Nintendo is famous for its game design craft. Satoru Iwata and Shigeru Miyamoto have both spoken about how the company simply won’t let a concept leave the studio until it’s ready — in some cases abandoning half-done games, or just letting them simmer until they start to heat up.
How, though, does that process actually work? Is there a way to institute a similar process at your studio? It can’t be as haphazard as all that, can it?
In this interview, conducted just before the release of Luigi’s Mansion: Dark Moon (aka Luigi’s Mansion 2), two developers from Vancouver’s Next Level Games, which handled the game’s development, and two from Nintendo HQ in Kyoto — who joined the conversation via video link — discuss how the creative process worked during the development of the 3DS title.
Bryce Holliday, director, and Brian Davis, gameplay engineer tell the story from their perspective, while Yoshihito Ikebata and Ryuichi Nakada, who both supervised development of the game, add their thoughts on how they got an external partner to make a game the Nintendo way.
First of all, when you were devising the idea of doing a new game in the franchise, how much did you feel you could tear down what had already happened in the past and did that change because of any factors such as new developer working on the franchise, the platform, the delay since the original game — all those factors?
Bryce Holliday: Ikebata-san and Nakada-san were kind of like the keepers of the vision, and the original vision was Luigi, vacuum, and the dollhouse 3D camera.
They’d done experiments with the original game. Konno-san was the director of that game. And, they’d experimented with, actually, 3D technology at that time, and so internally, they were working out to try to do another demo.
So those were really the only three rules that we had at the very beginning, was basically: Luigi, a vacuum, dollhouse camera in a 3D dollhouse game. That was about it.
Brian Davis: In terms of gameplay, we were exploring new ideas throughout the entire development, but there was a big fan base of Nintendo games within the company, so we also wanted to retain certain features of the original to have that nostalgic feeling to it.
BH: The fishing game, in particular, with the circle pad was something that — it was on the table as possibly changing it at the very beginning, but [from] our first demos it was pretty clear that that was the core essence of the game, so just actually added to it and improved it, rather than threw it out. That’s kinda how it started.
The original Luigi’s Mansion, from 2001, for Gamecube
Yoshihito Ikebata: Basically, at the beginning, we had a lot of analysis on the good and bad points of the original game, and made an effort to focus on the good points to draw them out and make them a bigger part of the game. And the original game was made to be played on the Gamecube controller, but this time it was a 3DS, so there was definitely an effort to shift make the controls more comfortable for the 3DS and also to really take advantage of the 3DS as a system to highlight features of the game.
You mentioned “nostalgia.” I want to know how important it is to Nintendo when it’s developing products to play up on that nostalgia. I don’t know if you worked on it personally, but Next Level Games made Punch-Out!! for the Wii, and in general Nintendo has a dedicated fan base that they’ve had for years, so I’m curious about that.
YI: So, it’s of course really important that we include elements that are appealing to fans of the original version. But we also don’t want to leave people out or provide any barriers to entry by adding too much that’s new. So, it’s really hard to say with a percentage, or something, just how important we find including nostalgic elements is. But it’s definitely a consideration.
BH: In development, at the beginning — looking back it looks quite different how much nostalgia’s in the game — but at the beginning, Ikebata-san and Nakada-san were kind of holders of the framework, so to say. They said, “No Mario references, no nostalgia,” at the very beginning. “Make a game” — or make demos or proof of concepts — “that don’t need to rely on that support.”
It’s pretty easy to throw Yoshi into anything, and you’ll get a Yoshi game, but we wanted to really explore what Luigi’s Mansion was. So we weren’t allowed to mess around with any IP or crossover stuff. And then eventually as the game — as the core solidified, then we would push the limits and start adding some of the nostalgia in from the first game, and from the universe.
BD: A lot of the driving force behind the nostalgia for the game actually just came from our gameplay team, because we’re such huge fans. Like, “We should put the humming back in the game,” where Luigi used to hum with the music, or, “We should try and see if we can get the communication where Luigi is shouting out to the mansion and add that as a driving force to the gameplay.” The multiplayer, you actually communicate with the other players through the D-pad. And we actually worked that back in to the single-player. So there’s a lot of surprises like that that were implemented because the people working on the game were so passionate about it.