Starfox enjoys a great history with Nintendo fans. Part of its legacy comes from not only the inherent fun of the game, but its place as a title that pushes the technology of the Nintendo hardware of the time. In the Star Fox 64 3D edition of "Iwata Asks" senior members of the design team discuss what went into the newest (re)entry in the series, and reminisce about the earlier versions.
The interview reveals that the very origins of Star Fox lie in a design adapted to its technology. After working on Pilotwings and F-Zero, Miyamoto wanted to move to working in 3D with polygon objects, but Super Famicon System simply wasn't designed for it. Around that time, he saw a demo created by a young Dylan Cuthbert (now founder of Q-Games) of a 3D game running on the Game Boy. The two wound up talking about creating a chip together (this would be the SuperFX chip added to a few Super Famicon cartridges to do 3D graphics) and, "that's how Star Fox began," says Miyamoto.
Star Fox 64 would be the next in the line, but it grew out of development plans for a Star Fox 2 on the Super Famicon that never saw the light of day. Miyamoto set recreating space combat on a grand scale for the game, including elements of strategic play. He goes on to describe it, "We had quite a script for Star Fox 2 and had it running, with robots morphing and running, and attempted an all-range mode in which you could fly a full 360 degrees."
This ambitious plan called for even more hardware, and indeed, a second Super FX Chip was on the drawing board, boasting twice the memory of its predecessor. But time caught up with the development of Star Fox 2 and Miyamoto recounts, "other companies' game consoles were using polygons all over the place, so we didn't think we could catch up even if we stuck this expensive chip in the cartridge, so we rethought it." That rethinking led to Star Fox 64, and with the move to the more powerful Nintendo 64 system, Miyamoto thought, "Ah, now we can make it like a science fiction movie."
Flash forward to 2011 and Nintendo holds literally in its hands a new technological advancement, the 3DS. Miyamoto wanted to make another standout Star Fox game to take advantage of the system, but knew development would take something like three years. They wanted something sooner than that for the new hardware and so reached out to Cuthbert to see how he would feel about recreating Star Fox 64.
Of the general approach to the project, Cuthbert says, "The idea was to faithfully recreate the contents of Star Fox 64. I did, therefore, concentrate on improving the graphics, so I made thorough use of normal mapping." For those of us not acquainted with rendering techniques, normal mapping is the process that lets 3D objects appear to have natural surface irregularities as opposed to computer-perfect flat sides."
It was Miyamoto who reminded the developer that the other innovation of the 3DS, its gyro sensor, ought to be featured in the game as well. Nintendo's Yusuke Amano, who coordinated work on the game, relates that about a month before completion Miyamoto asked, "Aren't you going to use the gyro sensor?" Cuthbert, Amano, and two programmers holed up for a couple days and adapted the game to use the sensor. Their efforts turned out better than Miyamoto had envisioned, complete with a combination control that lets the player use the gyro control, but switches to the circle pad control as soon as it's used.
Fans of the series will find other little details about the evolution of the series in the full six-page interview. Star Fox 64 3D debuted in Japan this past month and releases in North America on September 9.