Yoshi Topsy Turvy Developer Interview from Nintendo Online Magazine

I’m back with another translation from the old Nintendo Online Magazine. This time we have Hidetoshi Takeshita (Director/Programmer), Naoto Ohshima (Yes, that Naoto Ohshima. (Producer)), and Masaki Tawara (Producer) talking about the development of Yoshi Topsy Turvy for the Game Boy Advance. I got the impression that Hidetoshi Takashita had a lot on his plate which may have played into how the game turned out. Anyway, let’s get to it!

Turning the Constant Force of Gravity on Its Head

N.O.M – Can we start with an introduction of what everyone has been up to?

Ohshima – I entered the industry as a designer and worked for a long time as a director. This title is my first time working as a producer.

Takeshita – I’ve been working for around 10 years as a programmer and entered Artoon around the time it started. I worked as a programmer then too, but this title will be my first one as the director. 

Tawara – Since around my 4th year at Nintendo I’ve been working as a coordinator with second party developers. Basically a lot of miscellaneous stuff (laughs). So I did that and this will be my first title as a producer.

N.O.M – This is a first time for everyone (laughs). So what are the circumstances that brought this title about?

Tawara – Around the summer of 2003 we requested a game plan that used Yoshi. “Something different that can be explained with a short phrase,” is what we were after. After that, Ohshima came to us and said, “This Yoshi is about tilting!”

Ohshima – Within the team we had a bunch of ideas, and when we said we wanted something anyone could understand, this is the shape it took. 

Takeshita – In games up to this point, gravity was a parameter that remained constant. There is ground, there are walls, there’s the sky and ceilings. Naturally walls aren’t going to become sloped paths to walk on. But in this game, the user moves the world by tilting it. Floors can become hills, hills can become walls, walls can become floors. When you jump in the air, it’s natural to fall back down to the same spot, but by tilting, you can change the landing point. It became an action game that uses tilting for even more control.

Ohshima – At our company, we don’t just all of the sudden make a design document when we’re making a game. We start with a concept and write down just the key selling points and features and use that to go sell it. From there, we make a prototype. If that gets approved, we make our first design document. Even if we made the appearances first, it would be pointless without the substance.

Tawara – So first we made a prototype. If that was interesting, work could start on it as an actual product. Through repeated prototyping, we experimented with whether or not we could bring out the fun of tilt mechanics. 

Ohshima – Something I thought was really amazing about Nintendo was how high their bar for prototypes to pass was. Not just in theory, you have to actually prove that it’s fun. I was surprised because the quality of Nintendo games is so high because this bar is so high.

Tawara – Because if the elements of fun can’t be seen then work can’t begin.

Ohshima – Speaking of that, I heard that in Nintendo internal presentations you connected this to a monitor and moved the monitor with it to show off playing it.

Tawara – I did this up to the rehearsal, but was stopped by others internally. Too bad… (everyone laughs)

It’s Too Difficult. Hey, How About We Quit With the Tilting!

N.O.M – What were some things you were careful of while working on a Yoshi title?

Takeshita – Of course we thought that we’d have to adhere to the Yoshi image and not be able to break it, but Tawara said, “Please break it.” We didn’t really know how far we could go or with how much force we could use, so we played every Yoshi game up to this point and wanted to be really careful with the IP. We weren’t just borrowing the name. It was like someone placing a child in our care (laughs).

Tawara – At first there were things like eggs following Yoshi even though they weren’t used. We pursued various options and we have uhh… Air! Yeah, air! Things were changed like having air come out of Yoshi’s butt (laughs).

Ohshima – Nintendo’s attention to detail is really amazing. You can feel how cute the world and characters are just at a glance, but when I looked closely I understood that it was more than just being cute. Even looking at it as a pro, that was something I realized.

N.O.M – Implementing tilt control was probably difficult but how was it?

Takeshita – It was incredibly difficult. I’ve been programming for over 10 years, but filling in the gap between what we imagined and actual implementation took some trial and error. There were lots of jokes like, “I got it. Let’s quit using tilt controls! That will solve everything!” that you would hear when I was really stuck (laughs). 

Tawara – That would solve the problem but… Then it would be back to square one (laughs).

Takeshita – I also often thought things like, “I have this idea, but if I try to implement it I’ll really be putting myself in a tough spot.”

N.O.M – You had that kind of stress because you were directing and programming, right? (laughs) You often hear of directors and programmers getting into arguments, but you had to come up with the compromises yourself.

Takeshita – That’s right. I knew adding something would improve the game, but it would also add more stress on myself. But it would improve the game. But that would cause more stress. It was a constant balance that I had to find myself.

Ohshima – Really?! This is my first time hearing about that… (laughs). As an onlooker, I thought you looked lively, but… I think that not doing what someone else said, but deciding yourself and being able to make it was fun. One of Takeshita’s strong points is really taking in someone else’s opinion and reflecting that in the work. 

Takeshita – I want to bring everyone’s wishes to life and end up doing that. But Sometimes I wondered if I couldn’t do it myself, if it would be good to leave it to another programmer…(laughs). 

N.O.M – As the producer, what kind of feedback were you giving, Ohshima?

Ohshima – They would put together something and it would be difficult to play, so I was saying, “I can’t even do this!” quite often (laughs).

Takeshita – We were making the game so we were the most skilled players in the world at it, right? (laughs). We were totally submerged in it and numb to the difficulty. Getting Ohshima’s outside perspective was very valuable and helped us notice a lot of things.

In Order to Improve the Game, There Are No Compromises! We Want It to Even Be Played on the Train.

N.O.M – The stages are short and easy to play aren’t they.

Ohshima – Regarding that, while we were making the game everyone had their own feeling about what was considered short. For example, I thought short might have referred to being half the length of a regular Mario stage. I misunderstood though because it was actually two screen sized stages.

Tawara – When playing an action game while tiling the console, you can’t really keep a good tempo without short stages so we went with that length. But we didn’t want to invite frustration by making it so you can’t clear it without tilting. We wanted to make it so that tilting the console would surprise the player and increase the fun. 

Ohshima – We also had a lot of powwows to improve the game.

N.O.M – Powwow? 

Tawara – To boil down what would go into the game, we had these free discussions late into the night.

Takeshita – Not a lot of companies would go that far.

Tawara – Those powwows had a good kind of pressure. When it came to making scenes, Takeshita would say, “If you think it’s boring, just say no right away,” and had made around 300 scenes, but no’s just kept coming one after another (laughs). There was a rank of “xx” and “x” and there wasn’t really any compromise. We were aiming for the end of the year so changes were being made right up until the very end.

N.O.M – So what was wrapping up the title like?

Takeshita – I was glad it was done… Oh yeah, the day before the deadline there were 4 reports of game freezing bugs that were discovered for the first time. We were wondering if it was just a bad connection or maybe static electricity or something.

Ohshima – We tried playing the game to see where the game stopped, but of course, now of all times, it didn’t stop!

Takeshita – It ended up being a programming error, but whether it would occur or not occur depended on various circumstances and had a very low chance of happening. But I’m so glad it popped up before the deadline. 

N.O.M – So to wrap things up, please give a message to the players.

Takeshita – For the first time, you control gravitational pull and I think it’s a real game changer. I’m confident there isn’t another game like it so I want everyone to play it because it encapsulates the good parts of handheld gaming.

Ohshima – I wanted to make an action game that would be a new trend setter and I think we did that. I feel like the quality really is above expectations. I wasn’t what’s commonly thought of when it comes to a producer because I was on site and working with everyone on the title, and I can say that work was really fun. I hope to see everyone playing the game on the train. (From someone else in the room – “Yeah, I’d love to see that!”) 

Tawara – For most action games, if you can’t clear something, you’re stuck there. But with this game, even if there’s a stage you can’t clear, you can continue. Even if you feel like you’re bad at action games or are a beginner, you should be able to progress. And for more advanced players, I hope they aim for higher grade medals. I think being able to set your own goals and play is very appealing so please check the game out.

N.O.M – We’ll be keeping an eye out on the trains. Thank you!

If you enjoyed that, you may also like some of our other translations like this one with Toshiaki Suzuki, the director of Kirby Tilt ‘n’ Tumble. You can also check the Translations page for a list of all of the translations on the site. And if you’re here to study Japanese, why not check out some reading samples from real Japanese novels based on games. It’s great practice to help bring your Japanese to the next level!

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