GDC 2013: How Starglider 2 became StarFox

Dylan Cuthbert believed that Shigeru Miyamoto’s input on the game which became StarFox was “removing what was cool” about his original concept.

As part of his session at GDC 2013’s Indie Games Summit, the Q-Games founder discussed the experience of working at Nintendo with Miyamoto on StarFox.

“We were very cocky British programmers, thrown into this Japanese environment,” Cuthbert explained. “We were in awe and in shock at the same time about their process, as we went in intending to make a full 3D shooting game inspired by Starglider 2. But in the process I learned from Miyamoto that ‘No idea must go into a game, even if they are good ideas.’”

“This was very confusing for us, because at the time British games were full of good ideas,” he continued. ”We were at the forefront of 3D, even with isometric games back in ’83, but what we did in Britain was just stuff all these ideas in and then sell it. It’d sell, but people would find, like, half a game. Most of the games I bought in the 80s I would never finish.”

“So Starglider 2 was initially what we were trying to make: a 3D roaming game. For our first months of working with Nintendo, Miyamoto would add ideas, and then remove them. And it felt like we weren’t really getting anywhere.”

Cuthbert described however that after a Christmas break, Miyamoto returned to the team with a “big grin” claiming to have solved their problems. “He said, ‘we’re going to limit it. It’s going to be on rails, and it’s going to be fun and playable and a Nintendo game.’”

Although Cuthbert said the team were able to “grin and bear it” due to the language barrier, “if we had been in Britain we would have been like ‘no, screw that.’”

This change, however, showed Cuthbert that “you can build ideas and then, by destroying them, find other ideas hiding in the shadows.” Cuthbert and his team then concentrated on defining what was fun about the concept during a tight timescale, with on-rails flight allowing more time to fine-tune the controls and include the famous ‘barrel-roll’ manoeuvre.

“In our Starglider concept, you couldn’t really see lasers coming from behind you and it could be very hard to find where the enemies were in 3D space. It was a very difficult process for the player,” explained Cuthbert. “[the change] allowed us to make much better boss battles; you were always flying forward and you could always see the boss.”

Indeed, the change from first-person to third-person was seen as just as striking to Cuthbert and his team at the time.

“At the time all British 3D games were first-person to be more immersive, but the change allowed us to make it fun to manoeuvre between buildings, and allowed the barrel roll to be visible and intuitive.”

“With Starglider, the 3D roaming feature was such a big thing in our mind as British programmers we never considered other ways to do it,” he concluded. “It was Miyamoto and Nintendo who came up with these ideas because they didn’t have this background in 3D development.”

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