|This article is written from the Real Life point of view|
Unless you speak fluent Japanese, chances are slim that you ever read any of the in-depth interviews at Nintendo Online Magazine.
Today we make things a little easier, and present you with a fully translated interview with the development team behind the upcoming Metroid Prime Pinball. But first, let's present the participants...
The Metroid Prime Pinball Development Team
Cai Remrod, Fuse Games
Richard Horrocks, Fuse Games
Hiro Yamada, Supervisor, Nintendo
Masa Miyazaki, Supervisor, Nintendo
Your humble interviewer for today is the chief editor of Nintendo Online Magazine.
Overcoming the time difference, language barrier and vast distances, we conducted a telephone interview from Japan with Fuse Games, based near Oxford in the UK. Fuse are the development team behind Metroid Prime Pinball, a title which is clearly a labour of love, faithful to classic pinball which at the same time packed with cutting-edge features.
Making a digression to discuss a certain surprising hidden character, apparently well-known in Europe and the US, it was an entertaining and enlightening interview!
A collaboration between true pinball fansEdit
NOM: "How did the idea for this title first come about?"
Yamada: "When (Nintendo President) Satoru Iwata was still a programmer, he worked on Pinball for the NES. For that reason, he is very knowledgeable about pinball games. Apparently when he saw some prototype pinball software that Fuse Games had developed for Game Boy Advance, he thought: 'This is incredibly well put together. If we leave these developers to it, they'll come up with something special.' What came out of that was Super Mario Ball for Game Boy Advance. The DS was subsequently released, and thinking that the two screens could be used to replicate a pinball table, we asked Fuse to think about what kind of pinball game they could come up with for the console."
NOM: "When did you decide to base it on Metroid Prime?"
Barritt: "The Metroid theme was first mooted by Nintendo. Funnily enough, before they suggested it, we had already thought about Metroid and it was on our list of proposals. So when the suggestion came from Nintendo, we were all really excited!" (laughter)
Yamada: "Our request was that Fuse should work on developing a stylish, cool pinball game based on the Metroid universe."
Barritt: "We first worked on the Pirate Frigate stage as a prototype. We thought that of all the many varied worlds in the game, we wanted to use one which was both hi-tech and which gave a strong sense of being in space, so we went for that one."
Yamada: "When I saw the prototype, I though that Fuse had captured the feel of Metroid Prime perfectly and had produced something that convinced us they were more than a match for the task. I also had the chance to show it to a range of people at NOA (Nintendo of America). The feedback was that it was even better than anyone had expected and really brought the world of Metroid alive. Also, when we requested that they make a feature where Samus exits the Morph Ball mode and attacks the enemies with all guns blazing, Fuse came up with this very quickly indeed. I was impressed, to say the least."
Terasaki: "We left it entirely to Fuse Game's discretion which aspects of the Metroid universe they would use in the game. I believe that this was one area where Cai put in a lot of hard work."
Remrod: "Well, we all worked together on selecting the features and items from Metroid that we would include in the game. The method we used for actually creating the stages was to select items and objects that would react in some way when the player attacked them with the ball."
Yamada: "It seems that the selection of what to use in the game took place in tandem with the development of the concept of the attack-based gameplay."
NOM: "How did you go about making the game faithful to the Metroid universe?"
Barritt: "Utilising the Metroid universe really meant taking elements like Samus' weapon upgrades, power-ups for the Morph Ball and other features from Metroid Prime on the GameCube and finding ways of integrating them into a pinball game."
Miyazaki: "When I went to the UK, we spoke directly and I told Fuse about particular elements that we wanted to see included in the game."
Terasaki: "The requests we made were, for instance, ensuring that the game was consistent with the Metroid Prime universe, emphasising the stylish feel we wanted it to have, and stressing that as a basic pinball game it should still be playable for long periods without the player tiring of it. We also requested that wherever the ball hits, something should occur. We didn't want any places where the ball could hit without it triggering some sort of reaction."
NOM: "Where do you think the basic appeal of pinball lies?"
Remrod: "I think it's the fact that the same thing will never occur twice. Every time you hit the ball, the game itself will change. To maintain that factor, we included the nudge effect (jostling the pinball machine to influence the ball's movement), controlled using the Touch Screen."
Barritt: "Pinball by its nature is very gaudy and showy. When you play it, it's because you want to cause all sorts of things to happen."
Come back soon for part 2 of this interview!
Metroid Prime Pinball will be in shops June 22, only on Nintendo DS.
It takes effort to become a pinball masterEdit
Terasaki: "One of the distinctive features of the games Fuse develop is that they have very few bugs. I wondered if you had a specific policy concerning how to make games without many bugs."
Horrocks: "Well, firstly we check everything very carefully. I think the most important factor is that we devise a test code (a program which in effect checks the game program) at the same time as we develop the game."
NOM: "Do all developers use this kind of test code?"
Horrocks: "No, you don't hear about it that often so it may be our original idea"
Terasaki: "Fuse use a method known as Pair Programming, with teams comprised of two programmers. As one programmer works, the other will be standing right behind him looking at what he writes. This provides a constant means of double-checking, which I think is another reason for the low number of bugs in the software."
NOM: "How did you find working with Nintendo?"
Barritt: "I think that Nintendo's suggestions and comments definitely helped improve the quality of the game."
Terasaki: "We found communication between ourselves and Fuse to be painless. I wonder if they felt the same!" (laughter)
Remrod: "We were in constant contact with each other: we would send a version, receive feedback, discuss it There were absolutely no problems in understanding each other's points of view."
NOM: "Turning now to the rumble effects in Metroid Prime Pinball, how did the decision come about to use these in the game?" (Metroid Prime Pinball comes packaged with a DS Rumble Pak).
Terasaki: "For the DS, Nintendo has made a rumble feature which operates using a different mechanism from the Rumble Paks we have designed up to now. Satoru Iwata decided that this mechanical rumble feature would be perfectly suited to a pinball game, and the actual specifications were then decided using a top-down approach. This rumble feature plays a big part in bringing the experience of pinball alive."
NOM: "Is there a secret to mastering the game?"
Remrod: "It's all about getting to grips with nudging. Just at the instant when you think you've lost your ball, a well-timed nudge can occasionally send the ball back up above the flippers. In pinball, it's a move you refer to as a 'bangback', but it only works once in a while. Another one is when the ball is rolling along a flipper which is pointed downwards, a nudge can pass the ball over to the other flipper. If you can do this at will, it makes it much easier to aim the ball at where you want it to hit."
Terasaki: "That's something only Cai-san could pull off!" (laughter)
Remrod: "Give it a try! You can do it too - it just takes a little effort!" (laughter)
Terasaki: "I have actually witnessed Cai-san playing pinball for real. In Japan, when people go to an arcade they tend to play the games in silence, don't they? That's why I suffered such culture shock watching Cai play! When he gets worked up, he hits the machine... Basically he's having a no-holds-barred battle with the pinball machine!" (laughter)
Miyazaki: "I had never actually played pinball before, but Fuse let me have a go on a machine and it was a lot of fun. Pinball machines in the UK have lots of features and are really entertaining. They are very loud and showy, both in appearance and in the features they have."
NOM: "So is pinball a common hobby in the UK?"
Remrod: "No, pinball is dead! (laughter) It's really hard to find a pinball machine in arcades these days."
Barritt: "That's why we're happy we can bring pinball to the world in the form of video games. Also, we were able to put things into the game which would be impossible on a real pinball machine."
Terasaki: "Cai-san, you are a collector of pinball machines, aren't you?"
Remrod: "Indeed I am. I am renting two squash courts to store about 100 machines. But our DS version of pinball is more fun than the real thing!" (laughter)
Terasaki: "That's right. There's even an unexpected appearance from a cow"
NOM: "A cow? What's that got to do with Metroid?"
Barritt: "There was a pinball game in the 1980s called 'Fire!' in which a cow puts in an appearance. The game is about a huge fire that once broke out in Chicago. The cause of the fire was a cow kicking over a lantern. Ever since then, cows have become a fixture as hidden characters in pinball machines. This is well-known among pinball aficionados in Europe and the States, and perhaps around half of the pinball games released since then have featured a cow concealed in them. Naturally, we also put one in Super Mario Ball..." (laughter)
Terasaki: "If you do happen to find the cow, please leave it in peace!" (laughter)
NOM: "Could you each say something to the DS owners who are looking forward to playing the game?"
Horrocks: "I want to see players really enjoying Metroid Prime Pinball."
Remrod: "Don't take your eye off the ball!"
Barritt: "My best score is 68,000,000. See if you can beat that!"
Miyazaki: "Metroid Prime Pinball is a game with real mass appeal, that anyone can enjoy. Even those people who are unfamiliar with Metroid games should give it a try."
Yamada: "The first pinball game released on the NES was a masterpiece, but seeing Metroid Prime Pinball has really brought home to me just how much pinball games have progressed in the last 20 years. All the original fun of pinball is still intact, but the presentation and gameplay have made huge leaps forward. You don't have to know the Metroid series to find a huge amount to enjoy. Give it a go!"
Terasaki: "There are a lot of people under the age of twenty who have never played on a real pinball machine, and who know it only through video games. All the excitement of the real thing has been successfully captured in Metroid Prime Pinball. If you ever do see a real table, you should definitely put a coin in and have a go! Finally, the people who have been responsible for the sound effects and music for Metroid titles over the years have worked on the sound for this title, so I recommend that you play it with headphones on!"
NOM: "Thank you all very much for your time."
Metroid Prime Pinball will be in shops 22 June, only on Nintendo DS.