Super Smash Bros. Ultimate’s Sakurai Discusses How the Game’s Development Went, New Characters, Esports
Sakurai detailed when development on Super Smash Bros. Ultimate began, how did it differ from past games, why did they add Piranha Plant and more.
In late December, Famitsu published on its online site a very lengthy interview with Super Smash Bros. Ultimate’s Director Masahiro Sakurai. In it, Sakurai went back over the game’s development, detailing when it exactly started and how much knowledge of the Switch’s hardware they had at the time. He also shared comments on many topics, from how did they choose the new characters, to his stance towards Esports and how did that affect the game. Here’s a summary with the most interesting bits and quotes.
The interview started by going back to Super Smash Bros. Ultimate‘s full reveal during E3 2018. Sakurai, being at the E3 venue, would hear the cheers of the audience watching the Nintendo Direct, along with the cheers of Nintendo staff themselves. Barely any knew about the details of the Super Smash Bros. Ultimate part of the direct, to avoid “Everyone is here!” being leaked at all costs.
Now that the game is completed and out, Sakurai was asked about its development in detail, and what kind of troubles they encountered compared to past games, seeing Ultimate is the biggest Super Smash Bros game yet. Surprisingly, the team didn’t have that much of a rough time:
Actually, making Super Smash Bros Ultimate wasn’t particularly harder than making the previous Super Smash Bros games. We always put in our all in our games, so this time didn’t feel any different. We gave everything we’ve got like usual.
Development on the game started around February 2016, right after they had finished the DLCs adding Corrin and Bayonetta in Super Smash Bros for 3DS and Wii U. In a sense, Sakurai started making Ultimate in his head while working on these DLCs. He stressed out that this isn’t some kind of amazing achievement: the development team was much smaller when working on the DLCs, going from over a hundred people to only a dozen. As such, supervising this small team while working on Ultimate wasn’t difficult.
Sakurai, at the time, knew about the Switch’s specifications and how the console was supposed to turn out. But knowing these hardware details didn’t really influence them much. At first, they were a bit worried about the portable mode’s capabilities, but these doubts were quickly swept away:
The early documents for Nintendo Switch said the console will be able to switch between being a portable console and a stationary home console. We saw very early in development how amazing portable mode looks, so we realized there would be no problem even if multiple persons played on portable mode together. We’re really thankful about that, because if the Switch’s portable mode had too different specifications from docked mode, we would have needed to make two sets for some of the game’s assets. For example, a specific interface for docked mode, and one for portable mode.
In this regard, Sakurai detailed how, when working on Super Smash Bros for Wii U and 3DS, they had to create many things twice, one for each version, which tired them out. For the 3DS version, they had to do a lot of adjustments like reducing the number of polygons or changing some of the colors used. Super Smash Bros. Ultimate also includes features they wanted to put in Super Smash Bros for Wii U and 3DS, but couldn’t because of the game being on two different consoles. One of those features is how when characters are ejected in Ultimate, they start by flying at very high speed, but then suddenly decelerate. This also makes it so the moment where you can’t control your character is a bit shorter, and Sakurai thinks it’s better this way. The 3DS’s screen being too small, they couldn’t do that there or players would have trouble seeing their characters. Sakurai said this is also why the ejection clouds are more emphasized in Ultimate, and why they added the radar:
We put in the radar for this reason, but also to rat out players who like hiding at the edges of stages (laughs).
Super Smash Bros. Ultimate is also faster-paced than the previous game:
On 3DS, the screen was smaller and so we made the game a bit slower on purpose. For Super Smash Bros. Ultimate, we increased the tempo a bit to make things more fun. Increased speed makes it a bit harder to properly adjust online battles, like adjusting lag, but we prioritized this to make local multiplayer more enjoyable.
Sakurai also added how back when making Super Smash Brow. Brawl for Wii, they took into account the fact that many Wii players were playing videos games for the first time. As such, they thought the game shouldn’t feel like it’s too fast and confusing to keep up with, hence why it feels slower than other Super Smash Bros. games. But in the end, it’s not like they thought “we need to make Ultimate faster”, rather, it became faster for various reasons: considering what would be best to make the game as fun as possible, and considering the Switch’s current user base, as they did with the Wii.
After that, the interview switched towards Spirits and how they decided which characters to include. Basically, Sakurai asked the team in charge of Spirits Mode to make proposals on who to add and to limit themselves to a certain amount of characters for each series. Long-running series with many characters had a higher limit. They tried to put in as many different characters as possible to try and please even those who like relatively unknown or unpopular characters. Some Spirits were also added because one of the playable characters has a connection with them or their series.
For spirits with an evolved form, they prioritized characters who have transformations, like boss characters, and those who appear in multiple games but with different appearances. These were the easiest characters to pick as they’re usually the most iconic ones, appearing multiple times in their series.
Next, Sakurai spoke about the new characters in Super Smash Bros. Ultimate. In particular, he explained why he initially told everyone to not expect many new characters, even though they ended up adding a lot:
Because when you already have over 60 characters, adding a few doesn’t feel like the total count changed much. If you don’t count echoes characters, we didn’t add that many. And If I didn’t say that back then, everyone’s expectations would have been way too high to satisfy.
Sakurai then detailed each new character and how they made them.
Inklings are the one they had the most trouble with. Mostly because including them meant they had to make it so any stage and any character can get ink on them. They also had to think on what kind of effect the ink would have, and whether to include the ink reserve mechanic or not. In the end they tried to make Inklings into support type characters that are strong in team battles.
Ridley was made to be as scary and menacing as possible, as he’s supposed to be a more serious villain than other Nintendo villains like Bowser and King K. Rool. That’s also why they made his introduction trailer so serious.
Simon and Richter were pretty easy to make. They focused on making them into long-range fighters, thanks to their whips and the items they throw. They can hit opponents from very far away, but as a handicap, the whip is hard to master and you need a lot of practice to aim correctly. As for why they added Castlevania characters, they were quite popular during the votes they did for the previous game, and they wanted to add characters from a series which is popular worldwide, through many generations. They didn’t have many choices left when it comes to IPs which fit these criteria. Problem is, all Castlevania games have different protagonists, and Alucard was the most popular character. They put in Simon and Richter to please as many people as possible, and since most would be happy as long as a Belmont shows up.
King K. Rool was designed as a heavyweight fighter based on counters who can also fly. That seemed a bit too simple so they added his stomach armor mechanic too.
As for Isabelle, they made her by customizing Animal Crossing’s Villager, changing a lot of their characteristics. So she’s not an Echo Character. Her shape is totally different as well. They also tried to make her as cute as possible. Everything from her idle animation to her walking animation is cute.
Incineroar was chosen because while there’s already a lot of characters who use wrestler-like moves, there was no actual wrestler character in the game. Incineroar’s also the only character they weren’t planning to add from the start. They did plan to add one pokemon from Pokémon Sun and Moon, so they kept one slot open, but didn’t decide on which pokemon until later.
As for Piranha Plant, Sakurai knows some people are upset about it, asking why they’re adding someone who’s not even a protagonist, but that’s exactly why they decided to do it. They want to get non-protagonists in the spotlight as well. The way it plays is very unique too and requires players to aim very carefully.
The interview then switched toward Adventure Mode: World of Light.
Sakurai and the development team got the initial idea behind World of Light story after remembering what they did near the end of Super Smash Bros Brawl’s Adventure Mode: The Subspace Emissary. Specifically, the part when all the characters are lost. Instead of doing that in the end, they decided to start with all characters disappearing, and make the story go from there. In the introduction movie, who gets a line and what do they say, was carefully decided as well. Marth’s the one with the most experience when it comes to strategies and commanding an army, hence why he ‘s the one saying “if each one of us takes out 10 of them, it’ll be fine”. Meanwhile, Zelda’s line indicates they’ve been fighting a lot already before this final standoff, and how they can’t back off anymore.
The interviewer specifically asked about Captain Falcon getting hit just before getting on his machine, and how funny that was, to which Sakurai answered:
If you think about it, we don’t know if F-Zero machines actually work outside of F-Zero circuits. The machines have the “G Diffuser System” installed on them, and can run thanks to the anti-gravity-like particles spread from the circuits’ guard rails. So even if he did got into his vehicle, maybe it wouldn’t have worked. But he probably did come to the battlefiled riding it, and in Super Smash Bros. Brawl there’s a part where you see it flying otuside of a circuit, so we don’t really know (laughs).
Lastly, the interview shifted towards Super Smash Bros Ultimate‘s online mode and the game’s position in Esports.
Sakurai believes that when it comes to online battles, games shouldn’t count each player’s win and loss counts. At most, only the number of wins should be recorded. The Smash Tag system present in Super Smash Bros. Ultimate is an extension of that thinking, quickly showing you who you fought against and what kind of player they were. Sakurai said it’s also in order to avoid people getting depressed when seeing their high loss count and avoiding playing online because of it:
I didn’t want people to get depressed after doing ten online matches and only winning one. Needless to say, you can easily calculate yourself your loss count by checking the numbers of battles you did and your win count, but we wanted to hide the loss count as much as possible, to avoid players getting discouraged.
Sakurai also shared some words on Esports:
It’s an honor that the Super Smash Bros. series has its place in Esports, and I think what makes it unique is the fact that it’s a big Esport game whose Esport aspect isn’t its only appealing aspect. We tried to satisfy as much people as possible with Super Smash Bros Ultimate. You can customize matches to fit the preferences of people into Esports, but beginners can have fun as well. There’s no limit on how to play Super Smash Bros. and to reflect this we polished every aspect of Super Smash Bros. Ultimate, instead of only focusing on the Esports aspect.
Sakurai also revealed that he barely participated in the balancing process of each character in Ultimate:
I did work on making the basis for the characters’s motions and attacks, but I barely did anything regarding things like each attack’s strength or their number of frames. That was handled by the monitoring team and the characters’s development team. Handling all of this myself for over 70 characters would be impossible (wry laugh).
Wrapping up the interview, the journalist from Famitsu asked Sakurai if the Super Smash Bros series can be considered his lifelong work, and an estimate on when the next game could come out :
I don’t know what the future holds, so I can’t say anything concrete on what will happen from now, but if Nintendo commissions me for another Super Smash Bros game, I’ll probably accept and consider the project my highest priority. But that doesn’t mean a new game will come out soon. I think it’s fine even if there isn’t another one in the next ten years (laughs). Super Smash Bros. Ultimate was made because the Switch was coming out, and we were asked to make the new Super Smash Bros it needed. Maybe the next game will be for the next hardware. Maybe I won’t be working on it. I don’t know. Plus, making the next game will be a big challenge, as “Everyone is here!” was a miracle that probably won’t happen twice. I can’t thank enough all the people who let us use their characters.
Sakurai recently appeared in a video interview for the inclusion of Persona 5‘s Joker in the game.
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