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The following is an interview conducted by Gamekult on June 28th, 2013 with Hideki Konno and Kosuke Yabuki from Nintendo. The two men discuss the development process and details surrounding Mario Kart 8 for the Wi U.
French - English Interview Transcript
An easy question for starters: how did you decide to integrate reverse gravity in Mario Kart 8?
Kosuke Yabuki: Many reasons brought about that integration. The first was that I was already director on Mario Kart 7 and we were forced to reduce the number of polygons on screen so that it would work correctly on the handheld console. This time we had less reason to worry about that, and we can obtain a truly polished visual presentation. Next, Nintendo games like F-Zero and Super Mario Galaxy already used anti-gravity in the past. So we started to ask questions about how to reintroduce this idea in Mario Kart, and we realized that we would have to start from scratch to integrate it properly. But the main reason is that Mr. Konno always pushes us to imagine new and interesting things for upcoming games, so there was some pressure. [laughs]
Hideki Konno: In Mario Kart 7, you could already fly in the air and drive underwater, what could we do after that? [laughs]
Why didn't you make a new game or a new F-Zero entry instead, given the demand from gamers?
Hideki Konno: We always have a Mario Kart per console, so we wanted to make a new entry to interest more people further in the new console. But I hope that there will be a new F-Zero.
Kosuke Yabuki: I think that you too will agree that the Mario Kart universe lends itself well to the turn-arounds and the twisting of tracks linked to anti-gravity.
Was the game developed in-house, or did you have help from other teams, like Retro Studios during Mario Kart 7? Seeing as the game has elements of Sonic All-Stars Racing and that you sometimes work with Sega, was there a collaboration there?
Hideki Konno: Uh, no, the game was under the charge of EAD Kyoto.
Did you encounter further difficulties when developing the game for Wii U as opposed to the 3DS? What changes the most in the development process?
Hideki Konno: Each time we develop a new game we encounter difficulties, and it's still the case here but it's also funny. The main hurdle for us was the change from SD to HD, not easy but enlightening.
Kosuke Yabuki: The change in definition required that we include more graphic designers in the creation process to improve the output, but it's the same for any other video game company.
In the E3 floor show demo, you could say that the GamePad integration was rather forced. Do you plan on adding other functions, or will we have to make do with the kart and the horn?
Hideki Konno: Our priority is to propose off-screen display solely on the GamePad. We have other ideas, but that's all we can say for now.
In that case, can you explain somewhat the function of Mario Kart TV? We don't know if it will be possible to record a whole course or if we'll have to be happy with sharing segments…
Hideki Konno: That has yet to be definitively decided, but currently we're thinking of putting forward the best rounds of the course in a short clip. In the E3 demo, the courses are only two laps, but there will be three in the finished game and we wonder if gamers will really want to watch the whole course. We always aim to please when we make these kinds of adjustments.
Mario Kart: Double Dash introduced an odd idea with two characters per vehicle and that could be interesting to see with the GamePad. Do you foresee tandem courses in a future entry?
Hideki Konno: When we discuss what we wish to incorporate in a new Mario Kart, this idea sometimes comes on the table. For Mario Kart 7, and 8, we decided not to use it. But it's a request we hear often, so perhaps we can satisfy that desire.
Ever since bikes were introduced into the series, I always wonder why it's still called Mario Kart. Have you thought of changing this, or is it a immutable detail, even if other vehicles make their appearances?
Hideki Konno: As you know, Mario Kart is already a well-known and well-appreciated brand of which we're proud. For now, we hope to focus on making good games. But if you have a better idea than “Mario Moto,” don't hesitate to let us know! [laughs]
In the very first Mario Kart, the tracks were much tighter and they required more dexterity to navigate the terrain. Since then, the tracks have gotten larger and larger, and I wanted to know, where did that come from?
Kosuke Yabuki: We always try to have a balance for each game and it can change slowly from time to time. In Mario Kart 8, the tracks have been scaled back from Mario Kart Wii and better reflect the width of roads.
Hideki Konno: In Double Dash, the tracks were tighter but there were only eight karts at a time and there was enough space so drivers weren't on top of one another. On the other hand, the Wii game had twelve drivers: we had to widen the tracks so the vehicles wouldn't be packed in like sardines and could catch up easily enough. The manoeuvrability of the Wii Wheel was also a factor, given that people tend to make broader gestures with the recognition of movement. We wanted to make a game accessible to all and tracks that were smaller would have frustrated players.
What comes first in the creation of a new Mario Kart entry, the tracks or the characters and items?
Kosuke Yabuki: There's no established order, we build the game little by little, with successive layers with some tracks, characters, and items, “à la japonaise” if you will [laughs]. Perhaps it's not the most effective way, but looking at the final product, we think it's the best [way].
Hideki Konno: We perform many experiments starting with prototypes; if it works well, we move on, but if it's not convincing, we don't hesitate to go back to basics.
When did you start work on Mario Kart 8?
Hideki Konno: After Mario Kart 7, the team was dissolved and everyone went on to separate projects, but we regained people little by little to create this entry. I would say that the project began in earnest about less than a year ago.
Entries go by and there is an important character who has never had the right to drive a kart, even though it's the very first enemy of Super Mario Bros.: the Goomba. Why?
Hideki Konno: Hmm, because he doesn't have hands?
Neither does Boo, I believe?
Hideki Konno: [laughs] That's true, he just has little arms! But since he's a ghost he can use supernatural powers.
Fair enough! The next few questions will be geared towards Mr. Konno given that they're retro-oriented. During our last interview, you mentioned Stunt Race FX and I would like to know if that game influenced the evolution of Mario Kart. Had you [already/previously] tried to bring the series to 3D on the Super Nintendo?
Hideki Konno: As you know, the game was created under the supervision of Nintendo by the same team [Argonaut Games, author's note] as the first Star Fox, but it was Mr. Miyamoto who produced the title; I wasn't involved in the project. It's also a game with various kinds of vehicles, ranging from buggies to semis. Nevertheless, I was still part of the same division and there at the time and thinking back, I was already receptive to ideas that circulated internally. When Miyamoto worked on Stunt Race FX, he wondered how to break the mold of traditional round tracks that ended after three laps. It's an idea that often comes to my mind and that I try to incorporate, without forcibly making a racing game much more open as we've seen elsewhere. For example, in Mario Kart 7, Cheep Cheep Lagoon has several different paths to quickly reach the finish line; it's things like that which can be developed. But it's true that I rarely discuss this type of conceptualization with the team.
Kosuke Yabuki: I can confirm, it's even the first time I've heard this story about Stunt Race FX!
Today, developers are used to making racing games in 3D, but in hindsight, what were the obstacles when you added in another dimension to the series?
Hideki Konno: Moving into 3D made life easier from a certain perspective. Instead of having to simulate the backgrounds – no stereoscope, no real volume – with the 2D, we could finally model everything with polygons. Mr. Yabuki isn't completely aware of this because he comes from the 3D generation, but for those like myself who started on Famicom or Super Famicom, the prospects of 3D games posed too many problems to list.
In that case, could Mr. Yabuki talk about his arrival at Nintendo, his time there, and the games he has overseen?
Kosuke Yabuki: It must be my eighth year at Nintendo, but I imagine I've gotten to the point where I've been with the company for so long I can no longer remember how long I've been here… [laughs]. My first game was The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess.
Hideki Konno: Yes that's correct, you were in charge of planning. After that there was Mario Kart Wii, Nintendogs + Cats, Mario Kart 7, and now Mario Kart 8.
Of all of the Mario Kart tracks, do you have a favorite? Question for both of you!
Hideki Konno: That's a question they ask me in practically every interview and each time I'm able to say, “I like this one best.” But there was one that left a permanent impression on me and that was the first Mario Circuit from Super Mario Kart. That's the one we used to demonstrate the concept of the game and it's thanks to that track that we were able to see the potential of Mario Kart.
Kosuke Yabuki: It's true that everything comes together perfectly in that track: the length, the curves, the music, the items… But at the moment, my favorite is this one [he points to a poster on the wall], the Möbius band from Mario Kart 8. At one time it would have been impossible to make such a track.
Since we're back to Mario Kart 8, do you foresee further kart personalization? It's not an essential element to the series, but seeing as many racing games have offered vehicle modification options for a while now…
Kosuke Yabuki: Like Mario Kart 7, we allow choice of tires, the body, and type of glider with a bit more choice.
Hideki Konno: The worry is that if we want to offer a lot of customization, it would be likely that the people in charge of track design will have to do it, and the conception of interesting courses is one of our main priorities. It's a crucial aspect that requires tremendous time and effort from the team, given the number of iterations we produce for each outline. Perhaps in the future we'll have the necessary resources to offer further customization while keeping the same level of standards for the tracks, but at the moment those come first. It's a method that has worked quite well thus far, although I am curious to see what we can do with additional effects and a more open philosophy in regards to the karts.
In regards to the anti-gravity, I noticed that the camera remained fixed when we went from one side to another, but that it turned with the player when you go upside-down. Will this always be the case, or will there be moments when you're required to play upside-down?
Hideki Konno: There are always compromises to be made when making a game. It would be easy to make a camera that didn't follow the kart in upside-down passages, but that would make the driving much more difficult and our goal remains of making a game that is very accessible, easy to pick up, and with the most practical view in the parts where your find yourself upside-down.
Kosuke Yabuki: Mario Kart has always been a game that is easy to pick up, while at the same time offering a profound design with its own subtleties. I think this has been respected when it comes to the new gravity system, without making driving too much of a hassle.
One for the road: the Feather from Super Mario Kart was an interesting item with several uses, but it has completely disappeared and it's a shame. Why not reintroduce it?
Kosuke Yabuki: If we were to introduce that item at this moment, it would lead to a great deal of worries for the game, but we'll make a note of the suggestion!