Star Fox Assault – 2005 Developer Interview

Star Fox Assault - 2005 Developer Interview

This lengthy Star Fox Assault interview with producers Takaya Imamura and Tsuyoshi Kobayashi and directors Toshiyuki Nakanishi and Yutaka Yoshida was originally featured in Nintendo Dream magazine. A joint development between Namco and Nintendo, the conversation explores that relationship while also looking at the character design, the changes from Adventure, and the project's Battle Mode origins.

Takaya Imamura - Producer (Nintendo)
Tsuyoshi Kobayashi - Producer (Namco)
Toshiyuki Nakanishi - Director (Namco)
Yutaka Yoshida - Director (Namco)

—I think fans of Star Fox 64 will be very happy that Star Fox Assault has a story mode.

Kobayashi: We were very conscious of Star Fox 64. I won't go so far as to say that we made it exclusively for SF64 fans, but we included a lot of lines that will make fans of that game smile.

—It's a real pleasant feeling to hear Slippy and the others' familiar lines. It's like, "ahhh, they're back!" Did Imamura have any specific requests or instructions for the dialogue?

Imamura: There was a different company involved in making Star Fox Adventures, so I did have some requests in terms of continuity, and making sure that certain connections would be made to show this was an official sequel. But the Namco team really loves and understands Star Fox on a deep level, so it often happened that I'd be about to ask for something, and they'd already know what I wanted and would say it before me.

—So they must have played the previous games and analyzed them closely, then.

Kobayashi: It was more that there are a lot of Star Fox fans on their development team. So each member had a personal attachment to the series, and they discussed things internally a lot on their own: "Hey, this character would never say something like that!" I've had the pleasure of working with teams like that before—I think it's a big part of achieving a final product that everyone feels happy and satisfied about.

Top (L-R): Yutaka Yoshida, Ryoji Ikebata, Takayuki Nakanishi. Bottom (L-R): Takaya Imamura, Tsuyoshi Kobayashi.

—Were there any specific episodes that really made you think, "yeah, these guys get it" ?

Imamura: In Mission 1, Oikonny has a line, "koitsura bakemono ka!"1 and that is actually a callback to Area 8 of SF64… you'd have to be pretty deep on Star Fox to make that reference, and they did. (laughs)

Yoshida: For writing the dialogue, we reached really far back into the Star Fox series for inspiration.

—So Namco wrote the story, then?

Imamura: We left the details up to Namco. They'd also show us what they'd written, and we'd offer our opinion or make suggestions. But for big stuff—like for example, putting Krystal in the game or something—those requests came from us. I am glad we had them put Krystal in though. That was the right call! (laughs)

—Having Krystal makes the whole team a lot more alluring. It's a good thing you made the rabbit retire last game. (laughs)

Everyone: (laughs)

Imamura: Krystal's voice is sexy too, right?

—Yeah, very sexy. Visually she's wonderful, too.

Imamura: We did argue a bit over Krystal's personality though.

Kobayashi: (remembering) Ah, ahh… yeah. There were some things we fought about…

Imamura: The team was split into two camps: those who wanted her to occupy a motherly role, and those who wanted her to be more like a big sister.

Kobayashi: It was definitely a problem, because she had only been in one game, and there wasn't much info about her character.

Imamura: We actually had this problem on the Adventure development too, where her personality was too vague, and it caused tons of confusion amongst the team. (laughs) At that time I put forth one request: that the vibe between Fox and Krystal should be good, but their relationship shouldn't be too straightforward or obvious, and we would leave the rest to the fans' imagination.

Kobayashi: We tried to reflect that in some of the scenes for Assault, too.

—So how did you settle on a personality for Krystal, then?

Kobayashi: I think she ended up having a number of different elements: she's a bit mysterious, a bit of an elder-sister, and in a sense she has that motherly kindness too. There was a lot of fighting during the development about her dialogue: "Krystal wouldn't say something like that!" I can't really sum it up in one word, but over time a sort of shared "Krystal-sense" grew amongst the entire staff with regard to what she should and shouldn't say, and gradually we trimmed down her dialogue—and added things too—and the overall picture of Krystal that you see today eventually came into view. After all that, we're really curious now to hear what players think of her.

A look at Krystal's character design over the years.

—Kobayashi, you mentioned a moment ago writing scenes for Assault that captured Fox and Krystal's relationship...

Kobayashi: Yeah, an example would be the movie that plays after you clear Mission 6 in Scenario Mode.

Yoshida: That was a very memorable one.

—I'm guessing you can't talk about that scene here yet.

Imamura: Yeah, let's just leave it as something to look forward to. (laughs) There's a line of dialogue which is a callback to something a character said in Adventure, and it flusters Fox.

Yoshida: Even for us, the developers, it was a cool moment where we realized "Oh yeah, that's the kind of character Fox is."

Kobayashi: Krystal is actually a much more relaxed, worldly character in that sense, compared to Fox.

—So why did Krystal join Fox's team, then?

Imamura: Well, Adventure was always something of an outlier in the Star Fox series, and I think it has often been seen almost a side story of sort. But for me, I wanted players to see the characters grow and evolve, so there was no way we were going to just cut out Adventure and act like it didn't happen.

—Adventure takes place 8 years after the events of SF64, and Assault is one year after Adventure.

Imamura: Yeah. I thought that having Krystal, whose first apperance was in Adventure, take part in the fighting here would provide some continuity. Of course, that's not the only reason we added her. I also thought she was an enticing character in her own right. (laughs)

—By the way, how old is Fox?

Imamura: Since Adventure, we've decided to stop saying his age.

Everyone: (laughs)

Imamura: I said from now on, we won't be showing any of the setting development materials.

—In a previous interview, you mentioned that we might be seeing Fox's children take the stage too.

Imamura: I did say that, yeah. You have a good memory… (laughs)

—Hearing things like that makes me look forward to how the series will develop from here.

Imamura: Yeah, definitely. I probably shouldn't say this either, but we're in the process of revising Fox McCloud's design again right now.

Kobayashi: I think about 20 different drafts have been submitted.

Imamura: We talked about this with the Adventure comic, but Fox's appearance changes a great deal depending on who's drawing him, and I don't have any problem with that. For the games, too, I think its good that the N64 Fox looks different from the Assault Fox. It's like Godzilla.

From the Nindori interview, a look at Fox's character design from 1993-2005.

—I noticed there are no branching paths like in Star Fox 64...

Imamura: (sarcastically) Oh? Did we forget…?

Everyone: (laughs)

Imamura: In Assault, a single stage has so much volume and strategic possibility, there's a lot more freedom than before. So we put our effort into that this time, rather than creating branching paths.

Kobayashi: The N64 also didn't allow you to save during the stages.

—Ah, that was rough.

Kobayashi: Well, there were people who enjoyed that hardcore, stoic challenge I think. For Assault we let the player save at key checkpoints. I think for a game as tough as SF64 was, the branching paths made a lot of sense, but with checkpoint saves like we have in Assault, they probably wouldn't have much purpose.

Imamura: There was actually a period during the SF64 development where we debated fiercely over whether to have a stage select. After the game was completed, it was one of my main regrets. "Damn, we really should have added that…" But for Assault, we were able to add the Mission Mode, which I too am personally very satisfied with. When you get tired of playing the story mode, you can select your favorite stage and play it over and over to get a Bronze Emblem or whatever. In SF64, if you failed you had to do the whole stage over. That was a real pain, right?

—There are three different controller setups for Assault.

Kobayashi: It was very difficult for us to solidify the controls. Should Y be the jump button…? Lots of issues like that.

Imamura: There was a lot of debate surrounding the controls.

Kobayashi: Our biggest worry was how Fox would control when you're playing as him. Initially, we implemented a twinstick FPS-style control scheme, which is the basic control scheme you see in America. But when we actually played it, as we'd feared, it was pretty difficult. So we decided to add a 1-stick control scheme, which would be more universally intuitive for players. The FPS-style twinstick is difficult at first, but once you get used to it, it feels like you can do anything. In addition to those two setups, we added an "acceleration style" control scheme which harkens back to the N64 controls where you pressed the R trigger to accelerate. It's kind of a weird one, but we thought there might be some older fans who would enjoy it. So ultimately we ended up with those three layouts.

—Is the 1-stick layout what you recommend, then?

Kobayashi: For beginners, yeah, with the 1-stick, moving around and firing with the A button is pretty much all you have to worry about.

Imamura: It may look complicated when you're reading through the instruction manual, but I can say with confidence that it's actually quite intuitive.

—The controls in Star Fox 64 did feel like a bit of a barrier to entry for some players, but Assault seems much more forgiving. Difficulty-wise, too.

Imamura: That was something we were conscious of from the very start of this development, yeah.

Kobayashi: You know the crosshair target? If you play on Bronze level it's really large. As long as an enemy comes within it, you'll always hit them.

Imamura: That target was even bigger in the experimentation phase of the development--it was humongous! I really loved it. It's very important that even little kids can have fun blasting away.

—In Star Fox 64, I remember hearing Peppy scream "Foxxxx!!" over and over everytime my Arwing crashed. I rarely hear it on Bronze!

Imamura: That's true!

Kobayashi: We wanted younger children to play the game, that was a big thing for us. Also, the image of Star Fox as a "shooting game" repels a lot of people, and we didn't want that, so we took care to avoid that.

"Fookkuusuuuuuu!!!" (the US version, btw, changes this to "NOOOO!!!")

— I appreciate that there's a handicap available in Battle Mode, too.

Yoshida: I personally played the N64 versus mode a lot, so I gave it my all. (laughs) I wanted it to have depth, and we added a variety of rules, and the ability to select your favorite machine. So it should accomodate all different manner of playstyles.

Imamura: The Star Fox Assault development actually began with the Battle Mode.

—I do recall the first thing you showed at E3 was the Battle Mode. It was all you could play then.

Imamura: Yeah. The N64 battle mode was kind of just a last-minute bonus, so for a long time now I've been wanting to make a proper, more fleshed out Battle Mode. So Namco handed us some planning docs titled "Vehicle-Swapping War Action Game", and we decided that would be the starting point for the Assault development.

—So the ability to change freely between Arwings and Landmasters, those ideas came from Namco?

Imamura: That's right. It was perfectly suited for head-to-head versus battles, so that's how we started the development. We spent a ton of time on it.

Kobayashi: Midway through though, we had devoted all this time and energy and the battle mode was really great, and it was like… "Ok… so what are we going to do about the 1P mode?" (laughs) The battle mode being so enjoyable, we were worried that if the Story Mode was equally great, it would feel really unbalanced.

Imamura: We did, in fact, discuss abandoning the 1P mode entirely and making Assault a pure multiplayer battle mode game. (laughs)

Kobayashi: We seriously considered it, no joke. (laughs)

—When I first saw the demo at E3, I was kind of worried it was going in that direction. (laughs)

Kobayashi: We knew lots of people out there wanted a proper story mode, though, so we said we better roll up our sleeves and make one.

The early E3 demo mentioned above, which led some to believe Assault would be purely focused on multiplayer battles.

Nakanishi: In a normal development, you would work on a Battle Mode on the side while you're creating the main game. And what often happens then is that you run out of time, and despite your best intentions you have to abandon modes you wanted to include. But this time we made a really solid Battle Mode first, then pivoted to the single-player, which we were determined to make as good as the Battle Mode. As a result we've been able to create an extremely high quality game. I can say that with confidence. But anyway, that's the story behind why everyone had to wait so long for Assault. (laughs)

Kobayashi: Honestly, if we had a larger team, I would have worked on both concurrently.

—How many people were on the Assault development?

Kobayashi: Ultimately, about 50 or 60 people. If we add all the testplayers that number would balloon, but on the Namco side, there were about 50-60 core team members—that number excludes Imamura and the Nintendo folks, of course.

—That's pretty large.

Imamura: Well, for a shooting game it may be a lot, but for the Star Fox series it's about normal. (laughs)

—Star Fox Assault doesn't feature any new vehicles. Being a long-awaited new Star Fox game, was there any discussion about wanting to include brand new vehicles...?

Kobayashi: Yeah, lots. They were just ideas, but we thought about a sort of skateboard vehicle, and a motorcycle…

—You could ride a hoverbike in Adventure too.

Kobayashi: But a tank, fighter plane—just those three provide a perfect balance, I think. We liked that three-way, triangluar balance, so we decided not to add any new vehicles this time.

—All the machines in Assault are really stylish though.

Kobayashi: We have a guy who loves mechas and machines, and he poured all his love into these designs, down to the last detail.

—The Wolfen (Star Wolf's fighter) looks especially awesome.

Imamura: (happily) That was me! I designed the original model for the Wolfen. (laughs)

Everyone: (laughs)

—In Adventure the Arwings had a more rounded design. I remember when you announced the Star Fox collaboration between Namco and Nintendo, they also looked rather rounded.

Imamura: Ah, you're talking about that first promotional poster we showed. I made that. (laughs)

—You changed the designs to be a lot sharper for Assault though. They look really cool.

Kobayashi: The guy who handled the mecha design is a huge Star Fox fan. If people think they're cool, he'll be thrilled to hear that.

Early Star Fox Assault poster designed by Imamura.

Imamura: Actually, here's a question I have for you: did the designs feel un-Nintendo-ish for you? Or rather, did it seem, "Oh yeah, this looks like Namco made it," or anything like that?

—.....

Imamura: (slightly disappointed expression) No, nothing like that then?

—(laughs) To me it felt like a return to Star Fox 64, in a good way.

Imamura: Ah, I see.

—The more rounded Arwings in Adventure almost looked like they were designed by an English person, with that classic older sci-fi feel.

Imamura: The mecha design in Assault has been really well-recieved though. Everyone says they look cool and stylish.

Nakanishi: Everyone loves Gundam! And we're no different. It's what the players want, and I think we've done a good job matching that.

Imamura: There's also an element of Japanese animation.

Yoshida: Did you know the Arwing's firing port actually contains both a twin laser and a single laser? It's hidden. (laughs)

—What?!

Yoshida: There's a twin laser mounted underneath, and a single laser in front. Little things like that are a testament to the designer's passion and attention to detail.

—By the way, why did you choose the subtitle "Assault"?

Imamura: We thought of a lot of potential names, but ultimately, when we asked Nintendo of America for their input they suggested Assault, and immediately we were like "That's it!" (laughs) When we went to check the copyright on that title, it turned out Namco owned it. (laughs)

Everyone: (laughs)

Imamura: We had our legal guy look into it, and I remember how he came back to us and said, in a very grave voice, "This title is owned by Namco." (laughs)

Kobayashi: Namco made an arcade game called Assault a long time ago.

Imamura: The trademark was only valid within Japan, and since Namco owned it there was no problem, and they let us use it.

Kobayashi: We were like, "thank goodness Namco owned it." (laughs)

—Star Fox Assault also features a neat bonus in the form of three fully-playable Famicom titles. Was there a reason you chose these three, specifically?

Kobayashi: Basically, since this was a collaboration between Nintendo and Namco, we wanted to highlight that. Star Fox has various sci-fi and shooting elements, so Imamura and I chose some Namco titles that would reflect that. Imamura insisted that we include Star Luster. (laughs)

Imamura: I wanted it to be like an homage to Namco. These kind of collaborations don't come around very often, and a bonus Famicom game seemed doable. Also, if we included Xevious in Star Fox Assault I thought it would make it very clear to players, that this was a Namco-Nintendo collaboration. We discussed all this before the Famicom Mini series went on sale, by the way—just so there's no misunderstanding. (laughs)

Everyone: (laughs)

Imamura: We weren't trying to piggyback off the success of the Famicom Mini games or anything, is what I'm saying. We also wanted players to be able to experience the thrill of those original shooting games.

Namco's Battle City, only available in the JP version of Assault.

—I figured you chose Battle City because of the Landmaster.

Kobayashi: Really though, I think if you play Battle City after using the Landmaster in Assault, it'll feel very similar. The controls are completely different, of course, but I think it'll jump out at you. "Whoa, they're the same!" Battle City also gives you that nice, brisk shooting feel as you blast away on the A button.

In the latter part of the development, I often saw people playing Battle City. (laughs) That's right, yeah… Battle City has a 2-player mode too.

Imamura: I love the multiplayer in Battle City! Well, I guess we should stop since we're just blatantly promoting Battle City now. (laughs)

Everyone: (laughs)

—Was there any discussion about including any first-party Nintendo titles in the bonus games?

Imamura: Since Assault was developed by and at Namco, we really wanted to put the spotlight on their games. We tried to think of any first-party Nintendo games that shared Star Fox's world and atmosphere, but there were none. Can you think of any? Namco has Xevious and Star Luster, which are just a perfect fit. We really wracked our brains, but couldn't come up with anything…

Kobayashi: Yeah, we went through the list, but there just wasn't anything.

Imamura: I remember someone was like, "How about Balloon Fight?" (laughs)

Everyone: (laughs)

—In what form did the Namco/Nintendo collaboration start?

Imamura: We've collaborated with Namco on many titles in the past. You can see this as one more link in that chain. (in a serious tone) Or was there something else you were getting at…?

—(laughs) Well, when you announced the game...

Imamura: Well, it was Miyamoto saying "I want you to make a stylish, cool Star Fox" that started the Assault development.

—Was that when you were making Adventure?

Imamura: Yeah. We first started talking about Assault towards the end of the Adventure development, and once it was over we began in earnest. Adventure was released in September of 2002, and there were voices calling for a classic shooting-style Star Fox game. Miyamoto, too, wanted to ask Namco.

—How did Namco react when they first approached you about it?

Imamura: Hey, I'd like to know that too. (laughs)

Kobayashi: I joined this project midway through, but naturally anytime you're dealing with another company's characters, there's a lot of pressure to handle things carefully and with respect. I'd worked on a "character game" with Klonoa before so I had some perspective about that. But I enjoyed SF64 as a player, and I never imagined in my wildest dreams that I would one day join Namco and work on a Star Fox development. (laughs)

Yoshida: I joined Namco from Square, and Star Fox Assault was the first game I did here. So I've actually never worked on a pure Namco game yet. (laughs) I played the Battle Mode in Star Fox 64, so I was jazzed to get a chance to create a new one here.

Kobayashi: I think a lot of our staff was excited to work on Nintendo's Star Fox series.

Yoshida: I was happy, very happy. (laughs)

Nakanishi: I actually never owned a Famicom. I loved games, but I had other consoles, and only played Famicom at my friend's house. I wasn't that familiar with the Famicom library either. That said, my favorite Nintendo games were Star Fox and Metroid. So if they'd asked me to make something else I might have had my reservations, but for Star Fox I was immediately on board.

—When did the development officially get underway?

Imamura: In 2002. When did we first talk to Namco…? I can't recall the exact date…

Yoshida: It was in the summer.

Imamura: Yeah, so August 2002 or thereabouts.

—So in other words, it took two and a half years to complete. How does that compare to other developments...?

Imamura: For a game of this scope and size, it was an appropriate amount of time, I think.

—I see. For the players who are waiting though...

Imamura: They probably feel like that were made to wait a long time. That's why it's not a good idea to announce new developments right when they begin.

Everyone: (laughs)

Imamura: It's true though, right? If you announce your project when it's already a year in, then it's not too bad. (laughs) We unfortunately announced Assault right at the beginning.

Kobayashi: Yeah, definitely… we should have waited a little longer. (laughs)

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  1. Are they monsters?!, localized as "These guys are crazy!" in the English version.

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