Rumor: Retro Studios is Working on Game Engines for Wii U

While we’re as excited about the prospect of Nintendo’s star Western studio Retro Studios developing a new game, whether it’s an original IP or an existing franchise entry, the silence regarding just what Retro is working on for Wii U has been a little unsettling. Sure, job information suggests that they’re doing something in the games department, but we’ve learned from the Mario Kart 7 story that this doesn’t mean they’re handling their own game. They could just as well be teaming up with another studio to tackle a high-priority project.

According to a new rumor, that’s exactly what’s going on. A connected source told us that Retro Studios has been charged with creating game engines for Wii U and helping other developers implement them. While we didn’t get any specifics on what exactly “other developers” means, our source commented that Retro’s work involves both internal and external projects. The icing on the cake? Apparently Retro showed off their Wii U magic to Epic Games and got them to reconsider bringing Unreal Engine 4 to the system.

As with all rumors, we can’t confirm anything – but we did some digging into Nintendo’s own statements about inter-studio collaborations just for fun. Hop inside to see the results.

I’ll admit, I was rather skeptical that this rumor held any weight at first, but then I did some digging and found another time that Retro Studios and inter-department development were mentioned in the same breath. Fun stuff – it was within the last year.

When asked about whether Nintendo would ever consider partnering Retro Studios up with EAD for a Zelda game, series producer Eiji Aonuma replied:

Nintendo’s developers will continue to work on a number of different titles, and I think that we will have to rely on outside companies for graphics and other elements that require massive resources. I’m satisfied when the cooperation between Nintendo and other companies becomes something meaningful for both parties.

He’s specifically talking about graphics-heavy games – the kinds of games that would demand brand-new graphics engines, intended from the start to be used to create satisfying HD experiences on Wii U. A lot of people may read his comment about “outside companies” as dealing with third-parties, but in fact the context of the interview has more to do with other studios inside Nintendo such as Retro and Xenoblade developer Monolith Soft.

This quote calls to mind something that Nintendo president Satoru Iwata had said just a month earlier, specifically addressing the same topic as it concerned future Wii U software:

Looking at the software for home console systems, there are certainly the software titles for which very rich graphics must be reproduced on HD displays and which demand a large number of developers to spend a very long time to develop. It is one of the truths that a certain number of such software titles must be prepared, or the consumers will not be satisfied. But we do not think that any and all the software must be created in that fashion. When you look at Nintendo’s software, extraordinary rich graphics, massive gameplay volume and astonishing rendition effects are not necessarily the appealing point.

[…] It is not necessary for us to deploy a huge number of people in order to develop such games.

When we need massive power and have a lack of internal resources, we collaborate with outside resources and pour necessary resources to where they are needed. We are increasing the frequency of working with outside developers where Mr. Miyamoto and our internal developers alone used to develop.

[…] As we will showcase the Wii U at E3 in June this year, the detailed announcements must wait until then, but we are aiming to make a system which shall not be forced into competing with the others where the contenders can fight only with massive developer resources and long development times as their weapons. Having said that, however, as I mentioned, it is true that, in some software areas, we need to be engaged in the power games. Take The Legend of Zelda franchise, for example, the fans must be looking for the graphic representations that they do not see as cheap at all when the title is released for the Wii U. When it is necessary, we do not hesitate to role out our resources.

Of note: he’s talking about the same series, making the same remark that Nintendo needs to rely on outside help for the next Zelda to be successful. While that doesn’t necessarily mean he’s talking about Retro Studios specifically, it does strongly suggest that the kind of game engine help that our source says is going on behind the scenes is happening.

We just hope that, should this tip turn out to be bona fide, this doesn’t rule out the possibility of Retro Studios working on something in-house.