Breaking down the Super Smash Bros. E3 2014 developer roundtable

One of the major titles headlining Nintendo's E3 lineup has been Super Smash Bros. on both 3DS and Wii U, with news unfolding about each game throughout the day. In-between the news came a memorable Super Smash Bros. Invitational that showed the series' newest characters in action. And the day ultimately culminated with a developer roundtable held by series director Masahiro Sakurai. Sakurai spoke at length about the company brawler and there was plenty of information to absorb from the 2+ hour presentation. After returning from the roundtable, these proved to be among the most important takeaways from the roundtable.

Pac-Man is the new Mr. Game & Watch

The roundtable kicked off with Sakurai revealing Pac-Man as the roster's latest addition. The idea was to honor four major pillars of gaming: Mario, Sonic, Mega Man, and Pac-Man. To demonstrate this, Sakurai offered a demonstration of the dot muncher's abilities against his fellow mascots. Pac-Man's attacks are purposely retro, with his Side special attack briefly transforming him into a vintage wedge-shaped Pac-Man, complete with old-school sound effects. His Up special focused on trampolining him back to safety. Sound familiar? Indeed, many of Pac's attacks appear to be inspired by Game & Watch's own arsenal, right down to the accompanying arcade-era beeps and blips. In fact, the end of the Pac-Man trailer sees Game & Watch angrily stepping forward to seemingly call out Pac-Man for stealing his schtick. Whether this is the 70s mascot's way of passing the baton or a hint that he'll eventually re-join the roster himself remains to be seen. But if Game & Watch does sit this fight out, his legacy will endure.

Fighter special moves can be customized

This represents a more radical change to the series. Up to now, the B Button represented a special move, with each direction performing a different one for up to four. Sakurai announced that this moveset would not only expand, but players would be able to select which skills they take into battle. Each fighter will have a total of 12 moves to choose from, selecting from three available ones for each direction. Sakurai demonstrated this idea with Mario, showing that users could select from a variety of fireball attacks. They could either select the traditional Fireball, a smaller and quicker Fireball, or a giant slow-moving Fire Orb. It should introduce a unique twist to mirror matches, with same characters using a different move set. And it should also explain how Mega Man is able to utilize so many Robot Master attacks. The only exception to this will be the newly-revealed Palutena and the Mii Fighters, who will have their own unique attack set.

Amiibo will work wonders for team matches

Sakurai explained some more about the recently-announced Amiibo system and how it will work on Super Smash Bros. on Wii U. Namely that it's a novel alternative to traditional CPU fighters. Amiibo figures that are scanned through the Wii U GamePad are instantly inserted into an empty character slot, alternatively labeled "FP" for "figure player." While the FP will begin life as an average CPU player, Sakurai notes that its AI will learn and adapt based on sessions that it has previously engaged in. For example, if the FP plays enough times against players that frequently shield block, the FP will eventually learn to utilize more throws. The FP character will also level up ("quickly" in Sakurai's words, though he didn't specify how quickly) to exceed a Level 9 CPU character's difficulty. In fact, FPs can level all the way up to 50. What this also means is that FP characters can be used for Team Battles whenever a friend is not available. So consider any of their sessions as friendly sparring before using your figure against opposing teams. As for another reason why Amiibo made its way to Smash Bros.? Sakurai pointed out that up to this point, there had been no merchandise for the popular fighting game series. Rather than release figurines or plushies, the idea surfaced to use something that could potentially enhance gameplay.

Mii Fighters let you create anyone, but only use them with friends

As demonstrated yesterday, it's all fun and games to create custom Mii Fighters. And beyond creating yourself, with all sorts of custom hats and outfits, the Mii Fighter creator will also let players create Miis of other characters. But while it's fun to create Abraham Lincoln or Nintendo of America head Reggie Fils-Aime, there's a potentially hazardous idea present of players making Miis based on real people and publicly beating them up online. So in order to prevent such bullying implications, Sakurai revealed that Mii Fighters would not be available in online matches, unless they're playing with friends. While the bullying angle is understandable, it is a bit of a bummer to not be able to use Mii Fighters in an online environment. A big part of that is because of how much work appears to have gone into creating each of the three different types of Mii Fighters.

We still don't know how stable online play will end up being

The lengthy Q&A portion of the roundtable ended with Sakurai being asked about the stability of online play. Whether the intent of the question was lost in translation or whether he was dodging the query, Sakurai trailed off for a good couple of minutes about Super Smash Bros. Brawl's online versatility and how much players could customize their fighting experience. Of course, that wasn't the question, but Sakurai did eventually attempt to address it by noting how much more work goes into the mayhem of a game like Smash Bros. Given all that goes on in a four-player session, the director notes that more work goes into getting it to run synchronously than goes into a game like Mario Kart or an average first-person shooter. While Sakurai vowed the team would do the best they could to ensure a stable experience, he didn't go so far as to offer a solution should player connections and synchronicity get all wonky again. Fortunately, the Wii U and 3DS hardware allow for swift software patches, so a solution to such an issue should hopefully arrive quickly for these new games once they arrive.