Super NES Classic Edition Developer Interview #1

The Super NES Classic Edition is rapidly approaching its September 29 release date in North America. Just like last year with the NES Classic, Nintendo has begun posting developer interviews where they discuss some of the games that are included on the mini hardware. This time around Shigeru Miyamoto, Takaya Imamura, and Tsuyoshi Watanabe chat about Star Fox, Star Fox 2, and the Super Nintendo controller. The interview was conducted by Akinori Sao:


Miyamoto-san, would you please describe your roles in the development of the original Star Fox game?

Miyamoto: The three of us have been working together on the series since the original Star Fox. I was game designer and producer, Imamura handled graphics aside from polygons and character design, and Watanabe was mainly in charge of polygon design.


Imamura-san, before Star Fox, you were involved with development of such games as F-ZERO1, which was released simultaneously with Super NES.

Imamura: Yes. I designed vehicles and rendered characters.

1. F-ZERO™: A racing game set in the near future and included in the Super Nintendo Entertainment System: Super NES Classic Edition. The game was originally released in Japan in November 1990.


Watanabe-san, what were you doing before joining development of Star Fox?

Watanabe: I was designing the backgrounds for The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past.2 A senior developer rendered the Light World, but I was in charge of the backgrounds for the Dark World.

Miyamoto: I also asked you for that enigmatic art for the opening narrative text.

Watanabe: That’s right. I also did things like render pictures of the Seven Sages.

Miyamoto: Watanabe, you joined the company later than Imamura, isn’t that right?

Watanabe: Yes. I joined a year after Imamura. I entered the company before the release of Super NES and spent my first year debugging.


Our topic this time is the original Star Fox, which came out in 1993. What kicked off development?

Miyamoto: I wanted to make a full-fledged game using polygons.


At the time, most games used pixel art, but you wanted to use polygons to make a three-dimensional game.

Miyamoto: That’s right. Inside the company, we considered various approaches, but the hardware development people said it was impossible.


Impossible how?

Miyamoto: They said, “the Super NES isn’t polygon hardware!” (laughs)


Oh, I see. Super NES wasn’t originally designed to run polygons.

Miyamoto: That’s right.


But you didn’t give up. (laughs)

Miyamoto: Nope! (laughs) A British company called Argonaut Software3 was making polygon games for personal computers, so I thought it might be possible to use that technology and develop a special chip. The result of about two years of development was the Super FX chip.4

3. Argonaut Software (later Argonaut Games): A British video game developer that developed a 3D engine.

4. Super FX™: A chip for rendering polygons and 3D graphics that was added to Super NES ROM cartridges. In addition to Star Fox, the chip was included in games such as Super Mario World™ 2: Yoshi’s Island™.


Super NES uses cartridges, so by adding that chip, you could further evolve hardware later on.

Miyamoto: That’s right. With cartridges, it’s helpful to be able to add hardware.


Watanabe-san, you did polygon design. What difficulties did you encounter?

Watanabe: Even with the Super FX chip, Super NES had a lot of constraints. Rendering any design you like in polygons results in processing overload. So when rendering starfighters, I went through a process of trial and error in order to make the direction their noses were pointing clear with the smallest number of polygons possible.

Miyamoto: Each new polygon vertex increases the processing burden. So I investigated how many vertices I could show on one screen beforehand. As a result, I made many buildings square or triangular and made enemies with as few polygons as possible, with flat shapes so they could fly in any direction.

Imamura: And we made the ground scroll.

Miyamoto: We put a pattern on the ground and had it scroll to convey a sense of movement.

Watanabe: For that pattern, we could do little more than a simple gradation.


Star Fox came together within various constraints, but players can also sense your playfulness. A prime example is the hidden stage Out of This Dimension.5
5. Out of This Dimension: A hidden stage in the asteroid belt of level 3. Destroying a large meteorite that appears on the right causes a large bird to appear. If players ram into it, their fighter enters a hidden stage.
Imamura: Oh, right! You warp into a hidden stage where a slot machine appears!
Yes. And if you get a 777 on the slot machine, the production staff credits appear.

Imamura: And the children’s song “Yuki Yakonko” plays in the background…


And “Hänschen klein” plays, too. A planet with a face floats in the background and squiggles around, so it’s very surreal. The stage’s title says you’re in another dimension, and you really didn’t hold back on that!

Watanabe: That stage began with origami. Miyamoto said he wanted to do origami.

Miyamoto: Oh, now I remember! I was talking about how fun it would be to have paper cranes fold.

Watanabe: But that was declared impossible. (laughs)

Miyamoto: It didn’t work. (laughs)


Paper cranes had too many vertices. (laughs)

Watanabe: Paper cranes were out of the question, but paper planes would work, so…

Miyamoto: Pieces of paper fold into airplanes and fly around. We experimented with various things and thought it would be a waste to simply throw away what was left over, so we packed them into that bonus stage.


At the end, the staff credits appear, and just when you suspect it’s the end, the letters for “The End” appear in a scattered way.

Miyamoto: And then you get to shoot them! Even back in the days of Super NES, we wanted to avoid commonplace staff credits and do something interactive.


Given the many constraints, the inclusion of such gameplay is surprising.

Miyamoto: If you think about it now, we were awfully ambitious. After all, we had a hard time just making the main game! (laughs)

Everyone: (laughs)


Now I’d like to talk about Star Fox 2, which surprised fans all over the world upon the announcement of Super NES Classic Edition. The originally planned release of this software was canceled, so it became a “phantom game,” and no one expected the day would come when they could play it.

Miyamoto: I wonder if maybe we should have let it keep being a phantom game… (laughs)


No, don’t say that! (laughs)

Miyamoto: I haven’t played it in a long time, so I hope people can enjoy playing it in this day and age.


How did it come about that you would include this game in Super NES Classic Edition?

Miyamoto: The Super NES Classic Edition system’s producer said he wanted to include it. He said it had been through debugging and was a complete game, so it would be a waste not to put it out in the world.


If it was complete, why did you decide against releasing it before?

Miyamoto: We finished it in 1995, but the next year…


The release of Nintendo 64 was coming up.

Miyamoto: Right. Nintendo 64 was hardware geared for polygons, but Super NES wasn’t, so we were going to have to add a chip—the Super FX 2 with double memory—raising the price.


Ah, I see.

Miyamoto: The price was high and the timing of the release was awkward, so we decided to cancel it and start from scratch with a new Star Fox game for Nintendo 64.


And that became Star Fox 64.6

Miyamoto: Yes.

6. Star Fox™ 64: A 3D shooting game originally released in Japan for the Nintendo 64™ system in April 1997.


Watanabe-san, what do you remember from development of Star Fox 2?

Watanabe: The Super FX 2 chip allowed more polygons and the possibilities broadened for what we could show. So we decided to have the fighters transform.


Arwing can change into a Walker.

Watanabe: That’s right. We could show more but could still only produce graphics that looked simple. So to make it look more fun, we experimented with having the fighter spin to change form. But when Ashura Itoh7 saw that…

Imamura: At the time, Ashura-san had a Star Fox comic series in the American video game magazine Nintendo Power.

Watanabe: When Ashura-san saw the fighter spin, he said the pilot would get dizzy!


That’s true. (laughs) It may be a video game, but you mustn’t be too irrational.

Watanabe: So the fighter transforms, but instead of simply making it look fun, we designed it in consideration of the actual mechanisms at work.


This interview is being conducted due to the release of Super NES Classic Edition, so I’d like to ask about the Super NES game console.

Miyamoto: All right.


Miyamoto-san, you were deeply involved in the development of Super NES, weren’t you?

Miyamoto: Yes. Together with the industrial designer, I did most of the console design for the original Super Famicom version of the system released in Japan and Europe, plus the packaging.


How did you handle the contents of the hardware?

Miyamoto: During the NES era, the company grew and evolved to the point where hardware designers would consult game developers on how to handle various matters.


Nintendo is an integrated hardware and software business, and you were just then achieving that.

Miyamoto: That’s right. That solidified during the days of NES.


Compared to NES, Super NES features a curvier design.

Miyamoto: Yes. Relatively early on, we decided to introduce round elements to the controller design.


The design around the A, B, X and Y buttons, as well as the +Control Pad, has round aspects.

Miyamoto: And the design of the round ends, where you hold it, makes it easier for small children to grip the controller wherever they want. We shaped it that way so it would be easy to hold for any hand size.


And compared to the NES controller, there are four more buttons.

Miyamoto: For example, the arcade version of Street Fighter II8, which is included in Super NES Classic Edition, had two sets of three buttons per player, so a total of six buttons would be necessary for playing.

8. Street Fighter II: A fighting game developed by Capcom. Many Street Fighter series games have been released since the arcade version debuted in 1991. Super NES Classic Edition includes Street Fighter II Turbo: Hyper Fighting, which first released in arcades in December 1992.


You increased the number of buttons for Street Fighter II?

Miyamoto: Not just for Street Fighter II, but we wanted the console to be compatible with a lot of such trendy games at the time, so we increased the number of buttons. Also, the A, B, X and Y buttons are lined up in a cross, right? We placed them that way for use like a +Control Pad. And depending on the game, you could play with a ten-yen coin on top! (laughs)


Ah, I see! (laughs)

Miyamoto: But we really worried about the arrangement of the A, B, X and Y buttons. We couldn’t figure out whether to put the B button diagonally above or below the A button.


And after some thought, you decided on below.

Miyamoto: Yes. We decided on that placement to unify it with Game Boy, but that made it impossible for Mario to do a B Dash! (laughs)


That’s why it’s a Y Dash in Super Mario World9!

9. Super Mario World™: A platform game included in Super NES Classic Edition. Originally released in Japan on the same day as the Super Famicom™ system in November 1990.

Miyamoto: Yeah! (laughs) And we tried to divide the buttons into groups. We assigned priority, so the primary buttons are A and B, with X and Y as secondary. That’s why we decided to call them X and Y instead of C and D.


That makes sense.

Miyamoto: We also decided to use four different colors for the buttons. I actually wanted to call them the Red button and Yellow button and so forth, but…

The American version of the controller adopted two tones. Japan and Europe used the same design, for the main console as well.

Miyamoto: In America, they did their own design for their market. For example, if you touch the X and Y buttons, they’re concave.


Oh, you’re right.

Miyamoto: By making them concave, you can tell the difference between the primary and secondary buttons without looking at the controller. That was impressive. I realized America has some outstanding industrial design. But I was sorely disappointed that I couldn’t call it the Red button! (laughs)


Read the full interview at Nintendo’s official site!


Craig Majaski

Craig has been covering the video game industry since 1995. His work has been published across a wide spectrum of media sites. He's currently the Editor-In-Chief of Nintendo Times and contributes to Gaming Age.

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