February 20, 2008 - The name Masahiro Sakurai is well known to die-hard Nintendo fans. A 13-year HAL Laboratory veteran, he helped shape the course of the Super Smash Bros. franchise and has more recently just completed work on the enormously anticipated Wii fighter Super Smash Bros. Brawl. We had the chance to catch up with Sakurai at the Game Developers Conference 2008 and naturally we had a flood of questions for him. In the paragraphs below, Sakurai speaks to topics ranging from why Brawl doesn't include voice support to the future of the franchise.
IGN: How big was Sora at Brawl's development and are you an exclusive Nintendo developer?
Masahiro Sakurai: First of all, I'm very impressed that Sora is so well known. Really, Sora is at its core just two people. When making Brawl, what basically happened was through a connection with Nintendo we rented out an office in a portion of Tokyo and had a lot of staff come in. However, it's really important to realize that Sora really is just two people and that everybody else is not part of Sora technically speaking.
It's kind of strange answering this question here in the Nintendo booth because I'm not sure this is the best place to do it, but no, I have no particular ties to them and, of course, any company that comes along to me afterwards and says, "Hey, we have an interesting project for you," I'm going to look at that and going to help with that job. So, no.
IGN: Do you think Mr. Iwata would track you down if you tried to make a game for a non-Nintendo system?
Masahiro Sakurai: Ah, I'm not so sure about that. I would imagine he would probably understand, but I suppose the possibility exists.
IGN: Now that Brawl is complete, how do you feel about the game? What are you most proud of and is there anything you would change if you had more time?
Masahiro Sakurai: As far as tailoring or trying to get more down now that it's finished, looking back on it, I could have had another year or another two years and it wouldn't have changed the fact that I never have enough time to adjust or refine -- that's just the way it is for me. Thinking about the typical development process, the trend seems to be that when you finish a game that you've been working on for so long and breaking your back over, you kind of don't want to look at it anymore. You're done with it. But seeing Smash, I really, truly feel that this is a game that I'm really not tired of yet. I'm really enjoying it. I feel relieved in knowing that this game has that kind of staying power for myself and I'm very proud of that.
IGN: What would be that one specific feature you wish you could have added?
Masahiro Sakurai: I feel like anything I've considered I'm probably going to think about when -- I mean if -- another game was to come out in the series and so I'd like to keep a lid on that for now. and not disclose anything I've been thinking about there.
IGN: Brawl seems like the perfect game to introduce a Wii headset for voice chat. Why have you avoided this?
Masahiro Sakurai: Well, when I first started making Smash Bros. Brawl, I thought it would be wonderful if online battles between friends had voice chat and potentially keyboard based chat as well. But there are all sorts of rules and regulations regarding communication on the Wii platform and so it was apparent to me that it just wouldn't come together, we weren't going to be able to do it, so we decided to cancel that feature. I'm very sorry about that. But if you're really desperate for it, you could set up Skype by your game station and go at it with a friend if you like.
IGN: You debuted two crossover characters -- Sonic and Solid Snake -- in Brawl. Awesome additions! But we have to be honest, with all the music from different famed composers in the game, we were expecting even more character crossovers from the likes of Square and perhaps even Capcom. Any reason Brawl doesn't feature even more? (And we know -- Nintendo fans are never happy!)
Masahiro Sakurai: Adding characters from other series and from other worlds, really, outside the Nintendo universe, is an incredibly difficult process. In some ways it's more difficult from just building a game from the ground up because you're really trying to make everything match and in some ways that creates limitations. I hope that people can understand that's the reason we can't include more characters from outside the Nintendo universe. And, of course, I believe that when you increase the number of worlds, you're also increasing the number of people who could potentially enjoy that videogame and the series that you're putting in there. But there are also problems because having these non-traditional characters in there -- even with just Snake and Sonic -- has resulted in a number of people who do dissent in seeing these characters put into the Smash series. It's not a simple matter of adding as many worlds and characters from other games as possible -- you can't be careless in doing that sort of thing, you have to be careful. Internally and externally, there have been people who have raised objections to it.
IGN: Have you received interest from other third parties who would very much like to have their characters included in Smash Bros. Brawl?
Masahiro Sakurai: Nope. No other ones.
IGN: We have to ask because there are so many rumors about this. Are there any hidden characters to come? Can you unlock more hidden fighters by way of WiiConnect24 or will you offer new downloadable content -- new fighters, for example. -- using the service?
Masahiro Sakurai: No. There are no characters that can be unlocked via connecting to WiiConnect24 or interacting in that fashion. And I may be mistaken here, but the Wii doesn't have a hard drive -- it's a disc-based system -- so I don't think we'll be doing that, I don't think it's going to happen.
IGN: Have you done everything you can do with the Smash Bros. franchise now? In other words, can Wii owners look forward to a Brawl sequel in the future?
Masahiro Sakurai: Well, the series has already had three iterations so I cannot say with one-hundred percent confidence that there won't be any additional Smash Bros. games ever. But, at the same time I'd really like to note that I feel like with Brawl there are already so many modes and so much to do that it's really hard to exhaust what you can do with this game. I'm really against the idea of merely creating a sequel that would add modes or increase the number of characters in the roster -- all the sort of things that just simply fatten up the game. I'd like to avoid just doing that if a sequel ever came out.
IGN: We think one of the obvious next steps for Smash Bros. is a Nintendo DS game. The fighter seems perfectly suited to the handheld. What're your thoughts about such a project?
Masahiro Sakurai: Seeing the success that Brawl has had with the Wii remote being playing sideways, I don't think that there are control limitations that keep it from being ported to the DS. But I personally have no plans to do this myself. If, in the future, such a thing was to be planned, it would be up to Nintendo to decide how and when and in what way they would like to create that sort of game.
IGN: Smash Bros. is a very competitive series, but you have avoided detailed online stat tracking and leader board ranking systems for Brawl. Why is that?
Masahiro Sakurai: Well, I'm sure that people hitting ranks one through 10, were there such a ranking system, would be incredibly pleased with it and having a lot of fun. But, you know, it's not fun for everybody involved per se if such a system were to exist. I was asked this time around to try and get Wi-Fi into the game and so certainly we've managed to get wireless battles so you can play with people in other places. But it's really a game in my mind that has been designed to be played with a smaller group of people -- be that a group of friends or within your house a group of family members -- competing in the small circles and not really worrying about winning and losing so much as the process that gets you there. That is where the fun should hopefully be for a lot of people. It can also be kind of trying and painful for some people who want to be at the top and think that they're really good at Smash and they look at their online ranking and they're the one-hundred-thousandth best Smash Bros. player -- those are some of the reasons I've decided not to go with leader boards.
IGN: Why can't players in random online matches communicate or even see each other's names? What's the philosophy behind that?
Masahiro Sakurai: When thinking about this game and when realizing that we were going to do Wi-Fi, we had to think a lot about the whole idea of communication over the Internet. When we were doing this, one of the things that we paid a lot of attention to is the fact that there are a lot of unpleasant experiences to be had out there, be that being insulted over the Internet or that sort of thing. You know, it's one thing if you're used to it and you're playing a first-person shooter online with 16 people and you know these guys and you're trading insults back and forth and yelling at each other, that's all well and good. But when you've got new players, and one thing I've aimed to do is to really bring new players into the fold, if this is their first online experience I want it to be a pleasant one. I want to dodge and avoid those kinds of situations that could make the whole experience online psychologically damaging or unpleasant, so that's one of the reasons we've decided not to include that feature.
IGN: Thanks so much for your time, Mr. Sakurai. We just have a couple final questions. First, who is your favorite character to play with in Brawl and do you think there is anybody in the world who can regularly win matches as Dedede?
Masahiro Sakurai: [Laughs] I'm in love with all of my characters and I couldn't possibly choose one. And I personally believe that no matter which character you choose, there is the possibility that you can win your matches. And there is no character that will guarantee that you will win.