What was Nintendo’s Garage program?
Alright, so it’s time to find out: What ever happened to Nintendo’s “Garage” team? In 2014, Miyamoto stated that Nintendo had started a new developmental program called Garage. They put the newer staff into teams and gave them the chance to prove themselves. We were told it was a way for Nintendo’s older developers to pass the torch on to the newer generation. With Splatoon 2 doing well and Arms being a relative success, has Nintendo started transitioning to its newer developers?
What was the Garage program like?
These developers were able to expand on their ideas, and after a certain amount of time, they would convene. The ones in charge would decide which projects had the potential to move forward. At least, that’s how we were told it would go. Among those approved, the masses at E3 2014 got to hear about four Garage-based projects. These were Project Guard, Project Giant Robot, Project Star Fox Wii U, and Splatoon. Splatoon, of course, took the spotlight and became one of Nintendo’s biggest new IPs. But how has the initiative changed in the last three years? Is it still even alive? If it’s gone, how did it influence the Nintendo we know today?
Why haven’t I heard about the program since 2014?
Honestly, there’s been nary a peep about the Garage program since that fateful E3 interview. That is, until a small mention by Splatoon 2‘s producer in 2017, which we will discuss below. We know that Splatoon gained massive traction and had active development during its lifecycle; it even earned itself a sequel. So at the very least, Splatoon was a proof of concept for the Garage program. But what happened to the other three games?
What happened to the Garage team’s other games?
Well, Project Guard became Star Fox: Guard, the Slippy side-game that accompanied Star Fox Zero. Overall, Guard had a less-than-lukewarm reception and quickly faded into obscurity. Obviously, Project Star Fox Wii U was turned into Star Fox Zero. However, the main development for that game was given to Platinum Games, and it’s unclear how much the Garage developers actually contributed. Lastly was Project Giant Robot, a game that was canceled not long after E3 2014. But — was it really? The game that accompanies the amazing robot Labo kit shares a striking resemblance to the canceled Garage title. It seems some Garage staff may have a hand in Labo development.
What is the truth behind the Garage initiative?
In a 2017 interview with Hisashi Nogami, the producer of Splatoon 2, we find out what the Garage team actually was. It turns out Miyamoto was exaggerating when he used the word “program.” The Garage team was actually a group of 10 people who were in the aether after working on New Super Mario Bros. U. This 10-man team was behind the E3 2014 projects. But as soon as Splatoon was approved, they were all drafted into its development and the Garage initiative was no more. So, the Garage program was actually already over by the time Miyamoto spoke of it. Feels kind of shady, right? But I think there’s a little more to it.
How did the Garage team influence future Nintendo products?
I personally feel like Garage was the first step in Nintendo’s adaptation to the new generation. Splatoon was a wake-up call. It was time to let new worlds and characters introduce Nintendo fans to more current styles of gameplay. Nintendo isn’t a company known for their Call of Duty-style games. But thanks to the Garage team, Nintendo now has a widely successful multiplayer shooter IP. The same could be said about Arms. In fact, it was said, again by Nogami in an interview with Edge Magazine: “However, even if there isn’t a ‘Garage’ anymore, at Nintendo we’re constantly searching for new game ideas […] another game that came out of this same process is Arms.”
Was Arms a similar situation to Splatoon?
A large portion of Arms staff was from the Mario Kart 8 team, but the stragglers were newer devs who worked on the more-fringe Mario titles. It seems like, once again, Nintendo sprinkled in some less experienced developers to shed some insight on a young IP. Many people are of the opinion that Arms failed commercially, but it has actually sold over 2 million copies to date. It also did exceptionally well in Japan. Personally, I think that Arms‘ success is thanks in part to information gained from both the Garage initiative and the success of Splatoon.
What happened to the Garage team staff?
Tsubasa Sakaguchi, one of the directors of Splatoon, was also a part of the Garage program. He went on to lead the software side of Nintendo Labo. This is where I could easily see them adapting failed Garage concepts into Labo games. So that’s the full story. The Garage program, which was sold to us by Miyamoto as a working concept for Nintendo’s future, was actually canned before the 2014 interview. However, there’s no doubt that the staff who were part of that team have gone on to become pillars of Nintendo’s newer IPs. They’re now helping an aging Nintendo adapt to the current video game ecosystem. The garage may be closed, but it’s become an essential part of the home that is Nintendo.