How Metroid was created

How Metroid was created

Metroid, released in 1986, piqued the interest of gamers even at the time of its announcement. A truly revolutionary game of the action-adventure genre overturned the idea of ​​arcade games and set the trend for many years. The game is full of non-standard solutions and daring moves, and its motives are inspired by the legendary “Alien” by Ridley Scott. In general, it was not for nothing that it was remembered for a long time by lovers of the genre, but also by a huge number of people completely far from this topic.

At one time, Metroid was one of the best games released on Nintendo consoles, but don’t think that its glory days are over. Modern continuations of the series receive high reviews from critics and are equally loved by players.

The whole world reacted strongly to the release of the game. In the English-speaking world and Japan, Metroid is a cult game, on a par with Zelda and the infamous Mario. However, this series is almost unknown to our culture. Mainly because we didn’t have any pirated Metroid cartridges. And while the whole world, choked, discussed various myths, legends and secrets of the game, we did not even hear about it.

The game was released in Japan and was originally called “Space Hunter”, and interestingly, a little later that year a game with the same name was released, exclusively for the same country. The theme and gameplay were suspiciously reminiscent of “Metroid”, but the game itself looked more like a cheap product.

It was produced by the famous Gunpei Yokoi, the creator of Wario and Yoshi, and far from being the last person in Nintendo and video game history. The composer was the not so famous but talented Hirokazu Tanaka (Hip), the author of many Nintendo soundtracks. One of the game designers turned out to be Yoshio Sakamoto, who at that time was drawing pixel art for Donkey Kong. In one of his interactions with Gunpei, he heard that “if he can draw pixel art, he can invent a game.”

During development, Nintendo was already famous for its “Legend of Zelda” and “Metroid” became its ideological heir. The developers continued to push the idea that the player needs to find key items in order to progress through the story. It was this company that went from temporary “power-ups” to permanent improvements, which affected the gaming industry.

In general, it is difficult not to notice the consequences of this “release”. Arcade games stopped being so casual, because the threshold of entry to “Metroid” was surprisingly high. The game provided considerable complexity and even now is able to pleasantly surprise. The game can also be called the forefather of the “metro-show” genre named after it. All games of this direction differ in complexity and exciting gameplay with various new mechanics.

It is also worth noting that the management turned out to be quite convenient. It even became somewhat “familiar” for players of the series. Borrowing heavily from arcades, the “two-button crossword” remained with Metroid for many years, even after the transition to the Wii. Sakamoto himself spoke about this decision: “Even in the world of Metroid, built in 3D style, players feel more “related” to Samus, controlling her with a crosshair than with a stick.”

Is it necessary to say that the decision was not very successful? The crosshair was not designed for convenient movement in three-dimensional space, as it was not designed for diagonal movement. And that’s what Sakamoto understood: One Wii controller really didn’t have enough buttons. There were various problems, for example, with the introduction of “special” actions, which would have been solved by another controller. But despite this, we understood that we would never resort to the Nunchaku.”

It is difficult to forget about the unexpected twist that most players of that time did not see. For completing the game in less than 5 hours, the award revealed that Samus Aran, the protagonist of the series, is not a man at all, but a fair-haired woman. This struck a chord with players of the time who were used to male protagonists. There was also a bit of fan service here, the faster players saw a girl in a swimsuit, and even faster – in a bikini.

But the revolution was both gameplay and story, but also technological. Metroid is one of the first games with a password system. This is a kind of preservation that Western players did not like. In its original form, it was generally equipped with a system of full-fledged saves, but the NES consoles could not support this, so the game had to be slightly redesigned. By the way, about passwords – they were generated by a special mechanism, which sometimes produced interesting combinations. For example, when entering the password “JUSTIN BAILEY”, the main character appeared in a leotard, as from the password “000000-000020-000000-000020”.

What is interesting – the game had a kind of NG+, when all the items collected during the previous passage remained with the player. This made it possible to speed up the passage in many ways, and therefore it is almost impossible to complete the game the first time in less than an hour.

Why were the players so surprised by a woman in the form of the main character? The answer is quite simple – there was almost no such thing then. In addition, the official guide to the game (which is VERY difficult to complete without) always referred to the protagonist as “he”, and the lore states that no one has ever seen Samus without a costume.

Touching on the idea of ​​inspiration for “Strangers”, many points can be noted. The just-announced “twist” was already used in the film, which starred Ellen Ripley, who confronts alien mutants. And here there is a similarity both in the atmosphere and in the idea of ​​the opponents themselves. One of the Metroid minibosses is even named after Ridley. And the oppressive atmosphere of endless corridors with vile organic opponents and “living” environment naturally sends us to Scott’s iconic project. And the icing on the cake is Sakamoto’s words that “Alien” had a huge influence.

The moment of emergence of the idea of ​​a female protagonist is described by the developers as “spontaneous”. According to them, someone simply said, “Look, it would be cool if the person inside the suit turned out to be a woman, wouldn’t it?” (orig. “Hey, wouldn’t it be cool if it turned out that this person inside the suit was a woman?”).

The music also kept up with the gameplay and tried to match it. About it, Hip Tanaka said that he “wanted to create a match that would make the player see the game as a ‘living organism’ without distinguishing between music and sound effects”. Turning to other games of the same time, one can note some imitation of melodies in them. At the same time, Hirokazu made the tracks the most minimalistic, allowing the only time to feel the triumph after defeating the main boss.

Critics praised the team’s efforts with high scores. At one time, it was ranked 6th and 7th in various charts by Game Informer, which stated that the game “launched the concept of open exploration in video games”. GameTrailers gave “Metroid” high praise in a retrospective review, noting its large impact on the gaming industry. “A unique spirit and atmosphere that lead the player to a state close to claustrophobia,” is a bright description of the series from the same publication. The ending was called “a plot twist that few expected.”

Gamasutra honestly admitted that Metroid didn’t introduce open world, platforming, map exploration, or secret locations to the industry. However, in their opinion, the game may have been the first to “take these disparate elements and unmistakably merge them into a game control structure.” The influence of the game on the series of games Castlevania, Street Fighter, Tom Raider is also noted.

But the legendary series became much later. During development, “Metroid” encountered many problems, starting from the release date and ending with the attitude of Nintendo itself.

Let’s start with the internal struggle in the company. The brothers Mario and Donkey Kong made a real splash around the world and inside the development headquarters. Gunpei Yokoi wanted to prove that his studio was capable of showing a higher level. However, the studio did not want to become similar to “Mario”, so a decision was made to change the game design vector – from a friendly and flowery atmosphere to a gloomy, dark and depressing one. Sakamoto himself remarked in this regard that “I would call Metroid-style games ‘serious’, and Mario-type games ‘comic’.”

One of the indicators of “uniqueness” at that time was the non-linearity of the plot. With this, Ekoi wanted to distinguish his game, sharing with Zelda the title of “pioneer” among adventure games.

However, it was not enough. It was already impossible to overtake “Mario” in sales, despite modern technological solutions. For a long time, the game remained exclusive to FDS, which further hampered its distribution. Only a year later, the first 128 KB cartridges with the adventures of Samus appeared, but this did not help to surprise the audience, and then the series was forgotten for many years.

Then the advancement of the game was hindered by its setting. Nintendo did not want to associate itself with gloomy corridors full of vile monsters, and therefore did not particularly advertise the development of games in the series. There were also few spin-offs, and “Metroid” was always left aside at the presentations.

With the release of the Nintendo 64, there was no decent developer to bring the game into 3D and the series was once again on the wane. In general, there are enough such “flights” in the series. Various projects such as “Metroid Dread” (the development period of which was a considerable 15-plus years), the cartoon series from Dic Entertainment or Metroid from Intelligent Systems on the Wii.

Of course, the spread of the game was hindered by its excessive complexity. “Metroid” has always been niche, but at the time of its release it was overwhelming for many. Compared to other Nintendo projects, she did not spare the player, but this played into her hand. But other categories of players like the game for such difficulties.
At one time, speeders bypassed the original game. And this is not surprising, because their history began only in the nineties. However, as soon as people discovered this exciting activity – “Metroid” did not stay away.

“Metroid” 1986 and 1991 turned out to be one of the “basic” games for speedran, which is also very logical. The built-in system of “incentives” stimulated interest, and the high complexity of the series allowed you to sharpen your gaming skills more and more.

It is impossible not to note the influence of various bugs and tricks in “Metroid” on speedrunners. This is one of the first games in which major glitches allowed you to skip entire sections and walk through walls. The first recorded speed run lasted 22 minutes and 19 seconds and was so careful and not perfect that soon the record was repeatedly broken.

Regarding the release date. Sakamoto recalls how at the time of his arrival at the company, the game did not exist at all, it was given to “two new guys”, and Yoshio was sent to work on “Wrecking Crew”. But when he returned, there was only “a character with incredible abilities who shoots in the space of the space theme” and there was simply no time to “invent” new technical capabilities. So Sakamoto simply decided, “with all these abilities, how do we make things better?” And that’s how the game became what it is.

But, fortunately, the game, in the words of the developers themselves, “wasn’t as bad as it could have been”, and since then it has been firmly established in the Nintendo lineup for a long time, impressing players with its atmosphere and interesting gameplay.

The developers fondly remember the creation of the game, the atmosphere in the team and the relationship between the various “parts” of the development. Gunpei Yokoi was someone who “really pushed for new and creative ideas.” According to Sakamoto, he told game designers that “all you have to do is come up with great ideas and bring them to us. I don’t want to force you to learn all this “technical crap”.

Many players also love and remember the first Metroid, not forgetting to praise the new games in the series. However, I can only partially share their love. I don’t like the modern parts, but the retro games will always remain in my heart.

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