How the language barrier made Star Fox a good game

Star Fox originally started off as a first-person 3D flight game called Starglider. But the "language barrier" helped Nintendo and Dylan Cuthbert discover the game's true identity.

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Before Dylan Cuthbert made a name for himself with his PixelJunk games, he helped create a Nintendo franchise: Star Fox. But, the SNES shooter had quite the troubled development. And at GDC last week, Cuthbert revealed that if it weren't because of the language barrier, Star Fox could have been a terrible game.

Star Fox originally started off as a first-person 3D flight game called Starglider. While it was technologically impressive, Shigeru Miyamoto thought that it wasn't a "Nintendo quality" game. He recommended taking away many key elements of Starglider's original design, namely 3D flight and the first-person perspective.

Cuthbert was hesitant to follow those suggestions, but "because of the language barrier" between Cuthbert's English-speaking team and Nintendo's Japanese team, he couldn't object. The end result, he realized, was something that made the game much better.

For example, moving from full 3D flight to on-rails 2D flight helped make the game more fun and allowed for "more refined, tuned controls." The move also "helped us find the barrel roll," one of the most iconic moves of the franchise. It also allowed the team to create more fun boss battles. Another happy side-effect of removing full 3D flight was a faster framerate.

Starglider was originally a first-person game, but the move to third-person allowed easier maneuvering between buildings, and allowed the game to easily show off wing damage. It also made the iconic barrel roll "visible and intuitive," Cuthbert pointed out.

The main takeaway from Star Fox's development is that "nothing must go into a game, not even if they are good ideas." Cuthbert says that it's good to "build ideas then destroy them," because you may "discover better ones hiding in the shadows."

That lesson was taken to heart in PixelJunk Monsters, he said. In one of the earliest versions of that game, players were able to melee enemies directly. However, that "took focus away from the core element," which was making the game more "passive." PixelJunk Shooter also originally featured a standard HP system. But by taking that feature away, it led to the unique overheating mechanics that made their shooter so unique and compelling.

From The Chatty

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    April 5, 2013 5:00 PM

    Andrew Yoon posted a new article, How the language barrier made Star Fox a good game.

    Star Fox originally started off as a first-person 3D flight game called Starglider. But the "language barrier" helped Nintendo and Dylan Cuthbert discover the game's true identity.

    • reply
      April 5, 2013 7:12 PM

      I'm kind of lost on how this was a "lost in translation" scenario. It really seems more like, follow the suggestions from the guy who understands how to make a game fun.

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        April 5, 2013 10:42 PM

        This is pretty much how I interpreted it as well.

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        April 6, 2013 7:45 AM

        They said it was due to a "language barrier"

        Meaning: if they had a clue how to convey things in Japanese they might have been able to voice their objections. The result might have been a watered-down version of the game that was a compromise between the two camps. Since they couldn't, they just went with their marching orders.

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      April 5, 2013 8:18 PM

      "Another happy side-effect of removing full 3D flight was a faster framerate"

      Ummm, doesn't Starfox run at about 15-20 FPS? I would hate to see the prototype they were working on.

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        April 6, 2013 12:38 AM

        That game on a console (at the time) was impressive regardless of the frame rate.

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      April 7, 2013 11:50 AM

      Star Fox was a good game?

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      April 7, 2013 11:51 AM

      Fun fact about Dylan: He's actually Miyamoto's son-in-law.