But Spangenberg was fired from Acclaim in July 1998, allegedly because he had said he planned to start a new company after his contract ended. Three months later, having secured millions in financing from Nintendo of America, he incorporated Retro Studios as its owner, with Nintendo holding a minority position. In June 1999, Spangenberg opened Retro's 40,000-square-foot Austin complex, including a state-of-the-art motion-capture studio and onsite theater. Poaching big-league design and art talent from many competitors, Retro undertook an ambitious slate of not one, not two, but five major GameCube projects. One, begun right away but not announced until 2000, was Metroid Prime.

On all five projects, almost from the start, things went wrong. A lengthy N-Sider Retro retrospective tells the tale: Working in black, windowless offices deep inside the building, employees endured political infighting, egregious crunching and a paranoid atmosphere. They missed milestones. They couldn't make the games work. Spangenberg delegated a lot and was often absent.

At this point, Miyamoto got involved.

Knocking Over the Table
Shigeru Miyamoto, world-renowned designer or producer of Nintendo's most popular games - Mario, Zelda, Animal Crossing and many more - had never been involved in a Metroid game. But as head of Nintendo's Entertainment Analysis & Development (EAD) division, Miyamoto supervised relations with Retro, and in fact assigned it Metroid Prime.

It was the first time Nintendo had worked closely with a foreign development team to create a game from scratch. EAD held monthly phone conferences with Retro and exchanged employees every two or three months. In a February 2003 Kikizo.com interview Miyamoto said, "I've actually, from the very initial stages of this project, been directly involved with the producer; and actually, at EAD in Japan, I have three staff members who are almost kind of half-directing the game, in cooperation with Retro Studios. So our level of involvement is very, very high on the project."

"Nintendo would come down about three times a year and rip on most of the games," a Retro employee told Electronic Gaming Monthly in April 2001. In 2000, Miyamoto himself visited Retro, an event compared to the Emperor visiting the Death Star. But a closer parallel might be the 2003 film Lost in Translation, where Bill Murray plays an American actor vainly trying to get direction from a Japanese- speaking filmmaker. A former Retro employee recalls, "[Miyamoto] would rant at us in Japanese for a minute and a half, and then the translator would just say, 'He's upset.'"

In Miyamoto's lecture at Tokyo University in July 2003, he said, "You fall into the dilemma where the guys up top are like, 'Are you working, or what?!' and the guys down below are like, 'See, it's the people up top! What can you do?' And the project begins to go haywire. When it gets to that point, I bust it all out in a conference. People refer to that point as the time where I 'knock over the table.' [...] When I flip out, it's because I'm being sincere in my desire to get something done with the project."

Miyamoto sincerely disliked Metroid Prime's original camera system. He ordered the game changed from third-person to first-person, which destroyed the schedule. He commanded Retro to implement several types of visors Samus Aran could use in the game, such as a scanner to bring up gameplay hints or interesting history about targets. And his changes didn't stop with Metroid.

Installing a New Regime
Miyamoto pressured Retro to cancel several other projects, first (April 2000) an action adventure (working title: "Action Adventure"), then (February 2001) their football and car-combat games, and finally (July 2001) a Zelda-style roleplaying game called Raven Blade. The action-adventure team shifted to Metroid, but the later cancellations forced corresponding layoffs. For the second layoff, of 26 employees, CEO Jeff Spangenberg was so distraught he didn't show up for work.

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