Metroid Prime director on making the game, Nintendo’s influence, leaving Retro
Game Informer recently spoke with Mark Pacini from Armature Studio. Although some of the discussion touched on Batman: Arkham Origins – Blackgate and his new game ReCore, he also spoke quite a bit about his days at Retro and directing Metroid Prime.
One interesting anedcote was about when Retro was meeting with Shigeru Miyamoto and other folks from Nintendo’s main headquarters in Japan. After the meeting, Pacini’s boss said that they were upset with him. Why? Pacini didn’t have a pencil and paper at the meeting, so Nintendo felt he wasn’t listening. Pacini called it a “very noobie mistake” on his part, and wanted to make sure that wouldn’t happen again.
Making Metroid Prime was the toughest project for Pacini from a development standpoint and getting it completed. “I think it was just the amount of stuff we were trying to do in the time we were doing it,” he said.
Pacini went on to say soon after that creating Metroid Prime “took a lot of effort by a lot of people.” He feels that luck was partially involved in how it turned out so well, but another aspect was the team itself. Retro “went through a lot of iterations of developers, and when the studio eventually went down to just making one game which is Metroid, we had all of the best people from all of the teams that were kind of there,” he explained. The group of developers, which included “senior people” that were very experienced, may not not have existed otherwise. The ideas Nintendo contributed and the relationship between the two sides played a huge role as well.
Early on in development, Retro was left alone to work on Metroid Prime. Nintendo not checking in wasn’t a matter of the IP not being an important franchise. Pacini said it was merely “the way the studio was set up, and at that particular time there wasn’t a lot of communication with Nintendo of Japan, and there was a certain point when that happened.”
Metroid Prime was ultimately a game from both the east and west. Retro made the title, but it did so with plenty of help and ideas from staff in Japan. Had it gone differently, Pacini feels it “wouldn’t have been the same game.” Retro was open to Nintendo’s ideas and gave them “due diligence”. Had Retro worked on it entirely alone with Nintendo putting its name on the box at the end, “it would not have been anywhere as good.” Pacini feels that Metroid Prime’s success was “because it had that collaboration”.
According to Pacini, settling on Metroid Prime as a first-person adventure is “when we latched on to that, that motivated a lot of our decisions on what was going to define the game.” One of Nintendo’s biggest contributions was related to the visor system. Even though visors had already been present, Retro hadn’t hadn’t expanded on them too much.
“Originally when we were talking about what Samus would be able to do in the game world, we had visors in the game, but we didn’t really expand too much on them. You have your thermal visor, and you have your X-ray visor, and stuff like that. … It seemed like such a silly idea, Nintendo’s thing was like, ‘this is going to be about the scan visor. This game is about scanning the environment’, and we’re like, ‘Okay, but this is like an action game, this is like a shooting game’. But as the brilliance of them, and it was Tanabe-san who had an idea of like, ‘well what if we did this, and you get information, this is how we do the tutorials, and this is how you give the players instruction, and we could do all these things with the scan visor’. And because their motivation was, ‘this is a game about the scan visor’, and our’s was not at all, but we did the due diligence to integrate it in a way that felt natural to the game and how would we want to do this? So that’s how it went back and forth, and that was like a really great suggestion on their part because it seems so simple now, but at the time, there weren’t a lot of games like this.”
Pacini did spend many years at Retro. However, as we know, he eventually went on to leave and co-founded Armature Studio.
Pacini shared the following about why he made the big change in his career:
“With anything, it’s kind of like my whole career even before Nintendo, when I was at Iguana, I had worked on only Nintendo hardware for over ten years, and I really felt that, ‘wow, I would like to try to do something different’. Not just hardware-wise, but there’s just other opportunities and other types of games and ideas that we had that I know would never be able to be done here. It just wouldn’t. And that’s not good or bad, it’s just that it wouldn’t be possible. So I always wanted to either have my own or be part of a company with that I owned and try it, and this was the time to do it. The Metroid series was over, we were looking at the next thing we were going to be doing, and it felt like a good time to leave because there were a lot of talented people who would be able to fill in. It wasn’t like necessarily leaving people in a lurch and I felt that at that point of my career, if I was going to do it, I was going to do it then. And because you always think you’re missing out on something. There was a certain degree of a safety nest there, but at the same time… like I was saying about being comfortable, I don’t like being comfortable and I feel there’s something you’re always going to learn from struggling a bit and trying something new… “
You can listen to Game Informer’s full interview with Pacini below.