Metroid Prime 3 Could Have Been Open World, And That Hurts [Update]

You know what I’d sell my extended family to be able to play? An open-world Metroid Prime. Just the phrase sets my imagination reeling, combining an all-time favorite game series with the possibility of all that player freedom. Which makes it all the more galling that this is something that could have happened.

The eagle-eyed VGC spotted the detail during an interview with former Retro director of development, Bryan Walker, who told Kiwi Talkz that at one point a plan was drawn up to see Metroid Prime 3 played in a less linear, open exploration of the planet. And this hurts my soul.
Walker told the New Zealand YouTube channel/podcast about how the series director, Mark Pacini, “came forward with an interesting twist in the vision,” which would have involved Samus’s ship being a “[far more] playable asset.”
“We weren’t able to prototype a lot of those, because those were really big,” Walker continued, adding that they did have some ship prototypes. “In fact Mark,” added the former Retro developer, “had printed out—as one of his visual aids—this origami Samus ship. He’d taken the mesh of the Samus ship and used a program that basically unfolded it.” He colored it in, and then used it as a mascot in some of his presentations. (Correction: Since publishing, we’ve heard that Bryan Walker remembered this incorrectly, and the model was in fact made by artist Don Hogan. More details below.)
On reflection, Walker says he thinks they “may have fallen short of our goals with Prime 3, not being able to expand the formula a bit,” although of course he adds that they were very proud of it. Then subtly dropping a shark into the water he added, “I would be very interested in seeing what the response was, especially of the fan community, to the expanded use of the ship and the more open-world, non-linear experience that we were touching upon with that pitch.”
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Well yes, revealing that nearly 15 years later should certainly do the trick. Because, you’ve suddenly changed your mind about what you want from Metroid Prime 4 too, right?
Just imagine it. Landing your ship anywhere you choose on a planet…No, let’s do this right: Landing your ship anywhere you’ve upgraded it enough to be able to land, then exploring, scanning, discovering in a non-linear fashion. Come on, that’d be extraordinary. Keep enough of the progressive discovery that it maintains the “Metroid” in “Metroidvania,” but discovering lairs, finding suit upgrades in your own order, piecing together a more complicated story. Oh my goodness, how do you make time machines?
You can watch the entire interview below, but I believe I’ve worked internet magicks that should start it right where the relevant discussion begins. Although it’s worth listening to the rest for some really detailed discussion of the Metroid Prime series’ development, including discussions of how “toxic” the environment had been at Retro during development of Metroid Prime 1.
Updated: 10/4/2021, 2.30 p.m. ET: Since publishing, former Retro artist Don Hogan got in touch to say that it was in fact he who created the origami Samus ship! Despite Bryan Walker’s recollection in the above interview, it wasn’t Mark Pacini’s work after all.
Hogan explains he and Pacini were close friends at the studio, and when Hogan created the origami version of the ship, he didn’t know it was for anything as serious as being part of Metroid Prime 3's pitch. “I had no idea that it was anything more than a novelty for one of the business visits to Nintendo,” Hogan tells Kotaku in a Twitter DM. He even included a picture of the original model!
Hogan added, “I used Pepakura Designer and the in-game model ship asset created by another team member. I actually made it twice, because the first one was so large it collapsed under its own weight.”
We are delighted to make this correction.
To be honest I don’t really understand the facination with open-world games. Sure, there are some REALLY fun ones out there, but it also feels like it’s one of those words that makes people instantly froth at the mouth and slap the ‘masterpiece’ stamp on games instantly.
I just don’t understand why “freedom” of exploration suddenly makes a game so, so much better, especially if the game series was linear before. Because there needs to be a sense of progression, most open-world games are structured in a very similar way, making them always feel kind of samey to me. A linear game however, has 100% control over how it wants to deliver the experience to you, and in my opinion, can make much more impact done right.
I’m probably in the minority, but Botw was an excellent example to me why games not always get better making them open-world. I’m feeling the same about what I’ve seen of Pokemon Arceus.

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