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One thing stood out to me while I was attending the Nintendo Media Summit this past week: Metroid: Other M sure has a lot of talky talky. That isn't so much a problem for a video game — it's just a little unusual for a classic Nintendo franchise, especially one that used to star a silent protagonist.
But yes, you'll hear a lot of talking in Other M, which is due out June 27 for the Wii. Samus Aran talking to other characters. Other characters talking to each other. Samus talking in her head. Talking everywhere. It's all a part of the developer's goal to humanize this robotic personality.
We sat down with Nintendo of America's localization producer Nate Bihldorff to learn more about this more realistic Samus, why they wouldn't give the same treatment to Link or Mario, and whether we'll see our star in a wii bikini. (You do know who's developing this game, don't you?)
Bitmob: Why Samus? Relatively few Nintendo characters are made to be "real." You don't hear Link talking about Ganondorf or Mario wondering what Bowser is up to…yet you hear Samus talking about the Mother Brain, Ridley….
Nate Bihldorff: I don't think it's a matter of the folks at NCL [Nintendo Co., Ltd., the Japanese headquarters] going into a room, looking at a dartboard of all their major properties and saying, "That one! That's the one we're going to grow!"
It's more that there's always been in [Super Metroid director Yoshio] Sakamoto-san's head a big story and a big background for Samus. You can take a look at some of the manga, which isn't necessarily related to the games, but there's clearly more story to Samus than has ever been shown in the games.
I think it's very appropriate in this case. I think Samus, more than anyone else, is someone whose story we've always wondered about, whereas, for various reasons, you don't really wonder about Mario's past all that much. And with Link, there have been so many Links over the years, you can get lost looking at all those.
Samus has been the same for years — and sort of the same behind the wall for all those years. You haven't really gotten a chance to get a glimpse of what her backstory is. Everyone knows she was orphaned as a child, but we don't really know all that much about her other than her parents were killed by space pirates.
There's clearly a lot of motivation to her character that's been the same throughout the series. But it's never been something that's been explored in-depth because it wasn't something that really advanced the gameplay. And now that it can actually be explored, it's great — it's nice to get that view into her world. It doesn't seem disjointed at all. I like hearing her talk.
Bitmob: How is the team going about building Samus' background and relationships with all these other characters?
NB: The beauty of it is, most of it has been laid out long before this game, especially in Sakamoto-san's head. Clearly the foundation here bridges all the games that came before it — the story of the big Metroid hatching in Metroid 2, and that continued into the story in Super Metroid where it gives its life to Samus….
This game starts with a flashback to that scene, which is clearly a really important moment in Samus' life. The fact that this baby died for her and she'll never see it again — from the opening cinematic, you see that this weighs heavy on her heart.
You also saw that, with these soldiers, she has a history with all of them from her time in the Galactic Federation, under the command of [Commanding Officer Adam] Malkovich — who, if you remember from Metroid Fusion, is the guy who was uploaded into the computer.
The backstory between her and Adam was probably written — or at least roughed out in Sakamoto-san's head — around when Fusion came out. That game only touched on their history, but you actually got a lot of meaty story out of those cutscenes. You only got hints, but you got the sense that, a.) They were close and had a unique relationship, and b.) Something dramatic happened and there was some fiction there.
There clearly was a lot of backstory there that was laid out in the creator's head that was only touched upon in Fusion. A lot of those things are really being drawn together for Other M.
And of course with the medium of storytelling that we can do with the Wii, being able to delve into it with full voice acting and cinemas, I think we're just finally seeing all the threads come together for the first cinematic Metroid.
Bitmob: Why don't you take this humanizing of Samus even further? From what we've played so far, she's still pretty stoic and introverted. It's not like players can really make a connection with her. Is this intentional? Maybe just baby steps in terms of developing her character?
NB: Well, I would hold off judgment on that until you've played the whole game because it's an interesting mix. You have the monologue sections and then the real-time sections where she's actually interacting with people, like with the [Federation] soldiers on the ship.
I think the monologue sections show the Samus that we all know, which is this sort of very reserved, totally cool, not-ruffled-by-anything Samus. This comes through in her voice, which is very matter of fact, "here's what happened"…not necessarily emotion.
Once you get into the meat of the game and see some of the scenes play out, you'll see that type of monologue is only part of the story.
Bitmob: Do you think players will have that connection with Samus by the end of the game?
NB: Oh, absolutely. The developers have done a great job with this story, and there are a lot of things that will come at you unexpectedly. You will see Samus like you've never seen her before, and it will show a lot of depth to her character.
Bitmob: Was it difficult figuring out who should voice Samus?
NB: It was tough, certainly…but no tougher than with any of our other properties. We went through the same casting procedures like we usually do. We had a ton of auditions….
Bitmob: I mean, is there more pressure on you guys because this is a traditionally mute character?
NB: I think so. The beauty of it is, we listened to the auditions then sent them over to Sakamoto-san, who's "daddy" [laughs]. He's the father of the character. We let him listen to the voices and let him sync it up with what whatever voice he was hearing in his head for Samus.
Bitmob: Does he hear the original Samus in English in his head, then?
NB: For him it's more about the timbre in the voice and the way it sounds. Of course, we can say, "OK, this inflection sounds great" — stuff that's more particular to the English voice that he may not pick up on. But what he's really listening for is something else. It's the quality of the voice…the method of delivery that matches what he hears when he's in Samus' head.
Having him run that process lets us sleep easy at night. We want to bring his vision to life, you know? Localizing the game is all about that — all about bringing their vision over here and making sure it's true to how he sees it. Hopefully we've accomplished that.
Bitmob: Who is the voice actress? Someone we should know?
NB: I don't think she's worked in video games before. Her name is Jessica Martin. She's done a lot of dramatic work…a lot of stage work. She's a local actress up in Seattle. She did an amazing job and was great in the studio.
After the game launches, we may make her available to you [media], but I don't think we're allowing any contact before that, just because we don't want her dropping plot points….
Bitmob: Yeah, sometimes those actors don't know what they can or can't say, which is good for us.
NB: [Laughs] Yeah, we talked to her about it, but obviously, we don't want her to give up any choice bits of info about any lines that she's recorded.
But she was amazing. It's been a very long recording project — we've been doing this for over a year. I mean, in bits and pieces — I don't mean recording for a year straight. That'd be the longest game of all time. [Laughs]
Like I said, she didn't have any video game experience, so it wasn't like she was coming in, hanging her coat up on a hook, and banging out the lines. It was something new for her, and she was great.
Bitmob: So I gotta ask: You have Team Ninja [Dead or Alive] developing the game. And we've seen Samus in a bikini or her underwear before. And those guys love their girls in bikinis. Did that ever come up in any meetings or discussions? That they're going to have to put Samus in a bikini for Other M?
NB: [Laughs] You'll have to get that answer from Team Ninja and Mr. Sakamoto, because that was all happening in the clouds above our heads. By the time the localization work started, all those decisions have been made. It wasn't exactly something I put in my first email to the team: "Hey, are you guys doing anything with bikinis?" [Laughs]
Without giving anything away, you're not going to see beach volleyball in the middle of this Metroid game. I don't that'd be a surprise to anyone. But nothing that we've seen has raised any alarm bells for us. We trust that Team Ninja and Mr. Sakamoto will find a happy medium between classic Metroid gameplay and a little sexiness.
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