Now I’d like to ask you about the main topic for today: ZombiU. Who would be the best to explain how it all started?
We all have different angles I think. Who wants to start? (Laughs)
Okay, I’ll start. We got started on development as soon as we had this new Wii U technology in front of us. But what we had at first wasn’t the same ZombiU that we have today…
You’re referring to Killer Freaks24? 24 Killer Freaks: Refers to Killer Freaks From Outer Space, an FPS game announced by Ubisoft at E3 2011 that saw players fight against evil aliens.
Oh, you know about Killer Freaks? (Laughs) I’d like to come back to that a little later though!
Of course. (Laughs)
We started by doing a lot of prototyping and research. We wanted to understand what Nintendo was trying to do with Wii U. At first the design of the hardware was still changing and the development units still needed work, so we had to find it out by ourselves.
So we had lots of prototypes and decided early on that we could use the Wii U GamePad to create a new kind of FPS for hardcore gamers. We thought that the screen and gyroscope25 on the Wii U GamePad would give gamers a new way of playing an FPS game. We also thought that having a second screen that other players couldn’t see would give us a new approach for multiplayer, especially asymmetric gameplay. This was the Killer Freaks game we showed at E326 2011. The enemies in the game were strange creatures based on the Rabbids27…25 Gyroscope: A sensor that can detect angle and rotation speed.26. E3: Short for Electronic Entertainment Expo. A video game trade show held annually in Los Angeles, California.27 Rabbids: Comical rabbit-like characters created by Ubisoft, first seen in Rayman Raving Rabbids.
So this was kind of an experimental approach where you redesigned the Rabbids for more hardcore players?
Right. At that point we hadn’t actually decided whether we were going to use those characters, but we wanted to surprise people with these strange looking Rabbid-like creatures.
One of the jokes we had on the team was that we knew that the Rabbids and the scream they make can really annoy some people. So the idea we had was to give players the opportunity to really trash and destroy the Rabbids.
I hadn’t heard that before! (Laughs)
Being able to shoot the Rabbids in that prototype allowed those people to work of some stress!
What was really interesting was that the more we were prototyping with the Wii U GamePad, the more it became clear that the game didn’t really call for a fast-paced experience.
My impression of FPS games is that you can’t take your eyes off the screen for even a moment. But when you created a gameplay style that uses the Wii U GamePad, that was no longer the case, was it?
That’s right. We managed to create an experience that’s just as thrilling, despite not placing an emphasis on speed. We already had experience at including survival elements into the story rather than creating a pure action game from when we made King Kong28, so the whole team could understand the appeal of such a game.28 King Kong: A survival action game based on the movie directed by Peter Jackson, who is famous for movies such as The Lord Of The Rings. The Nintendo DS version was released in Europe in November, 2005.
You made King Kong at Montpellier too?
Yes. We already had knowledge of how to create a survival experience: putting the player in a situation where they have to find practical ways of using the environment, starting a fire if needed to get rid of creatures and so on. That knowledge helped us come up with the idea of the Wii U GamePad being this survival kit that actually exists in the game world.
I’d like to hear more about how this survival kit idea evolved…
We understood early in development that the player couldn’t look at both screens at the same time and so we needed to give them time to enjoy the two screens. Early on, we thought that maybe we could have players use the Wii U GamePad in a more strategic way. Basically, that meant the player would create a strategy on the Wii U GamePad and when they carry it out the action will happen on the TV screen. This was our basic concept.
We tried it out with Killer Freaks, but the enemies moved too quickly and it wasn’t really possible to go back and forth between the two screens. You were only able to use the Wii U GamePad when you were safe and hidden from the action.
Killer Freaks was an FPS, so I expect you had to keep your eyes on the enemies and would have no time to look at the Wii U GamePad screen.
Exactly. So we slowed the enemies down. But with the way we were using the Wii U GamePad at first, people still didn’t look at it while they were playing at all.
Right, I remember.
Next, we added a mini-map and some other things to the Wii U GamePad screen to make it more useful. But this time, people ended up just looking at the Wii U GamePad – they weren’t looking at the TV at all and the main camera was just going wild. So that was another fail.
Ultimately, we kept creating more iterations and fine tuning it until we finally arrived with the current system.
So how did you actually solve that problem?
What we did was make it so that when you are looking through your backpack on the Wii U GamePad, the perspective on the TV screen changes from first-person to showing your character on the screen. This meant that you had some time to do whatever you needed to do on the Wii U GamePad while still paying attention to what was happening around you.
The Wii U GamePad isn’t just a controller, it’s also your survival kit in the game and is a multi-purpose tool. You can use it as a phone, to enter passwords, to scan things… it’s all about being immersed and doing things the same way you would in real life. We managed to create a system where the player can perform precise actions on the Wii U GamePad while glancing at the TV screen to check what’s around them at the same time.
Ah, I see. So thinking about it, the slow way that zombies are typically thought to move is really well suited for this system.
Exactly. All of these elements helped create a stable game system and the loop we wanted of ‘anticipate’, ‘manage’ and then ‘confront’. Confrontation is certainly the most dramatic part of the game, but in our early design documents it was no more that 50 per cent of the game. This game system allowed us to create a new playstyle, fighting zombies with the survival kit in your hands.
It’s like the Wii U GamePad and the survival kit are combined as one.
Actually, our idea came from something Shigeru Miyamoto said before: that the Wii U GamePad could be an object outside of the game world.
Ah, that’s right. It’s very interesting how despite the FPS real-time action not working as well as you had hoped when combined with strategy on the Wii U GamePad, you didn’t give up and kept working on it until you could hardly recognise it. I’m sure lots of things helped you reach that point, including those words Miyamoto-san said.