After spending several years on the shelf, Nintendo officially unveiled the next big entry in the Star Fox series at this year’s E3. With Star Fox Zero only months away, now would seem to be a perfect time for a look back at Nintendo’s groundbreaking series.
Star Fox, with its anthropomorphic animal take on epic space fantasy, has always stood out as a bit quirky, and some of the details of how the game was made are equally surprising. Here are a few things you might not know about the game that blew all our little minds back in the early ’90s…
1. Star Fox began life as an unauthorized 3D demo for the original Game Boy. Despite the fact that Shigeru Miyamoto is usually cited as the “creator” of Star Fox, the game didn’t begin its life in Nintendo’s offices in Kyoto, Japan. It all started with a small, scrappy developer from London, called Argonaut Software.
Argonaut had been making games for British PCs for a while and laid claim to some particularly talented young programmers (most Argonaut employees were in their early 20s or late teens). When the original spinach-screened Game Boy hit Europe in 1990, the kids at Argonaut wasted no time breaking the system’s copyright protection, then started messing around with the hardware. Unbelievably, they managed to get a simple 3D engine working on a system that was barely a step up from those $10 Tiger Electronics games.
Now you’re definitely not Playing with Power.
Rather than just pat themselves on the back for their programming prowess, Argonaut decided to show their (totally illegal) demo to Nintendo. Much to their surprise, Nintendo didn’t unleash the lawyers. In fact, they invited Argonaut founder Jez San and top programmers Dylan Cuthbert, Giles Goddard and Krister Wombell to Japan to teach Nintendo how to make 3D games. That original Game Boy 3D demo would become X, a Japanese-exclusive shooter, and Argonaut’s 3D experiments with the Super Nintendo would lead directly to Star Fox. So, basically, if a bunch of British kids hadn’t totally overstepped their bounds, Star Fox would have never existed. Never respect your elders, kids.
2. The world of Star Fox was influenced by classic British puppet adventures like Thunderbirds. While Argonaut crafted the tech behind Star Fox, the gameplay and characters were created internally by a group led by Shigeru Miyamoto. A lot of different things influenced the world of Star Fox — Star Trek, Star Wars, the Shinto shrines that Miyamoto would pass on his way to work — but it was perhaps most influenced by classic British marionette shows like Thunderbirds, which Miyamoto loved as a kid. If you’ve never seen Thunderbirds, well, it’s basically Team America: World Police, except with a lot less f-words and Kim Jong-il.
Also less sex scenes, not that the guy in the glasses would be getting any either way.
Ever wonder why the characters in Star Fox and Star Fox 64 flap their mouths robotically when they talk and have weird unnatural animations when they run? It’s because they’re supposed to be marionettes. The Fox on the cover of the original Star Fox is actually a real puppet. As a weird aside, the opening of every episode of Thunderbirds boasted the show was filmed in “Supermarionation”. Hmmm, seems like Star Fox wasn’t the only Nintendo series influenced by Miyamoto’s love of Thunderbirds.