Ask the Developer Vol. 5, Nintendo Switch Sports–Part 3
Content pre-recorded in accordance with current COVID-19 health and safety guidelines.
This article has been translated from the original Japanese content.
This interview was conducted before the game was released.
3: A sense of continuity
Part 3: A sense of continuity
So far, we have heard how you refined the motion controls in this title to create a sequel to Wii Sports. Could you tell us what else is new in this latest installment of the series, other than the controls?
Shimamura: We were always conscious that our customers would feel pleased that they had purchased a new, stylish product. We didn't want it to be a mere carry over or remake of past titles.
Yamashita: We not only focused on adding new sports but also consulted a lot with Morii-san, who was in charge of the design, about how to make the design look new and fresh.
The Mii™ characters (6) left quite an impression in Wii Sports, but there are some new characters added to this title. Did you add these characters to show the freshness of the design?
(6) A system implemented on the Wii system in which players can create caricature characters by combining various facial features, such as face shape, eyes and hairstyle. In the Wii Sports series, players can play in each sport as the Mii characters they created.
Morii: Even before we decided to make a fresh start again, we had proposed different kinds of character illustrations. In the early stage, we proposed round-shaped characters with no arms or legs, similar to the Mii characters in Wii Sports. We also created college student characters that looked like this with a theme of intercollegiate sports.
Shimamura: I remember we had the most outlandish characters that looked like robots. (Laughs)
Morii: Around the time when we decided to restart the project from scratch and were told that we would be starting over to create the world’s most easy-to-invite to motion-based game, I asked, "Are you sure we can't go this far?" (Laughs)
The player is inside the robot, but it is the robot that moves when you swing the Joy-Con controller. The robot is the one doing the bowling.
What? You operate the robot?
Yamashita: Yes, you operate this robot, and the robot throws the ball. I know it doesn't make sense. You might also wonder how big this bowling alley is. (Laughs)
Morii: At first, everyone was so excited about this robot idea that we all thought, "This could be fun!” We even made a prototype. But when we actually saw the robot on the screen and moved it around, a blanket of silence fell over everyone.
Okane: This would make the gameplay about operating a robot.
Yamashita: The player controls the character in the robot to operate the robot. Then, the robot throws the ball. There are too many steps in between.
So you ended up going in the wrong direction after refining the motion controls.
Morii: As a result, we decided to go with a design that resembles a human being.
Yamashita: However, the Mii characters in Wii Sports didn't have arms. The sphere was considered a hand, and even if the ball went a little far away, the hand would fly out and hit back. It did not look unnatural because of the lower screen resolution at the time and that character setting. But I thought it would be difficult to incorporate it into today's game consoles. Also, I was quite certain that in the memories of our customers, the Mii characters have arms.
Oh wow, they have changed a lot from the past and wear stylish outfits.
Morii: Yes, but a lot of work had to be done. When we were making Wii Sports, the Mii characters had about 30 different animation motions such as running, swinging a racket, and hitting a serve. But when we tried to recreate the same movements with Sportmates, we needed over 650 different motions in the end.
650? Why so many more?
Morii: If the arms are connected to the body, a separate motion is needed for each angle that characters hit back, and an animation is required for each direction they move including forward, diagonal and back. We also had to create a walking version and running version for each motion, so the workload kept increasing. (Laughs) The programmers and animators worked very hard. But I believe we were able to create a good title because of the hard work.
You pursued making the characters move naturally so that players experience motion controls intuitively Could you tell us about the design of the setting where the sports are played? The design also seems new in this title.
Morii: For Spocco Square, the setting for this title, we designed it to create a sports complex that doesn’t exist in real life but would be nice if it did. As we did for the characters, we tried various ideas for the stage design. I talked about college student characters earlier, but we also proposed a setting that resembles a place where intercollegiate sports are played as well as a setting that looks like an ancient Olympian stadium. I asked the team to build a prototype set in a stadium with a large audience, like the ones used for professional games, but none of them seemed to match the feelings that players would experience playing this game.
Okane: Yamashita-san often used the term "a sense of continuity" to describe this feeling.
Does that mean a sense of continuity from the real world to the world of games?
Morii: It's more like a sense of continuity in terms of feelings. We wanted our players to experience something similar to what they would feel playing sports as a leisure in the real world. Like something that extends from their daily lives. This game doesn't require any difficult techniques to play, and it's the kind of game you can casually play by asking, "Hey, let me borrow the controller," or "Let me play, too.” However, if you casually grabbed a controller and asked to borrow it for a moment but were suddenly brought out in front of a large audience and were in a situation where you were cheered like a professional player, you would not feel comfortable. Instead, we thought it would be better to make it a gym where people could drop by more casually, with a stylish facility that makes everyone want to visit. This is how the design came to be.
This is a place created by renovating a warehouse district in a port town. It is a kind of facility that you would not be surprised if it were a part of your life, but we avoided making it too realistic. It’s a place you wish you had in real life. We also kept in mind that it should be a fun place whether you go alone or with others. In Wii Sports, I think people had a strong impression that you gather in the living room with family and friends to play together. However, since players can enjoy playing online (7) by themselves as well as with others in this title, we made sure to create a design that accommodates the level of excitement of players who play on their own.
(7) Any Nintendo Switch Online membership (sold separately) and Nintendo Account required for online features. Not available in all countries. Internet access required for online features. Terms apply. nintendo.com/switch-online
Okane: After this design came out, the mood amongst the team changed. We all thought, "I see. We are creating sports to be played in this kind of facility.” It made sense.
I see. Knowing the direction of the design enabled the entire developer team to unify.
Morii: While it creates a feeling that players can start playing naturally, it is a fresh new design, and all of us could see its possibilities. We spent a lot of time trying to come up with a new look and feel, and we came up with so many ideas, but I don't think it was a waste of time. Even the ideas that were not adopted were essential in arriving at the current design. In creating an atmosphere that is easy for anyone to understand using motion controls, we discussed within the team saying things like, "Robots don't seem right, nor ancient Greece," and eliminated and refined many elements.
How about the sound? Did you try anything new?
Yokoyama: I thought we had to do something new with the sound, but for me, the members in charge of the sound for the past titles were like legends. The sound for Wii Sports was so well done. Not only did they create the "pleasant" sounds for motion controls, but they also created an ambience for playing sports with background music and environmental sounds. More than 10 years have passed since then, and of course, the data capacity has increased and the sound resolution has improved, but we also felt that we had to show something new and searched for what we could do.
You were aware that the proposals for college student characters and robots were being made, right?
Yokoyama: Yes. We saw these proposals for college students and robots coming up while experimenting with various ideas, and I thought to myself, “Hmm... What should we do...” (Laughs) Since motion control is of primary importance in this title, we felt that we would not be able to incorporate too many unique elements in music with college students or robots. But when the design for Spocco Square came out, we felt like the missing pieces had been filled in.
You would have to create a different kind of sound for robots, right?
Yokoyama: Yes, we would have to make a noisy "clunk, clunk, clunk" sound. I was like, "This is a motion control game. What should I do with the sound?” (Laughs)
Yokoyama: As Okane-san mentioned earlier that the mood among his team changed after the design came out, I think my team was also able to take on a variety of new challenges based upon the design concept. I could think about what kind of sounds I would like to hear if I visited the complex as a player.
Speaking of new sounds, you have background music playing while you play in this title, right?
Yokoyama: Yes. When thinking about the background music, I tried to imagine what I would like to hear if I were in Spocco Square myself, playing sports. In the past series, there generally was no background music during matches, and I feel it was effective for creating a sense of tension in a serious match.
I feel that the intention was also to make the sound effects for motion control stand out by eliminating background music. But I thought it wouldn’t make sense to have no background music in this complex when players come here to play casually.
So you are saying that not only is it fun to have background music, but it makes it feel more natural.
Yokoyama: Yes. However, if the background music stands out too much, it would overshadow the sound effects for motion control. To prevent this from happening, we assumed that there were speakers near the stage of each sport and that background music would be playing from them. We then balanced the sound with the sound effects to create a sense that players are actually playing in this facility.
Earlier, we discussed how this title also focuses on playing alone. I think the impression that players get playing the game changes considerably with and without background music. Increasing the layers of sound made it more accessible for players to enjoy playing on their own repeatedly.
Yamashita: If the design, sound and motion control are too off-the-wall, people would think that this game is something irrelevant to them. If they are too far from what the players expect, the players won't feel connected. To avoid this and achieve the feeling of continuity, our members supported this title with technology and technique.
I see. From the players’ point of view, these aspects may not be something they would pay much attention to, because they wouldn't think anything is weird, but it is precisely in these areas where attention to detail is hidden, right?
Yamashita: Yes, that’s right. I know it’s not cool to say this here, but I hoped players would not notice these hidden details. (Laughs) This is not a game about being flashy, so if someone says, “This detail here in this game is really well done!” we lose. Therefore, in everything we did, we valued the sense of continuity of feeling and that people could play naturally.