Sakamoto details the story-crafting for Metroid: Other M, discusses Team Ninja collaboration
YS: Well, when you’re telling the kind of story that we had with Super Metroid — where Samus has this baby Metroid that is imprinted on her, it grows up, is separated, comes back, and remembers her and saves her — those are things that can have a really deep impression on you without using words at all because these events are very easy to understand as you view them.
But what we’re going to be doing in Other M is more about Samus’s internal workings, her feelings, and her background. To express something like that, you really have to use words; it’s unavoidable if that’s your goal.
So perhaps the best thing to say is that the idea of elegance is to use no more than is needed; and, in this case, we’re going to use more words, but we’ll try not to use any more than we have to.
Of course, there’s a lot of different ways to tell a story, and we’re going to have alternating sequences of movies and then action sequences. Both of them really need to hold up in terms of storytelling; they both have to do their share of the work. You can’t rely on just one. But from the player’s perspective, it needs to feel seamless; the whole thing needs to feel like an action game that has that kind of consistency.
So you really have to sit down and ask yourself what you’re trying to express and how you’re expressing it, and then, once you’ve got something out there, you need to look at it very carefully and ask yourself, “Does this work?”
If it works, then that was the right decision; you did a good job. But you can’t really be halfway committed to something like storyline in a game. You can’t make an action game and then decide at the very end, “You know, this is missing something.” Just tacking on a storyline at that point would actually be detrimental to the experience; you should probably just stop and leave it as it was.
The idea is that you have to decide clearly at first, and it even makes sense to follow a little bit of a narrative structure where you think about sort of setting up the background, having a little bit of development to understand the characters and the conflicts, and then some sort of large turn or dénouement and then, of course, the resolution at the end.
This is a Japanese approach to narrative called kishōtenketsu, but it’s probably pretty common in Western understanding as well. But, ultimately, rather than talk about how to include a storyline in a game, the best thing I could say is: Please, play the game!
I put everything I know into this, and so if you play through and get a sense of what I was trying to accomplish, then that’s a better answer than I could certainly tell you right now.
GS: I want to talk to you about the relationship with Team Ninja. You’re working with Hayashi-san, I believe, on the game. I’ve met him, and he is a young, smart guy. I want to talk about the relationship you guys have; how you chose them and your working relationship with that team.
YS: First I’ll address how we chose Team Ninja for this collaboration. I had come up with the Other M storyline and the rough outline for the game design, but I realized that what we had around us was basically a team that had been working on handheld games for quite awhile and we were looking at trying to make a 3D game here, so we realized that we needed some help.
We looked out there at who’d be available and who’d be interested in both the concept and the storyline, and when we finally contacted Team Ninja they were very interested in the project and realized this was also a very good fit for them. Once we had a clear understanding of the shared goals, we were able to move forward.
As for my relationship with Mr. Hayashi, probably the best way to say it is that I like to see him as a peer. I absolutely feel that we are equals. As you say, he’s smart, he’s young, and he’s absolutely excellent at what he does.
He works hard and he works well, but he also has a really amazing, dynamic brain. He’s able to put his hand on a lot of different things and succeed. So I thought he would be a fantastic fit for this project.
Now, when we first brought him on, I didn’t just hand him a pile of documents and say, “Here you go. Please make this game.” Rather, we talked about what was essential and what was good in the Metroid series and tried to figure out how best to use his arts background and know-how to really push those goals forward.
One thing that I really appreciate about him is he can really say some unexpected things every once in awhile that seem to come out of left field, but, since I know that we have the same end-goal in mind, even if we occasionally disagree or are surprised by each other’s means or routes of getting there, we know we’re going to end up in a good place. It’s the right kind of conflict, and our individuality comes out in the best way possible.
One thing that’s always struck me when making games with other people — and, honestly, you’re always making games with other people; it’s not something that you usually come on as an individual endeavor — is that you have to find all of the different ways necessary to express yourself to the other team members. There are some team members every once in awhile where, no matter how you describe something in words, it seems to just not be getting across.
But one thing I especially appreciate about Mr. Hayashi is that he seems to have some sort of intuitive sense to understand me. Perhaps it’s because we already have shared interests and similar backgrounds, but I feel like he just gets me. There’s something about this partnership that feels destined. I would like to ask you, since you’ve met him, what you thought of Mr. Hayashi.