IGN chats with Koichi Hayashida, the man behind Super Mario 3D Land and Super Mario Galaxy 2.
March 12, 2012
One of the highlight's of this year's Game Developer's conference was Super Mario 3D Land director Koichi Hayashida's surprisingly stirring Thinking in 3D panel. Following his presentation, I had a chance to sit down with Hayashida-san and go into more detail about the development of Super Mario 3D Land and Super Mario Galaxy 2, whether there will be a 3D Land sequel, if he's more like Mario or Luigi, and more. Here's what he had to say…
IGN: What about the finished Super Mario 3D Land product are you most proud of?
Hayashida: I guess from a functional perspective what I'm most proud of is the white Tanooki Mario, which is a feature that allows anyone to improve the way the play and eventually beat the game while still experiencing the content. And then, I guess, what I'm most proud of in terms of the overall project is just how successful we were in getting so many different kinds of people to play the game. I think it far exceeded my expectations and imagination, so I was very happy and surprised.
IGN: How and why was the decision made to go with the "Land" branding of the Gunpei Yokoi Mario games? Was it simply that they were portable, or did these titles inspire this game in some other way as well?
Hayashida: So, here's the first part of my answer to that. As it turns out, we really decided on the title very late in the project, to be honest. There was even a short period there where we might have considered using just a number on it - so where you have like Mario Kart 7, it would have been like Super Mario 9 or 11, or something like that. So that was definitely something that came along quite a bit later.
Well, this is kind of a strange story that's only barely related to the question you asked. But I actually did have this opportunity when I went on vacation abroad to Norway, I was playing some of the old Mario Land games, and I really was struck by how much fun I was having with those games and what kind of experiences could be had. That may have been slightly connected in terms of sort of presenting a good opportunity to link up to some of the past history of the series.
IGN: Okay, now for my last "Land" question. Did you ever consider including Wario as villain, since he made his debut in those games?
Hayashida: Um, sorry, actually that hadn't really come up too much. [laughs]
IGN: The concept of a bridging the gap between 2D and 3D Mario made for a game that was quite unique, yet still very Mario. You explored many ideas related to this concept in Mario 3D Land, but are there any that, due to time constraints, you weren't able to fit in and might want to use in the future? Hopefully in Super Mario 3D World? That's a personal hope of mine.
Hayashida: [laughs] I guess I'm happy to say that we didn't really have anything that we weren't able to include by the end of development. Maybe this is a good time to talk about something that went in very late that we were happy about, which would be the statue Mario power-up. So, people had always been asking us, will Tanooki Mario be able to turn into a statue in this game, and we realized that the special worlds could really use one more interesting new element. And so that was something that we put in very late, but we're very happy with how it turned out.
And, since you mentioned Super Mario 3D World as a potential direction, I have to say that I'm really happy to hear that, because personally Super Mario World is my favorite of the Mario games. I absolutely love that game, and I of course can't say that I'm going to be making a Super Mario 3D World, but the fact that you even said the word "World" made me happy.
IGN: Good - go with that idea!
IGN: As a developer, what other games have inspired you, and what about them do you find inspiring?
Hayashida: Well, it's not always such a direct connection of thinking about some other game that I've played that inspired me to do this or that in a current project. But I do have to say that, among the team, we really did talk a lot about old Mario games while we were working on this project, and quite often they would press me to include this kind of feature or that sort of gameplay.
One of the things we talked about a little bit was the idea of fireballs being reflected off of walls [like in Super Mario Land for the Game Boy]. And, of course we did use Fire Mario, which was a very traditional element from other Mario games, but at the same time we couldn't help but think about what it would be like for Mario to be throwing a bunch of super fire balls that were bouncing all over everything and that's the kind of thing where we could probably find some interesting inspiration from the Land games. And, of course, everyone just thinks about how much fun it is to throw super fire balls around in a small room as a little kid.
IGN: Mario 3D Land has many, many Tanooki tails. Mario and Luigi have them, Goombas have them, even Bullet Bills have them. It's a Tanooki tail party! Was there anyone you wanted to give a tail to but just couldn't make it work? As a sidenote, Toads with Tanooki tails are my personal favorite.
Hayashida: I wonder, did you ever see the very last image that you receive where Peach is wearing the Tanooki suit?
IGN: Yes, I did!
Hayashida: Thank you! [laughs] Well, there were none that we couldn't really add tails to, but there was one that I think we only added one tail to anywhere in the entire game, and that was a Thwomp in World 5-1. I think there's only one that has a tail in the entire game, so that was the one that just barely squeaked by.
What a life - trapped on an array of platforms hanging in space, your only purpose to squash a tiny fat plumber. No wonder he's pissed.
IGN: Speaking of Tanooki tails, there are several memorable items in this game, such as the boomerang suit, the propeller box, and so on. Which item would you say was the most difficult to balance in this 2D/3D world?
Hayashida: I guess nothing felt too hard to balance in terms of including items in the game. I have to say that including the propeller was a really great idea, I felt like it worked out really well. That feeling of shooting straight up into the air feels so good, and we knew that from New Super Mario Bros. Wii where you're looking at it sideways, but it's even better in Super Mario 3D Land where you can look straight down and you have that feeling of depth when you look down below you. So we were very, very happy about how that worked out.
Another thing that I guess was kind of an interesting moment was when we realized that if you threw the boomerang towards the camera, it would really, really pop out, and so that was something that sort of stuck out to us in terms of balancing items in a 3D game with a stereoscopic view like that. But nothing really felt like it was going to break the game.
IGN: How and why was the decision made to include rolling as a move for Mario? If memory serves, this is a first for the series, so how did that come about?
Hayashida: That's right, it is the first time, and one of the reasons we included it is because we really wanted to see Mario have a new action available to him.
IGN: Do you feel you're more like Mario or Luigi? Why?
Hayashida: [laughs] So, maybe the best way to think about that question is by looking at my Mii character on my Nintendo 3DS. You can choose from both the Mario red cap and the Luigi green cap, and perhaps without even thinking I chose the Mario red cap, so perhaps that says something.
Soaring high in the sky, he may be small but only in size...
IGN: You are personally responsible for directing Super Mario Galaxy 2, possibly Mario's most sweeping console game, as well as his most fully realized portable adventure. From your experience, what are the fundamental differences in creating a Mario game for a handheld device, and creating one for a home console?
Hayashida: Well of course we have to think very differently about how we develop for portables versus console games, primarily in terms of when and how do people play games on these types of devices. I guess I would have to say that in Japan it's very common for people to play portable games on the train, but you might also have people, say, bringing it to school and playing there. Of course that's something you can't do with a console, and so it has a very big impact on how developers think about working on these games. One interesting element is that the screen size, of course, is very different, so in order for Mario to be clearly visible on the smaller screen size of a portable, you have to make him much larger comparatively in terms of how much screen real estate he takes up.
It also changes how we actually work on the game itself, in terms of developers getting together. That is to say, you can pick up your Nintendo 3Ds and walk to someone else's desk just to show them a problem that you're having or talk about an issue. And everyone can bring all of their systems to one room so we can all play test together.
IGN: If you had to try to somehow quantify it, what would you say gives Mario games that magical element they all seem to share?
Hayashida: I guess all I can really say is that it comes from everyone's imagination on staff and our team. Everyone contributes something to the game. I've realized after working in development for a while that if you remove even one person from the process, you will probably see the game change. It took me quite a while to realize how significant each person's contribution can be. When they all come together it really creates something special.
IGN: Iwata-san mentioned during the last quarterly briefing that a 2D Mario is in development for the 3DS. So… do you happen to know anything about that? At this time, are you able to say whether or not you're in some way involved in this project? In other words, is it going to be Pro Skater Mario with Cockroaches 3D? [Referring to Hayashida's joking slides during his GDC panel]
Hayashida: So the team that makes the 2D Mario games is actually a different team, so I'm not involved with that project. But I do hope that you're looking forward to the eventual announcement with more details about that game. And as far as the pro skater Mario with cockroaches - I really hope everyone realizes it was just a joke! [laughs]
IGN: Too bad, that sounds like a fun game!
Hayashida: [laughs] Thank you!
Mario has been haunted by Boos his whole life. That's "Boos". He's not an alcoholic... as far as we know.
IGN: Imagine for me, if you will, that you're home sick. You feel just terrible. You reach out for that one comfort game to make you feel all better. Which game did you reach for?
Hayashida: Hmm, so, I guess the first thing that I'd have to think about is that it couldn't be anything too hard that would require me to use my brain too much - so definitely no Shogi or Japanese Chess. But, usually I don't really play games when I'm sick like that, I'm just trying to rest as much as I can I guess. Sorry!
IGN: That's the difference between us, I suppose!
IGN: If you could, what other Nintendo franchise would you one day like to work on and why?
Hayashida: I guess something new might be really interesting. I've always been looking for whatever's new and fun, and how to present those experiences to players. And so, if there was maybe something that I hadn't really seen before and hadn't worked on before, I'd be really happy to be involved with a project like that.
IGN: During yesterday's panel, you mentioned Miyamoto-san's motto to "enjoy everything." It seems like it meant a lot to you, and helped you and your team carry on development even after last year's tragedy in Japan. Can you please explain what this motto means to you personally, as well as how you apply it to game development?
Hayashida: Well I guess the main example, and this is the one I gave yesterday [at the Thinking in 3D panel], from the team management perspective just getting everyone together in one room for play testing made the entire thing so much more fun. That can have a really big impact.
Here's another one that I guess is probably an interesting example of that, is that we don't divide our teams into like a designer's section and programmers section, but rather designers and programmers are all mixed. You might have a designer sitting next to a programmer, and so on - they're all together. And we told them to make sure that their monitors were all visible, so that when you're walking around, if you see something that looks interesting you can just walk over and start talking to them about it. "Oh, this looks really cool!" or "How are you going to use that?" I think that makes a difference.
One more thing, and this is kind of silly, but at the end of e-mails that I'd send out to the whole team I usually include some sort of jokingly urgent command, like, "Make something fun! Just do it!" and "Make work fun!" - that sort of thing.
IGN: You're now in a similar position as Miyamoto-san was when you first began learning from him. In other words, there are now young game developers looking to you for advice - so what would you like to tell them? What motto of your own would you like to share?
Hayashida: I guess the simplest thing that I could say would of course be "enjoy everything," which was the Miyamoto-ism that I talked about yesterday. But to anyone who's a maker or creator, I guess a really important piece of advice is to find what makes this project interesting or fun for you and analyze that, and hold on to that viewpoint. Don't worry about anyone else's view, but think about that mindset of what makes this fun or interesting for you and keep it present to yourself the entire time that you're working.
For more from the mind of Hayashida-san, including his history with the franchise, the secret of making a great Mario game, Miyamoto-isms and more, check out my full feature on his Thinking in 3D Panel: Making Mario Magic - The Joy of Creation.
Audrey Drake is an Associate Editor of IGN.com and a proud member of the IGN Nintendo team. She is also a lifelong gamer, a frequent banisher of evil and a wielder of various legendary blades. You can follow her zany exploits on My IGN and Twitter. Game on!