The following article is a reproduction. The original article, and many more, can be found at RemptonGames.com
Hey everybody, and welcome to RemptonGames. Today, I want to talk about the Super Smash Bros. series. These games are freakin’ awesome, in more ways than one. From the core fighting mechanics, which still stand out from pretty much every other fighting game except for those who are deliberately copying them, to the sheer number of items, stages, songs, and modes available to play. However, if there is one thing that defines this series more than anything else, it’s the characters.
Sure, crossover fighting games are nothing new, but in terms of number and variety of characters Smash Bros Ultimate has them all beat. Where else can you have Ryu from Street Fighter duke it out with Jigglypuff from Pokemon? Only in my dreams, and also Super Smash Brothers. Want to see what would happen if Mega-man faced off against a dog from Animal Crossing? That’s a little weird, but they’ve got you covered.
What began as an original idea for a different kind of fighting game that added Nintendo characters as a marketing gimmick has now evolved into a love letter for the history of gaming. The tiny initial roster of 12 Nintendo characters has grown to an absolutely massive roster of over 80 characters, which includes characters from companies such as Sega, Microsoft, and Square Enix. And with the announcement of a second fighters pass containing 6 new DLC fighters, this enormous roster is only going to keep growing.
I’m pretty sure everybody already has a list of characters in mind that they would love to join Smash, but the purpose of this video isn’t to speculate about who might be included in future DLC. Instead, I want to take a look at what actually goes into creating a new character for a Smash game – in this case, Smash Ultimate. And let me tell you, once I started looking further into what is actually involved in making these characters, I’m absolutely shocked that this game even got made. My hat is off to Masahiro Sakurai and his team, and I hope that Nintendo eventually lets you rest someday.
Before we can begin making a character, we first need to decide what character we are going to be making. However, even this simple step can get extremely complicated, and there is a lot that goes into deciding which characters get into Smash. The first step – Sakurai has to have a vision for the character. In one of his Famitsu columns, which was faithfully translated by Source Gaming, Sakurai explains that it is very important for him to have a clear vision for a character before he works on it, because it is this clear vision that will guide the entire team in developing that character. Different people might have different ideas of what the character could be, and without a clear vision the character could get pulled in too many directions.
This step is so important that if Sakurai cannot see a clear vision for the character, or he feels that his concept for the character is impossible, he will abandon the character entirely. An example of this is Villager, from Animal Crossing. Villager was first considered for Smash Bros. Brawl on the Wii, but Sakurai rejected the idea because the villager didn’t seem like a character that would be in combat, and he couldn’t come up with a good concept for him. Later on, when making Smash 4, he was able to come up with a unique fighting style for the character, and was able to add him to the game.
Another example of the importance of this initial concept is Pac-man. Pac-man is one of the oldest characters to appear in Smash, and in the 40 years since his initial appearance he has been in a variety of different types of games. He has also had a number of different appearances, in both 2D and 3D. When designing Pac-man for Smash, Sakurai had a very particular design in mind, and did not like Pac-man’s redesigned appearance for the Pac-man and the Ghostly Adventures series. He said that if he couldn’t use the design he wanted, he would consider dropping the character.
However, even if Sakurai wants to bring in the character and has a clear vision for it, that doesn’t guarantee that the character can actually get added to Smash. He still has to get his character choices approved by Nintendo, and if the character is not a Nintendo owned character it can get much more complicated. In some cases, such as with Snake, the creators are enthusiastic about the project and willing to work together with Sakurai to make it happen. In other cases, such as with popular fan request Sora from Kingdom hearts, it can get much more complicated.
Sora has been high on many fans lists of characters that should join Smash for a while now, but logistically it seems very unlikely. While Nintendo has already worked with Square Enix to add Cloud from Final Fantasy, to add Sora they would also have to work with Disney, and would have to create a version of the character that all 3 companies could agree on. This seems extremely unlikely to happen – however, if anybody could pull it off it would be Masahiro Sakurai.
Okay, suppose that Sakurai approves the character, and is able to get the go ahead from Nintendo and any other companies involved. Congratulations, you have completed step 1! Now all you have to do is…actually make the character. How hard could it be?
As it turns out, pretty dang hard. There is an absurd amount that goes into each character, ranging from the extremely obvious to tiny details that only the most hardcore players are ever going to notice. Let’s start with some of the most noticeable decisions, and go from there.
One of the most obvious things about a character is their appearance, so let’s start with that. What should your character look like? At first this may seem obvious – they should look like the character! But which version of the character? Should they be based on the character’s original appearance in their first game, or their most recent? Perhaps it should be an amalgamation of all appearances in various different games?
Also, Smash Bros is a 3-dimensional, high definition game. Not all characters have HD appearances to work with in the first place – some older characters may have only appeared in 2D. This was the case for the Ice Climbers and Pit from Kid Icarus – his 3D appearance in Uprising didn’t happen until AFTER he appeared in Brawl. In these situations, the team has to come up with a design that is true to the original characters, while also fitting in with the rest of the cast of fighters.
Once you have decided on your character’s basic appearance, you need to figure out your alternate skins! The difficulty of this can vary significantly – some characters, such as Mr. Game & Watch, only need a slightly differently colored texture. For other characters, like Bowser Jr. or Hero, each alternate skin represents a totally different character, and can require not just new textures but completely different models.
Also, alternative skins are not added randomly – often each skin represents a part of a character’s history. They could represent a different costume that they wore in their original games, or even represent different characters entirely. A good example of this is Byleth’s alternate skins, which represent the leaders of the three houses.
Alright – you’ve gotten your character approved and figured out all of their appearances. Now all you have to do is make them move! This is…incredibly daunting, due to the sheer amount of different movements that each character can perform. As far as motions go characters can walk, dash, short hop, full hop, double jump, air dodge, spot dodge, roll, ledge grab (including various different ways of getting up from the ledge), and taunt.
Each character not only requires unique animations for each of these moves, but there are a number of parameters that must be tweaked for each. How fast does your character run, how quickly can they dodge, how high are their various jumps, what is their air movement speed, how quickly do they fall (both while normal falling and fast-falling) and so on. All of these parameters must be adjusted to make the character feel natural, to make all of their movements feel cohesive, and to stay true to the spirit of the character. A character like Kirby, for instance, has a pretty slow ground speed and very slow falling, but good mobility in the air. On the other hand, a character like Little Mac has really quick ground movement and quick attacks, but struggles off the ground.
Finally, we come to probably the most difficult part of designing a smash character – designing their attacks. Smash characters all have a massive arsenal of different attacks they can perform, including jabs, tilts, throws, aerials, pummels, special moves, get up attacks, and of course smash attacks. Each of these attacks is unique, and has a nearly infinite number of parameters that can be tweaked.
The first step in determining a character’s attacks is to determine what sort of overall fighter you want them to be. Are they a slow brawler with attacks that do a ton of damage and knockback if they actually land? Or are they a quick, combo based character that racks up damage with a series of attacks chained together? Perhaps they are a character that excels in aerial combat, or likes to keep their distance and use projectiles? No matter the case, determining the character’s overall fighting style will guide the development of the rest of their moves.
Once you have a general vision for how a character will fight, you need to determine their individual moves. For some characters this is easier than others – Ryu, for example, already comes from a fighting game series, so many of his moves in Smash could be based on moves from Street Fighter. However, even with moves to reference, it doesn’t mean your job is TOO easy – although the character might have existing moves that could fit well into Smash, they almost definitely do not have moves to fit all of the different kinds of attacks that a Smash character needs, and the moves that they do have will still need to be significantly tweaked.
Also, even if the character has an appearance in a previous game that could potentially be used as a reference for their fighting style, that previous appearance may not necessarily fit the vision that Sakurai has for the character. A good example of this is Mega-man. Before appearing in smash, Mega-man had already appeared in a series of fighting games – the Marvel vs Capcom series. It would have been much easier for Sakurai and the Smash team to have simply based Mega-man’s moves on his appearance in Marvel vs Capcom – after all, that fighting style had already been approved by Capcom, and it would be much less work than coming up with the character from scratch.
However, in Marvel vs Capcom Mega-man fights primarily using basic punches and kicks, and this did not fit Sakurai’s vision for the character. In the Mega-man games one of the defining mechanics is the ability to use the powers of the robot masters that you have defeated, and Sakurai wanted to find a way to implement that mechanic. This meant basically ignoring his previous fighting game experience, and building the character from the ground up based on his platforming games.
Some characters are even tougher to develop than that, however. Take Captain Falcon for instance. The F-zero games are racing games, and you don’t even directly control Captain Falcon himself – you control his race-car, the Blue Falcon. How do you turn the driver of a futuristic racing game into a fighting game character? Beats me, but they did and it’s freaking iconic. Not only that, but Smash also contains a peaceful villager from an adorable social sim, a mannequin-esque workout instructor, and a freaking Piranha plant. Somehow they were able to figure out all of the different movements and attacks that I previously listed – for a PLANT!
Keep in mind, building a character’s moveset is much more complicated than simply deciding WHAT the attack should do. Even if the attack is just a simple punch you need to determine how many frames it takes for the punch to activate, where to place the hit-boxes, how many frames should the hitboxes last, how many frames of lag are there after attacking, how much damage does the attack do, how much knockback, and what angle is the knockback.
Some attacks can get even more complicated. Some attacks, for example have special effects on their attacks such as super-armor, temporary invincibility or invulnerability, sweet-spots that do higher damage or sour-spots that do less damage. And that’s before you even start getting into character specific mechanics like Inkling’s ink or Cloud’s Limit Gauge. All of these attributes must be fine tuned to keep the entire roster at roughly the same power level, and make sure the speed of the game is at the correct level.
With all of these considerations to take into account when designing a character, it’s a wonder that a single one ever got made, much less a massive roster of over 80 characters that are all distinguishable from one another and yet feel like they fit together. While I certainly have my own list of characters I would love to see added into these games, no matter who is included in the second round of DLC I know I won’t be mad. Every single character represents so much work, dedication and care, and I’m just amazed that we are getting more of this series that has already given so much.
Until Next Time!
That is all I have for this week. If you enjoyed this article, check out the rest of the blog and subscribe on Twitter, Youtube, or here on WordPress so you will always know when I post a new article. If you didn’t, let me know what I can do better in the comments down below. And join me next week for part 3 of my ongoing “Evolution of Pokemon Design” series!