Director, Super Mario Odyssey
You began your Nintendo career as an artist. How closely did you work with the design teams, and what did you learn from them about making
Mario games? At first I was responsible for character modelling and animation, but I gradually became more involved with the technical design of the characters I was making too. In Super Mario Galaxy, I was involved with the design for the player character and in Super Mario Galaxy 2 I was involved with some level design. I don’t think the work of artists can be separated from the design side. I really learned a lot of things from working on Mario games, including the elements of gameplay, what makes an action game fun, and how to face problems simply. You’ve been at Nintendo since the GameCube era. How have development processes changed over the years? The gameplay mechanics are different, so it’s not really possible to do a straight comparison. In the development of Super Mario Odyssey there were a lot more things we could do compared to what we could during the days of Wii. We have a greater range of expression, we can place more objects, and there’s more freedom in how the controllers can be used. We still needed to make use of this freedom when making the game though, and rather than do things differently we were actually making sure to experiment lots through trial, error and quick response, just like we did in the old days. We often think of long-running series of being a little stuck in their ways, but a new 3D Mario game always feels different. What are the rules you absolutely cannot break when making one? It’s actually because it’s a long-running series that I think it’s important to provide consumers with new gameplay experiences. Both adults and children have the same feeling of excitement about new things, and while it might sometimes be risky, I think the 3D Mario series is evolving along with its audience. This is the rule that we absolutely can’t break – that we have to be serious in trying to create new experiences when making the games. Odyssey returns to the world-based, sandbox style of Super Mario 64 and Sunshine. How different an approach does that require when it comes to level design? To put it another way – what makes a good world in a 3D Mario game? Compared to other releases in the series, sandbox-type games offer more control over the camera, so it’s harder to keep track of where you are in the world. We need to place landmarks and routes so you don’t get lost, but also let you go exploring for yourself. We adjust the amount of gameplay in a place, considering what players are looking for when they go there. A good world in a 3D
Mario game is one that is well thought out. Ideally, we want it to make sense to players when they find out the reason why some piece of gameplay is where it is, or why the art is how it is, or why the world is the size that it is. Odyssey’s capture system came from an experimental prototype. Tell us about how that phase works – once you’ve built something and have decided you personally like it, what happens next? I actually try ideas out and see how they are at every stage. After thinking an idea through in my head, and on paper, I play with it to check whether it’s really good or not. When we actually make something, some things turn out to be not so fun, so they don’t make it into the game. With fun ideas, the next step is to think about what kind of gameplay rules would work with them, what kind of level design would suit them, and then we build something so we can actually try it out again. What’s been the biggest challenge you’ve faced making Super Mario Odyssey, and how did you conquer it? The biggest challenges were the game mechanics for the capture ability and the designs of the new sandbox levels. For the capture ability, you could think of each capture as a new transformation, so it took a long time to implement and fine-tune. Because you can use enemies and objects, we had to discard part of our existing approach to level design that we’d built up over previous Mario games and come up with designs that work for this game.
Also, we made it so that players could choose which of the many Power Moons in the sandbox stages to get or skip over as they play through the game. In
Super Mario 64 and Super Mario Sunshine, when you collect a Star or Shine Sprite you are taken back to the hub area. But in Super Mario Odyssey the game isn’t suddenly stopped like that – we tried to make it
so you can keep exploring by yourself, and immerse yourself in Mario’s world. Looking back on Odyssey’s development, is there one aspect of which you’re particularly proud? The theme for this game is the sense of surprise a journey brings, and I feel like in making this game, Mario has taught me all about the limitless potential that both he and games in general have. I made each individual part of this game while keeping in mind what Mario would have to say about it. I hope you’ll go and play in all kinds of different places in the levels! Many developers around the world would give anything to work on a Mario game. Is it as creatively fulfilling as it seems from the outside? Do you want to try other things, or would you happily make Mario games forever? As I mentioned in my answer above, I think there is still much more potential for games. Of course, I love Mario, so part of me does want to make Mario games, but he might not always be the best choice depending on how we want to output this potential. When I come up with a gameplay idea, I’d like to be able to deliver it in the way best suited to it. Which member of senior Nintendo staff have you worked most closely with, and what is the most valuable thing you learned from them? I’ve learned game design from Mr [Shigeru] Miyamoto, Mr [Yoshiaki] Koizumi, Mr [Koichi] Hayashida and the other directors of past 3D Mario games. They’ve had an immeasurable impact on me in how I go about making
Odyssey, teaching me things like what a Mario game should be, what it means to challenge oneself to do something, and what level design is all about. I’m just a single artist, and I was lucky enough to have the chance to have lots of conversations over a long period. I feel incredibly fortunate.
“It’s actually because it’s a long-running series that I think it’s important to provide consumers with new gameplay experiences”