Semi-old Sakurai interview, covering custom moves, version differences, balancing, and more!

Dengeki Interview

Hey guys, this is an interview from Dengeki Nintendo magazine’s February 2015 issue (so it’s a year old, basically). Sakurai answers eight questions, some of it’s interesting, some of it’s not, so I’ve taken the liberty of fully translating some questions and summarizing some of the others. Hope you guys enjoy.

As always, please don’t post the whole translation, link/credit us at least, you know. Be reasonable about it.

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Question 1: What do you think is fun about Smash?

The fact that you have the freedom to play however you want

An antithesis to fighting games

If I said that the concept of Smash is “a game where everyone can have play and have fun”…well, that might be simplifying it a bit too much (laughs). Smash was born, in a way, as an antithesis to what the fighting game genre was like back then (the late 1990’s). At the time, fighting games had reached a point, gone so far down this path that they weren’t playable for beginners. The strategy and the gameplay were excellent, but Smash was created with the concept of a game where you play against your friends, but it’s a loose and rough experience. Damage in Smash is a percentage that accumulates, and because of this system your opponent will react differently after every hit based off of their percentage, so traditional set combos aren’t as effective. Also, by expressing a character’s defeat by dynamically launching them off-screen, we avoid the experience of your character being beaten and falling to the ground, that sort of thing.


I want to offer an open playground

Smash is a series that was born from the concept of a haphazard, slapstick brawl. So playing competitively (where you turn off items and restrict the stages) really isn’t the way I wanted these games to be played. It’s just that I offer the variety, the width or breadth, you could say, to play with those rules as well– a free playing field (an open playground?). If people like playing competitively, they can play that way as much as they want, and have fun that way. We make Smash as big as possible, so I think it’s good that people can pick and choose which mode they would like to play. I like to consider a buffet, if you will (laughs). I don’t expect anyone to eat all of it. You can pick and choose the dishes you like. You can completely ignore some of the modes. You could only choose to train your amiibo, if that’s what you want (laughs). Although if you only do that, you might feel like the game’s a bit too expensive (laughs). But I think allowing for all these different ways of playing the game is what makes Smash great.


For beginners and high-level players

The idea of “a lot of different things can happen, and that’s okay” is important to me. For example, under a competitive ruleset, situations where luck provides an advantage or disadvantage to players shouldn’t exist, generally speaking. But with Smash, the “fun” of players responding to the various “accidents” that happen in a chaotic battle is very important. “Play” is very different from “sports,” which have strict rules. Just playing tag with your friends is fun. When the project plan for Smash was made, there were a lot of competitive fighting games on the market, and there weren’t a lot of games where you could face off against someone else and “play.” In Super Smash Bros. Melee, there was a technique where you could cancel the landing lag of aerial attacks when you landed, but that technique doesn’t appear in the games after that. Pushing buttons with precision is undeniably fun, but if you keep adding mechanics that require skill, beginners can no longer play. If you make a game that’s aimed at players who are good at competitive fighting games and go to tournaments, the game becomes more and more hardcore. Smash aims to be a game that anybody can play, so I don’t think Smash should go down this more tapered path. That being said, it’s not as easy as the Mario Kart series, for example, and if you ask “can everybody really play this game?”, there are parts that I think you could say aren’t like that. For example, Smash doesn’t cheat. Things that benefit losing players like the “Pity Final Smash” are kept at a minimum. For me personally, I wanted to make a game that doesn’t cheat, a game where your victory is decided solely by your skill. And at the same time, be a game that is fulfilling for both beginners and hardcore players– that’s one of the important concepts we have in mind when making Smash.


Different hardware, different play

When we decided to make the new Smash for two different pieces of hardware, the 3DS and the Wii U, I thought about what each hardware was capable of doing. On the 3DS version, naturally you’ll end up with your own screen, so what can you play by yourself? On the other hand, on the Wii U everyone is looking at the same television screen, so it’s public, so how can I make sharing the same screen space work well? And finally, I had to keep the “rules of Smash” consistent between both versions. I think that if you change the “rules,” even if it’s good for the people making the game, it won’t make the people playing the game happy. So without changing any of the basics, I thought about the concepts of “you have your own individual screen” and “everyone shares the same screen” while developing the game. The prime examples of this philosophy are Smash Run (3DS) and Smash Tour (Wii U). Smash Run only works if each player has their own screen to look at it, and Smash Tour is designed so that all players proceed at the same time. So even if everyone is looking at the same screen, they’re all involved and having fun at the same time.


Question 2: How did you pick the roster?

Whether fans would perceive them as “new” was one criterion

This is the limit for roster size!

When I think of a new Smash game, I do struggle with the previous bar I’ve set for myself. Last time we had this many characters, but now I have to add even more. In this game we have around 50 characters, but I actually think that a rule of Smash is that an appropriate number of characters for a single game would honestly be around 20. In that sense, I think we’ve put in quite a bit of effort into this game. It feels like we’re climbing a mountain that’s so high, there’s nobody around who can say “I’ve made it up to here too!”…but people keep telling us you have to climb higher (laughs). I keep getting criticized about the characters that aren’t in the game. The number of characters in the game is honestly past the limit, so I think this Smash game is an amazing value. In particular, the 3DS version is only ¥5200, and having that many characters for that price is a steal. So I think it would be good if everyone enjoyed Smash.


What newcomers need

When I make a new character, one of the things I think about is “what do I need to do to make this character feel “new” for the players?” For example, Megaman and Villager use a lot of gimmicks. In Smash games until now, characters with this many gimmicks weren’t allowed, but I felt that in this game we were okay from a volume of content perspective, so we decided to try our best and make it happen. Another goal we have for playable fighters in Smash is that they have an element that represents that character and the world they come from. It’s difficult to make every character abide to the rules of Smash to some degree, make them fun to play as, and make sure they don’t disrupt the overall balance of the game.


Question 3: Why is the stagelist so different between the 3DS and Wii U versions?

Because I thought about how to best put each hardware’s strengths to use

Key points:

  • the Wii U is more powerful than the 3DS, so some stages simply can’t run on the 3DS, like Orbital Gate Assault and Lylat Cruise don’t run on the 3DS
  • 8-player Smash was actually going to be in Melee during the project planning stages, and Smash for Wii U pushes the Wii U to its limit as well


Question 4: Why are the modes different between the 3DS and Wii U versions?

Isn’t it fun to have some differences?

Key points:

  • the basic concept behind “Orders” was to have a mode that could give you unlockables more quickly than Classic
  • The biggest reason why Classic Mode is so different on the Wii U compared to the 3DS is because Smash for Wii U supports 5-8 player matches. It was designed so that who you were going to fight next was unclear on the 3DS version, but on the Wii U version, you could choose which characters to fight next, and how many
  • Sakurai thought about making Classic Mode identical on the 3DS/Wii U, but ultimately decided against it


Question 5: Please talk about custom moves!

I hope people have fun by making any combination they want

Key points

  • Sakurai thought that balancing custom moves wasn’t feasible. This is part of the reason why customs can’t be played against strangers online


The hardest one was Palutena

Palutena’s custom moves were the most difficult for me. On a basic level, Palutena has 3 times as many special moves as the other characters do. Creating her was very hard (laughs). There were also times where Palutena’s Super Speed and Shulk’s Monado Arts broke the balance of the game, so dealing with those problems was tough as well.


Question 6: How should I train my amiibo?

Just play as many matches as you can with your amiibo

Key points:

  • Sakurai first learned about amiibo from Nintendo around February 2014
  • He went for the angle of raising and training amiibos because it was an element that Smash hadn’t had until now
  • It’s better to train your amiibo by having it play against humans, not computers


Question 7: Please tell us more about patches!

Having the game balance be slightly “unstable” is best

Key points:

  • Balancing takes into consideration data from online play, and suggestions from an in-house monitoring/playtesting team. It’s not that they ignore vocal feedback from the players, but it’s mostly online data and internal testing and adjustments
  • For games like Smash it’s best if the characters are a bit unbalanced– if they stand out in one particular way. If a character has one strong move, thinking of ways to counter that move is what creates strategies. If you just patch the game to balance it perfectly, you lose that fun. Sakurai doesn’t want it so that no matter what character you choose, battles play out the same way


Question 8: You’ve made the game compatible with a lot of different controllers.

You’ll never run out of controllers!

Key points:

  • Basically just talks about how many different controllers you can use, and how Nintendo knew that the GameCube controller was still highly used for Smash, so they made the adapter for it


A message to the readers of Dengeki Nintendo Magazine

I think that no matter what, games become focused on the competitive aspect, on winning and losing, on hardcore play. I think that’s fun in its own right, but Smash is a game that is built around a concept that runs counter to that way of play. I personally have no preference towards which way you should play, and I think it’s great if you just play the way you want. I’ve made this game on the premise of being able to have fun with the parts that you enjoy. Play with the modes you want to play, with the rules you choose, in the style you want. Have fun with whatever part you like. That’s my message to all of you.


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This magazine was purchased using funds from the Patreon. Thank you for your support!

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  1. I really don’t even know why Sakurai bothered putting development time into Palutena’s customs if he really thought the whole feature was just a throw away gimmicky extra. Palutena would of been far better off with a single decent moveset over the bland cookie cutter one she has right now, especially since competitive Smash 4 dropped custom moves along time ago.

      1. I guess Sakurai is quite the abusive husband then, considering he gave her the worst possible default moveset he could of chosen and threw all of her actually good moves into the customs bin assuring they’ll never be used ever. Not to mention leaving her nearly unchanged after a year’s worth of patches.

        1. 12 special moves to choose from that none of the DLC characters got, her own easter egg that once belonged to Snake, her range is ridiculous, Sakurai made her into a ratchet, since Shiggy didn’t want Peach & Zelda revealing underwear, not to mention she was announced at E3 of all times where her pulsating ass was revealed to the world.

          Yes, poor Palutena.

      2. funny, people forgetting KI’s former name is literally “Myth of Light: The Mirror of Palutena”. same for the sequel.

        she’s the Zelda of the entire series, yet people think Eggplant Wizard (a mid-ranked mook under Medusa & Hades’ rule) makes more sense due to his reappearances and spotlight in western media like Captain N.

        i’ll never get roster fans.

        1. I haven’t watched Captain N, but for some reason before I knew more about Kid Icarus, I thought the Eggplant Wizard was the main villain or something, I think it’s that I would often see fanart of him when searching about Kid Icarus, actually, I didn’t even know it was based on Greek mythology, so “Medusa and Hades” was a first for me when I saw it.

  2. “Smash for Wii U pushes the Wii U to its limit as well”

    Thank you for saying this Sakurai. All this stuff about 3DS “holding back” Wii U has always bothered me. He still did the best he could with the Wii U hardware regardless of the 3DS limitations. It bugs me that programming experts on several blogs and websites constantly act like the Wii U version was hindered when Sakurai has said only one single character was cut because of 3DS limitations. But when you consider 5 characters are now free to select without transformation interference it has it’s gains as well.

    If only this comment would spread enough so people who say the 3DS version shouldn’t exist can quiet down. I still see elite Wii U owners downplay the 3DS hardware. I’ve put way more time into the 3DS version because of Smash Run.

    1. The 3DS did take away from the Wii U version in one way, though: it used development time and resources that would have otherwise been used for the Wii U version. It is nice to have Smash on the go, though, even if I rarely play it.

      1. “The 3DS did take away from the Wii U version in one way, though: it used development time and resources that would have otherwise been used for the Wii U version.”

        What makes you so sure that the time used for the 3DS version would have been added to the Wii U version if it was the only one? For all we know, without the 3DS version, their budget could have been less than it was.

  3. Hark, is that another food analogy I spy? I was partly joking when I noted that he likes making those, but he really does seem to make a lot of them.

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