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Smash Bros.' Sakurai discusses the 'pain' of modern game development

Masahiro Sakurai completed the project design document for Super Smash Bros. Brawl on July 7, 2005. Full development began in October 2005, and the final game was released in Japan on January 31, 2008. That's nearly three years of work for a huge number of people, and the sheer amount of time and work involved seems to even take Sakurai aback a little.

"When you think about three years like that," he wrote in his regular column for Famitsu magazine this week, "that's the amount of time between entering middle or high school and graduating from it [in Japan]. You have all these people working their fingers to the bone to complete just a single project. The games I make tend to be played for a long time, and whether I'm satisfied with the results or there are things I'm not happy with, it always takes a lot of time to make them."

Sakurai, never one to shy away from the dark side of game development in his column, wrote this week about the occasional futility involved with trying to keep everyone satisfied when making a franchise game. "Every time, you know, I try to the point where I think I can't go on any longer," he said. "For example, I think pretty much the limit when it comes to creating characters for a Smash Bros. is about 20, counting those from older games. We remake them completely each time, after all, and the teams and personnel and specs are all different. But we all go beyond what the work calls for because we want to do our best to retain fans of each character."

Sakurai sees 20 as a good, sane Smash Bros. character count. Meanwhile, Brawl had 39. "The Brawl team really put in a great effort," he recalled. "They remade all the original characters and added 18 completely new ones! Even with Melee before that, that game has over twice as many characters as the original. And that doesn't include online support and the assorted other features we've taken pains to complete under difficult circumstances. But the players don't know about how hard we work. That's not a problem because that's the case for any product, but it's important to remember that you can't take anything for granted."

Still, the creator of the Kirby series and Kid Icarus: Uprising sees the effort as all worth it in the end. "Projects take a while, and you run into difficult and painful times," he wrote. "Some people have to bow out of it. To be honest, I've sometimes thought about what I'm earning for myself, going through all this life-changing struggle. But the pain I feel at the time goes away over time, and yet the game itself always remains. Players talk about the fun and so forth behind the game for years to come, and they still play it.

"Oftentimes I'm asked by the overseas media if I feel any pressure when making a title like Smash Bros," he continued. "Like I've written before, on a personal level, I don't feel anything like pressure. It's really fun work. Sometimes you have to resign yourself to the fact that things will work out the way they're meant to work out. But you need to funnel your regrets to the next project and work as hard as you can on that. The pain goes away, but your work always remains."

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