Kelbaugh/Tanabe talk DKC: TF and more – platformer competition, cutting ideas, improvements, returning to Donkey Kong
Posted on February 19, 2014 by Brian(@NE_Brian) in General Nintendo, News, Wii U
The Official Nintendo Magazine has put up its full interview with Retro CEO Michael Kelbaugh and Nintendo SPD producer Kensuke Tanabe. We’ve highlighted a few excerpts below. For the full piece, head on over to ONM.
On the platformer competition such as Rayman Legends…
Michael Kelbaugh: Honestly speaking, we are incredibly passionate about one thing and that’s making a great game for our fans to enjoy. Our goal is to make our fans and customers happy, and to surprise and to satisfy them; we never compare our efforts to others. If anything, we compare and learn from other Nintendo developers, like Miyamoto-san who we continue to learn from. On that note however, we do play a lot of games and we are fans of the Rayman series. The team at Ubisoft Montpellier really did a really great job!
Kensuke Tanabe: As Michael says, we try to do what we can to make our games better for players, rather than what we could do as compared to other games. We believe that if we make an effort to bring out the best of the game and it makes players happy, then the result will take care of itself. So, of course we care about the performance of our title, in the sense of how satisfied players are with it, but not in how it is considered compared to other games.
On whether the team was able to get all of its new ideas into Tropical Freeze…
MK: As a game developer, I’ve felt that you always leave something on the drawing board that you wish you could have gotten in, and you’re always tormented by the thought “Wouldn’t it be cool if we had included…?” I really believe however that those thoughts inspire future games and ideas that you use on the next game. For example; the dynamic 3D Camera we used in Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze was something we wanted to work into Donkey Kong Country Returns. We just didn’t have the time so we implemented it into Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze. There are also a host of really great ideas that we simply didn’t have the bandwidth to get into Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze; you’ll just have to wait and see where they end up.
KT: Again, exactly as Michael said, it is nearly impossible to put every idea that we come up with into our games; these ideas vary from small ones to big ones. To tell you one of my personal experiences, I worked on the overall concept, storyline and structure of The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past and there were some ideas that didn’t make it. Out of these ideas, there was one I really wanted to see in a game and we finally decided to use it as one of the basic concepts for the setting of The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening a few years later (this was, in fact, that the world ends when a massive egg breaks on top of a mountain). As for Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze, there are quite a few more things I feel that we could have done with the Animal Buddies. If we ever make another Donkey Kong Country title again, I would certainly want to make more use of them!
On problems in Returns that have been fixed in Tropical Freeze/what’s been improved the most…
MK: I can’t say there were problems, however there were refinements made in Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze that weren’t in Donkey Kong Country Returns. For example, we spent a lot of time working on fur as requested by Iwata-san. The end result was gorgeous fur used that we used all over the game. You’ll notice it on Donkey Kong of course. We spent a lot of time and resources on increasing animation quality; you’ll notice that in even the smallest of characters, trees, grass and FX. We also added David Wise, the original Donkey Kong Country composer, to our composition efforts. This, combined with Kenji Yamamoto and Scott Petersen, lent itself to a simply amazing soundtrack and special effects effort.
KT: I heard many users saying that Donkey Kong Country Returns was fun, but hard. We did anticipate such opinions because we purposefully kept the difficulty of Donkey Kong Country Returns as high as in the old Donkey Kong Country games. What we didn’t expect was that not many players would want to use the Super Guide, which we had created as an option for people having trouble with the game. We learned that players want to clear levels by themselves in the end. Given this experience, we decided to add some features that mean even casual players will be able to complete the whole game. But this doesn’t mean that the difficulty of the game has been lowered at all.
On what about Donkey Kong Country and platforming drew them back…
MK: Donkey Kong is just a fun character and I think we’re good at making fun. We’ve learned a lot from Tanabe-san and the many others at Nintendo. There is an entire legacy of video gaming veterans still working at Nintendo that we continue to learn from. Miyamoto-san told us when we first started working on Donkey Kong Country Returns, “This is my baby. Don’t mess it up.” Approaching that expectation from the beginning and adding to the legacy of Donkey Kong has been very gratifying.
I’ve always had a soft spot in my heart for Donkey Kong as well. I played the coin-op game in my parent’s grocery store growing up and I was very fortunate to be involved with the original Donkey Kong Country series. Coincidentally, Tanabe-san and I both worked on this series in different capacities. Who would have thought 20 years later we’d still been working together on the same franchise.
KT: Lots of the people working at Retro are much younger than me and have experiences playing Nintendo games from when they were kids. I believe that, because they know how much fun it was to play the games themselves, they are extremely passionate to make current users feel exactly the same way. What I can do here is to explain to them the ideas behind the Nintendo games that they enjoyed in their childhood. Maybe that’s the reason why they were able to recreate the fun of Nintendo games without losing anything. With such understanding of Nintendo games, Miyamoto-san must have felt he could trust Retro to work on the Donkey Kong Country series.
Let me tell you a little bit more about this “20 years later” story that Michael mentioned… 20 years ago, I worked on the localisation (the Japanese version) of the Donkey Kong Country series under Miyamoto-san. I even had a business trip to Rare once. At that time, I never had an opportunity to meet Michael directly. Only, after 10 years, when he became president of Retro, we finally got to speak face-to-face. I saw a Donkey Kong jacket in his office and asked where that came from – as it turned out, both of us were involved with Donkey Kong Country at the same time. And then a few years after that, we got to work together on a Donkey Kong Country game. I remember I had a feeling like it was fate or something. Speaking of which, Michael gave Donkey Kong Country Returns the development code name of F8 (fate)!
Thanks to PattonFiend for the tip.