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Web Video / Masahiro Sakurai on Creating Games

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"I want to try and help make games around the world a little more fun."

Masahiro Sakurai on Creating Games is a Web Video channel on YouTube. As the name implies, the series is all about Masahiro Sakurai offering his advice and opinions to up-and-coming video game designers on how to make video games more enjoyable and entertaining for the players who play them, as well as dipping into Sakurai's own history with creating games. Through the videos, Sakurai aims to both entertain people and educate them on video game creation.

The videos are divided into multiple categories:

  • A: Work Ethic — videos about the industry itself, generally giving advice as to how to work in a game design studio and how to present one's ideas.
  • B: Game Essence — videos about game theory and concepts that all video games should employ, such as the risk-reward factor and the release of tension a player gets by winning.
  • C: Planning & Game Design — videos about game ideas and mechanics, and how a designer should implement them into their game.
  • D: Design Specifics — videos about the thinking behind some of the smaller details of a game, such as visual effects or ways to give the player feedback.
  • E: Team Management — videos about how to effectively manage game development among an entire development team and properly communicate with them.
  • F: Graphics — videos about graphical fidelity, ways to implement effects, and tips on how to get the most out of a game's appearance.
  • G: Animation — videos about the way things move on the screen, such as the Player Character's actions or Idle Animations.
  • H: Effects — videos about the way that effects work, how they can be used, and ways to make sure that they show what a designer wants the effects to show.
  • I: Audio — videos about how sound design is incorporated into a video game and the overall effect it has on the experience.
  • J: UI — videos about user interfaces, and how to effectively display information to the player.
  • K: Programming & Tech — videos about subjects that revolve around technical interfacing with computers, such as file organization.
  • L: Marketing — videos about ways to effectively advertise your game to consumers before and after release.
  • M: Grab Bag — videos about things that don't neatly fit into any other category, such as ways to reduce input lag or game award shows.
  • N: Game Concepts — videos about how Sakurai came up with the ideas for each of his games.
  • Z: About — videos that explain what the channel is about, or about Sakurai's own personal history.

The channel can be found here for English-subtitled videos, and here for Japanese-subtitled videos.

Tropes used by the show:

  • An Aesop:
    • For all of the other things he talks about, Sakurai admits that the one thing to always keep in mind is that a game developer's job is to entertain the players.
    • "Game Development Isn't a Game" contains the Hard Truth Aesop that passion alone won't help a creator make a game; you need to treat it like any other job and work hard at it. A hypothetical example is shown of a designer who likes cute things being tasked with rendering a decaying zombie for a horror game.
    • Show, Don't Tell is in full effect for video games. The way Sakurai tells it across his channels, he tries to instill upon up-and-coming game creators that there's a right way and a wrong way to give the player feedback.
    • "Spec Changes": Sometimes problems happen that necessitate lengthy and drastic changes. Always remain flexible and be proactive when doing so. In addition, Poor Communication Kills when problems arise in development; try to make potential issues known as quickly as possible and make informed decisions about how to react accordingly.
  • Because I'm Good At It: Downplayed. In "Game Development Isn't a Game", Sakurai says he creates games less because he likes them (though he admits that's how it should be), and more because it's what he's good at. There's nothing morally dubious about creating video games for a living, but Sakurai admits he develops games more through talent than passion.
  • The Cameo: In "Exercise While You Game!", while Sakurai is discussing how there are multiple things to watch while exercising due to subscription services, the first two characters shown on the television are (copyright-friendly versions of) Sherlock Holmes and Superman.
  • Captain Ersatz: When discussing in "Making a Living Making Games" how it's good to have a first project be derivative, the example used is called Dragon Squat, which is meant to be a very blatant parody of Dragon Quest.
  • Central Theme: In regards to game design, Sakurai believes strongly in the concept of "push and pull", which is the idea of using risk and reward to encourage the player to extract more fun out of the game by testing their limits and pushing their capabilities; Sakurai refers to this concept "as the "game essence" that is at the core of all games that he makes and what games should strive to achieve. That said, as mentioned in "Fun Beyond Game Essence", there are genres of games that don't necessarily rely on this element to be fun or successful, such as rhythm games, visual novels, and simulation games.
  • Cute Kitten: "My Feline Friend, Fukurashi" devoted an entire episode to showing off his cat being adorable, including clips of her kittenhood.
  • Edutainment Show: In the "About This Channel" video, Sakurai states that his goal is to both entertain people and educate them on video games. As such, the videos are short snippets on concepts while educating the viewer about Sakurai's thought processes and his observations on video games.
  • Fake Interactivity:
  • Follow the Bouncing Ball: "Learn to Count Frames!" has this occur when Sakurai is discussing rhythm and beats, with Mario in his Super Mario World sprite acting as the ball, reminiscent of the composer tool from Mario Paint.
  • Freeze-Frame Bonus: In "Presentations Are All About Speed!", a Title Drop occurs against a starry space background, during which a Crewmate from Among Us can be seen flying across the upper right of the screen at high speed.
  • Hard Truth Aesop: Most of the "Work Ethic" videos.
    • "Game Development Isn't a Game": In many cases, you won't have the freedom to work on games you like if you're getting into the industry. You may even be forced to work on games you don't like. Sakurai uses an example of a person who likes really cute and adorable creatures having to create a model for a Flesh-Eating Zombie, even though they think it's gross. But at the end of the day, game development is still a job, and you must put aside personal preferences and treat it like a job.
    • "Try Telling That to the Player": The vast majority of players don't care if things went really badly during development. But even if things go completely awry, it's the developer's job to persevere and come out with a product that their audience will be happy with.invoked
  • Hypocritical Humor: In "Game Music and Ambient Sounds", Sakurai questions at one point whether or not producing too many songs for a single game is ideal. The video then shows a snippet of a presentation on Super Smash Bros. Ultimate pointing out that said game would have over 800 songs, including many rearrangements upon release (and that wasn't counting the many post-release additions thanks to DLC). Sakurai then humorously admits that he's not the one to speak.
  • Inconsistent Episode Lengths: While each video is usually a few minutes long, it varies depending on which topic that Sakurai is discussing. "Presentations Are All About Speed!" even invokes this, as the video encourages a presenter to get to the point of their presentation when pitching a concept or an idea. To prove its own point, the video is only about one minute long.
  • Keep Circulating the Tapes:invoked In "Super Smash Bros.", Sakurai shows never-before-seen footage for the prototype of Super Smash Bros. 64, known in development as Dragon King: The Fighting Game. Prior to this episode's release, the only pieces of Dragon King that had been seen by the observable public were screenshots.
  • Limited Animation: What little art assets that aren't video game footage don't move around very much. For instance, treasure chest rattling will see the box randomly shift in angle a few times before opening up to reveal a static sword and shield that fly at the viewer.
  • Never Mess with Granny: "Do We Really Need Enemies?" starts with Sakurai roleplaying as Little Red Riding Hood and her grandmother, with the grandmother explaining the fundamentals of fighting enemies in video games. As she explains, the grandmother is progressively equipped with an axe and black-plated armor.
  • Out-of-Genre Experience: "My Feline Friend, Fukurashi" is an episode that has absolutely nothing to do with gaming, and is instead a photo collage of Sakurai's pet cat, Fukurashi.
  • Painting the Medium: Sakurai will occasionally mess with his own episode format to align with what he's trying to teach.
    • "Presentations Are All About Speed!" keeps things short and wraps up in a little over a minute.
    • In "Loading Screens", just after Sakurai says, "not too many people are keen on waiting around while the word 'Loading' lingers on-screen," the series' signature loading bar graphic occurs. Except this time, the loading bar stretches out a few seconds longer as it shudders its way to 100% like it was actually a game that is loading the content from a disc or hard drive.
  • Parody Product Placement: In "Good Errands and Bad Errands", the video's topic is taken from Sakurai's column collection, Thoughts on Playing Games 2, but he has to emphasize that he's not trying to advertise it.
    Sakurai: This is not an advertisement. Wait, there's an e-book version, too? (Still not an advertisement.)
  • Paying It Forward: The channel introduction has Sakurai admitting that he's Doing It for the Art, wanting to help future game designers so that people can keep making fun video games in the future.invoked
  • Please Subscribe to Our Channel: Played straight once in "About This Channel". Sakurai then comments, "That was a very YouTube thing for me to ask, but I promise I won't be doing it again in future videos."
  • Trolling Creator: Invoked in "The Fiend's Cauldron", where Sakurai caps off with a rather pointed remark towards fans who have been begging for a port of Kid Icarus: Uprising for years.
    Sakurai: It sure would be nice to play Kid Icarus: Uprising on a modern console. I wonder if someone out there will ever port it?
  • You're Insane!: In "Don't Anchor Your Center Point", after proposing that the camera's center point shouldn't be anchored to a character, Sakurai expects this to be his Audience Reaction.invoked
    Sakurai: (beat) You're probably thinking I've lost it right about now.

Tropes discussed in the show:

  • Acceptable Breaks from Reality:
    • Discussed in "Too Much Is Just Right", where he recommends throwing caution to the wind and distorting a character's model or sprite during an animation to make it look more dynamic. As a video example, he uses clips of Kazuya Mishima performing Roundhouse to Triple Spin Kick (in both Tekken 7 and Super Smash Bros. Ultimate), and freeze-framing to show Kazuya's torso twisting in an impossible fashion. It does help make the move look much more hard hitting.
    • In "Breaking Down Attack Animations", Sakurai mentions how during the initial start-up animation of an attack, the character appears to "skip" to their startup frames without a smooth transition. While a smooth transition would look realistic, this would be rather counterintuitive in a video game since it slows down the animation and attacks require immediate visual feedback once a button is pressed.
  • All or Nothing: Sakurai states in "Sora Ltd." that this is the way that his company works in regards to income. Because Sora Ltd. was founded after 2006, Japanese law states he cannot routinely profit off of it. As such, Sakurai is not paid during the game development process; he's only compensated after the game releases, with his pay being determined by game sales. If a project does well, he earns quite a bit, since he admits he's "never had trouble paying the bills" after starting this way. However, if the project ends up falling through (even if it wasn't his fault), Sakurai is paid nothing at all.
  • And You Thought It Would Fail:invoked Sakurai discusses at the end of "Super Smash Bros." that you shouldn't let skeptical opinions of your work from higher-ups stop you from getting it out into the open. Prior to the release of Super Smash Bros. 64, the Nintendo executives who played the game had very high opinions of it, whereas the marketing team tried to deny Sakurai the chance to release the game because they thought it would be a flop, even though they hadn't even tested the game for themselves.
  • Benevolent Boss:
    • Sakurai encourages this line of thinking. A recurring point of discussion in his videos is that a game's development leadership must always be open, honest, and able to accept feedback from their team. "Try Telling That to the Player" is about overcoming difficulties with team problems and how it won't matter to the people who are going to buy your game that things were hard during game development.
    • "Sora's Work-From-Home Strategies" has Sakurai going into detail about how the Super Smash Bros. Ultimate dev team adapted to teleworking throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as his attempts to solve team problems during development. After receiving feedback from a teamwide survey about working conditions and drawbacks to their new working environment, Sora Ltd. decided to personally foot the bill for nearly anything the dev team needed for a functional and comfortable work-from-home environment and allowed everyone to keep everything they got, no questions asked.
  • Catharsis Factor:invoked Sakurai notes in "Squeeze and Release" that the way in which a game stresses out a player should also be the way in which they can remove the tension by clearing the obstacle. Sakurai argues that every game must stress the player out at least somewhat, because it wouldn't be any fun if there was no challenge.
  • Cast of Snowflakes: Sakurai mentions that this trope in other fighting games was what convinced him to use Nintendo characters in Super Smash Bros. When new fighting games come out, the player is suddenly introduced to a ton of distinct characters all at once, all of whom have the potential to be the main character of their own story. Sakurai felt that this approach would be very overwhelming for newcomers when applied to a console game as opposed to an arcade game (where a character can catch the attention of a bystander through the Attract Mode or another player using them), and the idea to use existing Nintendo characters stemmed from the idea that it would be easier for new players to get into the game if they already knew who the characters in the game were.
  • Crack is Cheaper: Defied in "The Price of Games". Sakurai states that the price of a game is meant to be reflective of the amount of content it offers, and usually ends up being a stark contrast to the amount of money and assets that are used up when creating a game in the first place, which is relatively cheap, all things considered. He does mention that the topic may vary between countries and what their inflation rates are like, but most of the recollections come from his firsthand experiences.
  • Curb-Stomp Battle: Sakurai notes that the idea of the knockback system in Super Smash Bros. was made with the intent of introducing player skill when in a disadvantage state so as to avert this as much as possible. In other fighting games, it was fairly common for newbies to get crushed by skilled players who knew how to use Combos, during which a player on the receiving end could do next to nothing while they watched their character get thrown around until they were K.O.'d.
  • Dynamic Difficulty: "The Fiend's Cauldron" has Sakurai reviewing the positives and negatives about the titular mechanic from Kid Icarus: Uprising, how it plays into the concept of risk vs. reward, and how he feels it competes with "regular" difficulty settings in other video games.
  • Dynamic Loading: Discussed in "Loading Screens", where he goes over how the first Resident Evil disguised its room loading process with the now famous door-opening animations. This not only helped disguise the loading process but heightened the tension of whether there would be a zombie or other such enemy in the next room or not.
  • Earn Your Happy Ending: In "You'll Forget the Hardship, But the Game Will Endure!", Sakurai encourages this line of thinking. Sakurai says that one should remember that lots of people are going to play your game, and one person's hardship is a small price to pay for that. That doesn't mean you should put yourself or your team through a lot of unnecessary hardships, but that cutting corners is going to haunt you for a long time. Sakurai brings up a moment at the ending of Kirby's Adventure where the screen was supposed to flash white, but it shakes instead. Even decades later, Sakurai still hasn't forgotten this slip-up.
  • Easter Egg: In "Distinguishing Between Major and Minor Elements", Sakurai mentions how the background designers for Super Smash Bros. Ultimate added several tidbits without his explicit permission that are nearly impossible to notice without dev tools. These include an Extra Life hidden behind a waterfall on Spiral Mountain, and a model of Brick Road that can be seen inside Dungeon Man's head on Magicant. Sakurai generally doesn't mind the designers including these easter eggs, but he had to tell them to tone it back once he realized that his designers were taking it too far in some places. He cites the example of making the tires on the cars turn in Moray Towers, which is impossible to notice since the player cannot see the tires of the cars. Sakurai told his team to take out the moving tires, since programming this despite the fact that no one could see it in normal gameplay would cause a performance drop with no benefit.
  • Enjoy The Story, Skip The Game:invoked Discouraged. Sakurai remarks in "Fun Beyond Game Essence" that a good story alone will not make for a good game; for a game to truly shine, it has to be fun to play as well. Sakurai encourages visual novels to embrace the interactive nature of their software medium and other genres to have good gameplay alongside the writing to be a product whose sum is greater than its parts.
  • Ensemble Cast: Discusses this trope in his video on Super Smash Bros. 64. He notes that one struggle for console fighters is the abundance of characters who could all potentially be main protagonists or poster boys. To illustrate his point, he shows clips of obscure fighting games like Zero Divide 2, Twin Goddesses, and Battle Monsters, along with the usual suspects.
  • Good Bad Bugs: invoked"Let Players Cheat the System" encourages the use of mechanics overlooked in the game development process which allow for players to create exploits not intended by the developers (as long as they don't break the game's foundation). While such bugs or exploits weren't intended by developers, it creates a more memorable and potentially more fun experience for players.
  • Gratuitous English: Sakurai encourages the filenames to be in English, not romanized Japanese, because English is a lingua franca and industry standard. Chances are more than just Japanese developers are going to have to work on a given game, so it helps everyone.
  • Hit Stop: Encouraged in the "Stop for Big Moments" video. Sakurai goes over how a brief stop when the player hits something or takes damage makes it feel like the attacks onscreen have impact. He shows various forms of feedback when the player character dies, such as stopping everything, making the screen shake, and slowing things down during a death animation. In "Eight Hit Stop Techniques", he goes into more specific detail by discussing techniques he used in Super Smash Bros. Ultimate.
  • Idle Animation: "Assigning Animations" goes into detail about Sakurai's process, and why it's important to think about how a character moves, even when they're standing still. He also talks about the way animators have to fill in the gaps when it comes to animations.
  • It's Easy, So It Sucks!: Sakurai discourages this line of thinking. When discussing his work on the Kirby series, Sakurai explicitly made a game that was easy to play so that players of any skill level could complete it in order to have wider appeal. It worked for Kirby, and the franchise took off. Even after creating the Power Copying mechanic for more gameplay depth in Kirby's Adventure, Sakurai designed the game explicitly so the copying was optional, and that it was still easy to pick up.invoked
  • Jump Physics: Discussed, appropriately enough, in a video called "Jump Physics". Sakurai discusses how jumping is programmed — generally, giving the jumping character upwards momentum and applying gravity on each frame until the character begins to fall. Sakurai also discusses jumping in Super Smash Bros. and how there's a slight delay in jumping because it allows the player to use up-attacks without jumping if they need to.
  • Know When to Fold 'Em: In "Making a Living Making Games", Sakurai states that should you find that your first video game goes horribly wrong in development, it's okay to give up, as you'll realize that the career path of game development just isn't for you.
  • Licensed Game:invoked In "Fun Beyond Game Essence", Sakurai argues that the main goal of a licensed game is generally to entertain established fans of the game's intellectual property with an enjoyable experience in the world of that IP over making new fans, in the same vein as other pieces of merchandise for that IP like the toys and The Movie.
  • Loads and Loads of Loading:
    • "Say No to Slow!" completely discourages this trope, acknowledging that any amount of time in which the player isn't allowed to play, if it doesn't have anything worthwhile going on during it, is a complete waste of time for the player.
      Sakurai: This might sound like an exaggeration, but I'll say it anyway: To make players wait is a sin!
    • He acknowledges in "Loading Screens" that some loading is unavoidable, but devs should attempt to make it an immersive part of the game, or barring that, at least make the indicators simple or have the loading screens tie into the game's atmosphere thematically.
  • Na´ve Newcomer: Sakurai says in "Meteos" that he was completely out of his element when working on Meteos, because he's extremely bad at Falling Blocks games. He's particularly awful at Puyo Puyo, since the multicolored Puyo give him a headache.
  • No Challenge Equals No Satisfaction: In "Squeeze and Release", Sakurai says that a game with nothing to stress out the player isn't a fun one to play. By definition, a game has to throw obstacles at the player to stop their progress, all so that a player can clear the obstacles and move on.
  • Nostalgia Filter: "That Was Then, This is Now" touches upon the concept of comparing old games to new games. Sakurai acknowledges that while games in days past tend to be more inventive and experimental in nature before the modern concepts of game design were formed, games have objectively improved over the years and the tinted lenses that we view old games through tend to be a byproduct of our impressionable youth. Sakurai claims that while video games wouldn't have made it this far without the games of years past, we should always welcome new games and keep an open mind towards new things.
  • Off-Model: In "Too Much is Just Right", Sakurai encourages exceeding the limits of human anatomy if it makes for more dynamic and flashier animations, even if they look "broken" when looking at in a still image. Kazuya's Roundhouse to Triple Spin Kick in the Tekken series and Super Smash Bros. Ultimate, which has a brief moment of Kazuya's spine "breaking" as he twists his body, is used as an example.
  • Poor Communication Kills: "Sharing Info Within a Team" is Sakurai discussing how to avert this. Sakurai says that a team can sometimes lose sight of what it is they're working towards, comparing it to someone making a screw for a car without knowing what that screw is going to be used for. Sakurai says he tries three things to keep everyone's communication open: a daily report to post progress and news, a Screenshot of the Day with a screenshot that people can comment on, and a project presentation every few months for each part of the dev team to show off their progress. Sakurai says that all of this is not only helpful to let everyone know what's going on, but it helps avert people "feeling like cogs in a machine".
  • Prolonged Prologue: Discouraged in the "Just Let Them Play!" video. Sakurai says that taking too long to get to the gameplay of a game will just turn players off, and that trailers won't be helpful if a player can't even tell what kind of game it is. Sakurai argues that a player should have to wait three minutes at most before getting to a part of a game where they're in control.
  • "Seinfeld" Is Unfunny: invokedDiscussed in "The Potential of One Button" with Button Mashing. Because button mashing is an overall tiring experience and is usually tailored towards players who are naturally gifted at rapid pressing, games that are designed around it have fallen out of fashion as a result.
  • Sequel Escalation: In "Super Smash Bros. Melee", Sakurai mentions how the concept behind Melee was rather simple: Super Smash Bros., but better.
  • Some Dexterity Required: Sakurai remarks in "Super Smash Bros." that the increasing complexity of fighting game inputs was what lead him to developing Smash's simple control scheme. Geese Howard's Raging Storm from The King of Fighters '96 and Haohmaru's Tenha Fujinzan from Samurai Shodown II, both infamous "pretzel motion" inputs from SNK, are demonstrated for reference.
  • A Taste of Power: Recommended in "Just Let Them Play!" as a means to get the player into the gameplay as soon as possible, including having the player start as a character other than the main protagonist (even if they are more powerful) if it suits the game.
  • Tough Act to Follow: "Competing with the Past" discusses how games in the modern era still have to compete with the expectations set by games of the past, and as such, need to offer variety to stand out from the crowd.invoked
  • Troubled Production: The video "Try Telling That to the Player" says that production troubles, setbacks, and delays are not things you can easily convey to the players of your game. Also, you may run into people on your development team who prioritize ease for the game creators rather than fun for the players, which Sakurai admits is understandable but to be avoided as much as possible. In any case, Sakurai discourages making excuses for why things turn out badly, because players "aren't going to cut you slack just because development was hard".invoked
  • The Twelve Principles of Animation: "Too Much is Just Right" encourages Exaggeration (as well as some Squash and Stretch) to better convey the action on the screen. He also stresses the importance of Anticipation and Follow-through in other videos.
  • Violence is the Only Option: "Do We Really Need Enemies?" questions the fact that most games involve fighting enemies, with Sakurai noting that "all the shooting, smashing, and slicing!" in gaming can be off-putting to an outsider. He explains that the point of enemies is to provide an obstacle that provides stress for the player, for the purpose of releasing that stress by defeating them. There are other ways to cause and release stress, like having the player save up for an item to buy in-game, and he points to the Pacifist Route in Undertale as possibly even more of a challenge than just killing enemies outright. Not every game needs enemies, but there needs to be some kind of obstacle to overcome.