Hunting Down the Origins of Metroid

For the last several weeks, Nintendo has been releasing developer interviews commemorating the launch of the NES Classic Edition. Already we have seen interviews from the creators of Donkey Kong, Balloon Fight, Super Mario Bros.1 and 3, and The Legend of Zelda. Now we have come to the last in the series from writer, Mr. Akinori Sao. This interview features the developers of the wildly popular Metroid game (and series), Yoshio Sakamoto and Hiroji Kiyotake.

sakamoto-kiyotakeConcept and early development for the game was actually done by two of Nintendo’s youngest employees who, in fact, were novice game developers and had only ever worked on Game & Watch titles before. For many people who played the original Metroid game when it was first released on the Nintendo Entertainment System, the game was notoriously known as difficult. Some players who got their start with Super Mario Bros. and the like, may have recognized the game as a stark departure from Mario, and that was actually by design.

Ah, so what did you two new employees have in mind as you began making the game?

Kiyotake: As we were working, the Super Mario Bros.4 boom hit. So we wanted to make something that had what Super Mario Bros. didn’t have.

What Super Mario Bros. didn’t have? Like what?

Kiyotake: As a simple example, you know how Mario slides a little before stopping?

Uh-huh…

Kiyotake: So we tried to make a dead halt.

You began with movement?

Kiyotake: Yes. We wanted to make actions that Mario didn’t have. And then…

Sakamoto: Aren’t you forgetting something important?

Kiyotake: Am I?

Sakamoto: Super Mario Bros. is about avoiding enemies.

If you touch one, you lose a turn.

Sakamoto: In response to that, Kiyotake was complaining, saying, “Why do we have to avoid them?!” (laughs)

(laughs)

Sakamoto: When you began making Metroid, you wanted a technique called a Screw Attack for doing a spinning jump to defeat enemies. Isn’t that right?

Kiyotake: Oh, that’s right! (laughs)

As 30 years have passed since the creation and release of Metroid, a lot of the “secrets” of the game are now common knowledge, but the origin of some of those things is still unknown. By now, everyone knows the name of the protagonist of Metroid is Samus Aran, and also that she is, in fact, a woman, but how did she get her name?

Kiyotake-san, weren’t you the one who named Samus Aran?

Kiyotake: Yes, I was.

About ten years ago when I did a magazine interview, I heard from Sakamoto-san that you’re a soccer fan and took that name from the real name of Pelé, the King of Football.

Kiyotake: Yeah. (laughs) Even though it may not really be his name…

Yeah, it isn’t. (laughs)

Kiyotake: I thought so. (laughs)

Apparently, you thought Pelé’s real name is Samus Arantes Nascimentos.

Kiyotake: Yeah, yeah, something like that.

But if you look it up, it’s Edson Arantes do Nascimento.

Kiyotake: Yeah, I was totally off! (laughs)

Sakamoto: But Arantes was right. (laughs)

Yes, that much is! (laughs)

Kiyotake: I thought that conjured up the right image, so I used that name.

How did you decide to make Samus Aran a woman?

Sakamoto: Once we entered the final stage of development, we started talking about having different endings depending on how long it took players to clear the game. We wanted to prepare a reward for people who cleared it more quickly.

Kiyotake: We wondered what would surprise everyone and talked about removing Samus’s helmet.

Sakamoto: Then someone said, “It would be a shocker if Samus turned out to be a woman!” And everyone thought that would be interesting and wanted to do it, so we decided it right away.

Kiyotake: Yeah, we decided that in a flash. Back then, people played games over and over, so we wanted to give a reward for playing through quickly. Then we decided to put in four endings, with Samus removing her helmet or her suit and so forth.

As they played, everyone thought Samus was a tough, musclebound guy, but they learned in the end that Samus was a woman.

Sakamoto: People who played it back then were shocked. And even now people talk about it like a kind of legend. (laughs)

The very history of the early days at Nintendo mother-brain.pngis always an intriguing thing to me, as it is just fascinating how things came together, and certain decision led to such magnificent results. How many times were simple decisions or limitations the very things that turned out to be pivotal and most memorable! In Nintendo’s 30+ years in the video game industry, they have created a lot of the most iconic experiences ever, and as time continues to pass, it is wonderful when they take these rare moments to open up just a little bit.

Be sure to take the time to view the entire interview for Metroid here.

Did you enjoy the interview series? Have you been able to get your hands on the NES Classic Edition, yet? Do you know anyone else who has gotten one? Which classic game do you consider your favorite of the 30 games included on the system?

As always, gaming is meant to be fun, so keep gaming!!


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