I’d like to ask about the communication feature that just came up. Mario Kart 7 supports all the communication features of Nintendo 3DS system, so it’s on a whole new level as a competitive communication tool. Were such features and related specifications included in the first designs?
No, they weren’t.
So you pulled them together as you made the game?
For example, early on we were making the communities, where you can easily gather with like-minded players online. But we didn’t think of the Mario Kart Channel8 for StreetPass and SpotPass9 until quite a bit later. 8 Mario Kart Channel: A mode in Mario Kart 7. In addition to exchanging and receiving ghost data via StreetPass and SpotPass, you can interact with other players. 9 SpotPass: A feature in the Nintendo 3DS system that when activated receives various information and content when near a wireless LAN access point.
One feature is you can race people on the Internet over and over even if you haven’t exchanged Friend Codes10 with them. What was your original inspiration for making the communities? 10 Friend Code: An ID automatically generated when using Nintendo Wi-Fi Connection. When players exchange codes, they become “friends” and can then enjoy playing together wirelessly.
At first, we wanted to include a feature where friends could gather like this directly on Nintendo 3DS, but schedule-wise it was tight and wouldn’t fit. So I said, “I’ll do it with Mario Kart 7.” Having said that, I knew I had to think of something and drew a rough plan on a big sheet of paper.
The reason you want to become friends with someone through Mario Kart is because you want to race them. Until now, if you played someone once on the Internet and wanted to play that person again, the only way was to register them as a friend. Then someone suggested to include a way of making it easier to gather, so it would be easier than registering a friend and it would be happening more often than the once-in-a-lifetime chance encounter you may have with someone that’s somewhere in the world.
I suppose making the Communities was fun for development, too.
Oh, absolutely! You can play it so easily, but one way to play with a community is to decide the rules. That is a lot of fun! (laughs)
You can determine the rules yourself?
You can limit the ways items appear, like having a race in which only bananas appear. After three laps, there are bananas everywhere! (laughs) You can play a different way than before.
Battles are pretty intense when you play with the rule that only Bob-ombs appear! There was a minigame called “Bob-omb Blast ” in Mario Kart: Double Dash!!.11 It’s as fun as that! The programmers got together and played during testing. 11 Mario Kart: Double Dash!!: A racing game released for the Nintendo GameCube system in November 2003.
The good thing about this idea is that while it’s rather small, it changes gameplay in big ways. There have been games in which you could determine the rules, but when you combine that with a community, the benefits multiply. Was it in the designs from the start?
“Only shells” was written in the first plan. The schedule was too tight, so we said, “Let’s give up on this.”
But the returns for the effort of putting it in seems huge. It totally changes gameplay. When ideas for making a game fun are popping up one after the other and if these ideas don’t take that much effort or cost much to put it in, the game polishes up nicely and speedily. By the way, where did the idea for the Mario Kart Channel come from? It’s similar to, yet different from, the Mario Kart Channel for the Wii console.12 12 Mario Kart Channel for the Wii console: A game mode in Mario Kart Wii that allows players to download ghost data and participate in competitions via WiiConnect24.
I participated in development of nintendogs + cats13 for a while.
Uh-huh. When I heard that you were helping with nintendogs + cats, I talked with Konno-san about whether Mario Kart would be alright. (laughs) 13 nintendogs + cats: A communication game released for the Nintendo 3DS system in February 2011 in Japan.
But I thought, “So that’s what the Nintendo 3DS system’s StreetPass feature is like!” It was a good learning experience.
Oh, I see! That’s an example of turning a tight spot into a good opportunity!
I think so. Then I thought about how I could get players to notice when they had passed someone and how I could have that lead to gameplay.
Uh-huh. There has to be a progression from noticing to happiness to gameplay. If you passed someone, but didn’t notice it, it would go neglected. But if you noticed and it didn’t lead to gameplay or you weren’t happy about it, there would be no motivation for going out to pass people.
Nintendogs + cats has a Diary14 for checking your StreetPass content. That was the inspiration for the Mario Kart Channel. 14 Diary: A feature in nintendogs + cats that allows players to register, change settings and check their StreetPass content.
Oh, that’s right. They were completely separate in my head, so I never noticed!
You can easily look at it anytime, and when you peek in every now and then, you notice new information has arrived. It’s that kind of place.
With regard to StreetPass, we thought the types of ideas that would most naturally arise wouldn’t be characteristic of Mario Kart, so we discussed it a lot.
The final product is surprising. How did the new feature of being able to race seven ghosts all at once arise?
We thought it would be a pain if every time you passed someone you could only race that one ghost. It arose when we thought, “What about racing several at once?”
That’s quite a change in thought. I think it looks new as well. The Mii character of someone you’ve passed suddenly bursts into a race and moves according to his or her style. Tell me about that.
Watching each individual player’s habits was something we were thinking about from the start, and we wondered if we could use that for StreetPass.
But wasn’t grasping each person’s habits and having the ghosts move accordingly quite a challenge? As a programmer, how was that, Shiraiwa-san?
If someone had told me to put in 100 subtle variations, that would have been difficult, but we were able to pull it off by using subtle titles along the lines of “uses lots of bananas” and “throws lots of shells.” I think that was a good way to adjust to players’ habits. I’m good at placing bananas, and Konno-san says, “Shiraiwa-san, you’re always Banana Blitzer.”
Banana Blitzer?! (laughs)
Yeah, his title is always Banana Master. (laughs)
Hearing that makes me want to start placing bananas like one! (laughs)
In Internet matches as well, when someone you passed earlier is online, you can join them there, up to a maximum of eight racers, so there are all kinds of challenges. Where did that idea come from?
Konno-san and I regularly play competitive games on the Internet.
Yeah. We say it’s research, but… (laughs)
You play at home?
Yes. (laughs) When we played, we always talked about what features would make players of such games happy. A feature for joining existed for Mario Kart Wii so that someone playing the game could join. In other words, if you weren’t running the game, you didn’t know if your friends were online. We wanted to do something about that.
This time, you know what games your friends are playing, so you can join.
That was the ideal I had as a developer, and was something I wanted to use as a player. I’ve always been saying how I wanted to wait for someone to play Mario Kart Wii with while playing New Super Mario Bros. Wii.15 Just sitting there staring at Mario Kart Wii would… 15New Super Mario Bros. Wii: An action game released for the Wii console in December 2009 in Japan.
Be a little sad. (laughs)
Most important for this game was making it playable together with your friends. We wanted to improve everything that pertained to that.
You decided early on to prioritise that.
Yes, that’s how we have always made Mario Kart. In the original game, we split the screen in two so two players could play it, and later came four screens, eight-player matches, and the Internet. The series has continued with that in mind.
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