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Interview: Super Monkey Ball's Yasuhito Baba


Who would've thought that a simple game about monkeys trapped in plastic balls would go on to become one of Sega's biggest franchises? We talked with Sega producer Yasuhito Baba at Tokyo Game Show about the upcoming Step & Roll for the Wii Balance Board, and talked about the future for the franchise. Will it include support for Natal and the PlayStation Motion Controller? Read on.

Joystiq: How long after the Balance Board was announced did you think of making a new Monkey Ball game for it?
Yasuhito Baba: So actually, as soon the Balance Board game out, we thought this would be a great match for Super Monkey Ball. But the problem is, because we can't bundle with the Balance Board, we had to wait and see how the Balance Board would do. We had to wait for it to sell and wait for there to be a market for more Balance Board games.

Monkey Ball is really well suited for new devices. So pretty much whenever there's a new device or new platform, we're always thinking about if Monkey Ball would work on it or not.

Obviously, using your body is very different from using a controller. Does the Balance Board allow for levels to become as challenging as the later levels of the original games?
Just from the start, just that you're not using your hands -- we're aware that is an entirely new level of challenge. One thing that we're being careful about is the difficulty curve. One thing that we found in development is that, because you're using your feet instead of your hands -- when people use their hands, they kind of improve on a gentle curve. When people are using their feets, which they're not as used to, there's more spurts of improvement. And the overall improvement is slower. We've been very aware of that in level design, and so we've tried to make level design less challenging and something that's just more fun to play and something that can continue and encourage you to continue to play and not get you not frustrated. We've also added guard rails in the levels, with that in mind as well.

So, if somebody is a veteran Monkey Ball player, they can definitely expect to be as challenged as well in the final levels. On the development team, making the levels has definitely felt very challenging in the last few levels.

What kind of changes are being made for players that use the Wii Remote instead of the Balance Board?
So basically, we're addressing that by having certain barriers appear in the level when you're using the Wii Remote. Those won't appear when you're on the Balance Board, but they'll appear when you're using the Wii Remote. But, of course because you're using your hands, it should be easier to get around.

Where do you see the future of the Monkey Ball going? Do you think it will always require new hardware, or do you see the series exploring different kinds of gameplay in the future?
That's a difficult question. One thing we feel is that simplicity is important to Monkey Ball. Because it's simple, it's something that's easy to keep playing, and to play again and again, even the same levels. You can have fun replaying it. But, that also creates a challenge when creating sequels because people can say "hey, I've played quite a bit of that and it's a simple formula. I've already done that."

So it's probably possible to change the gameplay, as long as there are new platforms and peripherals coming out. As game creators, it's very interesting to ask "what if we put the Monkey Ball characters in this situation, on this platform? What will happen?" It's just a very fun challenge for us to face.

That being said, we don't want to put Monkey Ball automatically on any and all platforms. We definitely want to be careful with the franchise, and make sure that first the platform is suited to the gameplay and also, that there's a market for the game and it's going to be successful. We want to be careful going forward that we decide which platforms to put it on.

We feel responsibility to the fans of the Super Monkey Ball franchise who have supported us for so long. We have to go out there with high-quality and fun games, instead of just releasing on every single platform.

Related to your previous point, we didn't see a Monkey Ball game using the SIXAXIS controls on PlayStation 3. Is it because there wasn't an audience for it, or was it something the team wasn't interested in?
There's various aspects of that. On the consumer side, Monkey Ball has mainly been on Nintendo platforms. That's probably part of the reason. Even if we had quickly moved over from Banana Blitz to PS3 and the SIXAXIS controller -- even though it's a different hardware, it might not be that different of an experience. That might limit the market. But there's also an opportunity cost, because there's limited development teams at Sega Japan. Obviously, we have to assign a development team to that, so it's a mixture of all those things.

What do you think about the upcoming motion controllers from Xbox and PlayStation? Do you have any plans on supporting them?
On the development side, we're definitely interested in it. As soon as those things were announced, we immediately thought it would be cool to put Super Monkey Ball on those platforms. But there are obviously market concerns. We don't know what's going to happen with both the Sphere (PlayStation Motion Controller) and Natal, really. For now, we're taking a wait-and-see approach. If those platforms are succeeding, and we think the market's going to be there for Super Monkey Ball on those platforms, it's definitely something we're going to strongly consider.

It seems really cool, but we don't know is the honest answer. Sorry I can't give a more clear answer than that.

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