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TBK
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F-Zero X Staff Interview
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The following is a translation of the staff interview from the official F-Zero X guide book (F-ZERO X ワンダーライフスペシャル) which was published by Shogakukan (株式会社小学館) in 1998.

The game that F-Zero maniacs around the world have been waiting and waiting for, F-Zero X, is finally out. When you see the ultra-high speed 60 FPS graphics and the 30 racers on screen at one time, other racing games just won't seem as good any more.  To that end we'd like to share a blazing-hot message from the creators of the blazing hot game F-Zero X!

In F-ZERO, speed is life

 ---Ever since the Super Famicom/SNES version of F-ZERO, the series has enjoyed very passionate fans. It wasn't long between the announcement of an F-ZERO game for the 64 and the release of the game but there's still a feeling of "it's finally here"!


Tadashi Sugiyama (Director)

Sugiyama: We had planned to have more staff here but it looks like they couldn't make it. Well, let's just start with us then. The game started with Ota untiringly experimenting with things and then I joined on as director of the project.


Keizo Ota (Programmer)

Ota: I had wanted a game that ran at 60FPS so I was experimenting with what I needed to do to in order to do that. I started with displaying a road, and then I put cars on top of it, and we just ran with it.

---So you had to do some certain things to get it to run at 60FPS. 

Sugiyama: In addition to running at 60FPS there were other things we clearly had to do. The selling point of the SFC F-Zero was speed, and so that meant we also had to bring out the feeling of speed in this version too.

Ota: We had to take into account the number of polygons being calculated 60 times every second as well. That was especially difficult.

---And yet, you've managed to display up to 30 units on screen at one time haven't you?


Takaya Imamura (Chief Artist)

Imamura:
At first there were only 8 units. But Miyamoto (Producer Shigeru Miyamoto) said "At any cost, players should be able to compete against 30 other units" and that was the voice of God, so to speak... (laugh)

Sugiyama: Normally in racing games you see a lot of enemy racers at the start and then everybody scatters off with a "bang!" at the start of the race. Then you only occasionally see other enemy racers after that. We didn't want to do that with F-Zero X. In order to seriously handle 30 units, we had to properly calculate how the enemy units behave when they're offscreen.

Imamura: In other racing games there's typically an invisible "track" that corrects how enemy racers behave when they're not visible to the player, but in F-Zero X's X Cup mode where you race on randomly generated racetracks we couldn't use that method.

Aim for your rivals to win

---The enemy racers are pretty tough. For sure.

Ota: While dodging cars in front of them and aiming for first place, cars behind the player will become even more aggressive. The difficulty level changes how you have to race in the Grand Prix somewhat.

Sugiyama: In Grand Prix all machines have a standard lap time and their speed changes as they go around the track. As you raise the class of the track, an enemy will spin and block you deliberately to get in your way.

---All the enemy cars?

Sugiyama: Nope, that just applies to the total points rival. The overall first place rival.

Imamura: No matter how far you fall behind you can gradually climb up the ranks if you defeat rivals one by one. When we cleared the Master Cup, that's the way we used. If you defeat the guys who come near you you'll eventually win.

Sugiyama: After you defeat a rival, a different enemy to serve as your rival will appear. For Captain Falcon for example, Samurai Goro might show up.

---And how is that rival distingushed?

Sugiyama: It can be a little difficult to tell. When enemy racers are in a group of 2-3 you might not be able to tell. But we definitely think you'll get a feeling of "Is it him"?

Ota: Based on the character profiles in the instruction manual you'll probably be able to figure out who the rivals are.

Imamura: To some degree. What's more important is watching the rival mark in the actual race. If you aim for them you're most likely on the right path to winning.

Graphics, sound, and processing speed are all first principles

---Just making the machine move alone is an elaborate process, are the other factors that go into it difficult as well?


Taro Bando (Sound Composer)

Bando: We put the machine sounds in very late in development, about 6 months before the game was finished. By that time there was almost no processing time left in the program for the sound, so in the end the sound processing was also a top priority. We used what's called streaming playback where all the BGM is in one track. It's like we just put a whole CD's worth of data into the ROM.

---Normally with the N64's sound, you put the musical instrument sounds into the ROM and then the 64 synthesizes them into the sound.

Bando: That's right. But, doing it that way uses up about 3% of the total CPU. We didn't have that margin so instead we recorded the full songs one at a time and put them into the ROM.

---So which songs from the previous game have been remade?

Bando: Mute City and Big Blue. These were very popular in the previous game, and so we wanted to put them in this time too.

Sugiyama: You're really nostalgic aren't you

Bando: When I put in the remake of Mute City, Ota yelled "Whoa!! This is really F-ZERO!!" (laugh)

Ota: At the time of the previous game I was still just a player. When I joined the company one of the questions they asked was "What games do you like?" and I answered F-ZERO.

---Because of constraints, was it pretty tough?

Bando: I said "If you can't give me processing time, give me capacity". The ROM this time is 128MB and nearly 80MB of that is sound data (laugh). The streaming playback method is incredibly fast, so it gave us a lot of freedom in what kinds of sounds we could use. The guitar sound data is all real, raw guitar music. I was thinking of putting in more flashy vocals but in the end it ended up pretty modest. We eventually ended up with scat vocals which is definitely because of me.

Sugiyama: Anyway, as for this game's processing priority... if it were another game, I don't think it would be allowed. (laugh)

Imamura: In that sense it was also quite difficult from the design side. I wanted to put in more backgrounds and buildings, stuff like that. Normally it's "Make more stuff!!" but this time it was the other way around. More like "Make it cheaper and simpler on the processing priority". In exchange, we worked quite hard to improve the small amount of assets we did have.

---Even though it was like that for just 1 screen, the game comes with 4-player split screen....

Imamura: During Vs. mode various things are omitted, such as distant scenery and clouds. Thanks to these omissions it becomes very easy to play for 4 players because it's pretty much just the road. It's a game that's very easy for 4 players to play! That's why we really want people to play the Vs. mode.

The 64DD lets you make your own courses!?


---This time around it looks like you can build your own courses thanks to the 64DD.

Sugiyama: Later on, we'll release a track editor that allows users to create tracks using the 64DD. Any regular user can set up their own tracks.

Imamura: It's really easy to use. It's as simple as kneading noodles, you just loop things together and set up the surroundings. And after that you can use the machine editor and bring everybody together for a heated battle.

---Why did you choose to make the course editor run on the 64? Usually the editor is something run on a computer.

Ota: When we made courses we wanted to test them right away. For example if you make them at a workstation you have to put the data in the game to test it and that really just turns into more work.

Sugiyama: You can race a little, adjust so-and-so area to be a little more S-shaped, and stuff like that while you're making the track. It's sort of like craftsmanship (laugh). There are some tracks made by programmers like Ota rather than by the designers.

Imamura: I made dozens of maps but could only include 1 so I had to choose carefully.

---Which means you had an endless amount of rejected courses.

Imamura: Endless indeed. But that's a good thing, because if for example unlike Mario Kart, it meant the designers did not have to do all of the course modeling and could focus diligently on other things. That said, this time it was common for Sugiyama to tell us to correct things, like "Fix this." (laugh). It would be hard to say that in something like Mario Kart I think. Because the designers struggle to make things with feedback like that.

Sugiyama: Nope, I did that with Mario Kart revisions as well (laugh). But of course I never asked for unreasonable changes.

Imamura: We really think the course editor is a very evolved technique.

Sugiyama: In order to make it simpler, the unneeded things have already been "rejected" by the end. (laugh).

There's really no rocket start.

---This time you can finely tune the machines' settings. But you can only move the cursor one dot at a time using the arrow pad.

Ota: That one dot is actually subdivided several times. Using the analog stick, although it may not be obvious, the internal numbers vary slightly. I think it's not clear because only the number after the decimal point changes, but there's around 1000 types of settings.

Sugiyama: Because you can adjust machine settings this time we removed the rocket start. Regarding that, we heard very frequently "It's really there, right?" But, it's not.

---So all that time I spent looking for the rocket start timing was wasted (laugh)

Sugiyama: During development there were sometimes bugs that looked like a rocket start...

Imamura: The one bug where the car moved about 2000 km/h... (laugh)

Ota: That doesn't happen any more (laugh) That one really surprised me.

---Assuming no rocket start, what technique should replace it? The side attack is a great technique to use.

Imamura: On hairpin turns if you aggressively side attack you will be able to go around turns without losing too much speed...

Ota: But of course if you let the grip do its work and then push the accelerator coming around the turn you'll achieve top speed.

Imamura: So, the side attack is something you shouldn't just use whenever you can. It's more profound than that.

---Amazing technique for White Land 2

Ota: Ah that's right, there is a pretty cool trick. There's something really nice in the King Cup's track White Land 2.

---What is it!?

Ota: I haven't mastered it yet, but it shrunk my fastest time considerably. Faster by the staff ghost by about 10 seconds. There's a halfpipe, and at the very edge of the right or left side you make yourself parallel to the outer edge. Using the R button at the right edge and Z button at the left edge you can go really fast!

Bando: Well then, I'd fall.

Ota: You do it so you don't fall. If you do that your speed gets really high (laugh). There's also places you can and can't do it... is what I'm told by the debuggers.

---But you can do this in the full version.

Ota: Yup. I know why it happens too, but I decided to leave it in the full version.

---So it's a shortcut for shortening time. But it's difficult to understand what determines whether you end up going off the course.

Sugiyama: There is of course an area in which the course exists, and we didn't add shortcuts that somehow send you outside of it. Think of a big invisible cylinder around the road. If you go outside that cylinder you're off the course.

Imamura: So, even if the road isn't on the screen, you're still flying along it. It's not a shortcut in a strict sense, but it is a shortcut in that it reduces your time. Once the game is released I'm sure we'll see shortcuts leading to some unthinkable times...

Bando: Those are definitely gonna show up.

Imamura: Absolutely.

Bando: I am sure people are going to find plenty of crazy things in the game.

Imamura: They're definitely there to find.

Sugiyama: I see, that's a little scary to think about.

Imamura: I think it'll be fun. If it turns the game into a hot topic I'll be very glad.

Uchiha Madao
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that's a really nice interview. it sheds some light in several design decisions made in the game.

that method they used for the music explains why it was so easy to replace the mono songs with stereo songs with the 64DD. the system just had to play the 64DD versions instead (you can see it loading before each track).

it's nice to see several of the advanced techs like side attacks and Pipe DTs were actually intended to be in the game and left on purpose. they definitely made it better overall. leaving the WL2 half pipe side attack speed increase led to DTD in the end from the look of things.

these guys really knew what made F-Zero good. it shows that the series was already at the top of the game from the start and it makes it even sadder that there's no new game since many of the lead guys from here still work at Nintendo and make Mario Kart.

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CMV
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Great interview!

That part about the different machine settings is pretty interesting, I never heard about this before. Perhaps this could be used for TAS's...

Also that they knew about DTD and left it in the game for the players to find it surprised me. Well there are staff ghosts using it, but I thought it was only on coincidence.

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Mandalore
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Glad they held off doing loads of vocals for the music.

samurai goroh
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Thanks for posting the interview
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It was a nice interview to read (it would had been useful to have it when I started playing though, lol), thanks TBK.

I like how they found some bugs but decided to keep them, making the game way more interesting. They talking about cars moving at 2000km makes me wonder if that's why that's the top speed in a free fall on the side (no side attacks) and that if that's why they decided to cap the speed at 3000km.

Uchiha Madao
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also, this part got me:

 

 

Imamura: The one bug where the car moved about 2000 km/h... (laugh)

Ota: That doesn't happen any more (laugh) That one really surprised me.

 

it's funny since that glitch can still happen under some circumstances.

 

"Patience is useful in any moment"
WMJ
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Thanks for posting this! Nice to see what some of the key developers thought of the game when it was released. The massive shortcuts they feared would be discovered never really happened (thankfully). I thank mr. Ota for leaving the side effects of side attacks under an angle in the game Very Happy. If he got 10 seconds faster than the staff ghost at wl2 even before the games release discovering the half pipe trick that's quite amazing. This will always be one of my favorite games of all time.

Daniel
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 Awesome stuff!

I am really thankful they kept these DT-Zs and DT-Rs speed strategies for the halfpipes Very Happy.

And yeah the CPUs get aggressive on Master if they are behind (I look at you Silence 1!).

Sad they did not find out DTD itself but only the DT-R and DT-Z stuff, and also not TDD which is a bit obvious in some tracks (or if you test the game and fly around and make stupid things).

Luckily they didnt find out the AGG (or maybe they left it for us? who knows...)

I would love to see these rejected courses they never released Sad, but well this game is still where it's at, best racing game for the N64 without doubts.

Thanks for this TBK! Wink

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