The lights are on
Since releasing in the U.S. one month ago, Yoshi’s Woolly World has enjoyed a generally warm reception, with our own Kyle Hilliard declaring it the green dino's best outing since the original Yoshi's Island. Combining Yoshi’s egg-throwing gameplay with the charming yarn aesthetic of Kirby’s Epic Yarn created an adventure as engrossing as it is heartwarming. To uncover more about Woolly World’s development, we interviewed coordinator Emi Watanabe and producer Takashi Tezuka (who directed the first Yoshi’s Island) inquiring about the various Yoshi designs, the absence of Baby Mario, the disappointing Pokémon Amiibo skins, and their thoughts on yarn’s presence in video games.
[Editor's Note: This interview was conducted by Brian Shea and myself.]
A common thread in the Yoshi franchise is you always have a drive to collect as many items around the levels as possible. How do you make it so players are going to want to collect these items and they feel they are important?
Tezuka: Yoshi is a side-scrolling platform game, kind of like the Super Mario series, but here you can move around wherever you like and there's no time limit. We have the mechanic of the player tossing eggs, so that's a little more complicated and rich of a gameplay action than with Mario games, but we started from there; tossing eggs to explore.
Because of the lack of a time limit and that egg-throwing style, we don't have to be very precise with your movements. You can just kind of try different things and have fun with things rather than being super precise. You have the flutter jump, for example, where you can kind of flutter off and explore things, you have kind of a freedom of movement and a lightness to the gameplay that makes you want to explore more.
Watanabe: We built in a whole bunch of visual hints and cues for people to entice them into looking for things. With the visual expression of the game we built in things like a little thread of yarn sticking out of the terrain that will make players want to pull it to see what's underneath, or maybe a fluffy area that people will want to push on and see what's hidden behind. We teased them with a lot of visual elements.
What made you want to make Yoshis with different designs, and how did you go about designing those different Yoshis?
Watanabe: We actually started with just the standard, green Yoshi that is the main playable character, and as we developed the game and came up with all these gorgeous backgrounds, we decided that maybe we could play around a bit with Yoshi himself too. With knitted scarfs and sweaters and things like that, you can have a bunch of different colors mixed in there. We played a bit around with him and made a bunch of unique designs and when we asked around for feedback, people were really divided on what they liked and had their ideas of what we should make. So we decided to throw them all in and put in a bunch of different kinds of designs.
Tezuka: And for me, just changing Yoshi's designs, like the pattern, it was really fun and it made me really happy. At first, we also considered having abilities to go with some of these patterns, but I found that just the aesthetic itself was so fun and pleasurable. So rather than limiting the number of designs based on different abilities we could think of, we decided to focus on kind of the visual aspect and the joy that the colors and things brought.
Do you have a favorite unlockable Yoshi skin?
Tezuka: I personally have a lot of favorites, but I say that Mario is the one that sticks out most in my mind because when we designed it, I didn't have any clear idea of how it should be done. I really liked what they came up with.
Watanabe: I'm not sure if you've seen this yet, but you have secret stages in the game. When you collect the wonder wool from both stages, you can unlock a really unique type of Yoshi design that's of the Nintendo hardware systems. It was a really interesting challenge to get these design concepts into Yoshi form, so we worked with a lot of the original hardware developers to get their approval over and over to make sure we visually represented the hardware in a way that was recognizable.
For example, we have a Nintendo 64 yarn Yoshi design where, from the front, he looks like a controller. It was really rewarding to make these and a fun, creative challenge, so I hope you take on these secret stages so you can unlock these and see for yourself.
For Amiibo characters such as the Pokémon, it gives you a Yoshi with a white t-shirt that says "Amiibo". Was there any reason why there weren't Yoshis that looked like Pokémon?
Tezuka: With the Amiibo designs, we had to think about what characters could be represented authentically to the character in the Yoshi form, and so we couldn't do every single Amiibo. We did some trial and error and, unfortunately, we didn't make these ones and have Yoshi wearing an Amiibo t-shirt.
The Yoshi series, for Mr. Tezuka, is a series that he helped create. Does the Yoshi series hold a special place for you?
Tezuka: The Yoshi series is very dear to my heart. The Yoshi move, the flutter jump, is something that I created, and so that's very dear to me as well. But the egg throwing mechanic, I had some challenges with that one, so I worked closely with Mr. Miyamoto to get his advice on how to perfect that. That memory has stayed with me for a while as well.
Obviously, the Yoshi series has evolved in several different ways over the years. How do you draw inspiration from the different Yoshi games while creating something new, and do you draw inspiration from games outside of the Yoshi universe as well?
Tezuka: To draw on an example of this title, we don't really look outside for inspirations for Yoshi games. We worked with Good Feel on Yoshi's Woolly World, and they've never made a Yoshi game before, so because they have a really wonderful visual style, we wanted to see what a Yoshi game would look like in their hands. We worked with level designers on the past Yoshi's Island game and also New Super Mario, so we had our experienced level designers working on this.
With Yoshi's Woolly World, Kirby's Epic Yarn, and the upcoming Unravel, it seems like yarn is gaining steam as a popular aesthetic. Why do you think that is? What makes yarn such a great fit for game design?
Tezuka: It's funny that you mention that connection with those games with yarn. We hadn't really thought about it that way because with the Yoshi series, you might have noticed that each one has its own hand-made feel. Yes, we did know about Kirby's Epic Yarn, and we loved that aesthetic and we decided to work with that developer to create Yoshi's Woolly World. But it came from a place of wanting to have fun with Yoshi's form with yarn rather than any sort of trend that may be emerging. We just liked the aesthetic for this game.
Watanabe: Personally, I think the appeal of yarn is that everyone has interacted with it and touched it before. They can imagine what it would be like to unravel something, and so it's kind of that tactile feeling that we can imagine while we're playing the game, which I think might be universally appealing to people. It's something that I enjoy myself, anyway.
Read on for details on the future of yarn games, Baby Mario's exclusion, the decision process behind Yoshi's appearances in other games.
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