This interview was printed in the official Melee strategy guide that was released in Japan. It’s a long interview—9 pages long—and has a tendency to switch topics in fairly haphazard ways. As a result, I’ll be posting this interview in parts. I don’t know the exact issue this interview comes from, but it’s from Nintendo Dream, and was printed around when Melee was released in Japan, which was November 21st, 2001. This is part 2, part 1 can be found here.
Interviewer: To create Melee, did you play the original game at times?
Sakurai: Of course I did. First, to decide what trophies to include in the game, I came up with a list on my own. Then, I took out all of the problematic ones, created an order based on priority, and gave up on the ones we couldn’t make…In HAL Laboratory’s development room, there’s a bookshelf, kind of like a locker, and on that shelf I have as many Nintendo games as I can fit. When I reached the stage where I was writing descriptions, I’d go over to that shelf and confirm, “no problems here,” then go back to my desk and finish writing. I also bought a lot of strategy guides and used those.
Interviewer: So it was more common for you to check with paper documents rather than play the games themselves?
Sakurai: Yes, that’s true, but I made this game having personally played those other titles in the past, so I was doing this sort of work just to clarify and confirm.
Interviewer: But I have to imagine you didn’t really have the time play through Animal Forest (N64), which was released this year.
Sakurai: I played a decent amount.
Interviewer: That’s good (laughs). By the way, what is the concept of Super Smash Bros. Melee?
Sakurai: The first objective of this game was to propel the GameCube forward. I started by thinking, within my own power, “what is the best method to sell as many GameCubes as possible?” People might say that’s a “business first” mentality, but I thought it would be best to make a game that would be fun for users, and would draw attention to the capabilities of the new hardware. And when I say “draw attention,” I didn’t want just one game to draw all the attention, but rather to have a game to push the GameCube as a whole forwards—and to accomplish that, I decided to create Super Smash Bros. Melee.
Interviewer: That’s amazing! (laughs)
Sakurai: But the finished product ended up being quite different from what I had in the planning stages.
Interviewer: When I did an interview with you last time on the one-year anniversary of the previous game, you showed me the original design document for the N64 version, but apparently you had the original plans for Melee in that file as well.
Sakurai: Yes. Normally, I come up with plans for several games at once, but this time around I thought, “This is the only one,” and so I only made this one for Melee.
Interviewer: At that time, Melee’s production was already confirmed, so you really tricked me, playing dumb (laughs). I didn’t even get a single hint out of you.
Sakurai: You know there’s no way I would talk about it. And I don’t think it’s okay to talk about something just to get it off your chest. I think you really need to wait on project plans like that. Otherwise, when you’re presenting it, your impression is weak. If you’re satisfied with talking about it to someone, afterwards your plan will become hollow, so I think it’s best to just finish it up, and open it up and show it off with a cool, collected face (laughs).
Interviewer: I’m learning a lot here (laughs). So, you mentioned that what you had in the original plan changed considerably in the final product?
Sakurai: I think if you looked at it, you’d be very shocked. “What’s a Trophy Battle?”…Stuff like that.
Interviewer: “Trophy Battle”? (laughs)
Sakurai: I’m not going to say any more about it (laughs).
Interviewer: Going back to the topic of concepts, at E3, you said Melee would be “a game with a low threshold, so you could plug in and play at your leisure,” but it would also be able to endure being played very seriously.
Sakurai: That objective hasn’t changed one bit. You can play it casually, but you can also really get into it.
Interviewer: Just as you said.
Sakurai: But because there are a lot of components where you can really play seriously and get into it, I do worry that it’ll be perceived or treated as a difficult game… However, a lot of elements were added, and with those additions came additional goals of mine, too…I don’t know how to say it exactly.
Interviewer: Normally with games, when a sequel comes out it becomes much more…
Sakurai: (gesticulating a large pyramid with his hands) It becomes like this.
Interviewer: It goes further and further in a direction where only highly skilled players can derive enjoyment from the game.
Sakurai: Melee has that element to it, and there are people who might identify and criticize those parts. But, on a basic level, the game was based off of the idea that “if four people are playing, only having one player win is unfortunate,” so we added a lot of stuff to try to come up with a solution, like more hidden stages.
Recommended for beginners: Special Melee!
Interviewer: I think this iteration of Smash is a game that people who played the N64 version will be completely satisfied by. But on the other hand, I think there were people who played the N64 version, thought “I’m not that good at games like this,” and are now on the fence about Melee.
Sakurai: I agree.
Interviewer: Can you talk about how Melee will appeal to those people?
Sakurai: This time, part of the game is lighter, more casual, and anchored in the idea that “winning or losing doesn’t have to be so serious”: Special Melee. Specifically, I think modes like Super Sudden Death, Single-Button Mode, or Slo-Mo Melee, are a good gateway for people like that.
Interviewer: Even old people who aren’t good at action games will do fine (laughs).
Sakurai: That’s right (laughs). Melee is a game that’s relatively fast, but eventually you get used to the speed. It does take some time, however, so I think people that aren’t good at it should try Slo-Mo Melee. We also have a lot of single-player content this time around (laughs).
Interviewer: I originally thought of Smash as a game where you get together with three other friends and have fun all together, but this time it seems like you can play a lot by yourself.
Sakurai: The thing is, something that takes dozens of hours can be tiring, so we wanted something you can quickly pick up and play, and just as easily put down and walk away.
Interviewer: That’s true. Plus, there are a lot of hidden characters and stages, and it looks like you could have fun collecting trophies for a while.
Sakurai: I am sorry about this, but I put in one trophy that’s very difficult to obtain.
Interviewer: Is it a matter of chance?
Sakurai: It’s not chance; it’s just that the requirements are pretty stringent. You’d have to sink quite a bit of time into the game to get it.
Interviewer: Wait…is it _____?
Sakurai: That’s not it, no. However, as the creator, I’m not very focused on the completion aspect of Trophy Collection. My mindset was that I should just focus on creating as many Trophies as possible, so I didn’t even assign them any numbers, and I chose to not let the player see their completion rate in regards to their Trophy Collection.
Interviewer: So you won’t be saying, “Oh, you need to collect X number of trophies.”
Sakurai: They are trophies, so I’m hoping you collect them with the mindset of just collecting as many as possible. And if you get a trophy of a character you like, all the better for you!
Interviewer: It’s not like looking at them in an encyclopedia or something, either. Being able to look at them all lined up on a table is pretty great.
Sakurai (while using the controller): See, if you switch to the English…
Interviewer: Wow, it’s the SNES! That’s quite the attention to detail (laughs). So you’re saying we should play it a lot in English as well, right? It’s really a must-have game for any Nintendo fan (laughs).
Sakurai: Well, I don’t think you could call yourself a Nintendo fan without playing this game (laughs).