The Origins Of Xenoblade’s Development

By Laura . July 19, 2010 . 11:20am

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Monolith Soft and Nintendo’s first collaboration was the quirky Disaster: Day of Crisis, an action-adventure game that focused on what they described as “never-before-seen thrilling movie scenes”. Since Monolith Soft specialized in RPGs, Disaster was a whole different monster for the company. It took much longer than they had originally expected to finish the game; the development process spanned two years, from 2006 to 2008.

 

Monolith Soft creative director, Tetsuya Takahashi, himself, however, had finished the now famous model of the two Xenoblade Gods in July of 2006.

 

Not only was this before the retail availability of the Wii, but Nintendo developer, Hitoshi Yamagami, (Sin & Punishment: Star Successor, The Legendary Starfy, the Fire Emblem games), who was also the producer of the game, was first presented with the idea while Monolith was right in the middle of working on Disaster. When Hirohide Sugiura, president of Monolith, came up to him and announced, “We have a new design,” the model was the first thing Yamagami saw. At the time, Yamagami was just starting to itch to see something new, so the surprise came at the perfect time.

 

The two Gods ended up being incredibly detailed. Part of the reason was that Takahashi had some of the younger staff members pose for him as models.1 This was not only to establish the pose for the gods, but also to map out the different field areas. For example, just from observing where the lights in the room hit and didn’t hit, he decided that where the “sunlight” hit the back would be the jungle, and where it didn’t hit would be cold, snowy fields.

 

1. As an aside, it seems like Takahashi got a lot of weird looks during this time. Not only was everyone still busy with Disaster, but even Kou Kojima, the other Monolith director who would work on Xenoblade, began to ask, “Why are you making a model in the middle of the office?”

 

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Seeing this much thought being put into just the models, Yamagami was extremely excited to hear more about this prospective project. Unfortunately, since Takahashi was visually-oriented and liked to represent his ideas with something he could see and feel, this also meant that, even though the model itself was meticulously done, there wasn’t much else to the idea yet. Despite this, Yamagami was still so impressed with the design and the concept that he felt that, no matter what, a game had to be created for this world.

 

It wasn’t until the April of 2007 that the team actually started prototyping Xenoblade. Along with Yamagami, Yurie Hattori2 (Endless Ocean, Sin & Punishment: The Star Successor) and Genki Yokota (Disaster: Day of Crisis, Fossil Fighters) from Nintendo also helped develop the game. Yokota was experienced with RPGs, and he and Kou Kojima determined the general direction of the system, while Hattori assisted Takahashi and Takeda with the scenario by looking at it from another perspective — both from the eyes of a player and as a female.

 

2. Hattori was also one of the major driving forces behind Style Savvy, aka Girls Mode. She has a surprising amount of range.

 

The two worked well together after the initial bumps. The hitches weren’t conflicts, though — as Takahashi put it, he experienced a real “culture shock” when they first started.

 

Originally, Takahashi had wanted to give up on a portion in Xenoblade because he knew that if they tried to do everything they wanted, there was no way they would be meeting the prospective release date. There were many problems when they first began tackling the development of the game, and progress was off to a slow start. Thus, even if the team really didn’t want to, as a professional, Takahashi was prepared to sacrifice bits and parts to make the development deadlines. However, after discussing the problem with Yamagami, the Nintendo developer said, “You’ve already gone this far, so why not go all the way?”

 

According to Takahashi, there were many times in his career where he jumped into a game, only to never finish it the way he wanted to. Thus, he was actually prepared to compromise some of his concepts when he started working on the game — all the more reason he was so surprised when Yamagami told him what he did. Takahashi gladly took Yamagami’s words to heart and dived enthusiastically into his work. He even did some of the testing himself despite the fact that he, as the leader, was supposed to be more of a “background presence”.

 

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Thanks to this new level of determination, the game’s contents skyrocketed. As we already know, special care was taken with the visuals, and one of the creators’ proudest points with Xenoblade was that you can go anywhere you see. Over and above that, the characters’ appearance and movement speed changed as different pieces equipment sported different appearances or weight. Also, time flowed in this game, and depending on the time of day, different monsters would appear.

 

The game’s battle system is seamless, meaning that there’s no transition between traveling over the map and battles. The decision to do this, as Kojima, the developer in charge of the battle system, says, was because it wasn’t possible to integrate a turn-based system into this game, yet still make everything feel as immersive and fluid as they wanted. There was also a “future vision” system embedded into both story events and battles where you could see what would happen just a little into the future. This vision automatically activates and usually occurs when the enemy is preparing for an extremely damaging attack. After the quick flash, the battle continues as usual. However, with your new knowledge, you could guard, dodge, or perhaps even somehow spin the enemy around with your party members’ help to avoid the strike.

 

As for the scenario, not only did the team aim to make a solid story with well-rounded characters, they concentrated on conveying their desired emotions. It would appear they succeeded; Yamagami stated that whenever he got to a certain point, he’d always start yelling enthusiastically (angrily) at the screen, and, according to Kojima, one of the debug staff would always cry at the exact same spot no matter how many times they played through it. (Also according to Kojima, that person had ended up in tears about ten times by the time the game was completed.)

 

The staff also urged the players to play the game at least twice, since there is a lot of clear data that isn’t available through the first playthrough. Some of the bonus material are more story events and new battles and quests.


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  • lostinblue

    I WANT THIS NOW :3

    Monolith fan for life here.

  • malek86

    “collaboration”Didn’t Nintendo buy Monolith? I wouldn’t call that collaboration. More like, they are doing it because they are first-party now.

    • jj984jj

      Nintendo bought the majority of the company in April 2007. Reading this makes a lot more sense of that now.

      BTW, Hattori was also an assistant author on Fire Emblem: Radiant Dawn. So while she was a driving force on Style Savvy she’s worked with IntSys on stories before too. :p

    • lostinblue

      Still a collaboration when you take into account that a lot of nintendo personnel seemingly worked and supervised this, rather than just a “call us when you’re done” approach and on and off supervision going on at checkpoints, no; they seem to really have contributed to that and to make the game what it is today.

      Nintendo is really good at that, might I say, supervised creativity freedom.

      As for the reason they got bought, I’d like to guess it was Baten Kaitos Origins, that game is sex incarnate.

      • malek86

        Well, I’d rather have the “call us when you’re done” approach, but that’s probably because I’m afraid Atlus will eventually start meddling with Sting’s works (if they haven’t already). I guess Nintendo would be fine.

        • jj984jj

          As long as they don’t mess with Shinichi Ito I don’t see why that would be a bad thing. I think to fit Atlus’ business model though they need another strong RPG series since their Dept. Heaven series doesn’t fit it well, they are suppose to be uniquely made more from the ground up with Shinichi Ito spearheading the way. They need a full new series headed up by someone else where they can reuse assets in games following like Atlus does with MegaTen, and with the way their games sell they need it way more than Atlus does.

          • malek86

            I know, it’s just that I don’t necessarily like it when a studio finds one big series and keeps following it, because it eventually ends up that they only do that. Just like Disgaea with NIS, or SMT with Atlus, it seems that lately they’re getting milked for all their worth. Not that it doesn’t make sense from a business pow, of course.

            Well, Sting already does port upon port, so I guess it wouldn’t be anything new…

          • lostinblue

            I’d say “we” put more emphasis on that than we really should. SMT is milking done right, as is Mario and Zelda… and Disgaea I guess, those teams do that and only that and even if they don’t they’ll intertwine it to the point there’s a continuity between them, yes, but they have liberty enough to experiment constantly making the franchise some kind of “quality seal”.

            One does not realize, but Miyazaki, Walt Disney, and some of these franchises, created a whole world, one can relate neighbour totoro with chihiro as the same universe/type of phantasy something coming from the very same mind after all… so why should the people helming it try to think out of the box they created themselves? more like, they should be thinking what else, “new” they could be doing on their box without diluting the franchise and still presenting the utmost quality that is expected from the game of that moniker.

            Everything Final Fantasy fails at, basically.

        • lostinblue

          No you don’t prefer that approach. That’s basically what Microsoft does with all the titles they finance and publish, because they have no vision or reputation to deal with professionals and be taken seriously.

          Examples: Every Rareware game post-Nintendo, Too Human, Fable/Molineux games, infinite undiscovery… etc. And if any of those games they publish developed by third party’s was good (and even their own, like Forza), it was a fluke, lucky them that the developer supervised itself, because they had inherently nothing to do with it.

          At least Nintendo knows what they’re doing and since they’re spending the money they want to be part of it, to the point when some companies stop being affiliated with them… they’ll just release a bunch of crap in a row because suddenly they went from being supervised by people with insane quality standards to no quality standards whatsoever and deadlines that disregard them. The fact they publish a game means it’s a quality one in itself.

          • malek86

            Well, for example, I’m not sure if it was necessarily Nintendo’s fault, but for some reason the PZ games were better when Tecmo handled the series themselves.

          • lostinblue

            I’d say that’s a weird nail to pick on.

            Nintendo clearly wasn’t satisfied with the end product if they didn’t bring it along; lots of rumors point to that, and the fact the japanese localization actually started before being shelved. That, and legends says Nintendo requested some modifications to the game build to make the game better (control-wise), which tecmo refused (probably because this time around the team wasn’t inhouse and they were underway with other projects already making it hard for them to find the time to do some further development on such game/harder to reach/mere subcontractors, but I dunno)

            Only PZ4 was done under Nintendo’s name though, and I don’t think any of the content the others had was censored in anyway, even if it’s not as great as PZ2, one could argue PZ3 was already pretty meh.

          • malek86

            lostinblue: well, I just picked an example to show that, even if they are under supervision (I doubt Nintendo did absolutely nothing), a developer can still churn out a bad game. On the other hand, you can also have a studio without a supervisor and they can make a good game (like you said, Forza).

            Considering both things, I’m all for letting developers do things on their own, if anything to bring about their own vision and possibly start something new. If someone who is already experienced supervises, chances are that they’ll try to make them stick to some conventional route. Of course, it’s good if they get guided by someone more experienced at the start, but eventually the developers will have to get their own sense of how to make games, at which point they should be let alone.

            Naturally I’m all for publishers setting deadlines and budget and some basic guidelines, lest we get something like Too Human again (or Red Dead Redemption, which was good but clearly went overbudget), and besides, they obviously have to protect their investments. But aside from that much, I believe developers should be let free to do their own “magic”.

          • lostinblue

            @ the last reply

            granted. that said I haven’t played PZ4, I liked PZ2 a lot, so I reserve my judgement. I hope it’s great game when I play it someday, although sure, i don’t expect it to top PZ2.

            A game being supervised doesn’t necessarily make it better, you’re right, but good supervision should ensure the money is being well spent as well as trying to make the game as good as it can be. That said, they weren’t just supervising, Nintendo is in most cases very involved in them, not in a intrusive way but in a cooperative effort way, as in, they’re working with devs to make the best game possible.

            Lastly, I’m gonna use what could be called a falacy of false authority here, but I think holds merit so here goes, when I was a trainee in design (not game design, but still) one of the first things I was told in the field, by someone who knew it very well… is that no creative person can do real money management. We tend to spend too much and just loose ourselves in the possibilities, plus we never think it’s ready. And along the years I’ve come to see that in nearly everything creative. Has throwing money at FFXIII make the game any better? Did rareware produce their best games lately, when with Nintendo they had a smaller budget for each project? and we could go on and on… Hell, did throwing money at shenmue make it money efficient and eventually lucrative? No. But for the people who envisioned them they were worth every penny to realize a vision.

            I think I’m pretty coherent on this one, which is precisely why I repeatedly say I don’t want SMT or Atlus to go high budget/loose sight of themselves like Square-Enix did. Seemingly, Nintendo’s AAA projects aren’t that high budget compared to some industry excentricities, for instance Twilight Princess was rumored to be a 10 million dollar game. FFX and FFXII costed more than 30 million by comparison.

            There has to be a balance, you can invest money providing a game “core” is good enough, you can invest time to make it better, but like Miyamoto said previously… A bad game is bad forever. You can’t just throw money at developers, as ambundance of money most of the times will just make the project worse, now if you’re contributing in making the project something better, then you’re doing your job; that’s what I’m talking about.

            It’s my understanding that Nintendo is doing just that. After all they pushed Sin and Punishment 2 to be more dificult than it originally was when testing it, and they pushed monolith to realize this game as they envisioned it rather than cutting some elements they were ready to cut.

  • DanteJones

    Ahhhh, can’t wait for this to come to the US!

    Speaking of Monolith, anyone remember Shogo: Mobile Armor Division?

  • http://thrust-the-sky.deviantart.com/ WildArms

    Man, this will surely explode my wii, but it will be worthy

  • RPGRocker

    Takahashi’s mind is incredible. I can’t even imagine the masterpiece he’d create with an infinite budget and no deadlines.

  • Guest

    I really need some hands-on to get a feel for how the auto attack works. That is my biggest concern with this game. It still seems rather turn based, only difference is you can freely move your character. For every negative though there’s plenty of positives. Can’t wait to play this game when it finally makes it out here.

    • http://thrust-the-sky.deviantart.com/ WildArms

      It kind of reminds me to the latest games that are kinda this way, so im picturing it (the battles) like White knight crhonicles, or maybe FF13 without going into the battle field, or FF12, or Dragon Age origins, etc xD

      • Aoshi00

        I didn’t like FF12′s gambit or FF13′s paradigm shift much, they’re not bad but have many things against them that made them not very fun to play. Xenoblade’s deep battle system keeps me on the toes though. When the vision thing comes (warning you a potentially fatal strong attack is about to come), I was like “oh my god, should I heal the char w/ low HP, or set up the barrier to block the blow, or take out the enemy w/ all out attacks before it could unleash its special move?” Some enemies are quite tough, and sometimes other monsters in the field could gang up on your group. I don’t know how to describe it, you have more control over your whole party (certainly much much more than FF13), but doesn’t feel as boring as gambits where you set up everything prior to battles. I was afraid it would feel like FF12, but it doesn’t, at least to me.

  • Aoshi00

    I was wondering about that awesome model of the 2 gods, who knew it actually served a purpose other than being cool. Xenoblade’s world is vast, they’re not kidding when they say “you can go anywhere you see”, it’s liberating yet not overwhelming, there’s just so much scenery in the environment to savor. We’ll see if Nomura’s Versus XIII is like this too. The composers also deserve praise, the music makes exploring the world fun. There are basically two versions for each town/field music, day and night, day is more exciting and night is slower and more soothing. Some of my favorite tracks weren’t even composed by Shimomura. The only pity is the limited involvement of Mitsuda, only one vocal track :(, it’s like Uematsu’s FF12 theme song..I liked Disaster too, I thought it was a fun game, minus the driving w/ the remote part :)

    P.S. that top pic of the Kishin-hei robot is awesome, the face is very menacing :) I haven’t even scratched the surface of the game, haven’t played it in several weeks alrdy :(… World Cup was one of the reasons lol..

  • holyPaladin

    Been waiting to play this :p
    US version plz

  • gatotsu911

    This is so agonizing to read about when we don’t even know when (or, god forbid, if) this game will be localized yet. HOW MUCH LONGER MUST I WAIT????

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