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 Shinesparkers.net 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!