The lead designer of Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze, Stephen Dupree, has returned to Retro Studios after a two-year absence, VGC understands.
Dupree, who had been at the Metroid Prime developer for almost a decade prior to his departure in 2017, last worked at nearby Texas studio Playful Corp, where he helped design platformer New Super Lucky’s Tale.
The designer had previously contributed to the creation of Wii title Donkey Kong Country Returns at Retro, as well as Mario Kart 7 for Nintendo 3DS.
Dupree will now serve as a principal game designer at Retro, possibly on the upcoming Metroid Prime 4, however he’s not credited as having worked on any previous series instalments.
It’s currently unclear if Texas-based Retro is working on any projects in addition to Metroid.
Nintendo announced in early 2019 that it had decided to “restart development from the beginning” for Metroid Prime 4, with producer Kensuke Tanabe calling in Retro to take over the project from its original, unannounced developer.
Retro has been hiring for Metroid Prime 4 ever since and its jobs page is still advertising for a lead animator and senior designer, among other roles.
One key recent hire is veteran Halo creative Kyle Hefley, who joined as the studio’s new lead character artist in August.
Hefley is a vastly experienced character modeller who has worked on more than 20 titles, including Call of Duty: Black Ops and Sleeping Dogs. Most relevant for Hefley’s new role, however, is his nine years at Microsoft’s 343 Industries.
Around half of the full-time developers who worked on Metroid Prime 3 remain at Retro Studios, according to VGC analysis conducted in August 2019.
It found that a core team of around 50 people worked full-time on the 2007 Wii shooter and around 27 remained at the developer, including four contractors made permanent.
Crucially, five of Metroid Prime 3’s 11 designers were still at Retro and potentially working on the upcoming Metroid Prime 4.
However, from the original Metroid Prime – which released almost two decades ago – less than 10 of the 40-plus team members remained at Retro and virtually all of the lead creators had moved on.