The following is translated from Nintendo Dream volume 264, April 2016. The magazine was published February 20th, 2016.
This translation is for fan use only, and may not accurately reflect the opinions of Masahiro Sakurai.
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The End of DLC Development
—Congratulations on completing your year of DLC development.
Sakurai: Thank you.
—Now, I’d like to start by asking the usual Nintendo Dream question!
Sakurai: That’s how you want to start? (laughs)
—Exactly. What was the first thing you ate after completing development for the DLC?
Sakurai: As if I remember!
—Let’s get back on track. (laughs) This was the first time one of your games featured DLC. What did you think of the process?
Sakurai: Post-release development is unique because the team is much smaller than before, which means I also check things less frequently. In that sense, I felt DLC development was a lot more relaxed than that of the main game. At the same time, we still had a lot to take care of. We’d be busy one day and completely dead the next; it was feast or famine. For example, when putting together a special broadcast, movie production overlapped with game balancing, and that kept us up late into the night. Still, when making something like that, you’re essentially just waiting for it to finish, so there’s some downtime as well.
—That being said, it’s hard for me to believe you were ever “completely dead.” (laughs)
Sakurai: I mean, I was working far more than the average developer. (laughs) That’s partially because we couldn’t maintain a staff of several hundred like we did for the main game. We developed the DLC with only the core members on staff, so the drop in personnel contributed to me being so busy.
—Even so, it’s unprecedented for the announcement of new fighters for an already-released game to inspire such excitement and festivity.
Sakurai: I think adding a new character to Smash means something much greater than it does in any other game. Players often wonder which game character will receive the honor next, whether their own wishes will be granted. Sometimes we’ll pull a collaboration out of left field or shock people with a fighter announcement trailer. That sort of shock and awe is unique to Smash. That’s why I feel pressured to work hard every single time.
—It’s pretty exciting to ponder which fighter will join the fray next. Our editor kept saying “Donbe” (from Shin-Onigashima). (laughs)
Sakurai: Nobody knows him outside of Japan. (laughs) However, I think it’s fun for the fans of each character to seriously consider what might happen if, for example, Donbe were to join the fray—what moves he would use, how he would play.
—It’s a little sad to think all that excitement has finally come to an end.
Sakurai: At the same time, if we were to keep adding popular characters to Smash as DLC, we’d eat up IPs in no time flat. Moreover, people’s “shock and awe” would gradually start to fade. If at some point in the future we had 100 characters in Smash, adding the 101st character wouldn’t have the same impact as new fighters have had up until now. In that sense, I feel now is the perfect time to close the curtains on development.
—Plus, continuous development means you would keep working forever.
Sakurai: Actually, the amount of work spent making one fighter is more than it was during development on the main game because we developed new characters on the premise that they would possess unique abilities no other character has. Rather than try to emulate pre-existing characters, we tried to introduce brand-new styles of gameplay. And that’s how we ended up with these DLC characters.
—Since release, you’ve watched trends among online battles shift over time, and seen a number of tournaments take place. Looking back, how do you feel?
Sakurai: I’ve checked the results from online matches, but I left all the finer details and research to the monitoring team, so I didn’t really go out of my way to watch things that closely.
Sakurai: Yes, because ultimately I need to look out for the novice and intermediate players. I made it my priority to create an environment in which they could relax and enjoy themselves. I have nowhere near the same dexterity as the advanced players (laughs), so I relied on the monitoring team’s data and advice. I honestly think we could make the game more balanced if we only focused on adjusting to For Glory 1v1. If we were to do that, however, Smash would lose its sense of being a party game people can get together and play.
—It must be hard trying to satisfy both the casual and competitive crowds.
Sakurai: I think it’s hard for a lot of people to understand. For the people who only play For Glory 1v1, that’s the extent of their world; they might not understand the reason why other communities exist. At the same time, if Smash were to develop into a pure one-on-one fighting game in which only the strong survive, the people who play Smash just to have a good time would all disappear before you know it.
—It would become a lot more hardcore.
Sakurai: Last year, I made an appearance on a special live broadcast called “Let’s Play Smash Bros. for Wii U” featuring voice actor Tomokazu Sugita, composer Kenji Ito, and an emcee. Sugita and the emcee both love playing games, but Ito isn’t much of an action game person. Naturally, Sugita and the emcee would have an overwhelming advantage, but Ito actually ended up winning several matches.
—In other words, you want to preserve the ability for beginners and experts to have fun together.
Sakurai: The game doesn’t have the same sense of chance as poker or mahjong, but it also doesn’t do anything special to give the losing player a leg up. Rather, even if a skill difference exists between players, Smash is a game everyone can enjoy together, and I think that type of experience is both rare and extremely important. That’s why I aimed to create something fun where four players can fight one another simultaneously, something that wouldn’t limit the kinds of people playing. I loved what they did with “Tatakae! GAMEBOYZ.”
—Even just watching, you can really tell how fun it is for kids and adults alike.
Sakurai: It’s fun simply watching. You get a sense of how deep their personalities are. It brings a smile to my face to think, “Ah, so this is what it’s like when two elementary school kids duke it out.”
—That being said, you aren’t dismissing the people who pursue the competitive one-on-one path. Seeing the game spread through both online matches and offline tournaments makes that abundantly clear. I think it’s really just as you’ve been saying all along: Smash is a game you want people to enjoy in their own way.
Sakurai: To be fair, the people who play online are only a small part of the entire audience. The people who favor solo play just keep playing by themselves. At the same time, there are countless others who don’t play that way. To me, all of these groups are extremely important.
Stay tuned for parts 2 and 3. The interview is quite lengthy, and we are still in the process of translating it. Make sure to follow us on Twitter to stay updated.