Super Smash Bros. director says character selection is stressful 'almost to the brink of death'
Masahiro Sakurai takes the process of adding new characters to the Super Smash Bros. seriously — possibly to the detriment of his mental and physical well-being. Choosing who stays and who goes on the game's roster is "almost deadly in the amount of time it takes me," the director of the new Super Smash Bros. for Wii U and Nintendo 3DS tells Polygon.
At E3 last week, Nintendo showed first footage of the next Super Smash Bros., revealing a handful of returning favorites (Mario, Link, Pikachu, Kirby) and three brand-new fighters: Mega Man, Villager from Animal Crossing and the Wii Fit Trainer.
What's more difficult than adding a character, Sakurai said, speaking through a translator, is cutting certain characters from Nintendo's fighting game series and the resulting distress that causes its players.
""Taking a character out [of Super Smash Bros.] is what really hurts a lot.""
"The amount of stress I feel, it's almost to the brink of death," Sakurai said of designing Smash Bros.'s character roster. "Because it's not just a matter of me personally thinking this character or that character is going to be in the game; it's that we also have the game balance, animation, graphics and sound to think about in order to make that character fully fleshed out in that universe. I have to think about all of that when I go through this decision-making process."
Sakurai said that a Smash Bros. game is defined by the characters on its roster. Without the inclusion of Mario, Kirby, Samus or Link, some would say, "it might not be Smash Bros." What defines the core of Smash Bros., he says, varies from player to player.
"Whether it's a minor character or a character that is one of the most highly skilled and most played," Sakurai said, "if that character is removed from the game, the people who live for that character in Smash Bros. are going to have their feelings hurt.
"I think we have to really consider that, so I take a very serious, hard look at that and have empathy for the players who look for these type of characters when we're making these decisions."
That decision-making process starts with Sakurai forming his own thoughts on who should feature in the next Smash Bros., but also factors in various surveys, he said. From there, a list of candidates is refined by evaluating their contribution to the game's roster: "What is the uniqueness of this character? What does this character bring into the Smash Bros. universe? What do they have that other characters don't? How do they complement or contrast other characters?"
Sakurai says the addition of Mega Man to the Smash Bros. Wii U and 3DS roster is a reflection of the winnowing down of candidates. He brings features and characteristics, like his ability to use various Robot Masters attacks, to the roster that you don't see in other characters, Sakurai says. Mega Man's addition came about at the behest of fans as well. After Sonic the Hedgehog — who appeared in Super Smash Bros. Brawl — Mega Man was the most requested guest character, Sakurai said.
Getting Capcom's approval for Mega Man was easy, to hear Sakurai tell it.
""We really start from scratch, each time.""
"We approached Capcom with the idea and they were very favorable and open to it," he said. Sakurai and the teams at Sora Ltd. and Namco Bandai focused on the classic NES-style of Mega Man, a chunkier, less angular, less sleek version of the character. The Smash Bros. version of Mega Man focuses more on his ability to absorb others' powers, de-emphasizing punching and kicking. Mega Man's mega uppercut, which Sakurai says was inspired by the character's appearance in Marvel vs. Capcom, is one of his few melee attacks. "The approval process, in terms of how we're representing Mega Man, was actually really smooth and went really quickly."
The Smash Bros. developer takes the same care and considerations when redesigning returning characters, like Mario, Donkey Kong and Samus Aran from Metroid. They start from scratch with every character, Sakurai said, first determining how those characters should be graphically represented on new hardware. How characters look, in terms of color, precision and resolution, must be considered before they're designed. That's a challenge for the new Smash Bros., which will have two different levels of visual fidelity and graphical styles across the Wii U and 3Ds versions of the game.
The developer then factors in game balance, how an established character will coexist with new ones, and the predefined characteristics of that character should be implemented with Smash Bros. gameplay systems.
"For example, look at Samus," Sakurai said. "She's sort of floaty [in Super Smash Bros.]. The reason we've represented her that way is we've taken some of the inspiration from the original Metroid. I think the reason Samus felt floaty in the game is becasue you have to jump so much, you have to have a certain level of accuracy while you're jumping and shooting. By enabling her to be floaty, you're slowing down that motion allowing for better accuracy in her shooting. At least, that's how I interpret why she was floaty in the original game."
"What's important about that is realizing why Samus moves the way she does," Sakurai explained, "not just saying, 'This is how she moved in a previous game, so we're going to represent that because that's the way she's always been.' I have to really go and think about it all again before I give her that representation. It's making sure we understand that and using the same logic in creating her in this world."
During the development of Sakurai's last Smash Bros. game, 2008's Super Smash Bros. Brawl for Wii, this is the type of insight we'd hear from the designer through the Super Smash Bros. Dojo website. Sakurai said we should expect to hear less from him during the development of Super Smash Bros. for Wii U and Super Smash Bros. for Nintendo 3DS. The developer promises "daily visual updates" from his desk will be posted to Miiverse and on the game's official website.
"I'm not going to talk as much," he said.