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Interview with Dylan Cuthbert

This interview once appeared at http://www.emulatorium.com/ . The Emulatorium web site is now defunct.

Would you like to introduce yourself, explain your current job, and your connection with SNES software and hardware development?

Hi, I'm Dylan Cuthbert, programmer and games designer, I currently work at Sony Computer Entertainment Inc. in Tokyo, Japan. I currently have no connection with Nintendo. However, in the past, I developed X/Lunar Chase for the Gameboy and Starfox for the SNES.

What exactly was your role in the development of the FX chip(s)?

I had no direct role in the development of the FX chips - apart from being at the initial 'birth' meeting many years ago. The concept of the Super FX chip was almost solely Jez San's (president of Argonaut Software) idea, my boss at the time. I did, however, co-program the first game to utilize it.

How much input or help did Nintendo give you? Did they approach you with the idea for the chip, or did you go to them?

I can't comment on this, but it was probably a mutual collaboration out of a necessity for better 3D technology in consoles.

What was your role in the development of Star Fox?

I co-programmed Starfox with Giles Goddard and Krister Wombell. Various 3D support routines and a basic polygon core was supplied by the FX chip designers, Pete and Carl.


How did Star Fox come to be? Was it an Argonaut game or was it first developed at Nintendo? Was the game designed for the FX chip or the other way round?

Ideas to do with spaceships and the like came from Argonaut (have you ever seen a Nintendo game with spaceships in it before?), however the main game emphasis (railed and scripted arcade-style shooting) came from Nintendo. Of course, Namco's Starblade and Solvalou were in the arcades at about that time and I can't deny they had a serious impact in the direction of gameplay.


What was it like working with Nintendo and the infamous Shigeru Miyamoto?

Quite exciting, of course, at that time, no-one but diehard game fans had even heard of Miyamoto-san. When we began production of Starfox, Super Mario World had just been released and they were in the middle of making Mario Kart. It was generally just exciting to be living in Kyoto, which I'd have to say is one of the most pleasant, relaxing and exciting cities in the world — how it manages to mix all three of those things I just don't know.

The best designer in Nintendo is a clever chap called Yoichi Yamada. You'll see his name crop up in the credits with regards to level layout in most Nintendo games. He laid out and edited the Starfox maps. Quite a remarkable and brilliant designer with extreme attention to detail.


What happened to StarFox2? Why was it cancelled and how far into development was it? How is it, if at all, related to StarFox64?

Starfox 2 was fully completed. I was lead programmer and whilst Giles made Stunt Race FX, myself and the rest of the original Starfox team (ie. Nintendo's artists and designers) expanded Starfox into a full 3D shooting game. We used state-of-the-art technology such as arbitrary plane clipping (which has only been seen recently in such games as Crash Bandicoot 2 & 3) to create some rather spectacular effects. (for the time)

The reason for non-release was the then impending Nintendo-64 which of course was intended to be released a lot sooner than it actually was. Miyamoto-san decided he wanted to have a clean break between 3D games on the SNES and 3D games on the new superior 64 bit system. In retrospect, he could have released Star Fox 2 and there would have been over a year and a half before the N64 came out. But hindsight is always 20/20.

Starfox 64 incorporated a lot of the newer ideas we created in Starfox 2 but it didn't, in my view, take the genre a full step forward. Starfox 2 really was a different direction of gameplay.


Where you ever involved in the proposed CDROM add-on, in either a software or hardware capacity. Did you receive prototype units? Can you shed any light on its demise?

No, never had anything to do with CD — you'd have to ask someone in my present company (Sony) about that probably.


How did you come across emulation? What emulation sites, if any, do you use or visit?

Basically, and rather selfishly, I just wanted to play Starfox again without having to find my old SNES. Besides, in the past I've bought a japanese snes, an english snes and an american snes — I'm sick of buying the damn things.


How involved are you in SNES emulation, or general emulation? What emulators do you use, and for what systems? What's it like seeing a game you have written for the SNES, for example, running on your home PC? What do game designers as a whole feel about their games being downloaded from the net and played on home computers, through emulators?

Right now, I'm too busy on certain newer systems that I don't have time to use emulators. :)

As uninvolved as I am now with Starfox financially I, personally, quite like seeing people still able to enjoy Starfox. However, I'm sure the money men aren't happy.

What are you thoughts on emulation as a whole? How does the computer game industry view emulation? What are the views of other games programmers you know?

My personal opinion is that it is very interesting and good as long as it remains free. I don't think companies should be able to charge for an emulator of someone else's research-costly system — it is much cheaper to copy than to fund the initial research and idea process.


Have you ever come across any game related companies who where opposed/in support of emulation, and did they do anything to prevent/aid it. What is the general industries views of emulation, are they aware of it?

I don't think Sony America likes it, but that's about my entire knowledge of the company's positions.


What are your views on ROM piracy and the ISDA's recent closure of many ROM sites? Do you think games of a certain age should be released into the public domain? Would you support a move to legalise thge use of ROMs of a certain age? Do you have any knowledge of games companies views on this topic?

I think, with publisher permission, there should be no reason for not having old ROMs floating around. Let's face it, in most cases that's the only way the games will be preserved. What this means, of course, is that publishers should be allowed to decide for themselves — piracy is a bad thing all round. Many Spectrum (old 8 bit english computer) games publishers have already released ROM type images of their games to the public domain.


What computer or console equipment do you currently own? What is your favorite system and game, and why? Who do you think makes the best games? Did working with Nintendo teach you anything about game design?

The Playstation of course. Actually, I saw the Playstation launched when I was finishing up Starfox 2 and just the fact that Ridge Racer was as close to a 3D arcade game that a console had ever got sold me on it. The Saturn had Virtua Fighter which was glitchy, and ran at 20 to 15 frames per second. From working with 3D on the SNES I probably appreciated a 30 frames per second solid, fully textured frame rate a lot more than the average person. I immediately started sending my imaginary feelers towards Sony for a job. I wanted to work on that hardware.

Best game of all time in the platforming category is Super Mario Bros 3. Best game of all time is probably Carrier Command by Realtime Games (now Cross Products) on the Amiga/Atari ST. Duke Nuke'em 3D was a good attempt at generating a sense of awe and atmosphere in a game too.

I had been designing and programming my own games since I was about 11 when a friend lent me his ZX81 — needless to say, I never gave it back. But even with that said, working with Nintendo definitely gave me an insight into their method. If something doesn't work, cut it completely — that is Miyamoto's general motto. It should be every game designer's. That, and of course, extreme attention to detail, especially around the main character or player's sphere of influence. (ie. Control, collision detection)


What are you views on the emulation of newer systems, such as the Playstation, Color Gameboy, and even the Dreamcast. Do you think such emulators hurt sales or these machines, and maybe even their games? Do such emulators worry the industry?

I'm probably not allowed to comment on this so I'd better not :)


What have you done since leaving Argonaut, who are you working for now? What projects do you have underway?

I worked at Sony Interactive Studios America (989 studios as it is called now) for over 2 years and was lead programmer on Blasto. However, once that was over, I felt a need to return to what has become the mecca for gamers — Japan. I'm now working on secret 'stuff' in a secret lab somewhere in Tokyo — however, you may have seen my duck and bath demo in recent movies posted on the web related to certain recent Sony press releases.


What are you most proud of in you game's career? What would you go back and change if you could?

Regrets? I would go back and make Blasto much easier and cut a lot of things out probably. Unfortunately, due to time constraints, we all had our hands tied behind our backs.

Starfox was cool, but I really liked making X (Lunar Chase) on the Game Boy. It was and probably still is the only 3D shooting game for the Game Boy. Unfortunately, it didn't fit the puzzle game mold that Nintendo of America wanted so it was only released in Japan. It was no. 1 for quite a while though — and even re-surged to no. 1 when Star Fox was released a year later (because of an increased interest in 3D). Also, the designer of the Metroid series of games (Sakamoto-san) was director and co-designer of X.

I'm also quite proud of the credits sequence of Starfox which was my design/program and was an enhanced version of the credit sequence in X. The music however was also incredible — unfortunately the composer left Nintendo after Starfox so there hasn't been music as good as that in any game from Nintendo since (just in my opinion).

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