Early Pikmin concepts included creatures powered by AI chips and "Yoshi-like" blobs

An in-depth interview conducted by Nintendo has shed light on how the franchise was born.

Nintendo has shared an extensive behind-the-scenes look at how the Pikmin franchise was born as part of its ongoing 'Ask the Developer' interview series.

With the launch of Pikmin 4 on the horizon, franchise veterans Shigeru Miyamoto, Yuki Kando, Shigefumi Hino, Masamichi Abe, and Junju Morii sat down to discuss how they shaped the original game.

The group recalls how the title began life as an eclectic medley of ideas that felt somewhat incoherent. For instance, Abe explains how the project "wasn't initially an action game" and shunned many of the naturalistic elements that Pikmin has become known for.

From a "Yoshi-like" blob to the leaf-toting critters we know and love

At that early stage, the idea was to let players control a lot of characters (which remains a core part of the Pikmin experience), but Hino explains "the game we had in mind included creatures with AI chips in their heads" rather than the plant-like creatures that have become so recognizable today.

Hino adds that players would control those AI-driven creatures by swapping out the chips in their head, inserting "thought chips" such as "combat," "heal," or "help friends" to dish out commands.

"As they explored the map and gained more experience, their chip capacity would increase. In other words, they'd become smarter," continues Hino. "At the same time, we added personalities such as grumpy and cowardly via 'emotion chips,' and depending on which emotion chip the character had, the response, such as 'attack' or 'defend,' would change. And so, we were experimenting with these kinds of prototypes."

The team also had a vision to leverage a top-down view in-game, which meant they'd need to make the gender and personality of each character identifiable from what's on their head. That requirement eventually led Morii to create a bundle of sketches that pivoted away from the early Pikmin design (which, as shown below, Hino notes looks "a bit Yoshi-like") towards something more recognizable.

Early concept art showing a 'Pikmin' depicted as a round blob-like creature

Commenting on those concepts, Morii struggles to recall why the team put a leaf on its head, but suggests that "since the character is tiny, maybe I thought that it needed something to help it visually stand out." They were also inspired by the works of A Nightmare Before Christmas and Edward Scissorhands director Tim Burton, and sought to evoke "a sense of eeriness or some emotional weight."

"That's why I was drawing the sketches like this, with a style that layers scribbling lines," adds Morii. "Nintendo games up to that point were strongly associated with the bright and vibrant designs of the Super Mario and the The Legend of Zelda series. That’s why I wanted to take a bold step and depict a somber, mature, and mysterious world."

Later concept sketches that show a rough drawing of a bipedal Pikmin with a leaf on its head

Colourful sketches that show more familiar iterations of Pikmin completing tasks

To learn more about the creation of Pikmin, including how Miyamoto came aboard to refine the title's gameplay loop and provide a clearer sense of direction, be sure to check out the full interview on the Nintendo website.

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