Masahiro Sakurai, creator of the Smash Bros. series, is serious about his craft. How serious, you ask? So serious that he's taken up temporarily residence right nearby the Namco Bandai Games development studio in Shinagawa, Tokyo his team's using to create the new Wii U and Nintendo 3DS Super Smash Bros.
"I've lived within walking distance of the development studio ever since development on the new Smash Bros. began," Sakurai wrote in Famitsu magazine. "If I'm going to make something like a Smash Bros., then I have to take every aspect of it seriously. Losing time in the commute or being beholden to whenever the last train of the night departs is out of the question. So I moved here temporarily until development is complete."
Sakurai has spent the past couple of columns detailing what an average day of development looks like for him.
"My work generally involves supervision," he said. "The team knows what I want in the game, so I check on what everyone's producing and make sure it aligns with the game. 'Supervision' could make it sound like all I'm doing is looking at things all day, but that's not the case. The team's work is all built up according to what I told them, so it's ultimately my job to make adjustments and finalize it all. So not only am I looking at all the graphics, sound, motions, characters, stages, game modes, and UI interfaces, but I have to check up on the spec documents being used to build all of these."
This is no short order for Sakurai, especially since the development staff for the new Super Smash Bros. largely consists of people new to the series. To deal with this, Sakurai takes an interesting approach to handling meetings with staffers.
"When I'm discussing supervision work with people, sometimes upwards of 20 staffers at once," he wrote, "there's often a video camera going around to record what I said and told them to do. It's honestly not the funnest thing, because people act more restrained in front of a camera and nobody likes to hear a recording of their own voice, but with everything accurately recorded, you can bring up exactly what was said at any time without having to rely on vague notes."
Sakurai usually gets to the office by 10 a.m. and takes his lunch break in the studio cafeteria at 12:30. The second half of his lunch hour is spent doing the same thing every day: 4-player Smash Bros. matches.
"At this point," he said, "the new Smash Bros. is fun, more so than Melee or Brawl. However, we have to work to keep things dynamic and not over-fine-tune the balance. If we aim for complete fairness, there won't be any personality to it. By the way, I almost always win in these battles. I'm no wimp at this by now, apparently."
In the afternoon, it's back to supervision work...but besides that, Sakurai has another important design assignment. "In all previous Smash Bros. games," he explained, "I've entered in all the data for fighter skills and hitboxes by myself, and it's quite nearly that way with this game too. I've thought about leaving this work to others and I've actually tried it once or twice, but it hasn't worked out. I don't want to release an incomplete game, and I want everything to be as successful as possible, but it results in a massive amount of work for me. It's a big problem, but there are reasons for doing it this way."
One of those reasons is consistency. Since it's Sakurai coming up with ideas for character motions and fighting moves, once he completes work on damage rates and hitboxes for a character, they'll already fairly playable at that point.
"Characters' in-game balance and features are something that I'm thinking about from the start while coming up with motions," he said. "If I left that to someone else midway, that'd make things more difficult. It's faster and more accurate to just input the numbers myself than try to explain it in words to somebody."
Not even that is all for the day's work, though. As the main man in the Smash Bros. project, he has to make presentations to the copyright holders for all the guest characters, provide direction to outsourced developers, and formulate plans for future PR and info releases.
"One problem with my work is that there's just so much supervision to do," Sakurai wrote. "I may get dozens of requests in a day, between meetings, group checks and other events. Just taking care of them all brings me to 10 p.m. at night. I try to get all the requests squared away on the same day, but sometimes it waits until the next day, since some department heads may no longer be in the office once we get to 7 p.m. or so. It gets even harder if I'm out of the office. This work keeps me busy until late nights as it is; continually moving things later on is like tying the noose around my neck."
How much longer will Sakurai's life be like this? He isn't telling, as Super Smash Bros. has no official release date yet. (He also declined to say how big the team is or which other people are involved, although he did praise the Namco Bandai Games-developed tools he's using to streamline the fine-tuning of character moves.)