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: 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: 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: 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.
Miyamoto: I wanted to make a full-fledged game using polygons.
Miyamoto: That’s right. Inside the company, we considered various approaches, but the hardware development people said it was impossible.
Miyamoto: They said, “the Super NES isn’t polygon hardware!” (laughs)
Miyamoto: That’s right.
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™.
Miyamoto: That’s right. With cartridges, it’s helpful to be able to add hardware.
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.
Imamura: And the children’s song “Yuki Yakonko” plays in the background…
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)
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.
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.
Miyamoto: If you think about it now, we were awfully ambitious. After all, we had a hard time just making the main game! (laughs)
Miyamoto: I wonder if maybe we should have let it keep being a phantom game… (laughs)
Miyamoto: I haven’t played it in a long time, so I hope people can enjoy playing it in this day and age.
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.
Miyamoto: We finished it in 1995, but the next year…
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.
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.
6. Star Fox™ 64: A 3D shooting game originally released in Japan for the Nintendo 64™ system in April 1997.
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.
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!
Watanabe: So the fighter transforms, but instead of simply making it look fun, we designed it in consideration of the actual mechanisms at work.
Miyamoto: All right.
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.
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.
Miyamoto: That’s right. That solidified during the days of NES.
Miyamoto: Yes. Relatively early on, we decided to introduce round elements to the controller design.
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.
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.
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)
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.
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)
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.
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.
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 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.