The collaborative development process for “Luigi’s Mansion: Dark Moon” is an interesting one. With teams on two continents working on a sequel to a decade old game there would clearly be some interesting stories to tell. As I continued my chat with Mr. Yoshihito Ikebata, Supervisor for the game at Nintendo, and two members of the Next Level Games team, Director Bryce Holliday, and Gameplay Programmer Brian Davis, I wanted to pull back the curtain a bit, and look at where the game came from, and what were some of the major influences on the final release.
Multiplayer: One thing that is instantly recognizable in “Luigi’s Mansion” is the level of humor that’s been incorporated in it. I was just curious how you gauged what was included, was it influenced by the first game, since this one seems a little bit lighter, whereas that one was a little darker?
Yoshihito Ikebata: So, yes, I think you’re right. We did intend that “Luigi’s Mansion 2″ should be good for a wide range of ages in the audience, and we certainly were not setting out to create a very grotesque and scary horror game by any means.
Bryce Holliday: Yes, that was the first question with comedy that I’ve gotten, and that’s a lot of what I was trying to put into the game. Interestingly, at the beginning of the project Japan mentioned that they thought Next Level Games did a really good job with their character animations, and that we were “funnier than they were” so they we going to rely on us to put a lot of comedy into the game. I’m just thankful that you led with that one – it’s one of my personal favorites in the game. I think creatively, comedy and being scared and laughing are a little closer than other emotions so were constantly trying to get the player building up tension for either a joke or building up tension for a little spook. “Spook” was kind of the word that, as Ikebata-san mentioned, would apply to a lot of ages, so I’m glad to hear that you said that, and it was definitely a conscious decision right from the get-go to be funny.
Brian Davis: In terms of the ghosts themselves, I think a lot of their emotions came through in the animations to provide funner game play as well. They do a lot of trying to spook Luigi, but Luigi can also spook them back with this flashlight, so we were able to develop new ideas straight from that tone.
Multiplayer: How did you go about adapting the controls for the 3DS, since they are slightly different from the original?
Ikebata: When you’re creating this game on different hardware, the 3DS as opposed to the GameCube, you have to think as a designer, “what is something that only the new hardware, the 3DS, can do in this situation?” Let that really motivate what you’re thinking about in terms of design. We tried lots of different control scheme patterns at Next Level Games, and we really wanted to focus on which one of those would feel like it was perfectly suited, like it was unique to the 3DS’ abilities as a piece of hardware – in particular, which one would make the basic, core piece of gameplay, of grabbing ghosts with a vacuum cleaner the most fun. When we found that we had aligned those two goals perfectly, we knew that we had the correct control scheme for this game.
Holliday: The only thing to add on to Ikebata-san’s comment is that the core mechanic of catching the ghosts is similar to fishing, with the ghosts trying to get away from you, and you pulling back on the line. Without two analog sticks, we went for more of a tug-of-war paradigm where your motion is influenced a lot by how the ghost is moving, whereas in the first one you’re kind of two separate entities, and in this game. Once we started experimenting with that tug-of-war feel, it just felt a little bit natural on one analog stick, and you get that nice skiing behavior- stopping in your tracks as you yank the ghost back towards you.
Multiplayer: You mentioned targeting the unique aspects of the hardware – clearly one of the standout aspects is the 3D. I’m curious how important that was to the creation of Dark Moon?
Ikebata: When you’re in three-dimensional room with several objects in it, understanding the position of the player relative to the position of those objects is very important to how you play the game. When you have a stereoscopic display, it makes it easier for the player to understand their position relative to those objects. I feel that’s really the fundamental importance of the stereoscopic display on this game.
Holliday: That’s bang on. It’s easier to aim with the stereoscopic on than it is without, and we found that E3s a lot people keep the 3D slider up when playing this game. We think that it even helps [players] master the controls of the game better, which was kind of our goal from the beginning, and a few people have been successful going that route.
Davis: I even think that, outside of the gameplay, it allows us to immerse the player more in the mansions, especially the depth of all the rooms. The camera is specifically designed to show the depth for each mansion, which is something we brought over from the original “Luigi’s Mansion.”
Holliday: We called it the “Dollhouse Perspective.” So you’re camera is always kind of static on one side of the room or stage.
Multiplayer: It’s pretty well known that the original “Luigi’s Mansion” was developed to incorporate 3D on the GameCube, but it didn’t make it past the development stages. Did anyone of you have a chance to see that in person, and how was it different than on the 3DS?
Ikebata: Actually, I don’t think anyone involved in the interview today has ever seen the results of that experimentation with 3D on “Luigi’s Mansion” on the GameCube.
Holliday: That’s true. We’ve only had it described to us by Kono-san, who was the original director, and we had a couple conference calls with him where we tried to reverse-engineer what he was saying to build a tech demo close to 3 years ago.
Ikebata: Yes, that’s right, I remember the demo.
Multiplayer: How did that demo turn out?
Ikebata: My overwhelming impression of that demo was that a stereoscopic display worked really well with the dollhouse perspective concept that was so prevalent in “Luigi’s Mansion.”
Holliday: When we first started building the game, Nintendo kept it secret from us the hardware that we were actually going to build this game for. There were a few months when we didn’t quite know exactly what we were going to get until we went over to Japan where it was actually revealed to us by literally pulling a sheet off of a table, and Iwata-san saying, “Here it is,” and we got to play some demos there. From that moment there, they kept on telling us that they had always wanted to put “Luigi’s Mansion” in 3D, and we spent a couple months doing a pretty in-depth demo to see what you could do, and what you couldn’t do in 3D without making your eyes tired. It was a pretty interesting process there, building a 3D game when you didn’t quite know it was 3D when you started, but it turned out pretty well. We started moving into production soon after that.
At that point in time did you know that you were developing for a handheld console?
Holliday: Yes, we knew it was going to be a handheld from the very beginning. We just didn’t know what the features were.
Ikebata: That’s right. I think at the time we had them plan for this project as if it was going to be on the DSi.
Multiplayer: What makes “Luigi’s Mansion” work as a handheld game, that’s different from its previous console iteration?
Ikebata: I guess I should address why we decided that it should be a project for a handheld system first. This, of course, goes back to the experiments we did with 3D on the GameCube version of “Luigi’s Mansion.” Mr. Kono and Mr. Miyamoto had such good impressions of that project that I think it stayed in their mind, such that when we finally were planning for the Nintendo 3DS where you have the stereoscopic display without the use of glasses, we instantly thought it would be a very good fit to make “Luigi’s Mansion 2″ on the system.
Davis: I think in terms of the single-player game, the main difference is the way we structured the missions – each mission is a 10 to 20 minute experience where a player can pick up their handheld, accomplish something, feel good about playing the game, and then stop playing and come back to it later. So the design of the game from the beginning was with that mindset.
Holliday: And maybe the last feature that kind of came out of the handheld was that multiplayer was always a consideration from the very beginning. The idea of having four people in a room playing “Luigi’s Mansion” together, with the banter and the communication that would be required to play the game skillfully, and also make fun of the friends that you’re playing with, just lends itself better to the handheld phenomenon of like a “Monster Hunter.”
Check back tomorrow for more from Nintendo and Next Level Games on the making of “Luigi’s Mansion 2,” where we delve a little deeper in multiplayer, fan service, and The Year of Luigi.