Yoshio Sakamoto is known as the father of Metroid. Not that he likes the title. “I feel resistance when people credit me for creating the series,” he explained. “Maybe you could say I’m the one who raised Samus. But the Metroids were born by the Queen Metroid!” So began a fascinating peek into the brain of one of Nintendo’s oddest minds. Coy on Other M specifics, Sakamoto’s thought processes give us a salivating taster of what’s to come later this year…
The biggest influence on Sakamoto’s creative style? The films of Italian horror maestro Dario Argento. Watching Argento’s Deep Red and Suspiria revealed the four basic tenets to which all his work adheres: mood, timing, foreshadowing and contrast. Fear is born from foreshadowing dreadful things to come and by contrasting tension with normalcy. And so it is that Other M finds Sakamoto laying the mystery on thick. A distress beacon! An abandoned ship! A face from the past! This is storytelling as lure. It’s worth noting that Sakamoto’s love of all things Argento doesn’t mean Other M will play out to a soundtrack by Goblin. Samus has enough to deal with without having to endure Italian prog rock.
Don’t worry, you won’t find Samus picking her nose or shaking hands with a dog. Sakamoto described how, whether working on serious or comical games, his line of thought remains the same. “I use control, mood, foreshadowing and contrast. The experience of thinking something is funny, cool or scary is about having feelings moved. The method is the same and the process is the same regardless of the feeling.”
Preparing a scare follows the same process as setting up a joke: you wait for the right time, you foreshadow the event and you trigger the laugh/scream with a moment of sudden contrast. Yeah, just try telling that to the mom who mixes up How to Train Your Dragon with The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.
Sakamoto originally saw Samus on a 2D plane in a 3D world. Insistent on remote controls, he thought of moving Samus along “invisible rails”. “As long as the camera angle was controlled effectively, it might be possible to give it a good look,” he explained. The game hints at these humble beginnings: not only does the camera present much of the Bottle Ship in a side-on view, it also shifts mid-action to frame events cinematically. When Samus is walking down murky corridors, the camera edges in on her like a spooked kid clinging to its parent. Later, as Samus nears the boss, the camera slowly tilts, creating a lurid skew-whiff vibe worthy of the lurid skew-whiff beast to come.
When Team Ninja suggested using the Nunchuk, Sakamoto insisted on the NES simplicity of remote-only controls. D-pad to move, A to jump, B to shoot (with A and B replaced by 2 and 1 on the Wiimote): what did for Samus in 1986 would do for Samus in 2010. It was Team Ninja’s idea, however, to still give Samus a 3D map to move freely through. Sakamoto admits he was dubious at first, asking himself, “If it was so simple, why had no one done it before?” As Sakamoto points out, Samus’s quick movements suit the system perfectly. Team Ninja’s Yosuke Hayashi refers to the scheme as Famicom Game Plus – the benefits of the latest technology married to the simplicity of the 8-bit days.
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