Metroid Prime: Hunters
27th Jul 2005 | 09:55
If you've got a DS then there's a damn good likelihood that you've played Metroid Prime: Hunters. Like Super Mario Bros. and Tetris before it, Hunters had the proud accolade of coming bundled with a new piece of Nintendo hardware, even if it was only in demo form.
That means that almost every DS owner across the world would have had their first touchscreen, stylus and wireless experience with Hunters. It must have been a pretty nice feeling for Kensuke Tanabe, the man charged by Metroid legend Yoshio Sakamoto to take the series into 3D on Cube and DS, and Richard Vorodi, Hunters game designer at Nintendo of America.
But Hunters was never meant just to be a five-minute novelty, or a throwaway showcase of what the DS could do. The full game is due out this October and promises to be every bit as complete a Metroid adventure as the Cube versions.
In fact, Hunters is adding several new elements to the series. Not only does has the touchscreen control system revolutionized the way you'll play the game and made it more of a first-person shooter experience, the Hunters tagline means that Samus has six rival bounty hunters out to brutally crack open that famous spacesuit.
So to get the lowdown we hooked up with Tanabe and Varoldi to find out if just as many DS owners will be playing the finished version of Metroid Prime: Hunters.
Bringing the Metroid Prime franchise to DS must have been a very important move for Nintendo. How did you approach this challenge?
Kensuke Tanabe: The obvious thing about the DS is that it's handheld, but the Metroid Prime series in the past has always been on GameCube. The first thing we wanted to do was differentiate the DS version from the home console version. One of the DS's most innovative features is the wireless component, which lets players play against each other easily. Of course, if you have four GameCubes together you can do that too, but with the DS it is far easier. So we wanted to focus on the multiplayer battles, but to do that we needed to create rivals for Samus. That's why we came up with Hunters.
What classic elements of the Metroid universe did you want to capture with Hunters?
Kensuke Tanabe: Mr Sakamoto is the creator of the Metroid series and the man behind the legendary 2D versions of the game, whereas I am responsible for the 3D versions. So I will not speak for Mr Sakamoto, but I certainly wanted Hunters to be a strong part of the Metroid Prime series. To this end, I ensured that every aspect of the game would feel familiar to Prime fans. We even had the artistic team from Retro Studios create all the visuals for Hunters so that the flavour would remain the same.
How did you react to the DS when you first saw it, and why did you choose to use the touchscreen for a first-person shooter control method?
Richard Vorodi: When we first got the hardware, before we had even thought about Metroid or anything, we were like 'What are we going to do with this thing?' It was crazy, we knew we could do pretty much anything! We started doing tests with the touchscreen and figured out that the functionality was quite similar to a mouse, so we started thinking about games that were synonymous with mouse control. First-person shooters on PC were the obvious choice. Then we started thinking that we could do a really good FPS with the touchscreen controls. We thought about doing something new but then we thought of Metroid. Hey, we are Nintendo after all, let's do Metroid Prime!
Did the touchscreen shape the way you designed Hunters?
Richard Vorodi: Yeah, I really think the touchscreen was at the forefront of the new design direction we took. Metroid Prime on Cube was a first-person adventure, but on DS it's a first-person shooter. Shooters need to be fast and furious, and they need to have precision accuracy. The touchscreen let us fulfill those requirements.
How difficult was it to capture Metroid Prime's FPS control system with the stylus?
Richard Vorodi: Because we had the freedom to create our own control method, I don't actually think it was all that diffcult. In fact, I think the control method was the easiest thing we worked on. Everything else has been much harder!
It must be a real benefit for a handheld FPS to have the touchscreen, right?
Richard Vorodi: Yes. There's really nothing like it. I don't think this game could exist on any other platform other than the DS, because of the touchscreen.
Well, Konami is trying to put an FPS on PSP in the shape of Coded Arms, which uses the analogue stick and the face buttons for movement. How do you think that compares to Hunters?
Richard Vorodi: I really don't think there's any comparison. Using that little analogue nub is slow. If they speed it up accuracy suffers, and if they slow it down then there's too much lag. I think that really changes the game style that you end up with. In Hunters, we don't have to worry about whether or not a player will be able to run, jump, turn around, and blast somebody. We don't have to worry about lock-on systems or auto-aim. The touchscreen eliminated every problem like that.
You've talked about the good things the touchscreen brought. What restrictions did it bring?
Richard Vorodi: Whenever you get a new piece of hardware you've got to look at all the things you can't do, and then find a way to do them. But the biggest restriction we came across straightaway was mental rather than technical. We worried about whether it was okay to change a game that people have loved for years and take it in a new direction. That took some courage. In technical terms, we had to think about how we could recreate the established rebirth of Metroid on GameCube. How could we take those visuals and put them onto a portable system? We put a lot of energy into making it look as good as it possibly could, and now I'm pretty happy about how close it looks to its GameCube brother.
Speaking of the GameCube versions of Prime, moving the Metroid series from 2D to 3D must have been a very difficult move. How successful do you think you've been?
Kensuke Tanabe: We knew every Metroid fan was worried about the move from 2D to 3D, so that meant we felt lots of pressure. However, one of the big appeals of the Metroid series has always been the exploration of looking for something. The main gameplay elements of combining objects together to progress has never changed. Moving to 3D let us make that process far more involving because of the new viewpoint and the scan visor. Now you have to use you own mind to find objects. You aren't just given them when you reach the end of the level. That was the biggest advantage of moving to 3D. Of course, the 3D environment also let us create far more beautiful worlds to explore.
There's much more to the Prime games than just shooting. Does it annoy you when people refer to it as just an FPS?
Kensuke Tanabe: Yes. That's why I always refer to it as an FPA!
So essentially you've created your own genre?
Kensuke Tanabe: I think so! It's true that the Metroid Prime games do look like FPS games, but the control system is very different. While most FPSs use a twin stick control system to move around and aim, we use a lock-on system so that, for instance, you can lock-on to an enemy and strafe around him. That makes the game far more accessible for people who aren't familiar with FPS gameplay. However, with Hunters we had to concentrate more on the shooting. Having said that, I would emphasise that Hunters is still not just a standard FPS.
Do you feel you've stayed true to the Metroid series' roots with Hunters?
Richard Vorodi: At the heart of Hunters is Metroid. We've got that DNA in there. The fans don't need to worry. What we are doing is taking the series in a new direction. A comparison I like to make is with Mario Kart. That has the DNA of Super Mario in it - the shells, the jumps, the characters - but it's something very different. Hunters is kind of like the Mario Kart version of Metroid, although we're a lot closer to the roots of the series.
So aside from the control method and the multiplayer, what is the big new gameplay addition to Hunters?
Richard Vorodi: Samus is not alone anymore. She has six bounty hunters after her. That's something that's never been in the series before. So when the game starts Samus is powered up to the maximum, because she can't afford to have to augment her suit as the game goes on. She still has things to find, but her primary goal now is to survive. To do that she'll need to find extra weapons, because rather than her getting stronger it's the other bounty hunters who are powering themselves up to take her out.
Give us some examples of how the Hunters will try to take Samus out...
Richard Vorodi: The theme we're going for with Hunters is that sometimes Samus is the Hunter, and at other times she is the hunted. First I should say that Samus will rely on her ship a lot more than ever before in the series. She'll use it to fly from planet to planet, and she'll be doing that a lot. Each of the six bounty hunters is on a different planet. As you explore these planets you'll often run across the bounty hunters, at which point you might want to hunt them down and take them out. Of course, there will be times when you're exploring a planet and a bounty hunter will try to take you out, so you'll have to watch your back.
When the DS launched it came bundled with a demo version of Hunters. How proud were you to be right there at the forefront of a new piece of hardware?
Kensuke Tanabe: [Laughs] Oh, it was very tough! The DS itself was designed under very strict schedules, so to put a piece of software in there that would be ready at launch was a very tough thing to do! But at the same time it was a great honour and if it proves to be a successful game, it will be a great boost for my team. They need it, they have worked so hard!
Richard Vorodi: On a personal note, I missed every big summer movie last year working on the demo! But when you think about it, every Nintendo system has had games bundled with it. When I got my first NES when I was seven it had Super Mario and Duck Hunt in there. Then there was Tetris with the GameBoy and Super Mario World with the SNES. There's this whole legacy of bundled titles, and to be part of that is a huge honour. Everyone who has worked on Hunters feels like that.
It was really used as a showcase for the DS and its new capabilities...
Richard Vorodi: Yeah, that's something we're very proud of. I think any developer given the opportunity to define a new piece of hardware would have worked as hard as we have.
And do you think you'll satisfy gamers who loved the demo version of Hunters with the finished game?
Richard Vorodi: We wouldn't put it out if we didn't. We're our own hardest critics and we know that you just don't mess around with a franchise like Metroid. We're confident that anyone who loves the series will be completely satisfied with Hunters.
Metroid Prime Hunters will be available on DS in October