Today, I will be doing a followup to Soma’s wonderful Sakurai on Smash 64: A Phenomenon is Born, and Sakurai on Melee: Pushing the Limits. If you haven’t read those, then please check them out as the post will try to emulate that format. Furthermore, I should clarify that this is a collection of all the information that I could think of when writing this article. I try to be as definitive as possible, but we are still parsing through ‘new’ information. Stay tuned as we continue to provide translations, summaries and investigations in all things Smash Bros and Nintendo!
Super Smash Bros is a game loved by many people. The latest entry in the series have sold over 10 million copies total, and the games are played for a long time. Super Smash Bros Brawl was one of the most played games on the Wii. Besides the series’ crisp, unique gameplay, one of the most attractive features is the fighters themselves. Masahiro Sakurai has made Super Smash Bros into a character driven fighting game and wants Smash to be the ‘best character fighting game in the world’. Character choices is something that a lot of people pay attention to, which is why Sakurai has decided to release characters as DLC for Super Smash Brothers for Wii U and 3DS:
“Moreover, we decided to release other characters as well because part of the fun of Smash is the anticipation: “Which character will join the fray next!?” If we keep distributing content, we can maintain that excitement, and I think that’s a really great thing.”–The Creator’s Hands are Alive and Well vol 477
For Sakurai’s GDC 2008 speech, Sakurai solely focused on character choices. Source Gaming has provided a full translation of the slides Sakurai that has used. I’d also strongly encourage people who are interested in learning more about that presentation to also listen to an audio recording of Sakurai’s speech (translated into English).
Perhaps the most noteworthy part of the GDC speech and the slides, is Sakurai’s supposed rules for character selection. Please note, that the numbers were NOT present in the original image. I added them to make it easier to talk about each point. More importantly, in my original translation, I missed “only”. I bolded the word below, and added a note to the GDC slide translation. We will fix the images ASAP.
The character must display personality in their game
It’s important to have something only that character can do.
Potential development issues, and game balance is also taken into some consideration
Distribution among the franchises is also taken into consideration.
There is also an important note:
Characters are not picked at random. After fully understanding the character’s personality, development advances while taking into consideration how those characters can be fun to play in “Smash”. There are some characters that can’t join the battle, even if they meet the qualifications.
With all that in mind, let’s separate each point.
For the first point, displaying personality is extremely important. Sakurai expanded upon this idea in his Are the Characters Dancing? column.
To be blunt, if I think I can do it then I can envision a concrete embodiment of the character, but if I cannot do that the character cannot be made.” This is a big factor. Of course getting permission and understanding from the original creators is necessary, but whether the image of the character in my head is dancing powerfully, or not. This is of the utmost importance. Are the Characters Dancing vol 430
Having a moveset appear to Sakurai is very important– but it’s not the end of the road. In some cases, Sakurai will revisit or come back to characters that he’s shot down. Mii Fighters, Pac-Man and the Villager are three examples of characters that Sakurai initially decided were ‘unsuitable’ for fighting. It may be coincidence, but all of the characters in Smash are either protagonists, or recurring characters — with the exception of Greninja and Sheik…and technically Ganondorf— at the time of his first appearance.
For the second point, being unique is extremely important to Smash Bros. Every character has a role in the game. Roy was chosen because he could actually be unique not only in his sword properties, but to appear in Smash Bros. before his regular game. When talking about his selection for Roy and Lucas, it seemed that they were chosen to represent the ‘cut characters of _____’. Every character needs to have a reason to be in. In the GDC slides and talk, Sakurai discusses creating a ‘marketing slogan’ for each fighter. Here are some examples:
Metaknight: Pointed Sword Dancer
Ike: Burly Swordsman
Snake: Heavy Weapons Specialist
Zero Suit Samus: Flexible Martial Artist
Sakurai talks about this point once again in his Famitsu column, ‘Thinking about Video Games’.
On the contrary, no matter how suited a character may be to fighting, if I cannot meaningfully distinguish them from other characters, or create fun unique characteristics of the characters, then that’s the end for them. Are the Characters Dancing vol 430
Sakurai wants each character to have it’s own unique draw. Something to pull you in, something to make the players want to pick up every single character, or be able to find one that suits their preference or playstyle. Having unique fighters is part of the reason that Sakurai even added Nintendo characters in the first place:
It’s hard for original, new fighting games that are developed for home consoles to be acknowledged and recognized. In addition, all of the popular fighting games have characters that all have an abundance of unique traits. Each consumer has a character they individually like, and each character is a key component in the game. So in addition to creating the game, it’s vitally important that you take these 8, or 16 characters and make them shine without diluting their unique flavor, and get them to stick in the audience’s head.
We were told that there hadn’t been many successful original fighting games for home consoles, for example, so in order for this game to avoid that, we really thought carefully about what kind of fighting game this should be to bring something newsworthy to the 64 software lineup. To have unique selling points that other games could not mimic. And we thought up a lot of ideas, but in the end, we went with the concept of “Nintendo characters in a battle royale.” We were confident that it was an idea that a lot of people would endorse, and most importantly, we were confident that there was a large audience that was waiting for this kind of game. Sakurai and Iwata interview with Shigesato Itoi part 1
You might be asking yourself, “what about clones?”. Frostwraith has already done an amazing job collecting quotes and information about clone development. Essentially, Sakurai treats the clones as a “free desert” and are NOT planned characters. Clone characters are started when there is some available time and resource for their development. Some of the clones (and semi-clones) in Brawl were nearly not added to the game (while others were dropped).
The Ice Climbers are another example of just how important having a unique moveset is. Despite being a very unpopular choice in the “If There Was a Smash 2 Poll“, Ice Climbers were chosen as the ‘retro representative’, beating a lot more characters:
Also, in character selection, whether they have “things only that character can do” is important.
With the Ice Climbers, we thought it’s interesting to translate that game’s simultaneous 2-player play to having both characters move simultaneously here, so that’s how they joined in. News Flash! Smash Bros. Dojo: Ice Climbers
Ridley is perhaps the best example of a character breaking the third rule…potential game development issues and game balance. LIQUID12A and Spazzy_D have just written an article exploring Ridley’s relationship with the Smash Brothers series.
Sakurai was asked about Ridley in a May 2008 interview with Nintendo Power, “Way of the Sakurai”.
There was a rumor at one point about Ridley being playable. Was that ever a consideration?
I think that would probably be pretty impossible. [Laughs] If we had put our best efforts into it, we may have been able to do it. But he might have been a little slow. Would that be all right? [laughs]
Distribution among the franchises and series representation is something that Sakurai is paying attention to. This is the main reason why Wario wasn’t added in Melee. This is something that I’d like to really explore in the future, as Source Gaming hasn’t explored the topic quite yet. I know that it’s something that Sakurai has taken into consideration since Smash 64. Fan demand, and proper series representation is a complicated topic.
Sakurai has repeatedly said that even if they fulfill some of criteria, some characters can’t join the battle. Waluigi is perhaps the best example of this. Sakurai stated this on Miiverse when revealing Waluigi was an assist trophy:
…Which also means he’s not a playable character. Just because you try hard doesn’t mean you’ll make it into the battle. Miiverse, February 27th
Of course, Sakurai does change his mind, so it’s not the end of the road for Waluigi or for any other character that ‘can’t join the battle’. At the end of the day, only Sakurai has complete understanding on how he picks the characters.
If you are interested in reading more about character choices, as talked about by Sakurai I’d suggest checking out Character Design 101. I’ve rounded up all the translations we have done that involve characters design or selection in some way. Go check it out, and learn more about how fighters are picked in Smash!
I would like to do a sequel to this post concerning 3rd party characters, but I need to gather some additional information. Please be patient.
Let me know in the comments what you think about character choices in Smash Brothers.