboard and it became a real game.

—The N64 game’s full of cool, cinematic production.

Imamura: For the time, sure, but when I look at it now it feels… distinctive (laughs). Morita was very skilled and was able to come up with really smooth fighter controls without me looking over his shoulder, and before I knew it, he’d expanded the simple “corridor” stages into awesome 360-degree terrain.

—Ah, the all-range mode.

Imamura: Shimizu joined at that point, so from there I was able to focus exclusively on the parts I was most interested in, so I went to work fleshing out the characters and the story (laughs).

—As a result, characters like Yaru de Pon came into being (laughs). Moving on from the N64 game to the Gamecube game, why did you decide to establish an eight-year time-skip?

Imamura: Star Fox Adventures originated here in Kyoto: personally, I’ve been working on the series for a long time and am quite attached to it, so I went to Miyamoto like, “let me do it! let me do it!” and he replied with, “for this game, why not try an adventure-style game instead of a shooting game?”, and so Morita and I began toying around with various ideas.

—What kind of game were you attempting to make, exactly?

Imamura: Something where Fox runs around on foot, taking out enemies with his gun, but shooting games with the character displayed with that behind-the-back perspective can be tough to play, can’t they? You can’t always see the enemies because the player-character’s blocking your view, right in the middle of the screen. I was aware of these issues, but I really wanted to realize Fox fighting with a gun, so I continued pondering directions for the game to take. In the N64 game, there are those stages with the Landmaster—the tank—where the camera automates itself and enemies pour in from the sky, right?


Imamura: I really loved those sections—it feels great to take down all those enemies from below, so I was trying to build on that sensation and create something where you’d get to mow down tons of enemies.

—So how’d you decide upon the eight-year time-skip?

Imamura: I was thinking up a justification for why those four characters might reunite to fight the enemy, and I figured that after eight years, a few things had to have changed (laughs).

—I see (laughs)

Imamura: After all that time, Peppy might be too old to still be piloting a fighter… obvious stuff like that (laughs). The game system’s different, and the relationships between the characters has also evolved, so eight years seemed like a nice, neat window of time.

—When the N64 version was released, you said if you ever made a sequel…

Imamura: …”I’d like to set it 20 years in the future”. I remember (laughs).

—Fox would be 38 years old, right at his prime (laughs).

Imamura: Yeah! (laughs)

—So, you decided to take your Star Fox Adventures concepts and merge them into a game Rare was working on, Dinosaur Planet.

Imamura: That’s right. Dinosaur Planet was also being made for N64 in the beginning, but it was fairly late in the N64’s life product cycle and people were already talking about Dolphin,7 and as we were asking ourselves whether to go ahead with our project internally, the staff were already being pulled away to work on big projects like Mario and Zelda, and so after work wrapped up on Majora’s Mask, the project was restructured.

—What went down?

Imamura: After Majora was done, Miyamoto as producer made the call to move both games to the Gamecube and suggested that we take the best elements from each project and combine them into a single game.

Digital Foundry’s side-by-side comparison of Star Fox Adventures with Forest of Illusion’s recently-dumped Dinosaur Planet N64 build; this build shows the game in a transitional state, with the original protagonist Sabre’s character model and certain voiced sections replaced with those of Fox McCloud, but still contains many differences and deviations from what would be seen in Star Fox Adventures, most notably the design and prominent use of secondary protagonist Krystal.

—Was that a smooth transition?

Imammura: At first, I was thinking to myself, whaaat?. Honestly, I would’ve been doing something as straightforward as communicating with, say, the Tokyo branch, but Rare’s located in the countryside of England, so I really wondered how to proceed. At first, we were exchanging sketches via e-mail, but we couldn’t quite land on the same page when it came to the game’s image, and getting them to see eye-to-eye in that matter required a ton of effort.

—You had very different perceptions of the Star Fox world, it sounds.

Imamura: That’s right, and so that kind of back-and-forth went on around the clock.

—What sort of things did you find yourself talking about, specifically?

Imamura: Initially, we had to address Fox’s design, but we also spent a lot of time discussing the kinds of equipment he should have.

—Ah, I can imagine.

Imamura: I wanted Fox to use a gun, but the basic framework established with Dinosaur Planet was very Zelda-esque, so we ditched the gun and embarked on a long period of trial-and-error to determine what the best weapon might be—after experimenting along the lines of, “maybe a whip would work?, “how about both a gun and a sword?”, etc we finally settled on Krystal’s Staff, which is a weapon that doesn’t require you to slash the enemy. After all, Fox is an animal character too, so I’m not sure it’d be alright for him to be lopping heads off or anything (laughs).

—True! (laughs) Which elements of the game were you involved with?

Imamura: It’s hard to narrow it down. I wasn’t the only member of Nintendo who worked on the game, but I was involved with everything from the music to the graphics to the story, to the extent of sitting with the staff in their dev room in England, mouse in hand, and saying “it ought to be a little more like this” as I manually corrected or touched up images right on the spot (laughs). Tweaking the code was beyond me, though.

—So you naturally faced a lot of hurdles, then.

Imamura: On the projects I’d worked on before, my superiors would tell me, “get it done!” and all I had to do was say “sorry, right on it” and get to work (laugh). This time, however, I was also working as a producer, so even though Rare’s director was giving it his all and I was working elbow-to-elbow with the staff on site, the game’s volume was massive, and I also had to play the producer’s role of kicking them in the ass and being like “okay, wrap this up already”.

Even so, it taught me a lot. Until this project, I’d only ever worked internally within Nintendo, so getting to work with an external team for the first time was a great learning experience. At first, the designer part of me was so immersed in the project that I seriously considered moving to England to live (laughs).

—I heard you went over to England for two months at the end of last year.

Imamura: Yeah, that was during the final development push. Before that, I went over there for a two-week stint.

—What was life like in England?

Imamura: Rare’s located in a very rural area, only accessible by car (laughs). A lot of Western-style driving games feature tracks with very gentle rolling hills and roads that seems to stretch on forever, and that’s exactly what it’s like over there, so it was fun for us to rent a car and drive across the countryside. There really weren’t many mountains over there.

—It’s hilly terrain, rather than steep inclines.

Imamura: (wistfully) Ah, I’m getting homesick… On the last trip, I went over with [Masashi] Goto, who handled localization and dialog, and he could speak and communicate in English, but he was the only person I could talk to (laughs).

(everyone laughs)

Imamura: That’s why I racked up a ton of international phone calls on Rare’s phones (laughs). The hotel we stayed at was a refurbished old mansion, and when you stepped outside there was this beautiful old church towering into the sky before you…

—Working for so long in such an exotic location must have been very inspirational as a creator.

Imamura: At the time, I was more of a producer than a creator (laughs). I spent most of my time talking with the director about how to squeeze more fun out of the game.

—So you don’t have a lot of fun stories, then?

Imamura: I mean, I enjoyed myself—Rare’s staff were all friendly, and I had a good time over there. That only made it harder to have to crack the whip and push them to get their work done on time.

—I think a lot of readers who’d like to hear more about the relationship between Nintendo and Rare.

Imamura: I just went to Rare to work as a developer, and I’m not in a position to comment about the corporate relationship, but we certainly gelled really well on-site.

What does Imamura-san think of Nakuake’s comic…?

—By the way, when you compare the N64 version to the Gamecube version, you can see that the Arwing, for example, has evolved over the course of eight years…

Imamura: To be completely frank, it’s not a case of “evolution” so much as, beyond maintaining the basic shape of the Arwing, leaving everything else up to the wants of the designer. I don’t want to be inflexible or insisting “the nozzle has to be x long” or so on, nor do I like hearing those kinds of instructions as a designer (laughs), so my approach is more like, “anything within this ballpark is OK”.

A render of Rare’s Arwing design, as seen in Star Fox Adventures.

—I see. The Gamecube Arwing has a very angular design, doesn’t it?

Imamura: You’re right, and that’s something Adventure’s Arwing designer was really into… but, to be honest, the first version of the Arwing was so radically different that I had to have them change it (laughs).

—What was that first design like?

Imamura: Well, no designer is going to hit their mark immediately, right? In that respect, I was amazed that Nakaue was able to get the comic version’s Arwing up to standard, and in such a short space of time at that.

—(to Nakaue) Did you have to draw a lot of rough sketches?

Nakaue: (emphatically) I drew so many sketches!

—Um, thanks for your hard work (laughs). So, there are instances where you’re still not satisfied, even when presented with drawing after drawing?

Imamura: There’s a certain standard I want to meet, and my heart will say to me, “this isn’t good enough” (laughs). I don’t always know what I’m looking for, but I’ll know it when I see it, so it can be difficult to explain exactly what I want.

Nakaue: It’s instinctual, isn’t it.

Imamura: Yeah, and I was very fussy about my own ideas, too, but what’s great about working with Nakaue is I could send him a rough design and, because he was so familiar with Star Fox, I wouldn’t have to explain every little detail (laughs). He was able to add meat to the bones, so to speak, and turn my ideas into something really interesting.

These “tatami” panel sketches resembles the storyboards that Imamura-san drew for us at the first planning meeting for the comic.

Imamura: I typically draw storyboards like those when making a game; I did something very similar for the opening and ending of Star Fox Adventure.

—Do you draw storyboards like this for cinematics?

Imamura: For those, the storyboards tend to be more detailed.

—One thing that really impressed me about the production of the comic was just how many times Nakaue played the N64 version in order to cross-reference certain things (laughs).

Nakaue: For instance, the color of the Arwing’s jet changes depending on whether it’s in space or in the atmosphere… little details like that (laughs).

—I remember telling him, “there’s nobody else in the world playing Star Fox 64 as much as you right now” (laughs).

Nakaue: I also had to check to see what was going on with the back of Peppy’s head (laughs).

—On that subject, I hear Benimaru Itoh8 has a clay model of Fox in his office…

Imamura: Ah, yes! Years ago, when Ashura-san was drawing the Star Fox comic for Nintendo Power, he found it difficult to draw those animals’ faces from various angles, and so he made those models for reference.

Benimaru Itoh’s self-made Star Fox character head models. Says the editor: “I would’ve loved to feature Nakaue’s models alongside them… (tears)”

Nakaue: When Imamura-san told me that story, I thought, y’know, that’s a smart way to do it, and made some for myself, too (laughs).

—Yeah, but when we relocated our editorial office, Nakaue threw them all away (laughs).

Nakaue Well, I felt like I’d successfully graduated from “Peppy University”, so…

—I told you to give them to me when you were done!

Nakaue: I’ll make some more (laughs).

Like Godzilla, Fox might change from work to work

—So, Nakaue drew the comic in order to bridge the eight-year game between Star Fox 64 and Star Fox Adventures, but Imamura-san, had you already envisaged many of the events that took place during that eight-year period?

Imamura: The two of us worked hard on the contents of the comic, and I think we came up with an interesting story, but I’m going to have to spoil it a little… in the N64 game, Andross, the personification of evil, is defeated, and the comic focuses on his resurrection. I wanted to establish a relationship similar to that of Mario and Bowser, but in the case of Mario and co., there’s not much pretense, whereas in Nakaue’s comic, there’s a corrupted general who worships Andross and seeks to revive him, and in Star Fox Adventures… well, that’s definitely a spoiler (laughs) Anyhow, the idea was to try and anchor that concept in the comic as well.

—Even though he looks to have been defeated, he’s fated to rise again.

Imamura: In the future, as Star Fox continues as a series, I think users will be able to have fun wondering, “how will he return this time? What’ll he look like?”. I have a certain degree of pity for Andross as a character (laughs).

Nakaue: Oh, so you’re on Team Andross? (laughs)

Imamura: I wouldn’t go that far, but I do have a fondness for him, and this time… (laughs) So, one of my goals was to create a greater awareness of Andross among the customers.

—Is there anything you wish you could have covered in more detail in the comic?

Imamura: I feel like the page count was a little low, due in part to the fact that the comic was being given away for free. Personally, I would have liked to have a few more pages.

Nakaue: As the two of us talked, the story continued to get bigger and bigger…

Imamura: It could have gone anywhere (laughs).

Nakaue: The initial premise was completely different.

—From Nintendo Dream’s perspective, I thought it was a shame that Nintendo wrapped it up after only four episodes over two months, but if we’d continued any longer, Nakaue’s body may have given out (laughs).

Imamura: Would it have been just as hard to maintain that pace even in black-and-white?

Nakaue: No, if it had been black-and-white… (bitter smile)

Imamura: I do wonder if the comics we distributed to the stores actually made it to the people who wanted to read them… my wife wanted to play Star Fox Adventures, actually, so I went to the store to buy it, but when I asked for the comic, they said they didn’t have any. I checked out another local store on launch day and met three people who bought the game, which made me really happy, but the comic hadn’t been given to any of them (laughs).

PR rep: I didn’t think there’d be much promotional value in using the comic as a pre-order bonus, so I wanted it to be freely available in stores so that those who found it interesting would go on to buy the game, but getting every store to understand that is easier said than done.

Imamura: That said, it’s also on Nintendo’s website, so I think a lot of people have been able to read it.

—It’s good that it’s on the website, where it can remain accessible for a long time.

Imamura: Right now, I’m in the early process of redesigning Fox for a new project and I don’t know how Nakaue-san might feel about this, but I’m trying to reflect on the better elements of his comic as I work on this new design.

Nakaue: (overjoyed) Oh, really?!

Imamura: I don’t want to be too stuffy about my perception of Fox. For example, a character like Godzilla might have a different face depending on the adaptation, and I think it’s fun for people to be able to say, “I prefer such-and-such Godzilla”. To be totally real with you, there are elements of Nakaue-san’s comic that are just a little off to me, and I really want to draw them myself… and, as it turns out, I kinda can (laughs).

(everyone laughs)

Imamura: I think it’s fun that the project I’m working on now will feature the “Nakaue version” of Fox, just as there currently exists a “Rare version” and a “Super Smash Bros. Melee version”. There’s a lot of back-and-forth among the fans about which version they prefer—”I like the Melee version”, for example—so I’d like to make a newer and even cooler version of Fox for the next game, rather than simply reusing the model Rare made. Right now, I’m immersed in Nakaue’s comics and trying to figure out how to incorporate their essence.

—I can’t wait to see it!

The first page of the Star Fox Adventures prequel comic, subtitled Farewell, Beloved Falco; you can find the full comic on Nintendo of Japan’s website, and a fan translation on the Arwingpedia.

Star Fox Adventure’s voice actors are Rare’s staff?!

—So, I’d be remiss if I didn’t ask about the [lack of] Japanese dub…

Imamura: Ah, that… there is a good reason behind that decision. I wanted to dub the game in Japanese but the game’s voice acting was actually performed by the staff at Rare: it’s all very efficient, and it means they don’t have to travel to London to find voice actors…

—Oh, I had no idea! It doesn’t sound the least bit unnatural to me.

Imamura: Yeah, they did a great job.

—Back in the day, a lot of Nintendo’s games used voices provided by the staff.

Imamura: We dubbed Star Fox 64 ourselves at first, too.

—Oh, really?

Imamura: We were all like, wow, this is gonna be so cool!, but then we showed it to people outside the team, they responded with “laaaame” (laughs) We were told “this is unforgivably bad” (laughs), and so we switched to professional voice actors.

—Ahahaha! But, now I want to hear it for myself… (laughs)

Nakaue: Yeah, I want to play that version! (laughs)

Imamura: Rare did the same thing with their game, except they were really good at it (laughs).

—It sounds completely natural to us, but how have foreign players been reacting to the dub?

Imamura: We had Nintendo of America’s people listen to it and they said it was perfectly okay. The culture around voice acting isn’t cemented in the US to the extent that it is in Japan; in the US, voice acting is performed by regular actors, whereas in Japan, voice actors have a very specific and distinctive style of delivery, and it could be that it’s left such an impression on us that we’re not as capable of tolerating amateurish voice acting.

—You might be on to something.

Imamura: The reason we included voice acting in Star Fox 64 was because we wanted the players to be able to comprehend the messages being given to them while they were in the thick of shooting and dodging—the Super Famicom version’s messages were purely text-based, and so as a reflection of the feedback from players telling us they didn’t have time to read any of the messages, we moved to incorporate voice clips and kanji and so on, and we also experimented with the audio programming to figure out just how many voices we could add.

—You really did manage to cram a good amount of voice onto the N64 cartridge, huh?

Imamura: You’re right, and I thought it succeeded at its purpose; for Star Fox Adventures, the player’s almost never going to be in a situation where they’re likely to miss a message or instruction, so I thought a dub wasn’t necessary. However, I know that some fans were probably looking forward to the voice acting, and so I understand they may be a little disappointed.

—The voice acting really did add a lot to the N64 version, so I get why some people might find Adventures lacking.

Imamura: That said, there are people of my generation who see a certain coolness in English-voiced lines. What’s funny is that the some of the sales people who didn’t like our N64 dub told us that the Super Famicom “buh-buh-buh-buh” voices were cooler, so as a trial, we looked backwards and imported those SFC-style “buh-buh-buh”s, but the reaction was, “nah, that sucks” (laughs). We really did experiment with the animal language (laughs).9

—Ahahaha! Even so, in Adventures, when the dinosaurs first start speaking their native tongue, someone who doesn’t understand English might wonder, “why aren’t they subtitled?”

Imamura: That’s fair enough. In any event, we took a lot of flack over the dubbing issue, so we’ll definitely take those opinions into account going forward… (laughs).

—Look forward to the Star Fox game being made with Namco, everyone (laughs). By the by, which of Adventure’s characters were you most attached to?

Imamura: That’d be Krystal. Krystal is a character that had been around since the early versions of Dinosaur Planet, and as that game was making the transition into a Star Fox game, they asked, “so, should we get rid of Krystal?”. but I thought it’d be a waste to scrap her, so when I visited Rare, I drew a ton of pictures…

—I think you made the right call (laughs).

Imamura: There’s an American comic called Vampirella that I’m really into—that character’s a female vampire who wears risque costumes, and so I drew some quick sketches of Krystal with that kind of image and had a lot of discussions with Rare, and so this version of Krystal turned out to be much sexier than the Dinosaur Planet version.

—I see.

Imamura: Miyamoto and I were both aiming to add a little sex appeal, I guess? I think Miyamoto’s always wanted to add that flavor.

—Really?! (laughs)

Imamura: I think somewhere in his mind, Miyamoto’s always pictured Star Fox as somewhat mature, and he’s been saying things like “wouldn’t it be good to add a slightly sexy character?” since the beginning. Likewise, for Starfox 64, although the game certainly appeals to children somewhat, I think Miyamoto felt that leaning fully into that would be going too far, and he wanted to add some more mature touches where possible. 

—Katt Monroe from the N64 game did have a flirtatious, cutting personality, but there may have been a slight mismatch between her personality and her appearance (laughs).

Imamura: In that respect, I thought Krystal was a better match.

—Agreed. Of all the female characters that have appeared in Rare’s games thus far, this was the first one I really liked.

Imamura: Right? I think I was able to come up with a design that Japanese people could latch on to. I don’t know whether she’ll continue to appear in future games, but since she was positioned as the heroine of Star Fox Adventures, it was important to design her so that she wouldn’t look out of place next to the established Star Fox cast.

—So, you’ve been working with Miyamoto-san ever since you joined Nintendo.

Imamura: That’s right.

—What kind of person is Miyamoto to you?

Imamura: He’s my guitar teacher (laughs).

Ahahah. To wrap this up, is there anything you’d like to say to the readers?

Imamura: I think the customers probably equate Star Fox with shooting games, and neither Star Fox nor F-ZERO are games in genres that prominently focus on their characters, necessarily. That said, I really enjoy diving deep into the characters and packed Star Fox 64 with enough character-centric drama for one to credibly describe it as a character game, so for Miyamoto and I, there was nothing particularly unnatural about the jump to Adventure, but it may not have seemed like such a natural progression to the audience…

—I do think everyone was happy to be able to freely control Fox.

Imamura: However, creating such a massive number of events and scenarios took a ton of work (laughs). I was also very aware of Zelda and consciously tried to find ways to take our game in different directions: put simply, I wanted to make something packed with cool cutscenes that had a big-budget, Hollywood vibe, and from the beginning I worked to make something the customers would be satisfied with, and I think we hit every target.

—So, should we expect the Star Fox game you’re making with Namco to be similarly lavish?

Imamura: That’s right. We’ve been meeting with Namco daily, and just like Sega, Namco’s Fox team is super enthusiastic! I can really feel the excitement of [Namco producer Atsushi] Shiozawa and his staff, so I’m sure the next game will be just as extravagant.

—I’m looking forward to it in a different sense to the new Adventure game.

Imamura: Yeah, as am I.

—So, how about that F-ZERO game you’re making with Sega?

Imamura: F-ZERO, huh… my lips are sealed (laughs). Please ask [Sega producer Toshihiro] Nagoshi-san (laughs).

—You’ve just finished working with Rare, and now you’re working with Sega and Namco. I don’t think there’s another creator in the world who’s had that experience.

Imamura: That’s something I’m proud of, and I’ve been glad to have had so many great experiences. All three of the companies you mentioned have their differences, but the basic spirit of the developers is the same, and when I’m working with any one of them, I really do feel like another laborer at the construction yard (laughs). The procedures and methods do differ from company to company, though… I feel so fortunate.. I get to work on F-ZERO and Star Fox at the same time, isn’t that awesome? (laughs) I really do think to myself, ah, I’m so blessed.

Q&A with Takaya Imamura

Q1: What does Nintendo mean to Imamura-san?

A: A deep-rooted company in Kyoto; we make games using traditional techniques, and I feel like a craftsman among craftsmen. Recently, we’ve been collaborating more with external companies, so I’d like to develop new and cutting-edge games while maintaining the craft of our long-established company.

Q2: If you were to be reincarnated as something else, what would you like to become?

A: An alien, I think—I’d like to be born into a world unlike anything I’ve ever seen, that my present mind couldn’t possibly comprehend.

Q3: What’s the most delicious food you’ve eaten recently?

A: The home-cooked meal I ate after returning home after a long work trip abroad. It nearly brought me to tears (laughs). Now, though, I sometimes get a hankering for British food (laughs).

Q4: What were you like as a young child?

A: I was no gang leader or anything, but my neighborhood friends and I would run around in the mountains and fields from morning til night. I didn’t like studying, but even though I hated it, I held myself to a standard of making sure I never got a zero score (laugh). When I played indoors, I did nothing but draw—primarily monsters and such, as I recall. My father was a painter, so I guess I was naturally influenced by him.

Q: What was your childhood dream?

A: To be a mangaka—or rather, someone with a career in drawing, which in my childish mind was synonymous with being a mangaka. From a very young age, I had the realization that “I’m going to make my living drawing pictures!” (laughs), and I guess that’s why I also thought, it’s fine to slack off on my studies a little, but I really came to regret that attitude (laughs). In hindsight, I really wished I’d put more effort into Japanese, social studies and English.

Imamura, signing a Star Fox shirt for a Nindori giveaway.

Q: What was the best part of joining Nintendo?

A: I’ve been a massive Beatles fan since junior high, and the year I joined Nintendo, Miyamoto and [Takashi] Tezuka were invited to meet Paul McCartney. Before their meeting, Tezuka asked to borrow some of my records, so I brought him my Paul record; afterwards, Tezuka told me “thanks” and returned the record, and to my huge surprise, Paul’s signature was on the cover. I nearly fell flat on the floor (laughs). Seriously, I’m so glad I joined Nintendo (laughs).

If you've enjoyed reading this interview and would like to be able to vote each month on what I translate, please consider supporting me on Patreon! I can't do it without your help!

  1. Literally the English word “Foxes”, not the Japanese equivalent, “kitsune”.

  2. Dogs and monkeys are traditionally depicted as having an adversarial relationship in Japan, similar to the imagined relationship between cats and dogs in English-speaking countries.

  3. Andross has long been rumored to be a caricature of then-Nintendo president Hiroshi Yamauchi, but Imamura’s comment here suggests someone with a slightly lesser rank in the corporate hierarchy; my best guess is the then-manager of Nintendo IRD, Hiroshi Ikeda.

  4. Uncomfortable similarities to “Adolf”, one would presume.

  5. “Tanuki-gao (tanuki face)” is a common descriptor of face type in Japan used in reference to someone with softer, rounder facial features.

  6. The interviewer, Nintendo Dream editor-in-chief Akinori Sao.

  7. The codename for what would become the Nintendo Gamecube.

  8. Benimaru “Ashura” Itoh, a freelance artist who’s collaborated with Nintendo on numerous occasions, including direct participation in the development of games in the Kirby and MOTHER series and the shelved Star Fox 2, as well as official comic/manga adaptations of Star Fox, Super Metroid and MOTHER 2.

  9. Interestingly enough, the SFC-style speech is available as an option exclusive to the PAL version, Lylat Wars.

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