Kenta Mo­tokura

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”

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