We are thrilled to be interviewing Richard Vorodi, the Single Player and Story Designer for Metroid Prime Hunters. Richard discusses his time working with NST on the project, his admiration of the Metroid series, and shares never-before-heard facts about the hunters.
My name is Richard Vorodi and I was a game designer at Nintendo for roughly a decade, though my total tenure at the Big N was closer to 15 years. In my time with Nintendo, I got to really experience what it was like to build unique products with large and passionate fanbases. I also had firsthand experience with what truly makes Nintendo such a unique and world class developer of entertainment products. Though I eventually moved on to new challenges in my career, I still greatly miss the people and the culture there. The knowledge about the craft of designing video games I gained and the friendships made will last me a lifetime.
Well since I was probably age 7 I wanted to work as a designer for Nintendo. I was a proud console war veteran by the time I moved to Redmond to start college at the DigiPen Institute of Technology. From there, I grabbed the first job I could with Nintendo- a seasonal job in the consumer help dept where, over the phone, I helped people hook up their newly received N64’s for Christmas. Once inside, I had access to the internal job listings. One day a Jr. Game Design position opened up and I applied with everything I had. hahaha. I remember getting help creating the perfect cover letter and formatting my CV to appear as professional as I could. I had no money at the time but still spent more money than I had on an interview wardrobe, but man this was a design job with Nintendo! I just went for it!
Luckily for me, things worked out and I joined my first professional game development team. NST (Nintendo Software Technology), was looking to grow it’s internal development team and needed someone who could bridge the gap between the programmers and the designers. With my background in CS I was able to help fill that void, though quickly realized the difference between school and the real thing! As time went on, NST became this experiment within Nintendo to see if the development culture in Japan could be hybridized with western ideals for presentation. We were a first party studio, and had access to an incredible amount of resources. I’ll never forget meeting Mr. Miyamoto for the first time. 🙂
I think besides the Mario and Pilotwings series, Metroid was my favorite. I remember being told about the possibility of working on it, and I campaigned hard at the studio to do it. I don’t think I necessarily made that happen, but the enthusiasm didn’t hurt!
From my memory, NST had a ton of freedom in the beginning of the project to explore different gameplay and story ideas. We were allowed to rethink the controls, as well as the pacing because we had to deliver a Prime like experience on a handheld, where traditionally attention spans are naturally much less than say a console experience.
Actually Retro Studios was very busy with Metroid Prime 2, so they weren’t very involved with NST and our work. They had already laid out some incredible design choices with the Prime franchise, so a lot of the heavy lifting was done per se. They did send their secret weapon to us from Austin though. A concept artist by the name of Andrew Jones. Dude was the best artist I had ever met at that time. Turned out, he was a huge influence on the art style and edginess of the Prime series. I was one of the folks working on designing the new bounty hunters at the time.
I remember delivering Andrew some quick fiction on what each Hunter was about and possibly what their abilities were. From there, he would create a bunch of different silhouettes, which would inform new fiction ideas, and then facilitate more sketches. I remember that time was filled with such explosive creativity. The team was really starting to hone in on what we were making. The programmers were pushing the limits of the hardware. Life was good.
We focused on color palette in the beginning. What sorts of colors would pop the best on the Nintendo DS screen. From there, we tried to make the stages so they could have dual purpose. We just didn’t have the time to create completely brand new campaign and multiplayer components, so we had to devise a strategy wherein we could create balanced MP [multiplayer] arenas, that with a few modifications, could function as a compelling SP [single player] environment.
We really tried to create circuit based maps. We wanted to try and eliminate as many friction points as we could, so we tried to have the maps keep you moving. We didn’t like dead ends. In the end, I think that style of map helps out when playing on such a tiny screen.
I like puns. No shame there. 🙂 Well I guess I can safely say that my biggest design wish was that we could adopt a more smooth and responsive controls scheme for Hunters. Every time you make a new game, you really owe it to the project to rethink the controls. That is paramount. Period. With the Prime series, they chose a lock-on type of camera. That was a genius move by them in my opinion. They were after all building an adventure game. They didn’t need elaborate, and possibly confusing controls to express their gameplay.
With Hunters, we were not building an adventure game. We were making Space Fight Club. That meant that we could take advantage of the mouse like controls the touch screen afforded us to have a set of controls that was super responsive and built around the idea of aiming. It took a lot of convincing others at Nintendo, but eventually they agreed and even suggested a few other optional control schemes. Let me tell you, if you ever hit a wall creatively, there is always someone at Nintendo who has the answer!
When dealing with now a variety of bounty hunters, Samus is no longer the only star of the show. It was very important that every hunter should be able to own the space with the same fidelity as Samus. Canonically though, I always felt that not every location in her journeys would be as Morphball friendly as others.
Depended on the stages, but they either led with a cool single player idea or a frenetic multiplayer idea. We never just built a space for the heck of it.
I don’t really have any regrets in terms of what you just said. We were building a very unique expression of Metroid, that had to shine as a handheld experience. I think what we ended up with was what worked the best for what we were doing at the time.
I would probably say none. Again, both teams were trying to build what was right for their product respectively.
There’s always this balance of content versus time and polish. You just try your hardest as a developer to entertain and delight the largest amount of people that you can. Hopefully we gave you guys a good time!
We don’t feature any Metroids because this adventure was a departure from Samus’s past missions where she was more of a detective for the Federation. This mission was more of a sucker punch. She’s fighting for her life against foes arguably scarier than anything she’s ever dealt with before. That all being said, there definitely are some Easter eggs in the game…
It’s always fun to have water cooler type moments in games. Sometimes delivering the unexpected really allows an audience to connect with the story.
Well, we realized early on that it was super important to get the silhouettes of the characters right. Far away characters become unreadable and the pixel count gets smaller. To that end, we really made sure you knew who was in front of you and what they were capable of doing long before you saw the white’s of their eyes. Aside from readability issues, balance was a key hurdle to overcome. In the end it really took thousands of hours of play testing and tuning to get it nailed down.
To the right team a delay is a miracle. That means your publisher believes in what you are doing, and wants to allocate even more resources to making that thing even better. I know we took advantage of that time in so many great ways. Among them, the online play. It was so much fun to have an online enabled multiplayer game in your hand. It even featured voice chat! We had the best programmers, all doing stuff that seemed impossible to do at the time. Those guys were mad scientists.
Virtual Reality and full body force feedback.
I think by the end there were no more stand alone ideas. Almost every idea that we had was blended with another idea to create a better experience.
It’s a hard galaxy. Not everyone makes it.
That project was super secret. It would not have been known outside of a tight circle of entities. Thus we pick up on it after his creation. The past is shrouded in mystery.
Noxus (originally planned as Nox), was very much like a warrior monk. His entire life was based on perfecting his skills, quieting his mind, and making hard choices to protect the balance between good and evil.
His name was originally Nox. At the end of Hunters there were a bunch of unused names for the hunters. Sometimes we came up with names betters suited for them as they evolved, or other issues prevented us from using them. We had some neat ones. Maybe one day those names will get dusted off and used again along with the unused Hunter designs!
The Kriken are a definite scourge in the galaxy. Interstellar cockroaches basically. If they guys go unchecked, there might be nothing left for anyone. That’s why you see unnatural alliances between different factions when it comes to these guys.
What I’m saying here is that the Kriken have become an issue for the Galactic Federation, and the Space Pirates. They are the only species everyone seems to agree should be wiped out. Almost to the extent of working together (though that has not happened yet).
My favorite! Without saying too much, Weavel was stationed on Brinstar a long time ago. It is possible Samus and him had their battle in the original Metroid…
I’d prefer not to specify directly and let that remain a piece of legend.
We have a great backstory written up for Sylux. There’s a lot of threaded storytelling in there, that made using the character in other games a good fit. I would love to tell you what’s going on under that suit…
I think a few of them naturally followed their path like Trace, but a few of the others became smarter, wiser, and jealous of Samus. This event definitely will become a catalyst for future galactic turmoil despite its relatively positive outcome.
All of their visor heads up displays were created by the same artist that made Samus’s in Metroid Prime. An NST artist by the name of Nicholas Trahan.
Metroid Prime Hunters shares the same DNA that all Metroid properties do. Like all relatives on a family tree, some traits are preserved and newer are ones gained. That’s the case here as well.
Gorea can be thought of like a cosmic horror. There is an “old one” quality to it. To that extent, much about Gorea is a mystery not meant to be solved.
This is better left to the imagination until if/when we meet back up with these creatures.
Here’s a more interesting nugget. The Tetra Galaxy was named after the school of Tetra fish I had in the aquarium on my desk during development.
It is believed that many of the enlightened races in the galaxy traded with each other. Trade is often the genesis of the transfer of knowledge, stories, and customs between distant cultures.
Though the lapse of time has not been revealed, Samus’s ship in Hunters is the one she piloted in Prime 1 and her suit is the one she wore during Prime 2. As far as visors and weaponry are concerned, her only core abilities (innate to the suit) are her Arm Cannon, Combat/Scan Visor, and Morphball ability.
The ultimate power was a ruse. It was the promise of power that would entice the most powerful entities in the galaxy to unknowingly release the cosmic horror, Gorea.
Aside from Samus, I’d have to say Weavel. Man I had great ideas for that character if given the chance to go forward.
You know that old saying, artistic endeavors are not finished, but abandoned? There has never been one project I’ve ever worked on where I went “it’s perfect”.
The main takeaway I had was to explore what makes your IP special. Protect those values, but still have the courage to push the boundaries and perhaps show it in a new light, but ultimately making the best choices for the hardware it runs on.
It’s a really fun game to play even today with all the modern advances that FPS games have at their disposal. The only advice I could give is you’ll know your team is on the right track if they are eager to compete with each other several times throughout the day!
Long before I had the privilege of putting my stamp on this amazing franchise, I was a fan. I remember being a kid and hunting down all the Metroid mutations on my Gameboy. Braving car sickness, and dreaded low battery warnings, I was glued to that game until I finally beat it. I’d played every Metroid game since. Working on Metroid Prime Hunters is still to this day one of the greatest honors of my professional career. I owe a lot to Nintendo, Mr. Tanabe, our excellent and patient producer, as well as our game director Mr. Abe. Both really trusted the team to create something new because I believe they knew we would respect what had come before.
To be completely serious, if you have a dream, go for it. Do everything you can to make it happen. With enough perseverance and a lot of luck, I think anything can be possible.
See you guys next mission as a fan!
In addition, Richard shared images of his memorabilia from the development of Hunters, including a Christmas card, an E3 instructional card, a double-sided coin commemorating the release of the Nintendo DS, a 3D laser-engraved Samus crystal that was given to all NST staff on Hunters, and last but not least, a personalized sketch of Samus from Tomoyoshi Yamane – the artist who designed Samus in Super Metroid.
© 2020 Shinesparkers and Richard Vorodi
Special thanks to Darren, RoyboyX, Strince and Dalagonash
Interviewed on 25th May 2020