We are thrilled to present an interview with Matthew Nightingale, a former level designer at Fuse Games, the developer of Metroid Prime Pinball. Matthew answered our burning questions about his career in games, the production of Pinball, and the design of each of the tables.
Hello, I’m Matthew and I was a 3D artist working at Fuse Games while we made Metroid Prime Pinball. I currently work as Lead Technical Artist at Outright Games. I live in the Cotswolds with my wife, kids and two border collies.
After school I studied graphic design at university. I spent a few years working at printers designing takeaway menus and other really basic work. In my spare time I was messing around with some 3D software. A friend of mine was studying at Bournemouth University studying 3D animation and he pushed me to apply myself. I was offered a place, which was amazing and definitely a pivotal point in my career. After I completed my masters I started applying for work in the games industry and I landed my first job working on a Playstation 1 game (sadly, this game was never released).
A few years before I started a Fuse I worked for Empire Interactive making Ghost Master. The studio was on the ground floor, while another studio, Cunning Developments, was upstairs. Adrian Barritt was the team lead of Cunning and I would often pop up and see him.
The Cunning team was shut down and this was when Adrian started Fuse Games.
When an artist role opened up at Fuse, Adrian contacted me and asked me to join them. Safe to say I jumped at the offer!
Fuse had recently finished Mario Pinball and Nintendo were keen for them to make another pinball game (the then president of Nintendo, Iwata was a big pinball fan).
Retro Studios provided us with the 3D models from Metroid Prime and Nintendo supplied SDKs for the DS (which they would have done for any studio making a DS game).
As the project was funded by Nintendo, they had a lot of input in the direction of the game. To their credit, they understood that Adrian knew how to make a good pinball game and they left us to it.
This will sound terrible, but I hadn’t played any Metroid games.
I haven’t played Prime, but I have played Hunters, Corruption and currently I’m playing Dread.
I did work on each of the tables, although it was a collaboration with all the other artists (there were 4 of us working on MPP).
There are two main tables in MPP and these were the two we started with. There are some features that all the tables would have (flippers, bumpers, inlanes,etc..) and we had to take the gap between the two screens into consideration (we had to do a fair amount of prototyping about the gap. As the ball went between screens we ‘fudged’ the physics to make the ball cross the gap quicker. If we didn’t do this if felt too slow)
The flow of the table would be designed by Adrian, he has an amazing understanding of what makes an enjoyable table which will flow nicely (we had a room with about 7 pinball tables in, so we all had a pretty good idea of what felt fun to play. Medieval Madness is my favourite)
We would first start by making a grey table, this would have the basics of the table. With this grey table we could test the flow and make sure the shots were achievable and fun. When this table was feeling good the art team would start to produce a concept drawing of the table and at the same time we would start to consider which Metroid baddies to have on the table.
Pinball tables are quite incredible really, they tell which shot you need to make by the table lights, so this was an aspect of the table design that had to be carefully designed (once again by Adrian).
As the DS lacked any real power the game was made using pre-rendered images (although the physics of the game ran in 3D) This was great for the art team as we could make the tables and enemies look amazing in the 3D software and once they were rendered they would look just as good in game (although we did need to reduce the number of colours in the images to fit them all in memory.
The wall jump was added after the tables had been made, so this was a bit of a challenge to add this extra feature into an already completed table.
The feature tables were a lot less complicated compared to the main two tables, although the process of designing them was the same. My favourite feature table was the Chozo Temple. The manic multiball is amazing!
With a pinball game you’re quite limited to what you as the player can do (hit the ball into something) so the design was more about the attack the enemy did to you. We based these on how they were in Metroid Prime (and with a little artist licence now and then).
I think adding the ability for Samus to unfurl was a great addition to MPP. There are very few inputs on a pinball table, but just turning left and right using the flipper buttons worked really well.
I actually had nothing to do with the audio in MPP, so unfortunately there’s nothing I can tell you about it.
Once the flow of the table had been tested, that aspect of the table was locked (apart from very small tweaks).
As long as the table design looked like it belonged to the Metroid universe we had complete freedom to make whatever we wanted.
I don’t remember who or how the cow easter egg started, but there’s a cow in Mario Pinball, MPP, and in The Ancients Beckon. I believe we took the idea from actual pinball machines, but I’m not 100% about that.
I can’t really remember, but there is a Chozo Temple level. I think we looked at the assets we had and figured which would lend themselves to becoming a pinball table.
Making a sequel was never talked about. We did try to make pinball games of other Nintendo IP’s but nothing ever came together.
Shizuko Richardson – No idea who this was
Martin Ayub – No idea who this was
Sophia Remrod – The daughter of one of the directors who did some work experience while we made MPP
Natasha Warmington – Another person undertaking some work experience. I believe Natasha is now working in QA for another games company.
Peter Kiely – No idea who this was
Hilary Nightingale – My wife, who worked at Fuse. Fuse Games had a great benefit, which was you would get a free lunch made for you. Hilary would make these meals for us as well as the catering for when Nintendo would visit.
As a developer it makes me feel old! I only really have happy memories about working on MPP, we were a young company coming off the back of a quite successful Mario game and the team working together fantastically.
I have particularly fond memories testing the multiplayer mode around a friend’s house with our wives.
I’m extremely proud of MPP, I’ve even got my commemorative plaque on my wall today.
I left Barnstorm Games and joined ‘Neon Play’, a mobile games company in Cirencester. During my time at Neon Play I worked on a few big titles before we moved over to hyper casual games where I must have worked on 50+ games (this is the nature of hyper casual).
I left Neon Play after 8 years and moved away from the games industry and worked for an amazing company called Fundamental VR (they make medical training simulations in VR).
I was approached by an ex Razor Works colleague to join Outright Games, which is where I currently work (on things I can’t talk about!)
Unfortunately I cannot share with you what I’m currently working on.
I would like to thank all the Metroid fans for keeping Metroid Prime Pinball alive. The sad truth about the games industry is that your games will have a very short life (you’ll normally spend longer working on a game then it’ll be on a shop shelf) so I am happy that people are still playing and enjoying it.
© 2023 Shinesparkers and Matthew Nightingale
Special thanks to RoyboyX and Quadraxis
Interviewed on 11th April 2023