After years of being badgered about making a new Pikmin game, Nintendo is finally making a new Pikmin game. It took the company a while, Nintendo's head of game development, Shigeru Miyamoto, told me in Los Angeles last week, because the company was experimenting with how to get Pikmin right.
They've finally settled on an approach, which, as far as I could tell when I played a snippet of Pikmin 3, is faithful to the general concept of using a little spaceman to control an even smaller swarm of little creatures to fight and haul much bigger stuff.
As Miyamoto told me about some of the ideas behind the new Pikmin and what he likes about the series in general, I realised that maybe things aren't quite as settled as they seemed.
"When we created the first Pikmin, we had a very clear concept of what we wanted to do," he said through a translator. "And then Pikmin 2 essentially took that concept, and... what we tried to do was make it easier to play, simpler to play and improve upon the areas that were a challenge in the first game. Since then, part of the reason it took so long, is because philosophically we were debating what should a Pikmin game really be?
"And the other reason, obviously is, because we have Wii and 3DS or Wii U, part of it was simply doing experiments on these platforms to see what kind of Pikmin game we wanted to make, which platform was best suited for it."
Miyamoto's answers begged the question. What kind of game is Pikmin supposed to be? In his mind, at least? Zelda games seem like adventures and Metroids seem like detective stories, of a sort. That's my impression, at least.
I'd tell you that Pikmin is a real-time strategy game.
That's not how Miyamoto thinks of it: "I'm the kind of person that likes to play a game over and over again," he said. "For a lot of the games that we create we sort of pull people along. When they've cleared a level, we pull them into a new level. And we keep their attention that way.
"At the same time, I think if you've created something that's fun, then even going back into the same area and determining for yourself, 'this is how I want to play this area this time' or 'this is what I want to do in this world' or maybe 'I want to go through and explore more' — I think there is a lot of potential sort of hidden in Pikmin for that type of gameplay.
"For me as a designer, instead of the idea of necessarily trying to always create something new, having fun creating these additional things for you to search for and discover within a space... I think the PIkmin game itself is something that is really suited to this."
We were in the weeds of game design philosophy at this point. Appropriate for a Pikmin game, surely. I'd played the new game just minutes before sitting down with Miyamoto. I'd tried the new rock Pikmin and the familiar fireproof reds and waterproof blues. I'd noticed that the special Pikmin 3 mode being shown at E3 was running on a timer, which had reminded me that the main divide between the first and second Pikmin games was that the first ran on a 30-game-day timer and the latter did not. The latter removed most of the time pressure from the Pikmin formula.
Is there a timer in the main part of Pikmin 3? I asked Miyamoto. Should there be time pressure in a Pikmin or not.
"That's deep," Miyamoto said, in Japanese but without needing my question to be translated (he seldom needs that). "I personally am the kind of person that likes those sort of timer-based challenges. When you first play it, you're kind of nervous or feel pressured by the time. And, gradually, as you go back in and try it again, you seem to get calmer and are able to think more thoughtfully and work your way through a little bit better."
If you like that, I said to him, then surely that's what we'll get in Pikmin 3?
"With Pikmin 2 the development team tried to create that game with a lot of freedom," he said. (Remember, no overall timer in that game.) "This time, I am more forcefully sharing my opinion."
You'll kick that table over, I said, referencing the well-known Miyamoto-ism of metaphorically up-ending the tea table on his designers to shake up what they're doing and push them to improve.
"After making this game, if they tell me it's old-fashioned, then maybe I'll retire."
That was a joke. At the expense of his December "retirement" debacle.
Miyamoto's not retiring. And it sure sounds like there will be time pressure in Pikmin 3.
And white Pikmin too? "They're there somewhere," he said. "They're just hidden." He was laughing. He was laughing a lot about this new Pikmin. He seems very happy to finally be getting this one out.
Pikmin 3 is slated for release during the "launch window" of the Wii U, which itself is promised for later this year. "Holiday" is what Nintendo execs are saying.