Nintendo’s 2014 line-up is already looking to be truly fantastic. With several major games releasing in the next year, it appears to be shaping up to be an incredible time to be a Nintendo fan and a gamer. Even with so many huge titles on the horizon, those both unannounced or yet to be revealed are often more enticing than the ones we know so much about. The possibilities seem endless. With major Nintendo Directs appearing suddenly and without warning, we could have a bombshell dropped on us at any moment. With so many Nintendo franchises and studios, there’s no way of knowing what’s coming next.
Only that’s not completely true — while yes, we won’t know exactly what is coming until it is announced, what we can do is take a look at Nintendo’s extensive developmental resources, examine their histories and current statuses, and figure out what their next moves will be. Baseless predictions are often off, but by simply examining the resources at Nintendo’s disposal, we can learn what they are capable of creating and suddenly, it becomes easier to figure out their next move. So, in this series, we’ll be taking an in-depth look into Nintendo’s huge stable of studios to see what is coming next.
To start, we’ll be looking at Nintendo’s internal teams; that is, the developers that are part of Nintendo proper in Kyoto. These guys have undergone several restructurings since Nintendo jumped into the games business back in the day. They started as Research and Development, a small group of teams that created Nintendo’s internal titles. In 2004, however, that changed.
The groups in Kyoto are currently split into several factions, though they naturally intermingle and exchange members often. There is the hardware section which, after a recent merging, consists of one group that works on both handhelds and consoles, as well as peripherals. Then, you have another team which works on the UI and built-in apps and the like.
One of the big sections of Nintendo is the Software Planning Department, but as they have developed only the Rhythm Heaven series independently, it seems pointless to analyze them further. They generally oversee external developments on first- and second-party titles and, as they always work with other teams to do this, trying to figure out what they are making next would be redundant. Another Rhythm Heaven game in the near future is certainly a possibility, though.
The main branch of Nintendo’s software creators is Entertainment Analysis and Development or EAD. Technically, it is split up into five groups with different levels of producers and directors presiding over each team. In reality, however, the structure seems tenuous at best and seemingly oft ignored. Members switch between projects with regularity; high-level producers take varying levels of interest and leadership depending on the game; some groups comprise of multiple teams, forming and dispersing teams as soon as a game is completed. It’s all very confusing and frankly, makes it a bit harder to guess what they may be working on — but try I will.
Entertainment Analysis and Development Group 1
Group 1 is comprised of only one development team and, while they primarily work on the Mario Kart games, they also are the creators of the Nintendogs series. We have the already announced Mario Kart 8 coming to us this May. As they are developing this one independently — unlike Mario Kart 7, which was co-developed by Retro Studios — there is little chance that they have a side project in the works. They don’t appear to need to familiarize themselves with the hardware this time, either; developing Nintendogs + Cats for the 3DS had a big part in helping with with Mario Kart 7‘s creation.
However, we only receive one Mario Kart game per console, so unless the next generation of handhelds is coming sooner than we think, there will be a large gap between Mario Kart 8‘s release this spring and the launch of a new handheld. Thus, as that is doubtlessly a few years away, it is entirely likely we will see something different from this team.
While a return to Nintendogs is possible, I see a strong possibility that F-Zero will be their next project. The team carries a history for racers and there have been multiple comments by Nintendo devs — even the leader of EAD 1, Hideki Konno, has mentioned he hoped the series would return. That would still mean we’re a long ways away from a new entry into the series, laboring under the assumption that no one else is doing anything with the brand. This seems the most plausible of all the possibilities, though.
Entertainment Analysis and Development Group 2
Group 2 is a bit of an oddity among the five major groups. They work remarkably closely with the hardware side of Nintendo and as such, they are the primary developers for software developed to show off hardware capabilities. Wii Sports, Wii Sports Resort, Wii Play, the infamous Wii Music, and most recently, Nintendoland, have been huge showcases of what new hardware is capable of producing, often being included in primary bundles for new consoles or peripherals.
While this team has taken a small role in the development of Wii Sports Club, the primary developers were a team at Namco, so that took up very few resources for Nintendo. It wouldn’t be a stretch to assume that another key title showing off some upcoming hardware feature is in the pipeline from this team — duel GamePad support, perhaps, or something less expected.
EAD 2 has more than just one team, however. There is also a team in charge of the Animal Crossing series, which they have been working on diligently for some time. New Leaf was released last year in Japan. After finding itself with massive sales there, and surprisingly great ones in the States as well, Nintendo must be looking to continue the series at least fairly soon. Thus, unless this team has split its members up so that other teams can have more manpower, it wouldn’t be a surprise if a Wii U version of the franchise is in the works, or, after the insane success of New Leaf, another 3DS entry.
It has also dealt with the development of Animal Crossing Plaza, but there’s no way that that expended much time or energy that could have been used on bigger projects. Thus, while it’s wholly possible the team has split off to help give more manpower to other games, after the success of New Leaf, I see another Animal Crossing in the near future.
Entertainment Analysis and Development Group 3
Group 3 is arguably the most well-known of the five major groups. Headed by Eiji Aonuma, they have taken charge of the fan-favorite franchise, The Legend of Zelda. As with all the others, members come and go as the development of their games increases and decreases how much manpower is needed. By and large, however, it is made up of two teams. After Twilight Princess was finished, it consisted of a handheld team, which would go on to create Phantom Hourglass and Spirit Tracks, and a console team, which took charge of Skyward Sword.
The two teams merged into one of Nintendo’s biggest development teams ever to finish Skyward Sword. A few members created an early prototype for A Link Between Worlds and, after Skyward Sword was completed and Miyamoto asked for the A Link to the Past remake on 3DS, it became a full project. Another team worked on Zelda Wii U prototypes while another, smaller team was formed for Wind Waker for the Wii U.
Now that A Link Between Worlds has gone gold and been released for some time now, the development of the much-anticipated Wii U entry to the series has doubtlessly entered into full swing. With a full team of members, development will hopefully proceed rapidly. Unfortunately, it appears we’ll be waiting until 2015, what with the announcement of Hyrule Warriors seeming to be bridging a gap between main series releases. It’s doubtful that the spin-off will cause EAD 3 much grief; aside from a potential basic advisory role, I don’t see Nintendo using such an important resource on a spin-off game like Hyrule Warriors.
With any luck, we will see Zelda U hit shelves in the near future — early 2015 at best, though I doubt it will end up any time later than the holidays and slip into 2016. Either way, it’s confirmed that we will see the game in some form at E3 in just six months — possibly before, if we wind up getting a surprise reveal beforehand a la A Link Between Worlds. EAD 3 now has all their attention focused on this title and it’s clear that the next entry in Nintendo’s biggest franchise is no longer far away.
It should be noted that it’s unlikely that we will see another game begin full development until after Zelda U is completed. After that, who knows what they might go on to make? More Zelda would be logical, but it’s wholly possible that they might try their hand at a different franchise for a while, though by no means do I expect that. It’s just a possibility which is, regardless, several years away.
Entertainment Analysis and Development Group 4
EAD 4 is easily the most fascinating of the five groups, primarily because of how unstructured and unpredictable it seems. Group 4 has three teams: one which has developed the New Super Mario Bros. series, one that has worked on New Play Control! Pikmin 1 and 2, as well as the recently released Pikmin 3, and a team that so far has made only New Super Mario Bros. 2. Group 4 also used to create the Big Brain Academy games, but they haven’t returned to that series since 2007, so it seems moot to elaborate upon that.
Let’s start with the first team. Filled primarily with senior members at the company, they’ve been in charge of one of Nintendo’s most popular series, New Super Mario Bros., and they’ve been working on it diligently since the DS title back in 2006. Their most recent game was New Super Mario Bros. U for the Wii U launch; however, New Super Luigi U, due to its ambition with DLC and fast development time, ended up taking quite a bit of work and the majority of the team took part in its development.
However, it’s been six months since that has gone gold, so they’ve undoubtedly moved on to a new project. While it is possible we find ourselves with another NSMB game, I’m somehow doubting that to be the case, what with Iwata’s comments on only one entry to the franchise per system being the rule. While that rule could very easily be broken, I doubt it will happen so immediately. Thus, unless the core team has split or merged to help with other projects, which is a very real possibility, we should see this team of veterans working on something brand-new.
That means that the possibilities are huge. Could we see new entries in forgotten franchises? Might Star Fox or Metroid or so many others get a shot? Could they give a go at a new IP? Say what you will about the NSMB series’ originality and difficulty (or lack thereof), but they were very well-designed games. Trying out something completely different from what they are used to is an exciting prospect and, while it is likely we are a ways away from seeing their next game, since Luigi U just released last July, it will not disappoint.
The second team has been in charge of the Pikmin franchise. While they did port the GameCube originals over to the Wii, their primary work has been creating Pikmin 3. That, of course, is a game that went through something of a development hell and took far longer to release than intended. Fortunately, it was at last made available last August to excellent reception.
Recently, some extensive DLC for the game has been released and, in all likelihood, that took up a fair bit of the team’s manpower. However, I wouldn’t be surprised to find that they have had a game in the planning stages whilst other members of the team create the DLC. Either way, now that the DLC has been finished, I think we’ll find that they either have had a game in development for months or will soon begin work on it.
That would be great, because this could be one of Nintendo’s most important internal teams. Pikmin 3 was one of the most brilliantly designed games in recent memory and without a doubt, Nintendo’s best-looking game from a technical perspective back when it was released. It’s filled with extremely talented members who now understand the hardware even better than before; the things they could do going forward is extremely exciting. Pikmin 3 ended with something of a cliffhanger and, after the solid sales reception the game received and the recent climb in popularity the series has gotten, I wouldn’t be surprised to see an immediate continuation of the franchise, on either Wii U or 3DS.
But that’s certainly not set in stone. This team has the potential to take charge of plenty of legendary brands with no problem, as well as the skill to create something brand-new. In my eyes, this is the team with the most exciting future of the entire company. If Pikmin 3 is any indication, they successfully create games, yet we have no idea what their next title will be. Personally, I can’t wait to see what it is.
The final team in the group is a fantastic example of how unpredictable development at Nintendo can be. Formed partially of members from EAD 4, as well as members from SPD, a major figurehead at the company — Takashi Tezuka — decided to form “Mario Cram School,” a way for developers to quickly learn how to design Mario levels. They then began to design the levels while more members came later to make the game a reality with the game’s core themes and ideas — primarily the many ways gold comes into play — developing later.
This is another team that worked on DLC for a while after release. NSMB2 found itself with several packs of stages that continued releasing long after the game went gold and we also know that a few members of the team joined development of New Super Luigi U to help speed up development. While it’s possible that this team is busy working on something new, it seems to me that it was assembled purely to quickly create a Mario game for the release of the 3DS XL and has been largely disbanded since. Hopefully, I will be proven wrong and we’ll see a game come from them in the near future. After all, it has been well over a year since NSMB2 was released.
Entertainment Analysis and Development Group 5
EAD 5 has only worked on one series by themselves: the Wii Fit brand. This has seen a huge commercial success, of course, but it’s not particularly exciting to most of us as fans. Wii Fit U is out, and soon after they released Steel Diver: Sub Wars for the 3DS, co-developed with Vitei (as was the first in the series). I find myself doubting we’ll get many surprises from this fairly straightforward group in the near future.
Entertainment Analysis and Development Tokyo Groups 1 & 2
Not strictly speaking internal, but very close to it, the Tokyo teams are some of the best Nintendo has on offer; however, their structure is slightly confusing. Officially, they have two different teams, but only one creates a major game at a time while the other works on smaller projects. Originally, Team 1 was the primary team, creating Donkey Kong Jungle Beat and Super Mario Galaxy while Team 2 worked on Flipnote Studio and the Wii port of Jungle Beat.
Yet they switched roles at that point, and ever since, Team 1 has worked on museum guides and helped Grezzo with Zelda remakes whilst Team 2 picked up the work on 3D Mario games with Galaxy 2, 3D Land, and 3D World. They still occasionally tackle smaller projects, such as Flipnote Studio 3D and helping out with NES Remix.
Clearly, the multiple teams do not, as far as can be seen, mean anything as to how the group functions and are there simply for structural reasons. So the question remains: what major game will they create next? Now that Super Mario 3D World is complete, it will be interesting to see where the studio will go from here.
There’s the obvious likelihood that they will continue to create 3D Mario games, of course. They have said that they are interested in creating another Mario Galaxy-style game and I wouldn’t be surprised if we get another game akin to it if 3D World has the monstrous success it seems destined to receive. As much as I would love this extraordinarily talented team to try their hand at a different franchise, I see Mario being their only major projects for the near future.
Of course, that doesn’t mean they might not expand into multiple teams. In an interview with IGN, Miyamoto mentioned that he had been working with Yoshiaki Koizumi (one of Nintendo’s biggest designers, and one of the heads at EAD Tokyo) on what they could do to allow the studio to create more games. In addition, when asked by El Pais back in June what their next projects would be, Koizumi said, “I cannot reveal it now, but soon we will make an announcement.” Koichi Hayashida, director of Mario 3D World, claimed that the development was taking up all his free time.
This makes a ton of sense. Koizuma and Hayashida each direct separate teams (Team 1 and Team 2, respectively), despite still helping with the other’s projects. Should it turn out that they have indeed expanded to allow for two full teams, then it’s hopeful that this exceptionally talented studio has a major project that isn’t Mario in the works.
The potential is endless. A new IP? A classic franchise a la Star Fox or Metroid? Given Koizuma’s history with cinematography and love of stories in games, I wouldn’t be surprised to find a more story-oriented game than we are used to, although that is purely conjecture. Either way, it seems that a big, unknown title should be coming soon from Tokyo — and that is reason to get excited.
Obviously, a lot isn’t certain, but this has hopefully helped shed some light on the set up of Nintendo’s internal teams and what they are creating and have the potential to create. We’ll be back soon with the first-party studios.