20 years of trial and error
Just last night, Nintendo released an interview with the Japanese dev team behind Kirby and the Forgotten Land. A few hours later, officially-translated details from that interview have started to trickle in.
Nintendo fans may know all about Kirby’s long road to a fully-3D game; a project HAL and Nintendo tried to make happen numerous times. According to general director Shinya Kumazaki, “there was a period of time where certain game concepts simply refused to come together.”
The struggles of crafting a 3D Kirby go back as far as Kirby 64: The Crystal Shards. After that title released, HAL was working on three more Kirby ideas that never surfaced. One of those was a 3D Kirby game that simply didn’t pan out. Famously, HAL stated that they couldn’t hit the level of quality they wanted, so they shelved the idea.
Kumazaki says that those struggles continued all the way to modern times.
“We kept hitting walls we couldn’t climb over. From  on, our game prototypes shifted to a ‘trial-and-error’ approach. We played with unconventional gameplay angles through comparatively smaller games in the series as a way to further explore the concept of a Kirby-based 3D platformer. We still had plenty of unique challenges to overcome, though. Some in HAL Laboratory even felt that only 2D games should count as ‘real’ Kirby games, so to speak, so we weren’t able to reach a point where we could deliver a complete 3D-platforming mainline Kirby title.”
Game director Tatsuya Kamiyama said he always found the idea of Kirby moving about in a 3D space would be a lot of fun, but directing such a project was a bit of a nightmare scenario. The basic actions of inhaling, spitting out, and jumping simply didn’t work, and the team had to pour countless hours into figuring out how these elements could be adapted in a 3D space. Even Kirby’s design in general, being a mostly spherical creature, wasn’t well suited to a fully-3D representation.
Nintendo’s Kei Ninomiya, associate producer on Kirby and the Forgotten Land, sat back and watched things slowly come together for HAL. Being a former HAL employee himself, Ninomiya recognized the slow-by-steady progress that was being made. He knew HAL understood what made Kirby tick, and that they’d get to a 3D evolution at some point.
Kamiyama also discussed how there were issues with judging attacks in 3D space. Rather than going with attacks making a connection if Kirby and the enemy touch, HAL took the approach of making near-misses connect as well.
If it looks like an attack ‘should’ hit on-screen, we make sure it does connect, even if it was going to narrowly miss.The game accounts for the player’s perspective by tracking the positions of Kirby and the camera. It then maps out a range in which attacks may appear to land. If an attack is within that range, the attack will hit. By doing so, even people who are not so good at 3D action games can attack enemies without any stress.
If you’re looking for even more details from this interview, you can read the full translation from Nintendo here.