The Rise and Fall of Retro Studios

What do you think Retro is working on? I wonder if we’ll see their secret project at E3 this year!

Those are the kinds of things you commonly hear about this time of year. The Electronic Entertainment Expo looms ahead, hype rises, and with it come the skyrocketing hopes and expectations of Nintendo fans around the globe.

I’d prefer to burst your bubble now, rather than wait until the press conferences and live streams have died down and another convention happens without a miraculous reveal from the Austin, TX based developers.

Retro Studios isn’t special anymore.

It’s been years since the 2nd party put anything truly meaningful out onto the market. Yes, the trilogy of Metroid Prime games was epic. But since? They helped on some courses for Mario Kart 7. And they’ve made a pair of Donkey Kong platformers.

I’m not here to besmirch the latest Donkey Kong Country games, but you’ve got to admit—they’re a tame affair compared to the hype that surrounded the Metroid series’ simultaneous revival and leap into the third dimension.

Platformers are run-of-the-mill Nintendo fodder. What with the New Super Mario Bros. series, Kirby games, and other shoe-horned franchises like Chibi-Robo and Pikmin, we’re not hurting for 2D side-scrollers by any means. Yet, this is what Nintendo charges their once-lauded team of USA developers with.

Haven’t you grown tired of asking (year after year) what Retro is up to? Crossing your fingers, hoping the time will finally come for the reveal that will blow the wrist straps right off your Joy-Con?

Sorry. It’s in the past. The era has ended.

Designer Mark Pacini left Retro in 2008.
Art director Todd Keller departed in the same year.
Principal technology engineer Jack Mathews went with them.

They formed Armature Studios and created an Arkham game. Coincidentally, have you heard that series has Metroid Prime-like progression?

More recently, senior designer Kynan Pearson exited the company to join 343 Industries, where other former-Retro personnel joined the development of Halo 4.
Senior designer Mike Wikan quit Retro and was hired at id Software.

Kensuke Tanabe, Producer of the Metroid Prime trilogy and modern Donkey Kong Country games, lost touch with the studio and is now acting as Producer for Metroid Prime 4, a title being developed outside of Retro Studios.

Why do you think Nintendo turned to another developer for Prime 4?
It’s because Retro is not what it used to be. You might have an image in your mind’s eye of all the people who made Prime 1-3, huddled around their desks, secretively working away at the Next Big Thing.

Sadly, that’s not reality. There’s been so much turnover in the decade between today and Samus’ last title on Wii. Those developers are spread out across the industry, making games for other consoles.

If you enjoy being disappointed, keep holding out hope for Reggie to say “before we let you go, we’ve got one more trailer to show you that we think you will really enjoy!”

But if you’d rather not board the emotional rollercoaster, learn to be content with two simple things: Karts and Kongs.

Dear Good Game Developers

I know that what you do is an art form. You strive hour after hour to perfect your masterpiece. You build hype the best you can in order that as many people as possible will enjoy your work. You are a craftsperson, you are a businessperson. You are an artist. You are good at what you do.

Dear video game developer…

Stop it. Stop it, please.

I despise your talent. I hate it because you are too good at what you do. Because you pour your blood sweat and tears into your Sistine Chapel of a game, I never want to stop playing. And it’s not just one of you, it is so many talented individuals who create endless grand adventures. I cannot be separated from your works. My only hope to play all of these amazing games is for you all to quit now. I implore you; have mercy.

Now, to those of you who make bad games, on the other hand, please, I beg of you, never stop. In the spirit of Two Button Crew, your terrible games bring me most profound joy. They bring me a laugh, or, at the very least, a scowl of confusion. Your immediate stench alerts me to the fact that I have encountered the extent of what you have to offer me in the first five minutes. You bring me smiles. You bring me tears. You make me want to pull my hair out because of your painfully obvious design flaws. Most importantly, you give me no incentive to come back for more, so that I can move on to the next piece of garbage. Our love is a passionate, though brief, one.

Oh, the pains of pleasure! To hate to love, or to love to hate? Why must this mortal frame force me to choose betwixt the two? For to do both would throw me into a deep valley and leech my time to naught.

In all sincerity (or, maybe not),


It’s True: Games ARE Made by Humans Scott’s Thoughts

Something especially cool happened at E3 2017. If you only watched Nintendo’s press conference, you missed it.
Shigeru Miyamoto came out on stage and promoted Mario + Rabbids. But even Miyamoto-san wasn’t the star of that show; Davide Soliani stole the spotlight.

Davide was the lead on developing Mario’s crossover with the Raving Rabbids. As you’ll remember, his passion project got leaked onto the internet and was met with a collective “huh?” from gamers.

It was a demoralizing period for his team, having poured months and months into crafting the perfect crossover that no one knew they wanted. The premature announcement was met with uncertainty.

The team pressed onward, through the disappointing turn of events, and made it to E3 where Kingdom Battle had its proper announcement and another shot at recognition. Nintendo lent Miyamoto for Ubisoft’s stage, as well as dedicated a slot of time in their Treehouse stream to showcase the game.

Sentiment around the game started to turn, but nothing so critical happened as when the camera at Ubisoft’s press conference focused in on Davide.

The developer had given Miyamoto the honor of introducing his game on stage, but Miyamoto turned the praise back to Davide and the crowd got to watch his reaction as tears streamed down his face.

The French game designer was overcome with emotion as his sweat equity had finally culminated in a finished product. But most every developer experiences that sensation. Davide also had the unique opportunity of getting to work with an industry idol, and partner with Nintendo on their own property. To see Miyamoto himself introduce a game that he had conceptualized brought him to tears.

“Don’t cry Ubisoft man” became a meme, a tee-shirt, and a rallying cry for those who wanted to show their support for Ubisoft’s crazy mash-up and the people responsible for creating it.

Sometimes, gamers just need a small reminder that humans create the software. Behind every work is a team of individuals with families, needs, and dreams.

For Davide’s sake, and those like him, measure your tone carefully when offering criticism online. The status quo is harsh, and it takes more effort to be constructive. Go the extra mile.

Are Monthly Switch Releases Sustainable? Scott’s Thoughts

Since Nintendo launched Switch in March, they’ve quickly built out the library with solid 1st party hits.

Select 3rd parties, and a swath of independent developers, have also been instrumental in filling out the gaps.

From Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild to Super Mario Odyssey, one can’t help but be impressed with how this hardware’s first year has been supported by stellar software.

For the first time in many years, consumers are actually starting to say “there are just too many good games. I wish they would delay some of these.”

Who can possibly manage to play Odyssey, Skyrim, and Xenoblade all back-to-back?

What’s more,  how will Nintendo maintain this breakneck development pace?

Here’s the important factor to keep in mind: Switch has a team of software designers about twice the size that Wii U had. Where did all these extra developers come from?
Well, Nintendo merged the 3DS and Wii U departments together shortly after R&D on Switch began, bringing home and portable development under one roof.

3DS is seeing it’s last days as more and more resources are allocated to developing new experiences on Nintendo’s hybrid console. And they’re selling like crazy.

I expect the manic pace to continue for the foreseeable future. It won’t be a gigantic new title like Super Mario Odyssey dropping each month, but I could see twelve releases spread over a year like so:

  • 2 Wii U/ ports (think: Smash Bros.)
  • 1 HD remake (think: Kid Icarus Uprising)
  • 1 Kirby
  • 1 Yoshi
  • 2 big franchise sequels (Mario, Metroid, Zelda, Donkey Kong, Splatoon, etc.)
  • 1 new IP (a la ARMS)
  • 1 partnership with a 3rd party (like Rabbids)
  • 1 collection (BoxBoy would work well)
  • 1 party game (people must be getting tired of 1-2-Switch, right?)
  • 1 crazy announcement no one could ever predict

And that’s twelve games right there. As you can see, it’s totally doable for the Big N to publish something every 4-5 weeks.
The only question remains: can our wallets and schedules keep up with the runaway hype-train?