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On Rayman’s Absence And Mario Kart’s Influence

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Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle was one of the big surprises at E3. Of course, we knew the game was coming; the surprise was how good it looked. After getting some extensive hands-on time with the game, we sat down to talk with creative director Davide Soliani and lead producer Xavier Manzanares about Mario + Rabbids’ unexpectedly deep strategy, the team’s response to early negative leaks, and the surprising ways Mario Kart influenced their development.

1018.headshot.jpgHow does Mario + Rabbids set itself apart from other strategy games?
Davide Soliani: Since the very beginning, when we started to brainstorm this game, we wanted to come up with something that was totally new. If we were going to propose to Nintendo, we knew we had to have something that they were not used to or that they weren’t already doing. So, we started with the intention of saying we should renew the genre a little bit. We thought that tactical games are known to be slow paced and they tend to be a little niche, so why not try to have something very dynamic and colorful and fast paced. That’s why our first reference was Mario Kart. How cool would it be to try to translate that kind of action into the combat of our game? Compared to a lot of other tactical games, you see enemies taking cover and the heroes are doing the same, and they’re both shooting at each other, but they’re not moving much. In our game, the A.I. is coming towards you, so you must react to the situation, and the action is focused on moving around the battlefield.

Did you ever worry Nintendo wouldn’t like this crazy pitch for a strategy game starring Mario and the Rabbids?
Manzanares: When I first started working on the Rabbids team in 2013, we knew that we couldn’t do any more party games, because of player fatigue and even internal fatigue. But we knew that the Rabbids could bring something different to all kinds of games. We had some very good relationships with Nintendo and we felt that this was an approach that Nintendo would be keen to as well. Mario’s done fighting games, card games, racing games, but strategy games are one of the few areas that Mario hasn’t gone into yet.

Soliani: I learned two things working with Nintendo. The first one is that you never have to restrain yourself, you always have to deliver. The second thing is that they are very open-minded, they can accept a crazy idea as long as you have a good reason.

How are you guys balancing the game’s deeper strategy elements with the fact that many Mario or Rabbids fans might not play a lot of strategy games? Are you doing anything to make it accessible to newcomers?
Soliani: Well the first and easiest answer is that we did many, many playtests. However, the first rule that we had was to be as accessible as possible. We are a turn-based game, so we remove the stress of having to decide everything at the same time. Players can take as much time as they need to make decisions. Through observation, I think players will be able to come up with their own tactics.

Manzanares: I think people are going to have to level up their game. If you’ve never played this type of game, the early areas are there to prepare you, but then you will have to level up your game as you progress. If you’re more advanced you’ll see a different approach from traditional turn-based gaming, but then there are challenges on the side for people who feel really experienced with this type of game. For players who don’t traditionally play strategy games, perhaps they’ll want to play more games like this when they’re done. If we could do that, it would be super awesome.

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Do you think the depth of strategy will surprise people? I think some people see Mario and Rabbids and they assume it’s going to be a kid’s strategy game. Do you think the game is deeper than that?
Soliani: I think that we want to surprise them – in a positive way.

Manzanares: I think that people will feel smart playing this game. I think they will say, “Hey, I can have an impact in this battle.” I think kids can be super hardcore, so I’m not worried about the game being too hard.

Soliani: In the playtests, we had some nine-year-old kids, and I said, ‘That is not going to work,’ but then they were doing some crazy stuff, and I started to feel a little bit old.

Manzanares: We differentiated between those who have never played a turn-based strategy and those who love those types of games. Those are the two extremes. We felt for those who never play these types of game, we think they’ll say, ‘Hey, this type of game is making me feel smarter.’ While those who really play these types of games will say, ‘Hey, this is a twist on something that I thought I knew really well.’

Was there a reason you didn’t include Rayman in the game? Did you discuss putting him in at one point?
Soliani: We discussed it, but honestly, we thought that the strength of the Rabbids is that they are a white canvas, so you can do pretty much whatever you want. You can come up with crazy ideas and they work. We tried to bring the same spirit into this game. Mr. Miyamoto kept saying, “Show me your colors. Show me your Rabbid’s humor even more. Show me how crazy you can be.” Of course, Rayman was part of the Rabbids games in the past, but now those are two separate universes.

When the concepts for this game first leaked online, there was a lot of negative reaction, but when you finally showed it off at E3, it seemed like fans came around and got excited. How did that whole roller coaster feel from the development side?
Manzanares: Leaks are never great, but even though it was something that you don’t want to see, we knew that at E3 we were going to show the game and that people would get to play it, so we stayed focused on that. When we saw the reaction at E3, for us that was the biggest moment. People started to ask, “Hey, what’s this game? We want to know more.’ And that’s when we started to say, ‘Okay, anything that came before, we don’t care anymore.’

Soliani: It was a little bit discouraging for me to see those early reactions a few months before we were going to show it at E3. We knew that we were doing our best to bring something new to players. Really, most developers in the world are trying to do their best to provide something to players that, most of the time, creates positive emotions, so when you get those kinds of rumors, it can be discouraging. But as Xavier said, E3 was the reality ticket. When we saw the audience react so well, it was a big reward for everyone. Two weeks after E3, when I came back to the office, we found a new team. It gave us wings. Player reaction and support is an incredible energizer for the team.

During that announcement, there were shots of you tearing up at the show, Mr. Soliani, and the internet embraced it. Did you find that flattering or was it embarrassing at the time?
Soliani: That moment for me was a shock, because I knew that Mr. Miyamoto was going to be on stage, but I didn’t expect that he would call out my name, so at that moment, after three and a half years of development, I felt for my team all the weight of development and I collapsed. But it was not embarrassing, it was a moment of joy. Three weeks later, I was still processing that moment.

For more on Mario + Rabbids: Kingdom Battle be sure to watch our 4 Things video preview on why strategy fans should be excited for this unique mashup, and watch our breakdown of over 20 minutes of gameplay footage.

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