Metroid Prime is nearly 20 years old, but a new interview is shedding light on the development of the groundbreaking series.
Former Retro Studios developer Mike Wikan went on an episode of the Kiwi Talkz podcast to discuss crunch within Retro during the development of Metroid Prime, as well as the effort from Nintendo to change the Metroid Prime Trilogy’s writing to fit within the Metroid Prime universe.
The ‘Nine Month Death March’ at the End of Metroid Prime’s Development
Discussions surrounding crunch are at the forefront of video game discourse in 2021. From Naughty Dog to Rockstar, to CD Projekt Red, more employees, writers, and fans are speaking out about a problem in the video game industry that dates back to long before the wider public noticed it.
In this case, it dates back to 2002, when the Austin, Texas-based Retro Studios was developing the first-ever 3D Metroid game in partnership with Nintendo. Wikan, who worked on the game, said that crunch was a big problem during the development of Metroid Prime.
“I had two times where I was there for 48 hours straight with one hour of sleep, and then a couple of 36 hour days,” Wikan said. “The last nine months we were pretty much there 24/7, working on the game.”
After Metroid Prime shipped, Wikan says morale was low within Retro’s ranks. In fact, according to Wikan, many team members were ready to quit, and Wikan himself even had multiple job offers on the table. Then, things changed for the studio when Nintendo stepped in.
“To their credit, Nintendo realized what was going on, and they came in and took over the company, [they] bought it out,” Wikan said. After Nintendo bought Retro, Nintendo of America’s Michael Kelbaugh was put in charge. Wikan says he asked Retro employees to give him a few weeks to turn it around, and he eventually, “restored faith in leadership.”
The turbulent past of Retro Studios pre-Nintendo is well-documented. The studio has a history of layoffs, crunch, and unrealized ambition prior to Nintendo’s decision to step in and put Kelbaugh in charge, who is still President of Retro Studios today.
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According to Wikan, the change in ownership and leadership worked, and the studio began following healthier work practices. However, it still wasn’t perfect. “In fact, after Metroid Prime 1, we rarely crunched,” Wikan said. “We had some crunch but it wasn’t like the nine-month death march at the end of Metroid Prime 1. That was the worst.”
Nintendo’s Involvement in Reworking Metroid Prime Trilogy’s Script
Also in the interview, Wikan revealed he was part of a four-person team tasked with reworking the three mainline Metroid Prime games into a collection. The package was released in 2009 on Wii as Metroid Prime: Trilogy.
Besides changing some boss fight balance issues, and some small technical problems, Wikan and his team left the three games largely unchanged. At least, until Nintendo came in and started reworking the script. Wikan says Nintendo combed through the scans from all three Prime games and created a spreadsheet analysis of how it fits within the Metroid Prime universe.
“They sent us hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of edits and changes for all the text to make sure everything harmonized and worked in the Metroid universe. That’s the level of detail that they put into it,” Wikan said. “Probably 50 to 60% of the work we did on the Trilogy was changing those dang scan files.”
Wikan is no longer with Retro, but the studio is now working on the delayed Metroid Prime 4. At E3 this year, Nintendo said they’re “working hard” on Metroid Prime 4, which lead to the announcement of Metroid Dread; a new entry in the mainline 2D Metroid series. Dread is wrapping up the story of Samus and the Metroids, a story that is largely unrelated to her adventures in the Prime games.
Check out the full episode of the Kiwi Talkz Podcast for more insight from Wikan on his time at Retro Studios making Metroid Prime.
Logan Plant is a freelance writer for IGN. You can find him on Twitter @LoganJPlant.