Feature

Afterwords –Yoshi's Woolly World

by Marcus Stewart on Nov 17, 2015 at 02:50 PM

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. 

Now that Kirby and Yoshi have gotten the yarn treatment, I was curious what the thought process was in choosing which Nintendo character gets a yarn game.

Tezuka: With Yoshi's Woolly World, I think we really pushed the expression of yarn to its limit, so as far as more yarn games go, we really want to try to play with something else – and that's for Yoshi games or other Nintendo characters. 

Now that you've said that, what's the next aesthetic that you guys would like to try?

Tezuka: You probably saw this coming, but I can't tell you just yet. 

Yoshi's Woolly World doesn't task players with caring for Baby Mario or any kind of baby character, which has been a recurring element in the past Yoshi games. Why is that? Was there ever, in any point of development, any consideration of including Baby Mario?

Tezuka: The concept of Yoshi's Woolly World was that we wanted to do a yarn take on the series, so we didn't have plans for Baby Mario from the start.

With Yoshi now being a full-fledged character with his own unique series, we rarely see him pop up in the Super Mario series in the way that we did in Super Mario World. We’ve seen him in New Super Mario Bros., we saw him Super Mario Galaxy 2, but he's usually his own character now rather than a support character. How do you determine when Yoshi makes the comeback in a support role rather than a main character role?

Tezuka: Regarding Yoshi appearing in other games, we know Yoshi's a beloved character and we know that fans want to see him as much as possible, but we really want to consider the game and gameplay that makes sense for having Yoshi as a character. It's really case by case and whether the mechanic adds something to the experience. That's kind of what we have on the forefront of our minds in making that decision.

In Yoshi's Woolly World, there are a lot of vehicle transformation segments and, also, Mega Yarn Yoshi makes appearances as well. How do you determine not only when those sections happen, but what those vehicle transformations and other transformations do?

Watanabe: We think of transformations as little short bursts of opportunities for Yoshi to have abilities that he can’t normally do in games, and so our development process for that part is really thinking about what fun things we wish Yoshi could do and coming up with transformations that would match that.

Tezuka: We also think of transformations as little breaks in the exploration gameplay style. You're playing a stage, looking around, and getting collectibles, but as a change of pace, we thought it would be fun to throw in a transformation sequence where you can enjoy just that. It's that true feeling of play, and so we pepper it in to give a change of pace to the gameplay.

Watanabe: Going back to your question of how do we decide what timing to put these transformation sequences in, it's not as if we're thinking from the start 'oh, let's put one in at 2-5 or 7-3', we let the gameplay and order of the courses sort of speak for itself. We'll have a stage where we think it might be fun for the player to be able to go in and break everything using Mega Yoshi, and so often times with this sort of feature we don't know until the very end of development exactly where everything's going to be placed.

In Yoshi's Woolly World, a lot of levels featured different mechanics, such as the chain chomp with the wool that you had to keep putting back on, or the birds that you throw and they leave the stream that you have to climb. Many of them are only in one level in the game. Is there a reason that there were so many different mechanics and they were used only once during the design, and do you have a favorite of the unique mechanics?

Tezuka: I have so many favorites, it's hard to pick one. But the example you gave with the Fluffin' Puffins, the ones that leave the contrails, not only are they interesting looking characters, they create a gameplay experience that we've never had before, so I really like those guys

Watanabe: As far as my favorite character, it's a pretty unique character that we've had from the start of development, but that'd be Miss Cluck and her peeplys. Miss Cluck looks like a hen, but she's actually an egg shell and when you crack her, all the little chicks called peeplys come out, and it's a really fun mechanic and they're just really adorable.

Tezuka: You made a really interesting observation about some of these characters, these enemies showing up in the game only once, and that's actually something we thought a lot about. We did that intentionally so that the terrain or a course design would lend itself to having a certain type of character. So that's by design, and we're happy that you noticed that.