Senior Game Designer on Metroid Prime/DKCR leaves Retro to join id Software

#1
Retro Studios senior designer leaves

Mike Wikan was one of the few Retro Studios employees who remained at the company since the early days. Starting as a senior designer on Metroid Prime, he pursued a similar role on the other two iterations of the trilogy. Later he was in charge of bosses and enemies in Donkey Kong Country Returns, which was released only last year. As of May 2011, Wikan has become lead game designer at id Software, best known for DOOM and Quake.



Wikan is the second senior designer who has left Retro Studios this year. Kynan Pearson, designer on MP2 and MP3, as well as an unreleased title, and level designer on DKCR, left to join 343 Industries in January already. The fate of the last senior designer, Tom Ivey, is currently unknown, he might still be at the company.

Retro Studios faced a similar situation when several key members who were responsible for the Metroid Prime trilogy left in early 2009, after quarrels between the studio leads and Nintendo Japan concerning the studio's future direction and creative freedom. While this proved to be a critical issue at Retro Studios with a Zelda spin-off and several original IPs directed at a more mature audience being rejected, the situation at another internal Nintendo studio was even worse. At NST, this led to major departures and a disassemblement of their console team.

However, it appears as if Nintendo has yet to understand that their Western studios require some creative freedom to ensure a low turnover rate and thus quality & consistency, as not all of Retro Studios' employees appeared to be satisfied with working on DKCR after working on Metroid Prime, much less with the prospect of working on another DKCR for Nintendo's next generation console WiiU.

Both old and new Retro employees may see these as a opportunity. When Nintendo CEO Iwata asked Pearson about his feelings when the Metroid Prime leads left, Pearson said:

"Well...it was, of course, hard when a few key members who had worked on the Metroid Prime series left, but I knew it was also a chance to introduce new ways of thinking and operating."


Retro Studios is currently helping on Mario Kart 7 for Nintendo 3DS.

_______________________


It's no surprise that both Pearson and Wikan left. I've heard of several Retro Studios employees that they were not very happy to be put on the DKC game, they wanted to take the direction many other Western studios pursued - but that's not what Nintendo Japan liked. These departures pretty much point towards DKCR2 though.
 

Shikamaru Ninja

任天堂 の 忍者
#3
Shiggy said:
Retro Studios is currently helping on Mario Kart 7 for Nintendo 3DS.
Misleading. Contributing assets to the DK themed level of Mario Kart helping. Not helping as in "co-developing". RARE used to do the same thing I believe.
 
#4
I don't understand why they would have a problem working on DKCR. I can understand they'd want a new project after working on nothing but metroid for so long, but what's wrong with Donkey Kong?

also, who told you about this part:

much less with the prospect of working on another DKCR for Nintendo's next generation console WiiU.
sounds like speculation on your part.
 
#5
Shikamaru Ninja said:
Misleading. Contributing assets to the DK themed level of Mario Kart helping. Not helping as in "co-developing". RARE used to do the same thing I believe.
Are you sure that's the only thing? It looks to me as if it's a little bit more as some of the Retro employees even use MK7 avatars.
 
#7
So instead of wanting to work with a great platforming franchise, a genre sorely lacking in this era of gaming, they want to leave and go work on FPS's?

Yeah, okay. I think Nintendo's in the right here.
 

Shikamaru Ninja

任天堂 の 忍者
#12
But seriously. Western-based developers move around alot. New company start-ups that hire "senior developers" always have very lucrative packages.
 

Shikamaru Ninja

任天堂 の 忍者
#16
Shiggy said:
Are you sure that's the only thing? It looks to me as if it's a little bit more as some of the Retro employees even use MK7 avatars.
IGN stated they "helped" design one of the levels according to the producer. I would have to assume that level is a DK level.
 
#17
ZeroGravity said:
So instead of wanting to work with a great platforming franchise, a genre sorely lacking in this era of gaming, they want to leave and go work on FPS's?

Yeah, okay. I think Nintendo's in the right here.
It's not so simple. Besides we cant know what was going on inside his head when he decided to leave. It could have been a variety of factors: creative freedom, salary, perks etc.
 
#20
Ah I was wondering about this guy after the 343i story Shiggy never dissapoints.

Honestly though, Retro Studios is doomed. They lose like a ton of their best guys after every game ships.
 
#22
rekameohs said:
Man, Nintendo really needs to let Retro do what they want. They're an incredibly talented team.
Retro is a pretty big dev team and they have had several people leave over the years. The quality of their titles has seemed to stay constant, though.

I'm sure Nintendo picks up just as much talent as leaves the company.

Also, if history tells us anything, Retro needs Nintendo's direction in order to be successful.
 
#23
DanteFox said:
I don't understand why they would have a problem working on DKCR. I can understand they'd want a new project after working on nothing but metroid for so long, but what's wrong with Donkey Kong?

also, who told you about this part:

sounds like speculation on your part.
What's wrong with working with an old IP - a side scrolling platformer no less - that should've stayed in the past? Something to appeal to everyone in favor of something new and more original? I'd be upset too.
 

EatChildren

Currently polling second in Australia's federal election (first in the Gold Coast), this feral may one day be your Bogan King.
#24
DanteFox said:
I don't understand why they would have a problem working on DKCR. I can understand they'd want a new project after working on nothing but metroid for so long, but what's wrong with Donkey Kong?
Because they, like most people in any creative industry, had the itch to create something for themselves. Metroid and Donkey Kong are great, but still limits to working on an existing IP within the bondaries set by the publisher.

They wanted more freedom, so they went where they needed to go to get it.
 
#25
AceBandage said:
Armature doesn't pay as well as id or MS.
It probably depends more on the types of games they're working on.

Metroid Prime was a first person shooter series, and Armature might not be making one anymore, but id and Microsoft definitely are.
 
#26
Shadow of the BEAST said:
Going from games like metroid prime to shovelware like mario kart is probably rough.

Good for them, id say. I hope they get better appreciation else where.
There is so much wrong with this statement, I don't even know where to start.
 
#27
Shadow of the BEAST said:
Going from games like metroid prime to shovelware like mario kart is probably rough.

Good for them, id say. I hope they get better appreciation else where.

1. Mario Kart isn't shovelware.
2. They aren't making Mario Kart. Just lending some assets to it.

[Nintex said:
]Ah I was wondering about this guy after the 343i story Shiggy never dissapoints.

Honestly though, Retro Studios is doomed. They lose like a ton of their best guys after every game ships.
And they hire just as many people...
 
#29
"While this proved to be a critical issue at Retro Studios with a Zelda spin-off and several original IPs directed at a more mature audience being rejected"


Awww man! We could of had some kind of first person Zelda adventure game.
 
#31
Shikamaru Ninja said:
But seriously. Western-based developers move around alot. New company start-ups that hire "senior developers" always have very lucrative packages.
Yeah this is what I've heard as well. Retro seems to get a lot more attention though than others.
 
#32
apana said:
It's not so simple. Besides we cant know what was going on inside his head when he decided to leave. It could have been a variety of factors: creative freedom, salary, perks etc.
I don't know what you really want me to say then. I can only go off of what the OP provided.
 
#34
Considering DKCR outsold all of Retro's Metroid titles, I imagine Nintendo is now even more content with working on DKCR2 than anything else.

I imagine the turnover is one of the reasons Nintendo has not invested in creating Western dev houses. In Japan, until recently, most people who entered a company stayed their whole careers in it. The Western market seems much more fluid in terms of workforce, which can be a very bad thing when it comes to worker benefits.

I suspect DKCR2 is in the works. They had a hiring spree for a bit at their GDC discussion if I recall. Either way, Nintendo needs to build their internal development studios, and the faults of the Wii and latter DS lineups show that even moreso. They need another Rare to be their complement, and having other third party companies do a few games can only work so many times with success.
 
#35
Prime 1 is one of my favorite games ever. I just want Retro to make one more game as incredible as that. The odds just seem to be getting lower though.
 
#36
I wonder if Armature's game will be a rebranded version of whatever their first person Sheik game was.

I realize that wouldn't work well for XBLA/PSN, but Shiggy was saying that Capcom was willing to fund them on handhelds.
 
#37
Shadow of the BEAST said:
Going from games like metroid prime to shovelware like mario kart is probably rough.

Good for them, id say. I hope they get better appreciation else where.
I now see why so many people give Juniors a hard time.
 

EatChildren

Currently polling second in Australia's federal election (first in the Gold Coast), this feral may one day be your Bogan King.
#38
The seemingly endless cycle of senior staff leaving Retro is a bit concerning when taken as face value, but until Retro's product quality drops I dont think it warrants too much concern. Many were convinced the mass exodus pre-DKCR was a sign of the end, but DKCR's quality is right up there with the best of what Nintendo has offered this generation.

Still, its always sad to see important staff go, and I hope Nintendo manage to replace him with someone of equal talent.

EDIT: Despite the talent at the company, I seriously question the status of Armature. The company has flip flopped partnerships and direction for far too long now. I'm sure they're working on something, but I'm not going to bet on it being anything too significant.
 
#39
Nirolak said:
I wonder if Armature's game will be a rebranded version of whatever their first person Sheik game was.

I realize that wouldn't work well for XBLA/PSN, but Shiggy was saying that Capcom was willing to fund them on handheld.
I thought they were now working for Sony. Some kind of NGP game I believe.
 
#40
Metroid Prime was a piece of junk until Miyamoto hand held them with daily updates and meetings. Technically MP is a piece of work but would hardly be the trilogy it is today without Nintendo Japan intervening and guiding Retro.

Also people move around in the industry although granted, Nintendo have let their partnerships slide.
 
#42
Nirolak said:
I'm a bit surprised more of them didn't join Armature.

That place has like five or six very senior Retro staff from the Metroid Prime era.
Armature hasn't got proper funding, some prefer a secure job. Especially when Armature is only helping out on the Halo remake.


So one left for 343i who are gonna be making Halo games for the rest of their lives... How's that for creative freedom?
That might go down to more responsiblity and more money ;)


But seriously. Western-based developers move around alot. New company start-ups that hire "senior developers" always have very lucrative packages.
That's true, but there are ways to avoid the departure of your leads each time a game is finished. You may just not take too much influence and create an equal relationship.


And who knows whether they wanted to make another Halo? What about an innovative FPS? People enjoyed the MP series after all, the Wii could've needed some FPS titles. They already have enough 2D jump'n'runs and with Retro they once had a studio capable of creating immersive 3D games.


I wonder if Armature's game will be a rebranded version of whatever their first person Sheik game was.

I realize that wouldn't work well for XBLA/PSN, but Shiggy was saying that Capcom was willing to fund them on handheld.
Armature did some uncredited work, they worked on Halo CE remake most recently. Their EA Partners titles never entered full production and Capcom canned their project too (it was already canned when I made a thread about it...). Now they are working on a Vita/PSN project.
 
#43
Nintendo need to appreciate the fact that Retro are one of the most talented, creative and intuitive game development studios that they have under their wing, and need build on that by allowing them more creative freedom and input. If Nintendo want to succeed with this whole WiiU thing, they have to allow developers like Retro proceed with some of their ideas and concepts, because it will be them that takes Nintendo's next console to the hard-core audience.
Losing Retro would be a huge loss to Nintendo, both from a physical and idealogical perspective. Retro are Nintendo's last connection to the west in terms of mature, well-produced titles, such as the Metroid Prime series.
In fact, Retro are probably more valuable to nintendo of Japan than they realise.
 
#45
Shiggy said:
Armature did some uncredited work, they worked on Halo CE remake most recently. Their EA Partners titles never entered full production and Capcom canned their project too (it was already canned when I made a thread about it...). Now they are working on a Vita/PSN project.
I see.

Thanks for the information.
 
#46
It seems like Nintendo has Retro on a very tight leash and so the design side may not matter at all as long as the technical and art side of things is top notch. Nintendo just needs talented content producers that can do as they're told.
 
#47
Ubermatik said:
Nintendo need to appreciate the fact that Retro are one of the most talented, creative and intuitive game development studios that they have under their wing, and need build on that by allowing them more creative freedom and input. If Nintendo want to succeed with this whole WiiU thing, they have to allow developers like Retro proceed with some of their ideas and concepts, because it will be them that takes Nintendo's next console to the hard-core audience.
Losing Retro would be a huge loss to Nintendo, both from a physical and idealogical perspective. Retro are Nintendo's last connection to the west in terms of mature, well-produced titles, such as the Metroid Prime series.
In fact, Retro are probably more valuable to nintendo of Japan than they realise.

They can't lose Retro...
And what ideas and concepts are you specifically talking about?
Everything they were working on Pre-Prime (IE, before Miyamoto stepped in and saved them) was junk.
 
#50
Nirolak said:
I'm a bit surprised more of them didn't join Armature.

That place has like five or six very senior Retro staff from the Metroid Prime era.

Because Armature has managed to lose more publisher agreements than they've released games in the history of their existence.