Arms brought a lot of comparisons to other fighting games, mostly to ones with a side camera view typical of the genre, when it was first announced in January of 2017. But in reality the game shares a lot more with the Mario Kart series, which is fitting considering the history of the development team behind it.
“We used our experience with Mario Kart in the development of Arms,” said Nintendo’s Kosuke Yabuki at the Game Developers Conference in San Francisco “Although they are different genres, they have a lot of similarities and are sort of like siblings.”
Nintendo’s Kosuke Yabuki was a producer for Mario Kart 7, Mario Kart 8, and helped lead the development of Arms. He’s also worked on other popular titles like The Legend of Zelda series and Nintendogs. But when tasked with creating a new game, Yabuki and his design team looked to their past experience to create something new.
“We couldn’t just imitate other fighting games, Nintendo places importance on uniqueness first,” Yabuki said. “If Miyamoto asks ‘what makes this different’ and I don’t have an answer, I’m finished.”
Yabuki’s answer was to create a fighting game where the camera is behind the fighter, a change that has been considered before but never to the extent with a game like Arms. “We understand why most fighting games use a side view, it makes it easy to judge the distance from your opponent,” Yabuki added. “You risk getting hit by moving closer to your opponent, the most basic fighting game structure.”
Putting the camera behind the fighter brought up a number of issues, it made it harder to judge the distance between the two fighters and moving around in an open arena lead to a lack of precision. But in order to remedy those issues, Yabuki looked to mechanics used in the Mario Kart series. “The cameras behind you in that series as well, something appears in the distance and you steer towards that, it’s the basic structure of Mario Kart.”
“We wanted to adopt that here, because the question of distance becomes a question of whether or not your punch will hit or miss,” Yabuki added. Once they had the idea, they moved forward and built a prototype that looked like a stripped down version the final game. It even included a bowling mini game that didn’t make it into the final release.
It showed off different types of battles, two and four players matches where generic low poly fighters stretched their arms across the ring to hit one another. But that original stretch mechanic, the one where fighters have their actual arms extend like slinkies, wasn’t there right away.
“At this time only the fist extended out, but the action wasn’t as identifiable as we wanted it to be,” Yabuki said. “And then we just decided to go for it and have the whole arm extend.” Yabuki and his team took basic fighting game mechanics and replaced them we easy to recognize elements. One example brought up was how heavy and light attacks were represented by the actual weight and size of the different equippable arms for each character.
They tried a number of different character designs that would match the craziness of fully extendable arms, but most of them didn’t fit. Some of the designs included whips, mechanical fists, and a few more traditional looking boxers. They even thought about what Yoshi would look like fighting with his tongue and Link with his hook shots but decided against it.
Eventually they got to different aspects that actually matched the visuals of having a giant extendable arm attached to them at the shoulder level. The design of each characters arm matched something about them-- chains to represent Ninjara’s ninja-like features, Master Mummy’s wraps because he’s an actual mummy, and Min Min’s ramen arm that hints at her, and the development teams, love for the dish.
When Yabuki and his team finally decided to go all-in and have the arms be fully extendable they didn’t have an explanation for why it happens. ‘Because Nintendo,’ was used at first but Yabuki emphasized that he wanted to have the world fleshed out. He mentioned that a new comic was in development that would shed light on the games story, including interesting tidbits like how the Spring Man from the game is actually the third Spring Man.
But that doesn’t mean that they didn’t think about the games lore beforehand. “Rather than having the characters actually fight, we had them participate in a sport,” Yabuki said. “It’s a world similar to Earth and they’re fighting in this worlds equivalent of the world cup.”
Arms did have bits scattered around the game that expanded its world. Each staged was fleshed out easily due how much the freedom the camera allowed and the team designed brand names and logos similar to the ones in Mario Kart 8. The world building also extended to how they approached some character designs.
“We had some more outlandish ideas, like how a girl genius without extendable arms builds a suit so she can compete. That eventually became Mechanica,” Yabuki said. “Having people without extendable arms deepened the world around them.”
Yabuki and his team tried to make each arm incredibly unique, hoping to get people thinking about the world itself. “We worked hard to make every arm stand out, making it unique to the characters background,” Yabuki said. “Creating that colorful cast of characters was a big step to creating the world.”