Kirby Devs Tricks May Change How You View New 3D Gaming

A cute, round, pink creature smiles happily at burgers with buns that resemble its face.

Screenshot: nintendo

With Kirby and the Forgotten Land debuts on Switch this week, a group of developers from Nintendo and HAL Laboratory recently are reunited to discuss some of the tricks they used behind the scenes to help the eponymous pink puffball transition gracefully from its 2D origins into the long-running franchise’s very first 3D adventure.

“[W]When it came to running the game, realistically, there were a lot of issues to work out,” said forgotten land director Tatsuya Kamiyama, a veteran of the HAL lab. “For example, we found that even basic actions like inhaling, spitting, or jumping didn’t work as expected when simply rendered in 3D as is. So we looked at Kirby’s behavior in previous games and spent a lot of time thinking about what to do to create a proper mainline. Kirby game that can be enjoyed in 3D.”

One particularly hilarious obstacle came from Kirby’s nondescript design, which, when placed in three-dimensional space, makes it hard to tell which direction he’s facing.

A graphic showing how Kirby looks almost identical from left, right, and back in 3D.

Picture: nintendo

As is often the case, the developers of Kirby and the Forgotten Land used several gimmicks to make the experience as enjoyable as possible for players. This included manipulating the parameters that determine whether an attack will hit, essentially giving Kirby the ability to fully sense movement and still damage enemies if it makes sense based on the game’s fixed camera perspective.

“[I]If it looks like an attack “should” hit the screen, we make sure it connects, even if it was going to narrowly miss,” Kamiyama said. “The game takes the player’s perspective into account by tracking the positions of Kirby and the camera. It then draws a range in which attacks can appear to land. If an attack is within this range, the attack will hit. By doing so, even people who are not very good at 3D action games can attack enemies without any stress.

Kirby and the Forgotten Land also includes a small buffer that triggers when Kirby approaches the ground after a jump that allows him to jump again without actually landing, a design element known internally as “blur landing”.

“Adjusting your position in the air and sticking a landing in 3D games can be tricky,” Kamiyama said. “Let’s say you’re looking at a top-down view of Kirby. You jump down again and immediately want to jump again. You thought you had landed and pressed the A button, but in fact you did not land and ended up hovering by accident. Therefore, we made a fuzzy adjustment so that the system treats Kirby as if he had already landed if the A button is pressed at a distance close to the ground.

I don’t know about you, but I love learning design secrets like this, especially when they come from the notoriously secretive folks at Nintendo. In all, forgotten land sounds like a big step forward, not only for the series itself, but also for the way its creators approach creation. Kirby games as the franchise nears its 30th anniversary. I can’t wait to join Kirby on his post-apocalyptic journeys very soon.

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