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How a Retro Studios prototype laid the foundation for Metroid Prime

Before the studio was acquired by Nintendo, designer Mike Wikan played a major part in creating the first level of the game that would eventually be reworked into Metroid Prime.
"I feel that that moment before we actually started Metroid Prime is what defined the development of and the success of the Metroid Prime series of games."

-Senior Designer Mike Wikan recalls how a team of 35 brought the first 3D Metroid to life.

Before becoming the team that would eventually make the first Metroid Prime game, developers at Retro Studios were working on creating their own projects. One of those, an original FPS slated for the GameCube, would eventually inspire the look and feel of the first Metroid Prime game.

But, as Metroid Prime trilogy senior designer Mike Wikan recalls, that early FPS project was critically behind schedule due to engine struggles and almost didn’t happen. Speaking to Switch Player, Wikan told the story of how his team took the initiative, showed an early level of the game to Nintendo, and eventually ended up working on what would become Metroid Prime. 

“When I came on board, the Engine group was significantly behind schedule and there was no way to create gameplay demonstrables in an effective fashion,” said Wikan. “I was told, quite literally, by leadership that designers would design the game on paper, then hand it off to engineering and art to create it. In my opinion that was insanity.”

Wikan explained that he called upon some previous development experience in which he and his team had created a scripting module for 3DSMAX that allowed them to script complex gameplay. He brought this knowledge to Retro Studios’ FPS project, which eventually allowed the team to manually script gameplay content and create the game’s first level.

“When Nintendo arrived suddenly, wanting to see demonstrables of all the games that the teams were working on, only our FPS had demonstrable real-time scriptable content,” he said. “Nintendo liked what they saw and proposed we adapt that game and viewpoint, but restart it as a Metroid game.” 

“The moral of the story is that if you see a problem, work to solve it; don’t assume someone else will take that responsibility on.”

The full story in the online Switch Player magazine offers a more in-depth look at how Wikan and his team were able to overcome development struggles to eventually start work on a beloved Nintendo franchise. The same segment also has a few other conversations with game developers, some of which worked on past Metroid titles, about what they’d like to see in a Switch revival of the series. 

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