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Former Retro Studios Employee Talks About Metroid Prime Nintendo Exclusivity, Fan Criticism & More

A former employee at Retro Studios and Technical Lead Engineer for Metroid Prime 1, 2 and 3, Jack Mathews has recently taken part in an interview with where he talks about the series that a lot of fans and critics love. Mathews covers a lot of subjects relating to the tight timescales and the seemingly very stressful development that went into the Metroid Prime games we have to date. He also recalls when the workforce at Retro Studios was cut considerably, cancelling projects to free up time for Metroid Prime and more. Below is a handful of excerpts from the lengthy interview but you can click here to read the whole conversation.

SS: In the past you’ve told Engadget that you didn’t think the Wii would reach as much of a hardcore audience as the PlayStation 3 or Xbox 360. Some people have suggested that Metroid being exclusive to Nintendo consoles hinders its potential as a multi-million selling, hardcore franchise. What are your thoughts on this today?

I feel like we could have built more, spent more, and made a cooler looking game on other consoles with more time. Would it have sold much more on more platforms? I’m not so sure about that any more.

A lot of Nintendo is built on the back of nostalgia. Just about anyone from my generation instantly lights up when you talk about Mario or Zelda (it’s the boy, right?). But when you talk about Metroid, it’s sort of a blank look of “oh, I kind of remember that.” Metroid, of course, has its fans and lovers, but I think it’s missing the mass market nostalgia that moves game sales. The easy answer is to look at the critical success but low sales and blame the platform, but I think that answer is a bit of a cop out. I think Metroid is a bit of a niche IP and that’s totally fine – we could use more big games that aren’t aimed at 90% of the market. But would going multiplatform be a big multiplier on sales? I doubt it.

SS: Some people have criticized Metroid Prime 2 for being too difficult, and Metroid Prime 3 for being too simple and “shoehorning” in motion controls. How do you feel about such criticisms, and do you think those parts of the games are fine the way they are, or could have been improved?

My personal opinions? Prime 2 was too difficult, but it was masking a lot of other flaws. Being in the dark world was constantly stressful, the ammo mechanic was stressful, the dark world’s color palette was samey which led to environmental confusion and thus, stressful. The game simply made you anxious when you were playing it. It was a very difficult game to make because there were a lot of voices in how to follow up the first game, and I think you saw a studio and Nintendo, who newly owned Retro, trying to figure out how to really collaborate and follow up a critical darling. That came through in the end product.

Prime 3 has a lot of criticism leveled against it, but I feel like it is mostly due to the opening level of the game. Especially the linearity and cinematics – we spent so much time with all of that and the Hunters that it was feeling more Halo-like shooter and less Metroid. Once you get to Bryyo, the game really becomes a Metroid Prime game. And then when you get to SkyTown, I mean, holy crap… that area is just incredible for both gameplay and spectacle.

As for the motion controls, I so completely disagree – I loved our Wii controls and the Grapple Beam, and I feel like the game was unfairly judged for that. Especially when I go back and play Prime 1 on a GameCube controller, my hands pretty much seize up.

As for improvements? It’s hard because development is so iterative – many good things are built on the backs of failures. And many failures are the result of unmovable limitations. Like, for instance, I would have loved more differentiation between the light and dark worlds of Prime 2, but there was not time or money for it. We wanted to go the route of reusing environments between light and dark, because we could make a schedule work that way – we thought it would be great! More bang for the buck!

But of course, we could never find a technical solution to make the dark world variants different enough to be interesting, and it turns out that completely dark worlds are just not fun – the first concepts had Samus pretty much walking around with a spotlight emitting from her, and it was just impossible to play.

So, the artists had to do a ton of work to make the dark world variants work and, well, it was a ton more work than anyone had budgeted for and was completely unplanned. In fact, the Sanctuary Fortress was the only area built with this plan in mind, which is why both light and dark actually look visually distinct and amazing. But there was no time (immovable limitation) to really rebuild the rest of the game, but at least we got the Sanctuary Fortress. So what’s the solution? Plan better? Have less content? Be smarter? It’s hard to know, with the info we would have had then, what we reasonably could have done differently.

Well I do have one improvement – Prime 2 Multiplayer. That should have never happened 🙂

Thank you to Darren for the news tip!


58 thoughts on “Former Retro Studios Employee Talks About Metroid Prime Nintendo Exclusivity, Fan Criticism & More”

    1. I’m glad you liked it. I thought it was a great interview too. Very honest and informative and ultimately incredibly interesting to get an insight into the development of such a great franchise.

    1. Nintendo First Order Commander Quadraxis

      ||Too bad they listened to the worthless cattle and made me weaker in the Wii version…||

    1. If only we get an HD remaster for the Switch as well as Hunters with robust online multiplayer with more maps and hunters before we get Prime 4. XP One can hope

    1. Nintendo First Order Commander Quadraxis

      ||He thinks my world was stressful? That is exactly what darkness does, makes you feel scared, stressful, weak, pathetic compared to the Ing…||

      ||Worse than that, he made us weaker because of the foolish civilians being unable to defeat my original power…||

  1. A lot of really accurate stuff there. Completely agree with his opinions on Prime 3 – the game opens up excellently – SkyTown was a phenomenal moment. The motion and pointer controls are superb for the most part, especially grappling and the aiming like he says. Motion also improves 1 and 2 in Metroid Prime Trilogy. Good insight into the development of these games overall (especially Prime 2)

    1. I’m really thankful Matt Casamassina of IGN forced some common sense into the Prime 3 team and had them add the smaller pointer bounding box mode (called Advanced ingame iirc). Both 3 and Trilogy would have been nigh unplayable without it.

  2. I never finished any of the prime games. Never even got to play 3 and I have the trilogy on Wii but I do love the gameplay I just didn’t have enough time to play through them. With my wiiu disconnected now I hope they can get them up on the switch I’ll definitely spend some cash on those. Motion controls really added to the gameplay too I just hope I can get back into them before prime 4 comes out.

    1. Same here. Prime 2 is my favorite thanks to the things it has like the Dark Visor, Dark Suit, good boss battles and amazing areas like Torvus Bog, Sanctuary and their Dark Aether versions.

  3. “Just about anyone from my generation instantly lights up when you talk about Mario or Zelda. But when you talk about Metroid, it’s sort of a blank look of ‘oh, I kind of remember that.'”
    You know that saddens me because it is true. Link and Mario always get the spotlight but Samus almost always stays in a dark corner looking from far away. I always believed that Metroid has GOTY potential, Nintendo just needs to give the series more attention…
    Just my opinion.

    1. I also think that Metroid is part of the big 3 franchises of Nintendo (I had to reply here because there’s no reply button in your reply). They need to heavily advertise Samus Returns, Prime 4 and future Metroid games. Also as you said, they need to give Metroid more attention.

  4. Great interview and I can see that developing the prime games must of been very stressful.
    I think all 3 are fantastic in their own way and are easily some of the best games I’ve ever played.
    The first is the one for me, it was the first FPS Metroid game and I think that retro did an amazing job bringing this game to life with the huge environments and big bosses and that lonely feeling as your scanning out a new area.
    I think with the prime games you are looking at developing a game pretty much solely for the hardcore Nintendo fan. ( I don’t think it’s been a game to attract new comers), but that should try and change.
    If only Metroid could turn out sales like Pokemon or mario there would be so much more resources put into the franchise.
    Whether it’s actually secretly retro studios or Bandai or whoever behind the development of mp4, i think introducing the amazing prime games we already know and love to the switch beforehand ( a console breaking sale records in several countries now ) so a ton of possible newcomers can experience it and then think to themselves WOW, “there’s a brand new one of these games coming out soon, I can’t wait. We just might see those sales.
    The prime games to me are the sort of games, that if I had a different console for my main play time, I would want a Nintendo console to play these games as well. I wouldn’t want to miss out on them.
    Come on Kensuke Tanabe, it’s time to shine.

  5. Was the Metroid Prime 2 Multiplayer that bad? I remember it kinda fondly and I played a good amount of Metroid Prime: Hunters online multiplayer although I can’t say that was an enjoyable experience. I still think Metroid could use a much improved multiplayer mode though, maybe an “Evolved” type mode fighting huge bosses like Kraid and Mother Brain.

  6. I really enjoyed the multiplayer experience of Metroid blast on Wii u. I think combining te best aspects of each Metroid multiplayer could create a fun multiplayer experience.
    I actually liked the linear first mission in prime 3

    1. I liked the multiplayer in Metroid Prime 2 and had a lot of fun with it. I can only imagine that what he meant with that statement was “Metroid didn’t really need a multiplayer and if we hadn’t done one, we could have invested more time into the core game”.

  7. Nintendo First Order Commander Quadraxis

    ||In fact, the Sanctuary Fortress was the only area built with this plan in mind, which is why both light and dark actually look visually distinct and amazing. But there was no time (immovable limitation) to really rebuild the rest of the game, but at least we got the Sanctuary Fortress||

    ||Indeed, you created my fortress and me to be the best thing about the entire weapon…||

    1. You truly are an amazing boss and Sanctuary is incredible with its atmosphere of advanced technology. I really want to see an area in Prime 4 that is inspired in Sanctuary.

  8. I think 3 is the most fun as I really like getting lore for each of the different planets and it flowed really well. 1 is still my favourite but after initially being a little disappointed with 2 when I played it in 2004, I enjoyed it much more when I replayed it on the Wii u with motion controls a couple of years ago

  9. Am I the only one who had some real fun with Prime 2 multiplayer? Jumping in that big ass turret and wrecking people was satisfying as hell. It wasn’t a deep or amazing game but I’ll be damned if it wasn’t a hectic laugh with 4 players (then again, what video game isn’t a laugh with four friends?).

  10. Infinite Kalas X3, The Sonyendo King

    Multiplayer in Metroid Prime 2: Echoes definitely felt tacked in to me. The core game probably could have been better if they didn’t waste time on that mode. *shrug* (I stick to the core belief that everything can be better, though, so that’s not a new thought to me.) I fucked loved the look/aesthetic of Dark Aether. I always enjoyed looking up at the sky when I was there: beautiful. I also loved how Dark Aether kept me on my toes and felt like a longer version of the Chozo related areas in Prime 1 when Chozo Ghosts would appear. So stressful but in a good way. If they ever did a minor remake of the original Metroid Prime, I’d want them to let the Chozo Ghosts appear in more than just Chozo related areas. I’d so pay 10 extra bucks for that shit! The Chozo Ghosts & Dark Aether are definitely my highlights of the Metroid Prime Trilogy.

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