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There are many improvements over the original Mario Super Strikers – were those improvements the result of internal brainstorming or did the team look at the critical responses?

Mike Inglehart (MI): We looked a lot at the message boards after the first one went out because it was received quite well.  We had a lot of aspirations in terms of what we wanted the feature set to be on the first game but only having 11 eleven months, obviously, we could only get so much into the game – we focused more on the core.  When we finished we knew where a lot of the holes were, where we wanted to fix the game.  Again, because the game was received so well, we looked at the message boards and read the reviews – we wanted to make sure there wasn’t anything else that was a glaring feature that people were looking for that we missed along the way.  Luckily most of the stuff seemed to align with the history of Mario games – people wanted more variety, more quirky things, more character differentiation, so a lot of the stuff really came together and lined up.  We weren’t far off the mark from where we started with our original design.

 

11 months for the first game; how many months for the second game?

Ken Yeeloy (KY): 18 months, or thereabouts.

 

The improvements that were made to the original, to make Charged, were they leftover ideas?  At the end of 11 months did you go, “We’ll put this idea aside for a possible future game”?

KY: There were a lot of things that just didn’t make it onto the table for the first game; there was a lot of stuff left in the grab bag that we wanted to get in.  A lot of people think of the second game as the game we really wanted to make.  Again, new engine, time… we just didn’t have the time and resources to get that 

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stuff done.  Having said that we learned a lot going through the project – we identified where our strengths were and we tried to build on those not just leave them as they were before.  So things like our ball charging system, our scoring system, that wasn’t part of our original design but we took time to evaluate the existing conventions.  It was

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great to bring new things but it’s always good to build upon what made the first one so good.

 

Those improvement that are made, what kind of approval process did the company go through?  You’re making the game for Nintendo, it’s their property – were the designs signed off by Nintendo?

MI: We do some of that but at the beginning of each project we have a big pow-wow between Nintendo Japan and ourselves – either we go there or they come here.  It’s our biggest major design meeting that will come at the beginning of the project.  There are usually key features that they’re really interested in, in terms of where they’d like to see the game go.  We’ll always send them what we’re going to be doing.  As long as you’re providing good gameplay, it’s almost better if they don’t say anything because you know you’re in the right realm. Typically [if] they bring stuff up, there’s a glaring issue that needs to be fixed.  But we make sure we’re aligned at the high level before we dig into the details at the very beginning.

 

mario strikers charged          mario strikers charged

 

So they’re not involved in the nitty-gritty details, it’s the high level direction.

MI: It’s much different than working with a typical North American publisher, where there’s a lot of dialogue consistently over every milestone; Nintendo will give us room to grow and evolve the game.  And when they need to talk to us they’ll make sure that’s known.  Typically at each milestone there’s a conversation based on what was delivered.  Sometimes, depending on how busy they are, we may not hear from them for a bit.

 

The conversation is more side-to-side rather than top down.  I’m just thinking about Waluigi’s crotch chop.  Does Nintendo look at that say, “What’s that doing there?”  Or is a cultural thing and its not really something that’s completely understood?  It’s in the first game, it’s in the second game…

KY: We definitely added to it in the second game – the team crotch chop, the fake out crotch chop where he looks like he’s going to do it then gives the finger wave to the camera.

 

MI: When they came to work with us going back to the first game, what they were looking for was a North American developer to do something different with the Mario IP (intellectual property).  Back then a lot of discussion that we had was that Nintendo was given an unfair stereotype that their products were aimed at kids.  What they were looking to do was, “Lets change it a little bit and lets show people that anyone can have fun with this – it’s not just for four and five-year olds.”  So, I think the Waluigi example is maybe extreme, but in terms of that character personality it really lends itself well and when people see that goal celebration it doesn’t seem out of the ordinary for Waluigi.  When we got together at the beginning that was part of the mandate – to take the Mario IP and lets do something that people wouldn’t expect to see; give it more emotion, give it more depth.

 

KY: And that’s a good example of that North American feel they were looking for, Nintendo never would have come up with that on their own if they were building that game.

 

MI: There were a few discussions on it.

 

KY: It wasn’t an easy, breezy thing to get through but it did get through and we didn’t push too far but I think it actually gives the game that little bit more flavor.  You know it wasn’t a Japanese developer.

 

mike inglehart

Mike Inglehart

"Because the first game did so well... we took the old Super Mario Strikers controls and we moved them onto the Wii remote and the nunchuck and we said the game had to play the same without changing any of the features."

 

One of the major improvements I thought Charged had over Strikers were the fields.  They’re much more dynamic, there’s more going on.  Again, was that something you wanted to do in the first game?

MI: We had the seven fields in the first game and when it came down to it we had to make a lot of choices… do we put more into the core or come up with more gimmicks?  When people picked up the first Strikers, they expected those fields to play differently – and quite frankly we expected them to play differently but sometimes you have to make tough decisions to ensure a quality product at the end of the day.  So when the second one rolled around, as part of our character differentiation pillar, we considered the stadiums as characters because when you look at Mario Kart, Mario Tennis they very much are characters – you remember stadiums the same way you remember Waluigi or Wario.  We wanted to make sure that when you came to each of the new stadiums in the game we have not just cool gimmicks like fireballs or lava pits or lightning or wastelands but also terrain differences, friction, and balance.  Multiply that with all the character differentiation you get this amazing replay value that will bring people back.  And we’ve seen that online since its release.

 

What went into making Charged run smoothly online?  At E3 Reggie Fils-Aime told us Nintendo is online, even if it doesn’t appear that it is.  With Charged, you didn’t necessarily need those bazillion digit friend codes to play online with an interface that is actually simple to use.  Take us through a bit of process of bringing Charged online?

MI: We really planned the wifi stuff from very close to the beginning of the project.  It wasn’t something that we tacked on.  At the Wii was progressing as a console, there were a lot of questions we had about how the wifi infrastructure was going to work, what can we do, what can’t we do.  Many of our questions couldn’t be answered until a much later date.  We positioned the design in a way that we had huge lists of things that we wanted to do – referencing what the current standard is.  You look at Xbox Live and they have a fantastic online infrastructure, no one will argue that – it does a lot of great stuff there.  We just tried to think what things relate well to a game like this as well as keeping in mind what Nintendo stands for: ease of use to get into things.  As we learned more from Nintendo, we simply threw away stuff that didn’t fit.  They also allowed us to push them.  They would empower us as developers to ask for what we think is right, and if it’s not something that’s going to be applied to every game they would tell us that and we’d have to go a different direction.

 

We knew it was not going to be a simple thing when you’re dealing with a new console and a company that’s never really done online up to this point.  And also in a culture where online is much different in Japan than in North America, where we embrace it differently.  You just have to make sure your T’s are crossed and your I’s dotted.  By doing that I think we had a safety net for ourselves; and give Nintendo credit for this, too.  They provided us with as much information as they could because they were figuring things out along the way as well.  We had a great programming team in-house that really did a great job making that come together; a good testing team in-house that helped make sure we had everything in place.

 

And sometimes the cards fall where you need them to as well – sometimes you need a few good bounces here and there to make that stuff work.

 

The motion controls for the Wii.  Did the controls change over time or did you come up with one and decide, “That’s the one”?  The actual functionality of the motion controls doesn’t seem forced in any way – it seems to be a natural progression from, say, the Wavebird control.  Did it take much time to get that control scheme right?

MI: We dedicated about two to three months at the beginning of the project to the controls – we were lucky enough to get a very early set of the Wii remote and the nunchuck.  Because the first game did so well – and it was basically just the gameplay that pushed it through, there weren’t a lot of bells and whistles, there wasn’t really anything outside the core that made it succeed – we took the old Super Mario Strikers controls and we moved them onto the Wii remote and the nunchuck and we said the game had to play the same without changing any of the features.

 

We said, “If we can’t deliver the same integrity of gameplay quality no is going to buy the sequel.” We were able to go to Japan quite early on and see how the functionality would work before we even got the controllers over here.  Keeping that original statement in the back of my head, it just seemed that our game was built on digital button presses, the game being responsive and instantaneous – that’s what made the game fun.  So when you think of analog control, you think “There’s lag on that, you have to catch up to the input.”  And in the back of my mind it didn’t seem like something that would work but we allowed the team to experiment for three months.  Eventually the team came full circle.  We wanted to make sure we had something that represented what Strikers was about but still trying to use things in a way that complimented our game.  That’s why we ended up with the hitting – it seems so satisfying to hit somebody – and then building on top of the Superstrikes with Megastrikes allowing you to play as the goalie to stop the balls.  Those were really the only two places that we decided worked at the end of that three month period and we stuck to that.  We tried everything – we tried kicking, dekeing, with the motion controls.  It was a good lesson though because in the end we realized we can’t make the game as fun as the first one or do the consumer any justice by forcing the excessive use of motion control.

 

Did you feel any pressure from Nintendo to make complete used of the motion control?

KY: Quite the opposite.  They specifically said don’t try to cram everything in the motion controls.  Use it when you need to and don’t overdo it – they were actually very cautious with us.

 

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