Exclusive Interview with Rob Saunders, Nintendo UK’s Head of Communications

Posted By | On 18th, Feb. 2011

Having attended the announcement event for the Bafta game award nominees last week, I was fortunate enough to get some time to talk with Nintendo UK’s Head of Communications about remakes, the 3DS and the gaming industry as a serious competitive force in the entertainments sector.

George Reith: So what did you make of the BAFTA nominees?

Rob Saunders: I think it’s a huge honour to be on the list, we at Nintendo are very proud to have a game like Mario Galaxy 2 up alongside some of the other great games of 2010. As a gamer myself I think there is an amazing array of stunning games out there and what the list of nominee’s, in its entirety, goes to show is just what an amazingly creative and cultural force video games are in this country and that there is no shortage of amazing talent and products coming out of our industry. So people who pigeonhole us as being ‘something just for kids’ or being all about shooting or fighting games should take a look at this list.

George Reith: I’m glad to hear you are passionate about gaming being taken seriously as I and several other members of the gaming community feel the same way. What do you think of this year’s list in comparison to last year’s and what do you think next year’s will be like? Do you think gaming is being taken more seriously?

Rob Saunders: I think it’s interesting what you said about ‘being passionate’ as one of our major goals at Nintendo is to increase and strive for the cultural acceptance of video games alongside film, TV, music and books as a credible hobby and pastime. I think certainly what we’re seeing, if you look at the list, is that there are many different types of game out there:  Limbo, Need for Speed, Red Dead Redemption and Mario Galaxy 2 for example. Gaming is becoming a little bit more offering to more people. In previous years you probably would have had a lot of these lists dominated by shoot em’ ups and space marines, whereas I think this year has included very, very different styles of game which, again, can only be a good thing for our industry. We’re showing people that we’re about more than what they perhaps think we are.

George Reith: I was wondering if I could ask you some questions about the 3DS? In the previous generation of gaming Nintendo were often seen as leaning to a more casual audience. On the 3DS, with games like Splinter Cell and Street Fighter on the launch line up, do you think Nintendo’s trying to reclaim the hardcore gamer audience?

Rob Saunders: I don’t think it’s so much about reclaiming them…  I think with a game like Mario Galaxy 2, for example, we’ve continued making those sorts of games and we still try to make games for as broad an audience as possible. What we are trying to do with the 3DS launch line is to mirror that and show that there is an amazing breadth of software there:  Whether you’re a more casual user and like Rayman or you’re a hardcore Street Fighter fan, whether you’re a football fan and love Pro-Evo or even if you just love stroking a dog, via Nintendogs and Cats, there’s something for you. It would be a pretty dull launch line up if it was thirteen shoot em’ ups or thirteen driving games. I think it’s about having something for everyone. There are always going to be people who aren’t happy or cry that a certain title isn’t there but, as we’ve shown at E3 and as Mr. Miyamoto said recently; there’s a Mario game coming, we’ve shown Zelda Ocarina of Time, Mario Kart will be there, those titles will come.  What we’d rather do is bring that title out when it’s finished, ready and brilliant, rather than rush it and bring out an inferior title.

George Reith: There have been a lot of rumours flying about that the Ocarina of Time remake is already finished and Nintendo is simply waiting for ‘the right time’, do you have any idea when that might be?

Rob Saunders: The right time depends on a lot of things: What’s going on in the market, how polished and ready the game is. A lot of games may be ‘finished’ but you can always continue to tweak and polish it. Also if you release all your best games on day one not everyone can buy and experience them all. A lot of people also keep talking about Ocarina of Time as remake from the N64, which for the most part it is, but Nintendo now is in a position where there are many millions of people who probably don’t even know Ocarina of Time exists, so for them it’s a completely new experience.

George Reith:  Ocarina of Time is a game so cemented in gaming culture that a remake of it must’ve been a huge challenge. Do you have any idea why Nintendo chose to remake that game over something like (The Legend of Zelda) Majora’s Mask, a slightly lesser known title with presumably less pressure?

Rob Saunders: I would actually argue that Majora’s Mask, to a gaming audience, is held in such almost sacred reverence that it would actually provide a bigger challenge. I think commercially Majora’s Mask did not sell as well as Ocarina, nor is it as well known, but it’s a much darker game, a much heavier game.  I remember when I was playing it; it was a much more sombre affair. That’s not to say it’s any less of an experience! I just think that, ironically, Majora’s Mask would be even more pressure. Also Majora’s Mask leads on from Ocarina, so it’s probably best to experience Ocarina first.

George Reith: Do you think gaming remakes should be a straight re-imagining or do you think it should almost be a completely new experience like Tomb Raider: Anniversary, for example? Where do you think the new Ocarina of Time stands in relation to that?

Rob Saunders: I think it really depends on what that game looked like first time round. Take, for example, Super Mario Bros on the NES. If you were to bring that straight out again today I think a lot of people would scratch their heads. However, with the New Super Mario Bros: You can tweak it, you can update it, you can sharpen it and you can change the character models, the environment. But the core mechanic of that 2D side-scrolling game play remains the same.  So with some games, like Ocarina, you’ll see a much more ‘faithful’ reproduction but I think with some other games you need to tweak them and bring them into the modern era, so to speak, so it depends on the title.

George Reith: Talking about the 3DS in general again; considering the heated battle between the DS and PSP for the handheld market, do you think it’s going to be closer, with the NGP and the 3DS, in the upcoming generation of handhelds?

Rob Saunders: I think the danger is predicting. I think the last time many people got it wrong. Journalists and the press like to make comparisons, they like to make predictions early and create a lot of hype, which is human nature. Essentially it’s too early to tell with both consoles.  What I do know is that with the 3DS we are trying to drive handheld gaming forward in terms of where we believe it needs to go. We believe that next step, in 3D, means better graphics and 3D content.

George Reith: Following on from the 3DS do you think Nintendo will try to incorporate 3D into future consoles?

Rob Saunders: It’s a good question. The honest answer is that if I told you I’d have to kill you (chuckles).  We’ve had 3D running on past consoles for a number of years and we have had 3D running on the original DS, the Gamecube and the Wii. That’s no secret, we said that at E3 last year, but now it feels like the right time to bring 3D to the market. So “never say never”; we’re always working on new consoles and new applications, things like that.  I can’t give you a world exclusive I’m afraid!

George Reith:  After all this exciting news on Nintendo’s new handheld, is there any leak of information or world exclusive you could give me on new console developments?

Rob Saunders: Again, we’re always very keen at Nintendo, we always start work on the next home console as soon as the previous one’s released. So we are working on something and we’re always looking at new ideas and new developments, so that work is underway. As to what it pertains to and what it is… Even I don’t know!

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