Do you ever wonder why some of gaming's top development studios put out so few games? I know, I know. Making games is hard. But here's what happens when you ask the Metroid Prime developers that question.
(For context, you need to know that Nintendo-owned Retro Studios, with involvement from Nintendo Kyoto-based producer Kensuke Tanabe, developed and released Metroid Prime in 2002 as well as two sequels in 2004 and 2007. The original Prime is one of the best-reviewed video games of all time. All three games were re-released on a compilation disc called Metroid Prime Trilogy this past summer. Retro has released no other video games. I asked this question as part of an email interview with the makers of the games. Most of the interview ran in this Metroid Prime Trilogy post.)
Kotaku: Metroid Prime: Trilogy is only the second release from Retro since 2004. More significantly, Retro has released just one new game in five years. Why is that? And when can people expect to hear more about whatever Retro has next?
Michael Kelbaugh, president of Retro Studios: "To be fair, there's been a number of releases from Retro Studios since 2004. Metroid Prime 2 was launched worldwide in 2004 and 2005. Metroid Prime 3 was launched in late 2007 in the U.S. and Europe, 2008 in Japan, and the current launch of Metroid Prime: Trilogy, worldwide in 2009. Efforts and resources involved supporting NTSC, PAL and Japanese launches are considerable. That's been a busy schedule and it's kept us very engaged."
Bryan Walker, Retro's senior director of development: "As Michael noted, we've actually had a number of high-profile releases over the past several years. However, we're very fortunate to be a Nintendo developer. As such, we're not forced to release a game prematurely just to make a quarterly report look better. Quality is the first and foremost consideration in everything we do. Of course, we work very hard, and efficiency is always a goal, but every effort is made to ensure our fans take home a game that can stand alongside Nintendo's very best.
"We're also a rather small team, by current industry standards. We tend to focus only on one project at a time. The Trilogy project was a bit unusual for us, in that we had just a handful of people focusing on that while the majority of the studio was getting our next project off the ground. We may in the future grow to tackle multiple projects simultaneously, but only if our standard of quality can be maintained."
Nintendo producer Kensuke Tanabe: "Actually, localisation requires much more time and workforce than you can imagine… Especially for the Prime series, it took more than the usual process of localisation, as we had very long texts and worked even on features or parameters. Considering those conditions, how much have we and Retro worked in these five years? Please let me calculate:
"We have worked on six versions: North American, European and Japanese versions of Prime 2 and 3 … two versions of Prime 1 and 2 for Wii, which were released only in Japan … and the North American and European versions of Trilogy. We have worked on 10 different versions! Along with them, we had also worked on a demo on Wii, which was showcased at the Tokyo Game Show. Now you have a different impression, don't you?
"And the new title of Retro is of course, under development. Hopefully we can address some information in the next year."
Retro's rate of output is not that different from that of some other top-tier studios that have specialised in first-person games. Since the 2004 release of Halo 2, Bungie Studios has released Halo 3 (2007) and Halo 3: ODST (2009) and is currently working on the 2010 Halo: Reach. Valve's Half-Life team has released Half-Life 2 (2004) and two expansions in 2006 and 2007, with a third expected no sooner than next year. Retro's pace puts it behind Bungie but a little ahead of Valve.
Some studios take a while, but until Retro puts out a game that gets panned, it will hard to quibble with their pace. And, if you do, be careful. Kensuke Tanabe appears to be ready to prove you wrong.