GDC 2008: Meeting Masahiro Sakurai

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Thinkaman

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#1
This year, I attended Game Developer's Conference (GDC) '08 as a Conference Associate (CA) helping run the conference. I was able to attend and help run a certain session at 10:30 in N135, by a certain Masahiro Sakurai.

To say that I met him is perhaps a stretch, given that his English is token at best so I obviously didn't get to talk to him or even try. However, I did stand right in front of him and keep other people from trying to talk to him! (Including one really annoying guy with a Kirby doll...) Nintendo let press take pictures while he was setting up, and I might actually be in a lot of those photos by him if the shot is wide enough.

However, he did sign my controller, which makes it count.

They played the opening movie, and at the end Sakurai comically started singing the song before the speech. The speech was specifically on the characters in Brawl. I'm going to go through five major points that I feel are extremely applicable to everyone on the boards.

1. Sakurai is More Hardcore Than You

Playing one-handed is hard, playing with the right hand is even harder, and the hardest ask for two controllers.

Sakurai takes three.

I honestly don't think anyone else outside the other three decent smashers there even noticed or realized that during the live demo part, Sakurai was playing as Sonic, Snake, and Pit on Battlefield ALL BY HIMSELF. Some was slow, showing off one character at a time, but I was watching him before the speech doing much faster, crazier stuff with all three. He was playing the three GCN controllers (two silver, one black?) like a keyboard all lined up in a curve in front of him, it was wild.

2. The Game We Study, Sakurai Created

Masahiro Sakurai personally decides and programs every piece of frame data in the game.

If you are a competitive Smash player, your mind was just blown.

I cannot stress how important this is, how ridiculously crazy news this is: Sakurai himself and himself alone balances the entire game of Super Smash Bros. Every parameter of every move he poured over. He spent endless amounts of time testing and watching others, seeing how players worked with different timings on every attack. He practically devoted his life to this, working into the night analyzing and tweaking the parameters to be "perfect". He stressed to us game developers that not taking this sort of care dooms games to failure.

When he showed a chart of Fox's up-smash, showing the frames 0-44 and which ones hit, I think most of the crowd just saw it as a typical animation timeline. Samples from many other moves he showed I imagine they saw as just screenshots. We see them as the game itself. So does he.

It gives me a headache to even think: Every time I throw out a f-smash, it was Sakurai who spent time watching testers to decide exactly what the start-up, duration, and vulnerable frames should be, not some arbitrary number put in by some junior programmer that happens to work out. Every time I have to decide between a nair and a fair, it is Sakurai himself who stayed up at night deciding what the exact difference in duration and knockback should be. (I suspect l-canceling now was removed because he was able to decide on precise and unique lag times for every aerial in the game according to their balance, which certainly seems to be the case. The ability to half or otherwise reduce these carefully crafted times across the board would defeat the point.)

Smash is our life, but is his entire existence. Sakurai knows this game infinitely better than you or I ever will.

3. The COMPLETE Roster was Finalized in 2006

The exception, actually, was Sonic. Sonic was not in the original complete roster, and was only added later in 2007 because he was the most demanded character and they were able to work it out with SEGA. Since he was so important and wanted, they were able to put in a lot of extra work and get him in.

Everyone else was in the game, at least in some state of readiness, in 2006. The original design document, the bible laid out by the designer by which ANY game is planned, included figurines in poses of EVERY MOVE IN THE GAME. That is how much in advance everyone had to be laid out.

Warning: Keep in mind that I am extremely tired because I spent the last 5 days non-stop at lectures and tutorials about game design, especially the development process, timelines, and testing/QA. The first person who suggests that they could have easily added more characters "omg wtf they had over a year!??!" will be ignored; not because I don't want to reply, but because I was arrested after hunting you down and trying to stick a crowbar where your brain should be. Ignorance of the game design process and the amount of people, money, and time it takes to work on games will simply not be tolerated. (Man, the amount of work the art team did on the models, textures, and animations for Pit alone was just crazy, he talked about it...)

4. The Dojo Was More Than We Deserved

Not much to say here besides that he emphasized how much work it was to maintain, even though he also emphasized that it was worth it. He personally did indeed write EVERYTHING, but mainly emphasized that the staff had to go way out of their way to get special shots for everything, not to mention make the videos. He said on busy days it was referred to as sending team members to "Dojo Update Hell".

And we just had to press F5! :chuckle:

5. "No Matter How Many Times People Hear Something, They Will Not Believe It Until They See It."

He said this towards the end in closing, connecting with why the Dojo was worth it. I suddenly had all these simultaneous images in my head: Me and my friends long ago wondering if smash 64 would be any good, noobs insisting they can beat pros, pessimists yelling brawl will never be played competitively. I had this sudden realization that there are simply times when it is literally impossible to make an argument, because no argument can possibly do anything.

All you can do is wait for them to live their life to a point at which they are brought to whatever truth it is, as you have. That, is what I learned from Masahiro Sakurai.

----------

Bonus: My recollection of Sakurai had 4 criteria that all characters must observe in order to be considered for being added:

1. The character's inclusion must make people want to play the game.

This is infinitely harder than you and I think, because we are so jaded by our own perspective. I would insist that Viewtiful Joe would be the best character ever, but I'm not sure people would really want the game more. Neither of us would have ever thought of ROB, and yet "ROBOT" was the CROWD FAVORITE by FAR in the GDC matches the CAs had. Everyone loved him! We as gamers are way too biased to make this decision easily.

2. The character must be unique.

The character must have identifying features and abilities that would make them different from existing characters, so that they add something to the game.

3. The character must fit into the style of Super Smash Bros.

The character obviously has to be able to fit into the framework of how smash works, obviously Pac-Man and L Block would not work. (My examples, not his.)

4. They must contribute to the game balance.

Everyone has to fit together. Every new character must counter some characters and be countered by others, and they must fit in one giant contiguous mesh.

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Thinkaman

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#6
sticky this thread, people need to read this.
also that is awesome, game developer playing with 3 pads, epic.
does anyone have a vid of this speech?
Heh, I honestly expected this to get an uncontrollable number of replies rapidly that would be a pain to sort through, but it seems that during my absence many have abandoned Brawl General completely now... >_>

And no video, Nintendo in fact did not even allow still photos. If I am lucky, I will be able to get a personal copy of the audio recording at a far later date if you want more detail from me, but obviously if it does ever exist that recording will be owned by the conference and I can't just give it to you. I mean, I do want to work there again...
 

TheZeroOne

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#7
Dang that was enlightening.


I didn't think Sakurai would spend so much time on a game. But I guess thats why the Smash Series is so good.

I would of loved to see Sakurai play one-handed on three controllers.
 

CO18

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#9
Wow, my attitude toward the game changed totally.
Sakurai is the man!
We should create a game for him! lol.

Anyway, thanks for posting this man. :)
 

MasterCheeze

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#13
I would like to see Sakurai participate in a match against some mega-pro after Brawl's been out for a bit.
 

CO18

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#14
I would like to see Sakurai participate in a match against some mega-pro after Brawl's been out for a bit.
I know right?

Sakurai should just start playing the game and just like own everyone.

Right this second. He should challenge Ken and like 4 stock him with Mewtwo and everyone is just sitting shocked like WTF?

I would literally pay 100$ just to see that happen.

Matter of fact, I would not buy brawl just to see that happen.
 
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#16
Be funny if he made an online account and started wave dashing

Us: you said you took that out?
God....Sakurai: Said alot of things didn't I
 

Thinkaman

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#17
Heh, keep in mind though, in Iwata Asks he said his skill in games on the whole has fallen a lot over the last few years, and presumably his reflexes and mindgames would be dull compared to the top players. He just has innate knowledge and probably had to get REALLY good with multiple controllers as a specific skill in order to easily test and balance everything himself.
 

Chrnocide

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#18
Interesting.. very interesting. Thanks for sharing this with us, and I can agree on almost all the aspects. People really need to realize how far this game has come, and have spoiled we've been with getting just Sonic and Snake.
 
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#19
Like you said at the end, and like Sakurai supposedly said. wont belive it till I see it.

Im speaking of the playing 3 chars at once, and the playing with one hand (What controller anyway?)

Most of the other stuff sounds legit.



I call for proof.
 

Thinkaman

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#20
He played three characters with both hands, nothing else. He just had all the controllers lined up in front of him. Battlefield, no items. (ZOMG SAKURAI DUZN'T PLAY WITH ITEMS OUR KING HATH SPOKETH!!! -_-)
 

thesage

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#22
All I hope is that Sakurai did not balance melee or decide the hitboxes for characters. How could anybody every think that Sheik and Zelda were balanced at all?

Edit: it's kinda mindblowing that he specifically decided when the hitboxes should start and stop. I have AR and I've seen the hitboxes for characters. It must be some pretty mind numbing stuff to program.
 
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#23
My Theory how he played 3 controller at a time. The left controller analogue would be controlled by his pinky finger and the button would be pressed with his index finger. The left thumb will control the middle controller analogue while the right thumb would do the button pressing. The right controller has the same scheme as the left controller
 
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#26
I'd seriously love to see Sakurai playing Brawl with three controllers. I can picture it, and if anyone could do it he could, but I just want to see it...

And thanks for posting this, it's a much better summary than I have seen on any major site so far.
 
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#27
very nice summary, its nice to hear an update from GDC.

awsome that he can play 3 characters at once, I should try (and horribly fail at) that some time.
 

Chrnocide

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#31
I know right?

Sakurai should just start playing the game and just like own everyone.

Right this second. He should challenge Ken and like 4 stock him with Mewtwo and everyone is just sitting shocked like WTF?

I would literally pay 100$ just to see that happen.

Matter of fact, I would not buy brawl just to see that happen.
I'd be pretty suprised myself if Sakurai 4stocked someone with an unexistant character >.>..
 

CrossX

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#32
Holy...3, fear the Sock-your-eye, because he will indeed. I am happy to hear that he made every single bit of this game, mechanics-wise. Now he can give us a blasted explanation as to what the tripping thing is all about.
 
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#34
I can see him working the controllers like that. Programmers work on games when they are still incomplete and I can see him testing them and so having to use the controllers like a keyboard, that is just great.

it also kinda makes sense that one person would have to do just the basic minimal balancing, otherwise how would there be any balance?

awesome, I will most likely buy his next game whatever it is. He has also gone on record to say that most of the team was from Game Arts and that Sora is really only two people, himself, and another guy. Who is that other person who is also a member of Sora?
 
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#36
Heh, I would love to see Sakurai controlling two characters going up against another dude trying desperately but probably failing at controlling two characters.

Also, Sakurai can 4 stock you in a 3 stock match. Fact.
 

Demontree

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#38
1. Sakurai is More Hardcore Than You

Playing one-handed is hard, playing with the right hand is even harder, and the hardest ask for two controllers.

Sakurai takes three.

I honestly don't think anyone else outside the other three decent smashers there even noticed or realized that during the live demo part, Sakurai was playing as Sonic, Snake, and Pit on Battlefield ALL BY HIMSELF. Some was slow, showing off one character at a time, but I was watching him before the speech doing much faster, crazier stuff with all three. He was playing the three GCN controllers (two silver, one black?) like a keyboard all lined up in a curve in front of him, it was wild.
This litteraly makes Sakurai look like a sort of god.
 

Seison

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#40
Thanks for sharing your experience with us. I've been quite curious as to what went on at the conference.

I've always had the utmost respect for Sakurai, but I guess i'm going to have to step it up to God-level respect. 3 controllers is insane. I remember trying out two just to see how hard it'd be, and if I recall, I could barely walk and jab with both at the same time lol.
 
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