NOTE: This post might be updated during the day as new info comes in.
During the past two days, Kensuke Tanabe, the producer and director of various Nintendo games, including the Metroid Prime series, was interviewed multiple times by different people, regarding the choices behind the unexpected new entry in the series, Metroid Prime: Federation Force/Blast Ball.
I gathered all of those below for your enjoyment.
What is Metroid Prime: Federation Force?
Kensuke Tanabe: The last game in the Prime series was in 2007. It’s been a while. When I heard about the New 3DS, with the C-stick, it would be ideal for a shooter. I thought: “It’d be great to have a Prime title to launch alongside the new hardware.” In Metroid Prime 2, we included multiplayer, but here we wanted to focus on the co-op aspect. But then, if we have four “Samuses,” that would be odd. And that’s where the Galactic Federation came in. Controlling the game, and in terms of how it feels, it feels like a Metroid Prime game.
However this time there’s a “load-out” system: players start with a basic mech [the controllable robot suit in Federation Force]. But before a mission starts, you can choose what weapons to load into it. There are certain powerful weapons you can bring, like a “super missile,” which comes with a heavy weight penalty. We tried to create a balance with these load-outs that would decide your role in a squad, similar to a role-playing game, with wizards, warriors and healers. [As you play, you can collect] mods for these mechs. Even if you fail in a mission, you’ll receive some of these upgrades.
That makes the game sound easier, or at least pretty forgiving. Is it aimed toward younger players?
KT: It’s not that we’re directly aiming at a younger audience. In Japan, first-person shooters lack the popularity of other regions. That’s where Blast Ball comes into it… reducing the skill barrier to get into the game for beginners or gamers not typically interested in first-person shooters. That said, the main story will certainly not feel easy!
So it’s not two games?
KT:Federation Force is the focus of the game, while Blast Ball forms a part of the Federation’s training. Instead of complicated tutorials, it’s an enjoyable way to teach the controls, how to play the main game and to generally improve the skills of beginners.
A lot of fans may have been hoping for a Wii U version. Why did it come to the 3DS?
KT: The idea to develop a new Metroid Prime title came along with the New 3DS, with controls suited to the title. Ideally, the plan was for the game to arrive alongside the hardware, but, well, it’s a little late! If I’m honest, we did look into a Wii U version. However, we had to consider the resources it would take, what teams to devote for a Wii U game. [It’s worth noting that Nintendo tasked developers Next Level to make the game. The team’s previously worked on both Mario Strikers and Punch-Out!!] The character design and atmosphere of the trailer seems a little bit different to prior Prime games. What happened?
As far as character design goes, the 3DS screens are relatively small. This means there’s limitations to where cameras can be placed. A tall character or enemy could be difficult to display, while a stockier character, like the mech, fits the hardware and fits the game better. It makes it better to play. I’ll admit, I thought at the start that it might lose the seriousness of the Metroid Prime series and become a little comical, but once I played it, I believe it delivers on the feel of the other game.
Why hasn’t there been a co-op mode until now?
KT: We tried to fit a multiplayer Metroid game into the DSi, but the power of the system was lacking — it didn’t quite work as expected. But with the 3DS we had the power to make that capable.
Is there a specific part of Metroid Prime: Federation Force that you love?
KT: I love all of it! But compared to prior games where you played alone, now you’re fighting alongside others. That offers a different kind of sensation. I’m looking forward to people enjoying Metroid this way. (Oh and of course, you can still play it alone.)
Is there any co-op modes in any other games you’ve particularly enjoyed?
KT: To be honest, while I’m a game maker, I don’t play games that much. I don’t know that many games. Who knows, maybe there are some concepts that overlap. [There’s a pause in conversation] Ah! But there is one thing: I love Splatoon. Now that’s interesting. Even mid-development, it was already fun. The artwork, music, it doesn’t even feel that much like a Nintendo game. My three daughters all take turns playing it all the time.
This interview has been translated, condensed and edited.
Totilo: What is Federation Force? From the trailer, it looks like a four-player co-op game with no Samus Aran. It doesn’t sound like Metroid at all to me, so I’m very confused.
Tanabe: I’m sure once you play the actual game you’ll be able to get a feel of it and a better understanding of what the game is. As you mentioned, when you experience Blast Ball, you can probably feel that the controls are exactly the same as the Metroid Prime series. And on top of the control scheme being the same as the Metroid Prime series, you can also tell that the whole environment is still in the Metroid Prime universe, including the background music as well.
Totilo: [pause] But it’s not—again, I think you know what I mean—it doesn’t seem like a Metroid game, right? You’re not Samus Aran. You’re not exploring. Can you tell me more about what Federation Force is?
Tanabe: Originally, since 10 years ago, I’ve been thinking about the concept for this game. Back then I was working on the three main Prime games…
Totilo: Right, with Retro.
Tanabe: So Metroid Prime Hunters [on DS]
was one title that I wanted to shift the focus a little bit by introducing some new bounty hunters. One thing I wanted to do since back then was focusing on the galactic federation members, focusing on them and having a fight with the space pirates. It’s sort of like a different perspective that I’m taking with this game to create sort of an opportunity to expand, to broaden the universe.
Totilo: Got it. Can you describe how it plays? Can you play in single-player, first of all? Is it something you can only play as four players?
Tanabe: You can certainly play single-player mode as well. But I’m sure it would be a lot more fun if you are playing as four players.
Totilo: It did remind me of Hunters, so that makes sense to me that it is a continuation of that. When people are playing, is it four against four? Or four against computer-controlled enemies?
Tanabe: To clarify, there’s no four against four players. The three-against-three concept is in Blast Ball, but the co-op four player mode where you fight as a team against space pirates.
Totilo: That makes sense. And is it a big world you’re exploring? Or is it separate missions? Again, because you don’t have the game out here, I’m just trying to understand what it is.
Tanabe: First off, we have three major planets. There will be, roughly, 10 different missions on each planet. It will be a way for you to go between those three planets on and off going through an adventure.
Totilo: And is it more of an action game? If we think Metroid Prime, I think exploration. If I think Metroid Prime Hunters, I think more action, going around shooting.
Tanabe: In that way, I think it is closer to Hunters. There are obviously areas for you to look around and explore as well. Hunters focused more on the shooting portion. In this game you’ll be able to have other types of things you can experience throughout the gameplay.
Totilo: Okay. Are you scanning things? Is there that kind of part of Metroid Prime?
Tanabe: There’s no scanning aspects in this game.
Totilo: Are there Metroids in the game?
Tanabe: Would you rather know that now?
Totilo: If you don’t mind telling me, yeah. But if you don’t want to say, you don’t have to say.
Tanabe: [laughs] You will be able to see them. There’s a certain mission.
Totilo: So I think the game is very interesting, but—and you may have already picked this up from some of the questions I’m asking you—but I’m hearing, just being honest, a lot of disappointment from people. They were waiting for a Metroid game for a long time and they thought they would get—and I thought this as well, because I like the Metroid games—that if we saw Metroid again, after a long absence, we would see a classic 2D Samus Aran exploration game or a classic 3D game with Samus exploring. And so there’s disappointment that that isn’t what this is. Are you surprised by that? Is anything like that also in development?
Tanabe: So I’d like to first clarify the difference between the 2D games and the Metroid Prime games. First off, I’m assuming you’re familiar with Yoshio Sakamoto.
Tanabe: He is sort of the keeper of the Metroid series.
Totilo: Particularly of the 2D games.
Tanabe: Yes. For me, I’m more on the side of the Metroid Prime with the first-person view. To be honest, since Sakamoto is on the side of the 2D games, I can’t speak for him at this time. I won’t be able to tell you what’s in his mind.
Tanabe: Based on the things I’ve been hearing, there are a lot of people talking about the Blast Ball being sort of a mini-game almost, a sports type of thing. But I do believe that once everyone gets a chance to play the actual main game, you will definitely be able to experience the universe that everyone is looking forward to. [Also,] in Metroid Prime, because you have the first-person view, people actually don’t see Samus because they are being Samus themselves. So in that way you’ll have the same standpoint. You’re part of the galactic federation and seeing the world in the first-person. So in a way you get the same feeling.
Totilo: I see what you’re saying. But, just to stay with this a little bit longer, I think for a lot of people, it feels as if, for example: Mr. Miyamoto and Mr. Tezuka, they make Super Mario games and people are used to Super Mario games. And imagine if there wasn’t a new Super Mario game for eight years or forever how long it’s been. For the next Mario game to be, say, Mario Tennis, people would say: Aren’t you still making the Mario side-scrollers? Aren’t you still making the 3D Mario games? And that’s what I’m hearing from a lot of my own readers today. They say: This is interesting, but where is our Metroid? Where is our Samus Aran adventure? And I think that they’re worried that Nintendo isn’t interested in making that. Do you have anything you can say to those people?
Tanabe: Personally, I don’t feel like I am creating anything that is a side-story. Until now, we’ve never had a game focusing on the Federation Force fighting against the space pirates. So the main idea here is that I sort of wanted to change that focus a little bit and see it from a different view from the same universe. So as I briefly mentioned earlier, once you play the game you’ll be able to feel that Metroid Prime universe. So it’s kind of… at this point it’s a little difficult I’m sure for both sides to get that idea…
Totilo: Right, exactly.
Tanabe: …for players who haven’t touched the game, it’s really difficult to imagine that feeling you get when you touch the game. So it’s a kind of an unfortunate situation at this time, but it’s something I definitely look forward to having the users touch it and play and experience the awesomeness of it.
Totilo: Why didn’t you bring some of that to E3? Was it just not ready yet?
Tanabe: It’s not really because it’s not ready at all. You’ll be able to see a few portions of it during the Treehouse Live segment that we’re going to have during the show.
Totilo: Oh, good.
Tanabe: So there are still some adjustments we have to make on the gameplay itself, so in that way we felt more comfortable in showing Blast Ball on the show floor for everyone to experience it and get the feel of it.
Tanabe and I kept talking. We talked about the timeline. The game takes place, as the other Primes did, between Metroid II and Super Metroid, in a sort of sideways expansion of the Prime trilogy’s era.
We talked about Samus Aran and whether she’s in Federation Force: “You’ll be able to see her somewhere in the game.”
One more thing: Tanabe and I were briefly talking about the bounty hunter characters in Metroid Prime Hunters. “The bounty hunters in Metroid Prime Hunters were … defeated,” he said through his translator, who occasionally switched to referring to Tanabe in the third person, “but I think he left Sylux for something later on.” It doesn’t take a space detective to sort out that clue: Tanabe is thinking about that bounty hunter for a future Metroid-related project. A proper Metroid Prime could well be on the way (and if you think that’s a stretch, read more of Tanabe’s ruminations about a possible future Samus vs. Sylux Metroid Prime game over at Eurogamer.)
Nintendo’s next home console Metroid Prime game will now likely not release until the company has launched its next-generation console, codenamed NX.
Speaking to Eurogamer at E3, Metroid Prime series producer Kensuke Tanabe said that due to the amount of content such a game would require, it would probably take several years to develop.
“If we started for Wii U now, it would likely take three years or so. So it would likely now be on Nintendo’s NX console,” he said.
“It’s a long time but it would need to include a lot of content, which would take a lot of work on the development side.”
Speaking with Tanabe, it was clear he had plenty of ideas for the game, including a focus on a single planet that has a time-shifting mechanic, similar to Metroid Prime 2: Echoes’ single planet with dark and light variants.
“Instead of broadening it to more planets I would have one and would focus on the timeline, and being able to change that. That’s one interesting idea I have in mind… but I understand many people thought that [Echoes] was too difficult.”
THERE MAY BE METROID PRIME SPOILERS AHEAD.
Regardless, Tanabe continued, two particular storylines wrapped up in Metroid Prime 3: Corruption would not be revisited.
“The stories of Dark Samus and Phazon are done now,” he confirmed, before adding that the series would still focus on other Prime-series elements.
Tanabe also considered the cliffhanger tease at the end of Corruption wrapped up too. The mysterious ship that tailed Samus at the end of the game is actually a character from Metroid Prime: Hunters, tying that spin-off into the main sub-series.
“So it was Sylux, another hunter from Metroid Prime Hunters at the end of Metroid Prime 3. Personally I’d like to create a story centring around Sylux and Samus,” he said.
“We’ve done a story based on the Hunters, and this time around we’re doing a story on the Galactic Federation,” he added, referring to his new 3DS game. “I would like to cross the two over in the future. And of course see a little more of Samus.”
A future Metroid Prime game could be a numbered release, too. “Three ends the trilogy, but if I can I would like to continue with numbered games.”
So when would such a game be announced? And would he work with Metroid Prime developer Retro Studios again, despite the fact that many of the original staff have now moved on?
“I’m the producer of the Metroid Prime series, and [Metroid series co-creator] Yoshio Sakamoto is the one in charge of Metroid itself. I’m not sure when he’s planning on making such an announcement so I can’t speak for him.
“I’m not thinking about anything like that [partnering with another studio] right now. We have nothing to announce on working with any specific team.”
This all points to Wii U not seeing a new Metroid Prime (or just Metroid), which is a shame, as the GamePad screen could make for an ingenious way of scanning enemies or items on screen.
“It is a great idea, I agree. Truth be told, making HD games takes a lot of time and resources,” Tanabe concluded when asked why Nintendo had not made a Metroid Prime for Wii U. “I haven’t been able to collect a team or the resources to do it.”
This information comes from Metroid Prime producer Kensuke Tanabe when if Metroid Prime Federation Force is the only Metroid Prime game he’s working on:
“I said this at the beginning, but I’m not involved in the 2D Metroid games that Mr. Sakamoto works on. I still feel like there’s a little more work left for me to do in the Metroid Prime series. I can’t say when, but I want to make another one.
– Tanabe reminded IGN about the ending of Metroid Prime 3: Corruption
– After Samus’s ship flies off into the distance, another ship suddenly appears
– He said that players Metroid Prime Hunters should recognize that the ship belongs to a bounty hunter called Sylux.
“He’s actually chasing after Samus, and that’s where that game ends. There’s still more I want to build around the story of Sylux and Samus. There’s something going on between them. I want to make a game that touches upon [it].”
“I’m also thinking that, in that eventual game between Sylux and Samus that might get made, that I wants to involve the [Galactic] Federation as well. So it would be a good idea to release a game like Federation Forces to flesh out its role in the galaxy before moving on to that.”
This information comes from Metroid Prime series producer Kensuke Tanabe:
“Well, first I would say that the focus on the battle between the Federation Forces and the Space Pirates was an idea I had since I was involved in Metroid Prime 3. It’s similar to with Metroid Prime Hunters, how we relied on NST [Nintendo Software Technology] to do that. Hunters deals with the relationships between the bounty hunters besides Samus in the world of Metroid. We wanted to make something that would show the fight between the Federation and the Space Pirates, but there was no company that would make that for us.”
“In making this game we initially intended it to launch alongside the New Nintendo 3DS, but we were a bit late in doing that. The team who’s schedule was free at the time was Next Level Games, and so we turned to them.”