Liveblogging Sakurai's Super Smash Bros. Brawl Design Talk

Super Smash Bros. Brawl director, similarly famous for his work on the Kirby series, is speaking at the Game Developers Conference this morning to talk about the creation of the Wii fighter. His talk, "Building Characters: The SUPER SMASH BROS. BRAWL Postmortem," is about to get underway, if just a few minutes late. We've been warned that Nintendo has restricted video and still photos of the talk, so you'll have to imagine what's going on with the combined power of your imagination and Kotaku-style liveblogging. We've also been promised exclusive, confidential information about Super Smash Bros. Brawl, so it should be worth your while to make the jump and F5 like mad.

It's on! Masahiro Sakurai takes the stage.

After rolling the operatic trailer for Brawl, and a round of applause, Sakurai belts out his own version of the tune. He's got quite a voice!

Sakurai moves to the make up of the development staff, which required a new office set up in Tokyo. Folks from Game Arts, Nintendo and HAL Laboratories were brought on staff, including a few other unnamed temps. The staff level was about 100, but not all were full time.

He moves on to the Brawl character roster and how fighters were chosen.

Characters were chosen based on their individuality, saying they must stand out in the game. They had to consider developments costs and the time needed to include someone in the roster.

The decision to include Sonic the Hedgehog as a playable character wasn't made until 2007. Sounds like a pretty tight schedule!

Sakurai talks about four of the game's newcomers, Ike, Meta Knight, Zero Suit Samus and Snake. He points out that the suit-free Samus falls in the "supple martial arts" category. Mmmm... supple.

He says, fundamentally we had to use Nintendo's official character models. Putting all these characters in a game, side by side, requires a unified look. You can't for instance, put in someone like Bugs Bunny alongside photorealistic styles like what was applied for Link.

"We tried to reduce the sensation of things not fitting together by unifying the materials," Sakurai says.

But you couldn't modify the look of the Pokemon Trainer and Lucas too much toward some middle ground, or they'd look inappropriate.

Sakurai shows the "official" Mario design, a clean, soft, cartoony look. The Brawl version, he says, has scuffs and wear, details that were important to defining the look of the roster.

They weren't just trying to take advantage of the Wii's visual upgrade, the team simply wanted to add an appropriate level of detail. He shows the same process with Pikmin's Captain Olimar, the original version of which doesn't feature the same details like stitching that Brawl does.

One character that underwent "serious" changes was Pit. "This (a 2D cartoon version of Pit) became this (Brawl's totally new 3D model)" The team did twenty years of updating on Pit's look all at once.

Link's progression was much more natural, occurring over many games. A similar design evolution was applied to Pit.

Pit's makeover features golden head and arm bands, with a bit of anime and earnestness applied. They decided to make his scarf a different material than his toga for added character.

"I'm proud of the representation we gave Pit as a winged being."

When Pit's arrow of light is fired, it's controllable. "We made it so that his bow can be made into two parts, and use them as a sword. It's sort of like Darth Maul in Star Wars." His tights were added to give him a "youthful" image, but other costume pieces were targeting "nobility." Clearly, someone put some thought into this.

Sakurai says they gave Pit furry boots for a bit of a leg-warmer look. "We think they look pretty cute."

He moves on from "Graphics" to "Motion." In the beginning, Sakurai says that he based the move sets on what he'd like to see in Brawl. "Just thinking up moves is easy" but balance is required.

Standby, wind-up, strike and follow through are the typical motion components of a particular move. Link's "standard attack" is used as an example. Standby, he says, is the starting point of every standing action. Wind-up is the animation where the character draws back to attack. This gives the player (and his opponent) visual cues that actions are about to happen. It's simple, two-frame animation, but conveys a lot of information. Strike, that's the "meat" of attacking. Follow-through, which occupies the most screen time, and needs to look the least like Standby poses. Now you know how Sakurai breaks down a move.

The animation for Fox's up smash takes less than 3/4 of a second to play out. Realistic moves, Sakurai says, aren't always the best fit, even if you're animating a humanoid character.

How do you convey poses to animators? Sakurai used a Microman poseable action figure. Using these, he snapped photos of many of the poses that would ultimately become final animations. It's clear, even from these photos, whose animations these are, with Pit and Zero Suit Samus standing out.

He compares his Microman photos against the final version of Wario's moves. They look nearly identical. The same is true for Sonic's moves.

Now, Sakurai shows off the final animations that had to change drastically from their Microman originals, mostly to better convey motion.

He moves on to Pit's and Samus' poses. For the latter, he used a female version of Microman, which Sakurai says comes with multiple breast sizes. He unfortunately glosses over this quickly.

"For Snake, I really wanted the character to express weight." For Snake's weapons, Sakurai culled accessories and weapons from official Microman toys. He changed Snake's crawling animation from the Metal Gear Solid original, to give him a more imposing look, with shoulders raised.

Sakurai shows off many of the other characters, ones that don't have the build of a Microman toy, like King Dedede, Olimar, Diddy Kong and Meta Knight. Sakurai busts out one of the Micromen, he says in his "Ken" pose.

"One thing I'd like to point out though, is that there are no Street Fighter characters in Super Smash Bros." Consider us crestfallen!

Sakurai moves on to Parameters, the numbers of Super Smash Bros. Brawl. "Being in the brawl is more than just making the roster" his slide reads, adding that characters need to blend their own original series, Smash Bros and solid gameplay to be good adds.

Character essence, he says, is a key factor. Keeping these rules in mind is some of the most "unglamorous" work of game development.

He then compares the jumps of Mario and Samus, from their appearances in Super Mario Bros. and the original Metroid. Mario's is more realistic on its downward arc, while Samus' jump has more "float" to it. And you can't just explain that by saying that Metroid takes place in space, it has to be carried over to the game.

Similarly, simply believing that Sonic is merely a "really fast character" is an easy mistake to make. Sakurai boots up the Wii, playing Sonic, Pit and Snake on screen. He shows of Sonic's movement, saying that the weight of the character, combined with blazing fast speed, conveys his speed. He calls Sonic's double jump "gimmicky." So humble!

Taking the remote controlling Snake, Sakurai demos the Metal Gear Solid fighter and his move set.

"The more you play Snake, the more cunning your use of his weapons will become and that's how we designed it." He shows Snake applying bombs to Pit and Sonic, using the pan and scan photo feature to get a laugh out of the crowd. Everyone likes to see Pit with a face full of explosives!

Pit is now being shown. "Pit didn't appear in any other game before, but I think we've done a good job putting him in the universe and making him a good fighting game character," Sakurai says.

Sakurai takes a phot o of Snake close quarter combat attacking Pit. "Look! It's Snake with wings!" he jokes.

He has Snake whip out his special cardboard box, then has Sonic snatch it away. GDC attendees think that's just hilarious.

Back to the talk. Sakurai tells the crowd that game designers must think before they act. "If you think before you act, you can reduce the workloads of your programmers and artists," the slide reads. Similarly, he warns not to fall back on the excuse "We'll never no before we try."

Sakurai skips to "Getting The Word Out." By this, he means, the Smash Bros. Dojo.

We developed homepages for the Nintendo 64 and Gamecube Smash Bros. games before, but only in Japan.

He says that the Dojo is "possibly the grandest scale ever among official single game sites." It started in May of 2007 and has seen 230 updates. At its peak, it had 1 million hits in a single day, 5 million in one week. Sakurai writes the site himself, with visuals taken by other Brawl staffers. Nintendo decides when the updates go out.

To get the word out, production staff has to take part in selling the game. He says that the game wouldn't have the buzz it does if it weren't for the Smash Bros. Dojo.

Sakuari wraps it up with that sage advice, thanking his interpreter and exiting the stage. Unfortunately, there is no QA session, but if anyone has any questions about what was shown, please make requests in the comments. I'll do my best to better explain when not trying to frantically liveblog.

Thanks for checking in!


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