Thanks to a recent interview on Reece Reilly Kiwi Talkz Podcast, today has brought up some pretty cool details around Retro Studios and Nintendo. We have told the funny story of how the blowing mechanic was added to Donkey Kong Country Returns, and some interesting facts about the development of Metroid Prime trilogy. These nuggets were gifted by Mike Wikan, who used to work at the studio and played a key role in several major projects.
Another interesting segment, for us, was a discussion about crunch at Retro Studios. It’s a major issue in the industry, of course, and it’s also no secret that extended hours and unreasonable working conditions have been a major issue at various companies.
Wikan notably closes the stories that Nintendo imposed unreasonable deadlines on the studio for Metroid Prime 2: Echoesand highlighted how the company intervened when it realized there was a serious problem after completing the first game. The decision to go ahead with the Echoes in its final form was a change of mind for the parent company, although the ‘light and dark’ mechanics allowed the team to work smart and use rooms twice, for example.
After Metroid Prime 1 we rarely crunched, we had a leadership change between 1 and 2 …
We had some crisis (in 2) but it wasn’t the nine-month death march we had at the end of Prime 1. That was the worst.
I had two moments where I was there 48 hours in a row with an hour of sleep, and then a couple of 36 hour days, for the last nine months we were there practically 24 hours a day, 7 days a week …
By the end of that time, everyone was ready to quit, we were like “we’re done.” He had two job offers from two different companies, and to his credit, Nintendo realized what was going on and took over the company, bought it. They put Michael Kelbaugh in charge. It’s a sweetheart, very good, he was the head of the quality control department at Nintendo. He said “guys, give me a few weeks to turn it around. And it did.”
… He restored faith in leadership and in the company. I loved working for Nintendo.
Michael Kelbaugh remains President and CEO of Retro Studios and had worked at Nintendo for more than 14 years at the time of his appointment. Later in the interview, Wikan briefly mentioned his plans to play. Metroid Prime 4, the long-overdue project that was initially being done elsewhere before Nintendo reversed course and handed it over to Retro Studios. He is confident that the current team will deliver.
And Metroid 4 will be great. A lot of the central designers on the team are guys who were there when I was there. They understand, they understand what a Metroid game is.
Nintendo has been known to delay some projects to avoid overworking teams, citing the need to take care of its employees when it originally delayed them. Animal Crossing: New Horizons, as an example. Metroid Prime 4, of course, doesn’t have a significant release window at the moment, so it’s clearly being given a lot of time to restart the project.
Let us know what you think of the Wikan comments and if you are still full of bubbly optimism for Metroid Prime 4.