Paper Mario for Nintendo 64 was the first game in this series featuring paper-thin 2D graphics. I think Miyamoto-san really persevered until he achieved that unique style. As the developers at that time, what was it like?
It was indeed a challenge. After it was decided that IS would make a second Super Mario RPG, we ran into trouble deciding how it should look in order to introduce a different theme to that of the main series.
Tanabe-san, you weren’t very involved with Paper Mario at that time, were you?
Aside from introducing Kudo-san at the start, I didn’t have much to do with it, no.
Oh, is that so?
Tanabe-san was in charge of handling HAL Laboratory, and he was racking his brain while I was at HAL Laboratory at the time, thinking about bringing out games for Nintendo 64. (laughs)
Oh… were we? (laughs)
Around 1997, HAL Laboratory was somewhat lost. The reason was clear. Super Mario 6418 suddenly came out at the same time as Nintendo 64, so we were all racking our brains trying to find an answer about what product would be good enough to line up side by side with Super Mario. It took quite a while before HAL Laboratory came out with Super Smash Bros.19– I bet IS had the same problem.18. Super Mario 64: The first 3D action game in the Super Mario series, simultaneously released with the Nintendo 64 system in June 1996.19. Super Smash Bros.: An action-fighting game released for the Nintendo 64 system in January 1999, developed by HAL Laboratory, Inc..
Yes, we really did. And most of all, it was a Mario game! We couldn’t determine the route to take with the visuals. At first, we broke into teams and worked in parallel on making about three sample models.
Aoyama-san, what were you working on then?
I was still a new employee, and I was involved as a designer making one of the samples.
You were the new guy.
While the design remained undecided, I naturally spent a lot of time waiting – during that free time casually for my own interest and totally separate from the course the team was taking, I made a rough image. I hoped it would somehow serve as a kick-off point and submitted it.
Then they called me to a planning meeting, saying “Bring back that picture,” and this is what I presented.
Oh, it’s from 15 years ago on March 5, 1997!
It’s made of 3D polygons, but I drew it to resemble an image like that of a picture book transplanted into a video game – using paper-thin 2D backgrounds and characters.
This style simply didn’t exist on the path everyone was on at the time, but you could sense a great deal of feeling toward Super Mario in the pictures.
I think around that time it was trendy to go for realistic 3D on home consoles, but I thought it might be an interesting twist to make use of the capabilities of 3D to emphasise a 2D appearance.
(looking at a memo) Hey, this is clearly my drawing! (laughs)
It says Love-de-Lic.2020. Love-de-Lic, Inc.: A Japanese videogame developer that Taro Kudo was affiliated with after leaving Square Co., Ltd. When staff members struck out on their own, it divided into several companies, including Vanpool, Inc.
Kudo-san was there then, too.
In March, 15 years ago, you ended up using something a new designer had made for fun.
I think that it made a strong impression on Miyamoto-san. After Paper Mario on Nintendo 64, Aoyama-san was away from the series for a while, but then he got appointed as project director for this game.
Ah, I see. And Miyamoto-san said he wanted the visuals to follow Aoyama-san’s ideas.
I believe so. In that respect, this project started with an almost complete renewal of the staff.
A few programmers stayed on in order to make use of previous assets, but in planning and design, about 90 per cent were participating for the first time.
In some ways, I think that meant a return to Paper Mario’s origins, but was there a reason for that renewal?
The biggest reason was that Miyamoto-san said he wanted us to make a big change to the atmosphere of Paper Mario this time. I heard that Miyamoto-san was really thinking for a while about how to handle the Super Mario series and pondered over a number of things.
We imagined rather early on that Paper Mario would be a good match for Nintendo 3DS, and the papercraft atmosphere of the actual prototype was good.
That was about three years ago, at the end of 2009.
At the beginning of development, we were simply incorporating our ideas into making use of the stereoscopic display function. Then at the 2010 E321, before the release of Nintendo 3DS, we revealed several prototype images.21. E3: Short for Electronic Entertainment Expo. A video game trade show held annually in Los Angeles, California.
So why has it taken until now?
After E3, Miyamoto-san played the prototype and said it was just a port of the GC version.2222. GC version: A reference to Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door, the second game in the Paper Mario series, released for the Nintendo GameCube (GC) system in July 2004.
I heard that at first, Miyamoto-san said that something like an RPG would be fine, so for a while I thought that creating something like the previous one would be okay.
That must have meant that you hadn’t done much that was new.
Exactly. So we wondered what to do. Then the idea of using stickers came up. Originally, the plan was to use stickers here and there for solving puzzles on the map and so forth, but then we thought, “If we’re going to do that, then we might as well use stickers for the whole game, including battles,” and we started to rethink the game mechanics.
That’s when the policy of going all out with stickers came to the forefront?
Yes. But at first, I couldn’t really easily resolve that.
You were making Donkey Kong Country Returns23 for Wii and I asked you not to get too deeply involved in other projects.23. Donkey Kong Country Returns: An action game released for Wii in December 2010.
Later, Donkey Kong Country Returns was complete and the new year began, so I was allowed to really dig into development at the beginning of 2011. The first thing I did was to ask Kudo-san to participate in the project.
Yes, it was about that time.
It was somewhat fateful. Around the beginning of February, Kudo-san came to Kyoto to discuss a different project and said in front of me during a casual conversation about how he was so busy being a president that he never got to get involved with development any more.
Oh, same here! (laughs)
Also around that time, I wanted someone who could write good text – I couldn’t always be on site, so I was looking for someone who could be present to make decisions on complex matters. Kudo-san was perfect for that and we had a past connection through IS, so I asked him if he could take a spot in development. I thought it was going too far to ask another company’s president to come in as a staff member on a project I was in charge of, but Kudo-san consented. Then around the spring of 2011, we had Miyamoto-san look at a prototype.
Okay. How was it?
Personally, I thought it was better than before, but it actually turned out to be not so good.
He said it was boring. I remember that clearly.
Listening to you talk, it sounds like Miyamoto-san was a scary presence for the team.
Yes, he was! (laughs)
We have no shortage of anecdotes of that nature. What we can reveal today are only a fraction of them!
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