Yoshi’s Crafted World devs on the art style, kindergarten inspiration, flip side gimmick, more
So moving on to the current title, Yoshi’s Crafted World, how did this project start?
Yamamoto: We first started talking to Nintendo before the release of the Switch. At that time Nintendo asked us if we wanted to make something new for the Yoshi series. I wasn’t involved in the previous Kirby and Yoshi games, so this was my first time working with Nintendo on a game. I first had to think about how we could make the traditional Yoshi something new for the Nintendo Switch hardware, also thinking about all the necessary play elements. Man, it was a while before we started talking about crafting… (All laugh) Because the concept of the Switch is that it’s fun alone but you can also take it out with you to enjoy with friends, I really wanted to incorporate this into the Yoshi game too. I was thinking about the potential uses of a home console you can take outside with you. For example, what about if when you brought two consoles together one player could complete the front course at the same time as the other play completes the reverse side. Because all of these players gathered together would have a different view, they could exchange tactics and information to complete the course. That was the first thing I wanted to do.
So you were imagining a 3D course rather than 2D?
Yamamoto: Yes. Yoshi is traditionally a side scrolling 2D adventure. But then if you are going to be playing the front and reverse sides but they don’t look any different, that wouldn’t be fun at all. Plus we also needed to design a unique aesthetic. That’s where the idea of a ‘crafted’ world came in. I thought if we made this a world of crafting and made it so that the reverse of the world was also visible this would give the feeling of two whole parts of the game, one front and one back.
So you thought a crafted world suited this idea of seeing into the background too?
Yamamoto: I considered a lot of other styles, but I thought the crafted one suited the Yoshi world and, after thinking it through, I chose that one.
So the idea of the front and reverse parts was there right from the start?
Yamamoto: Yes. That was the starting point and in order to bring that out fully, the crafted world style was created.
What was Nintendo’s impression of the crafted world idea?
Matsumiya: Right from the start I thought the crafted style was really appealing and that there was a lot of potential in the use of front and back levels.
Tezuka: I was the same. When they told us that the things they were showing us were going to be made for real, I thought: ‘Well, I’m really looking forward to that…’ (All laugh)
Creating that crafted style was a big hurdle from the start, wasn’t it? (laughs)
Yamamoto: It really was. We actually started developing still wondering whether it was really possible to bring out that crafted feeling within the game. With regard to crafting, one thing that always worried us was what materials we would use. If we used a milk carton or a biscuit box there would be the feeling of crafting, but if we used a real-sized milk carton as part of the terrain it would make Yoshi seem really small, so as a way around this, the usable crafting materials became smaller.
Doesn’t having those cartons and boxes as part of the scenery alone give that appearance of a world of crafting?
Yamamoto: Yes. Once we had decided that Yoshi would be a certain size in order to play in the world, we thought about what objects could exist in line with that size and how we could implement them. If we say that something like a plastic bottle lid is the right size to use as a wheel, then pretty much everything else would end up being too big.
So you chose real life items that can be used for crafting in the game?
Yamamoto: That’s right. We thought about things that even children could make. When you bring out that handmade feel, a familiarity also comes along with it, and because most people will have crafted something as a child, whether it’s the parent or child playing the feelings are the same. So while run of the mill boxes and other items can still have imaginary uses, biscuit boxes especially evoke that crafted feeling.
Were those boxes designed with any sort of concept in mind?
Yamamoto: When we first chose the setting for the game, we decided to go with the theme of things crafted in kindergarten. The sort of kindergarten where the children are making figures of Yoshi and playing with them… That was the image we had.
Really, a kindergarten?
Yamamoto: Yes, with Baby Mario and Baby Peach there too. A kindergarten within the Mario world. So then we thought about the sort of sweets those children would be able to get their hands on and even went through designing some of those empty boxes. Always, though, with that development image in mind.
So you even made special cookies for Yoshi…
Watanabe: This is a little detail, but the milk cartons are from Moo Moo Farm, which is a course that made an appearance in the Mario Kart series.
Yamamoto: And then we even drew up the design plans for that kindergarten.
Yamamoto: Not just the exterior, but we also thought about the interior too, as well as the type of rooms and courses the school would have.
Matsumiya: We also did a walk around plan of the inside of a classroom. (laughs)
So then the whole of the world map is based on that original image of a kindergarten?
Yamamoto: That’s right. The theme was kind of designed on an exhibition throughout the whole school. Then the world map was like the floor plan you find at the entrance of a building. If you go here, you’ll find this – that sort of thing. Because we wanted around three levels for each area, we planned for each classroom to have the same amount of areas. And then as well as those classrooms, there would be the playing field and the sports hall…
So that’s why there are sand-based and water-based levels?
Yamamoto: Yes. And we chose the materials available for crafting based on what you would normally find in a kindergarten. Although there are some that adults might use too…
So for example, you can use leaves in the game because there is a garden… That’s the sort of theme of the game then.
Yamamoto: That’s right, but it’s not something you have to worry about while playing the game.
So I guess everyone in the Good Feel team developed this theme without any real objection. Where you also aware of the plans at this stage, Mr. Ebisu?
Ebisu: Of course, I knew about the kindergarten idea, although this is the first time I’m hearing about this kindergarten within the Mario universe. (laughs)
With the theme decided on, how did you then expand this to the gameplay?
Matsumiya: If we’re talking about the original concept, we had this idea about 2 players enjoying the front and reverse of the levels, but the problem was we still had to decide what to do for single players. The reverse levels where still a progression from the start to the finish of the same level. Whether going from the right or the left, the layout and order would be basically the same.
Yamamoto: That’s right. In the original plan the front and reverse sides were equivalent to one another. When playing alone we made it so you complete the front side, then the reverse side, and then you can alternate these as many times as you want to discover all of the secrets. For example, in the first course the steam train was originally only for use on the reverse side. While you can ride it on the front side, there’s isn’t really any meaning to do so. It was designed so that the meaning became clear when you rode it on the reverse side.
Matsumiya: And the flowers were not just on the front side, so the player needs to realize that collect them all they need to also complete the reverse side. But because of that it was hard to know whether you have simply missed the flowers or they aren’t on this particular side. It was all a bit vague.
Watanabe: And besides, even if you attempt the reverse side after the front side, there may be some parts you don’t remember completely or simply aren’t sure if you’ve been to before. Because I am someone who isn’t great at games, I was able to look at the game from that point of view and see that… I had no idea. (laughs)
Yamamoto: For that reason we went over the connection of the two areas many times, and it took an age to re-address that balance. In the end we decided that the front side would be the conventional Yoshi action game experience, while the background would be something new that didn’t interfere too much with the front. That’s when we made the mode where you search for the baby Poochies, which is distinct to the background and which players would realize was a completely different element from the flower collecting on the front side.
Matsumiya: We really did think a long time about how to do that reverse side.
Yamamoto: Having the front side as the conventional Yoshi experience was a sort of compromise we needed to finally agree. Finally we decided that the reverse was not to be the equivalent of the front, but something to be used to deepen the theme of crafting. Deciding not to have the front and reverse of equal size and relevance meant that the idea of using two consoles to play at the same time was also scrapped, but I think in the end that has strengthened the crafting elements.