And it’s even rarer when you get to read an interview not of, but by, said President. That’s exactly what Nintendo did right after the launch of the Wii.
At the official Nintendo Wii web-site, President Satoru Iwata decided to have a little fun wherein he would interview his own employees . . . to find out their thoughts and to discuss the development of the Wii, the system hardware, the system design, the Wii Remote and eventually, the Wii Channels and specific Wii titles themselves. These interview were slowly rolled out, and Nintendo will undoubtedly post new installments of the interviews in the months ahead.
Part 1 is on the development of the Wii Remote.
It’s super interesting to hear the thoughts of these geniuses and how they went about coming up with their ideas. It was no small task to break such established video game conventions as a two-handed controller, connected to the TV via a cord.
They discuss how they came about development of the Wii Remote, from the Wiimote’s “rod” shape, to the request of another attachment by the Metroid development team (which became the Nunchuck of course), to the fact that the sensor bar has a responsiveness of over 200 signal exchanges a second . . . you’ll even learn why Mr. Iwata originally was going to call the Wii Remote the “rimokon” . . . Even in America! And it’s classic to hear them talking about the E3 showing at the end. One guy says it literally moved him to tears!
Enjoy, and look forward to the other volumes of the interview everyday for the next few days.
Part 1 – Taking Control Back To the Drawing Board
Iwata – I’d now like to ask a few questions about the controller, perhaps the most talked about feature of Wii. Turning first to Takeda-san, the man in charge of Wii development, what were your initial thoughts when creating the controller?
Takeda – The Nintendo DS proved to be a major influencing factor. The concept for the DS was already floating around when we were developing the Wii controller, and had already been very well received when we came around to fixing its specifications. During development, we constantly asked ourselves how we could follow the same path as the DS. Quite obviously, we considered installing a touch panel on the controller, as many people had anticipated. We also thought of using a pointing device, like a computer’s mouse or track pad. However, the thing about the Nintendo DS is that touching the screen directly is such an easy concept to understand, and indeed, this had a huge impact. I really fretted over what kind of interface to follow up the DS with.
Iwata - While you created a special in-house team to develop the Wii controller, you had also put together a small interface team prior to that, hadn’t you? Tell us a bit about this.
Takeda – Well, when developing a games console, a human-machine interface isn’t just a necessity, it’s an intrinsic part of the whole process. So, a number of years ago I created somewhere between ten and twenty teams, each consisting of around three people. These teams were given free rein to couple a dedicated controller or peripheral with a GameCube title, and then see whether or not the end result was marketable. This project gave rise not only to the “Donkey Konga” Bongos and the “Dancing Stage Mario Mix” Action Pad, but to a number of ideas and designs that would find their way into the Wii Remote.
Iwata – Ikeda-san, you were directly responsible for the Action Pad. You’ve turned your hand to a variety of peripherals in the past. Could you tell us a little about this and your role in the Wii project?
Ikeda – Well, many, many years ago I designed a number of games such as â€œPocket Pikachuâ€, a mobile game that uses a pedometer, and â€œKirby Tilt ‘n’ Tumbleâ€, a Game Boy Color game that uses an accelerometer. After this, I remained involved in a number of interface-related projects, and was responsible for the design of the accelerometer electronics used in the Wii controller.
Iwata Dropped the Bombshell!
Iwata – Given your long experience with user interfaces (UI), what do you make of the Wii Remote UI?
Ikeda – Of course, when playing a game, the nearest thing to the player is the controller. The controller should therefore be regarded as an extension of the player rather than as part of the console. I always bear in mind the importance of the fact that the player will have far more contact with the controller and UI than the console itself.
Iwata – What key concepts did you have in mind when you started developing the Wii controller?
Ikeda – I felt that it should be both “Simple” and “Comfortable”. I believe this is the overarching concept behind Wii. I was always aware that the controller should be usable by anyone, and that it shouldn’t be seen as an enemy. Indeed, it should make you want to pick it up.
Iwata – Mr Takeda told us a little about the influence of the DS. Did the DS also have an influence on the way you thought about the controller?
Ikeda – It certainly did. Personally speaking, I was very surprised when my parents expressed an interest in the DS, saying that they would like to try it out. This interest seems to have been sparked by learning about the DS in magazines and on TV shows, which convinced them that they could actually use the device thanks to the stylus. This episode brought home to me the importance of user-friendliness.
Iwata – I’d now like to ask a few questions to Mr Ashida. Ashida-san, you were in charge of designing the controller, as well as the console. You’ve a long history of developing controllers, haven’t you?
Ashida – Yes, that’s right. I’ve been developing them since the SNES.
Iwata - I sometimes get the impression that to develop a new Nintendo controller, Mr Ashida carves models out of Styrofoam, molds them out of clay, and discusses each and every one with Miyamoto-san until the final version takes shape! (laughs)
Ashida – Yes, that’s exactly what I do! (laughs)
Miyamoto – (laughs)
Iwata – So, Ashida-san, what does making a controller mean to you? How does the industrial design (ID) of a console controller differ from regular ID?
Ashida – A game console’s ID is strongly related to the application, or software, that will be used. Although I’ve specialized in ID since my university days, I’d never encountered ID so closely connected to software until I started here at Nintendo. With controller design in particular, you really have to be aware how your design will be used when playing a game. With Wii, however, we had our work cut out for us because it wasn’t completely clear what kind of software would be created for this console.
Iwata – Moving on to Mr Miyamoto, although you’re renowned worldwide as a game designer, you also studied ID during your university days. How did this experience help you when making the controller and console?
Miyamoto – How did it help me…? Well, because I had a background in ID, I was put in charge of all the new graduates entering Nintendo’s ID section, at least for a while anyway. Perhaps this is the most important thing?
All – (laughter)
Miyamoto – So, because of this I was able to create a pecking order, or a balance of power if you will. This was vital. It really helped… (laughs) Anyway, I’ve always recommended that the developers we hire have a background in ID. People who are knowledgeable in this field don’t just play around with objects on their monitors. They actually use their hands to create things, and this gives them a firm creative grounding, hence my recommendation. I’d say, “Take them on, even if they don’t make it into ID. It’ll pay off”. You know, I was an ID person that didn’t make it!
All - (laughter)
Miyamoto – However, a surprising number of people trained in ID then entered the company, and of course, they were all determined to work in ID! (laughs) One of them, Mr Ashida, was extremely lucky. He was one of the few who were allowed to remain in ID, just as he wished.
Ashida – (laughs)
Miyamoto – So, because of this, Mr Ashida and I have known each other for a very long time. In fact, we’ve been working together since the SNES, and I’ve been reasoning with him, encouraging him and conspiring with him along the way.
Iwata – How does the way you created the Wii Controller differ from controllers you created in the past?
Miyamoto – Well, back in the days of the SNES, I racked my brains to try and understand how Nintendo products should be designed. We’re not a toy maker, and we’re not a home-appliance maker, so what exactly is “Nintendo design”? This was a recurring theme when we were molding the Nintendo 64 out of clay. With Wii, however, what makes the game interface was no longer the issue. Rather, we had to overcome the hurdle of how to convince users and game designers who had grown accustomed to traditional interfaces. This was an incredibly difficult hurdle. So, to put it in a rather extreme way, I teamed up with ID people to fight against the people creating the current market, or to challenge them – it was kind of like a battle, in a sense. It’s not as though we were trying to pick a fight, but whenever you attempt something new, conservatism will always rear its head amongst those who have grown accustomed to the way things are now. So in a way this time, Ashida-san and I, and all the other people who designed the controller, have come to be something like “comrades in arms”.
Ashida – (laughs)
Miyamoto – You see, software people make a lot of requests, while designers see the limitations. And at the end of the day, you can’t ignore the issue of cost. In this sense, I myself have made a lot of requests from a whole host of standpoints, and have experienced first-hand the conviction and challenges that have gone into making hardware in the past. With Wii, however, we were finally able to overcome the debate of whether hardware or software should come first. Indeed, I feel that Nintendo has taken the next step.
Iwata – An incredible amount of thought and care has undoubtedly been poured into this controller. While I appreciate that Nintendo has a history of being particular about its controllers, the work put into the Wii Remote seems absolutely…
Ashida – . . . unparalleled. After all, our previous controllers, for the NES, SNES, N64 and GameCube, have evolved by adding features. That is to say, a unit of functionality is added and integrated into the design. With the Wii Remote however, we didn’t just add, but subtracted as well, and even multiplied and divided. I believe that we’ve gone about developing the controller in a fundamentally different manner. Just now, Mr Miyamoto called us “comrades”. However, we received so many requests and ideas from people creating a whole variety of games that the whole process of wading through and responding to them in some form or another was really intense. In fact, we’ve never had so much input.
Iwata – You made a considerable number of mock-ups, didn’t you?
Ashida – So many that I’d like to show them all off! (laughs). Really, there’s a heck of a lot!
Iwata – What was the turning point in this whole process?
Ashida – I think it was when the overall concept of Wii began to emerge. I personally felt that the GameCube controller was the culmination of all controllers that had come before it, and that it couldn’t be improved via the traditional concept of simply adding to it. More than anything else, I felt as though the controller and I were incompatible. Having a family, the time I had to play hard games decreased, and a gap between my â€œcreator selfâ€ and my â€œplayer selfâ€ was born. When I then came to understand the Wii concept, I felt strongly that this would be a console that I too could enjoy. More specifically, I felt that it might be time to reconsider the entire gameplay style of grasping the controller with two hands, sitting glued to the TV until morning. Of course, I’m not rejecting that intense style of play, but I did feel that taking the whole idea of grasping the controller with two hands back to the drawing board offered a glimpse of the future.
Miyamoto – I have to confess, I remember saying more than ten years ago that people who want to play Mario with one hand needn’t play at all!
All - (laughter)
Miyamoto – Even back then there were people who wanted to play games with one hand, and of course, we understood how they felt. But at the time we said “Forget it!” (laughs)
Takeda - You were always saying that here at the office, weren’t you? (laughs) I mean, back then we felt that the left thumb should be glued to the d-pad!
Iwata Interview with G4
Iwata – And yet, now we’re releasing this kind of controller. I just want to confirm in retrospect how on earth we were able to do something so drastic. I’m sure other companies have thought of using a one-handed controller. Such devices have definitely been released by peripheral makers. But it’s not so easy for a hardware maker to, in a sense, turn their back on the past and race in an entirely different direction. Why do you think we’ve been able to do this?
Ashida – . . . Isn’t it because we’re Nintendo?
Iwata – That’s not an answer! (laughs)
All – (laughter)
Takeda - To rephrase Mr Ashida’s answer, Nintendo is a company where you are praised for doing something different from everyone else. In this company, when an individual wants to do something different, everyone else lends their support to help them overcome any hurdles. I think this is how we made the challenge of Wii a possibility.
Iwata – That’s true. Wii’s one-handed controller is not the great idea of a single person, but a fantastic fusion of ideas from all kinds of people. Looking back, I think that it was destined to turn out this way. We’ve seen that the sequence of events leading up to this moment unfolded in a truly unimaginable fashion.
Part 2 – No Barriers: A Controller For Everyone
Iwata – Miyamoto-san, what was the key concept for you when you started making the controller?
Miyamoto – It was the idea of accessibility. Rather than make something that would make people wonder if they could use it or not, I wanted to make something that would make people want to pick it up and try using it. Of course, I also had to keep my own experience of making video games in mind. It was absolutely essential to make something that would also work with older games. I also spent a lot of time thinking about what makes a design accessible. It was in this context that we started to question everything about conventional controllers, including the idea that a controller had to be held with both hands. This was something that you had mentioned from the beginning of development, wasn’t it?
Iwata – Yes, it was. There was even some ideas that could be considered to be extreme.
Miyamoto – It was a good opportunity for us to think outside the box. Although these extreme ideas did not lead us directly to the final controller design, they were the important ideas in breaking down old conventions and expanding the scope of our discussions. This was good in the sense that it allowed us to consider ideas such as not using hands at all, or even putting the controller on your head, for example. Of course, going too far in that direction would just lead to something that is different just for the sake of being different. An eccentric design like that might work well for some games, but could never be used as a standard, making it a difficult choice for a console’s primary controller. So we wanted to come up with a bold and daring design that would be within the bounds of reason.
Iwata – So, this is what you meant by accessibility. The task ahead of you must certainly have seemed difficult, but what actually caused you to start moving in the direction of the current controller?
Miyamoto – Well, there are several overlapping factors. First of all, Mr Takeda suggested using a pointer. In the subsequent discussions, Mr Ikeda talked about making it into the current straight shape, kind of like a rod. This was perfectly in line with my train of thought.
Ikeda – Mr. Miyamoto would bring out his mobile phone during meetings and say enthusiastically “Can’t we make something like this?” (laughs)
Miyamoto - I even brought in the remote for my car navigation system! (laughs)
Iwata – Once the pointer’s elemental technology was introduced, it wasn’t exactly obvious to make the controller rod-shaped, was it? It wouldn’t have been unusual if we’d come up with a two-handed controller with a pointer in the middle, for example.
Takeda – We actually made a demo unit like that.
Ashida – I was actually a bit persistent about pursuing that path. (laughs)
Miyamoto – What did we call that design again? It had something to do with sumo.
Ashida - We called it the Gunbai (the fan held by the referee in sumo wrestling), I believe.
Miyamoto – Yes, that’s right, the Gunbai. We tested it pretty thoroughly, if I remember correctly.
Takeda – But it just didn’t feel quite right.
Miyamoto – I understand it better looking back now, but we were approaching it in the wrong way. We were trying to move in the direction of the rod shape, but we started with the idea of a two-handed controller. When I realized this, I told everyone “we shall start from the rod!”
All – (laughter)
Miyamoto – But even though I said that we should make the rod our starting point, we ended up with just that – a rod!
All – (laughter)
Miyamoto – Once we decided on this shape and the control became one-handed, several problems were solved at once. I really sensed that everything we had hoped for the controller would become a reality. It wasn’t so much that these problems were solved in a deliberate manner, but more like several ideas worked well with the underlying concept. At that moment, I felt that we’d finally done it.
Iwata – That’s how difficult problems are normally solved, isn’t it? They’re all cleared up at once.
Miyamoto - Definitely. With all the ideas we’d had up to that point, no one was really sure that they had the right idea, but they showed it to everyone anyway.
Iwata – That usually means they haven’t done it yet.
Miyamoto – You’re absolutely right. Even if it seems good, it has its strengths and weaknesses. So you inevitably face the expected criticism when you show it to everyone. You already know that half the people will love it and the other half will hate it. Honestly, I think we pushed the DS through even though we had some opposition. But this time, instead of just asking for everyone’s opinion, I strongly felt the need to persuade everyone because this was the idea we were looking for.
Ikeda – That was the moment I really thought we’d finally done it.
Miyamoto – I felt that there was a reason to persuade everyone of this idea. How can I put it? It was like a realization for me.
Iwata – I still remember the first time I saw the pointer demo in one of the conference rooms. From the moment I picked it up, it just felt right. I had handled other pointer devices before, but they are not normally responsive and leave you feeling more frustrated than relaxed. The pointer idea itself was also good, but in this case it was the sense of control, the finish of the product, that was particularly good. I suppose that was the result of the elemental technology brought in by Mr Takeda.
Takeda – Perhaps. This goes back a little bit, but before the Wii project began, I started to have doubts about what had become the current game standard of exchanging 60 signals per second. For example, if you put a camera on a car moving at high speed, and then try to reproduce the images taken by that camera at 60 frames per second, then the whole point of the car moving at high speed is lost. Now, I’ve also been interested in pointing devices for a while, but I’ve always thought that the tracking would be insufficient, and that the pointer would therefore not move as expected, if signals are only exchanged 60 times per second. Around that time, a sensor technology was released that could pick up 200 or 300 signals per second, and I felt that we should take a chance on it. I told Mr Ikeda that it would be worth a shot. This was the only thing I mentioned regarding the controller. In that sense, the union of the pointer and the sensor was very important.
Iwata Speaks In London (2006)
Iwata – As I listen to this conversation, I’m again reminded of the fact that nothing materializes from just one idea, does it? Looking at the completed Wii controller, one might think that it was originally conceived as a single concept, but it would never have been completed if several ideas – using a pointer, making it shaped like a rod so it could be controlled with one hand, and using a sensor with a responsiveness of over 200 signal exchanges per second – had not been united with a common vision in mind. Now, completion of the main controller led to the development of various types of extensions that would connect to it. I have the impression that a lot of these extension controllers were conceived over a short period of time. Tell me how you first came up with the concept of connecting controllers.
Ashida – Well, it was because the main controller was just a rod. (laughs) It clearly couldn’t be used to control existing games. Since Wii is compatible with GameCube games, and we also had the concept of the Virtual Console, we had to make it possible to play games from the NES days, too. On top of that, we also had to consider FPS (first person shooter) games for the overseas market. These factors ultimately gave birth to the idea of combining various controllers to the main controller with an extension connector.
Miyamoto – We were also able to solve several problems at once with this idea of connecting controllers. One of the other problems we have always worried about is expensive peripherals. Even if you want to sell a peripheral with a game that uses it, the end result is costly. In the case of Wii, since the controller is wireless, the peripherals would also have to be wireless, and we were worried that this would make them even more expensive. It was then that this idea of connecting controllers emerged, and we realized that we could just connect everything to the main controller. By doing so, we would not have to worry about wireless communication for the peripherals. So, even a controller like the Action Pad that is placed on the floor can just be connected to the main controller. The same is true for something like the DK Bongos. In the course of a single meeting, we were able to visualize our goal.
Ikeda – Definitely. Existing games could also be played by simply attaching the Classic Controller.
Miyamoto – The idea of connecting controllers spread very quickly, but the Nunchuk, which had such a strong impact when it was announced, was done much later.
Iwata – Would you please explain how the nunchuck-shaped controller was born? The one-handed controller alone was a very innovative idea, but I think it was very daring to have a different shaped controller in each hand, and to have them operated separately.
Ashida – I first heard about the idea for the Nunchuk from Takeda-san. He said, “can you try to make something like this?” There were also requests from the development teams for Metroid and other software titles asking for a new kind of controller that uses both hands, that can offer a new type of gameplay. And so, yet again, we started out by molding another clay model. (laughs)
Takeda – This idea originally came from one of the young developers involved in the project I mentioned earlier, the one aimed at selling packaged peripherals with GameCube games.
Iwata – I can still vividly recall the look of anxiety on Mr Ashida’s face when he showed me the Nunchuk. What was running through your mind at that time?
Ashida – Well, I thought it might not fit well with the streamlined designs of the console and controller. At first, I also considered a design similar to that of the remote. But since it was so obvious that the right and left hands are used differently, I realized that making the designs similar would just make it harder to control. When I asked for Mr Takeda’s advice, he reassured me that it was fine for them to be different since they would be used separately.
Iwata - Incidentally, the Nunchuk was also received very well overseas. So much so that the code name of Nunchuk became the official name almost overnight! (laughs)
Miyamoto – More often than not, names used during development are almost never kept, but the Nunchuk was certainly an exception! (laughs)
Ikeda – For example, we used to call the Wii Remote the Core Controller, or alternatively the Core Unit, because peripherals were attached to its extension connector.
Miyamoto - Oh, that’s right, we called it the Core, didn’t we? But the term Core Unit doesn’t sound very accessible, even though that’s what we were aiming for all along! (laughs) It was Mr Iwata who insisted that the main controller be called a remote, wasn’t it?
Iwata – Yes, that was something that I was unusually stubborn about. The TV remote in your house is something that always sits within reach and is picked up and used by everyone all the time. Since I wanted the controller to be used in the same way, and since it ended up looking like one in the end, I strongly believed that it should be called a remote. And also because one of the most fundamental questions behind Wii’s development was why some people use the TV remote all the time, but hesitate to pick up a game controller. So I really insisted that it be called a remote.
Takeda – You even wanted to call it a “rimokon” (the Japanese word for remote) in America!
All - (laughter)
Iwata – OK, in order to wrap things up, I’d like to have Mr Miyamoto make some more comments about the idea of accessible design that he mentioned at the beginning. He was actually already thinking of ways to make the controller more accessible during the development of the GameCube. That’s why there’s a single large button that stands out on the GameCube controller, so the player knows which button to press first, right?
Miyamoto – Yes, that’s right.
Iwata – So what was different about your approach this time and your attempt with the GameCube?
Miyamoto – I think it was learning what is most important and, in comparison, what are less important. Even now, working on Zelda, I sometimes feel that there aren’t enough buttons. Of course, when I mention this to the folks in my team, they look like they want to strangle me! (laughs) I shouldn’t really be saying this, because I myself have been telling them that we have to move on from making games that need more and more buttons. In that sense, I want to make games simple and easy to understand, but part of me wants to make them more complex at the same time. In the end, our premise was to make a design that’s accessible to everyone. Only then will we be able to introduce people to a variety of software. We witnessed the same kind of process when computer games, that had always previously been controlled with a keyboard, spread worldwide in an instant as a result of the NES. This might not be said very often, but a very important thing about the NES was that it worked no matter who used it. It turned on when you pressed the power button, started when you pressed the start button, and reset when you pressed the reset button. I always wondered why something so simple couldn’t be achieved with a PC, so in a sense, we really went back to the drawing board.
Iwata – I see. So while it might seem that Wii is turning all of Nintendo’s history on its head, at the same time we’re also going back to our roots.
Miyamoto – I certainly think so.
Iwata – Thank you very much. Next up is an issue we haven’t discussed yet, the sensor bar.
Part 3 – Towards A New Standard
Iwata – While the Wii Remote solved a variety of problems and won over its critics, we were then faced with a new challenge. In order to actually play with the Wii Remote, we needed to attach a sensor to the TV. There is no hiding the fact that many people voiced their concerns about this until the very end. I’d therefore like to hear from everyone what misgivings and expectations they had over the sensor bar. So, Ikeda-san?
Ikeda – Since I’d worked on products using acceleration sensors before, I had a general idea of the characteristics and limitations I could expect from this technology. From that experience, I already knew that we would need an absolute reference point near the TV in order to improve reliability of control. If you fail to accurately detect the beam connecting the controller to the TV, and fail to establish an absolute directional axis, you won’t know where the pointer is directed due to the margin of error that arises. This must be clearly fixed in order to make it obvious to the user the results of their actions. To put it the other way round, the feasibility of the controller rises immensely if you have axes to measure both acceleration and direction. In this regard, the sensor bar was absolutely indispensable.
Iwata – This so-called “beam” connecting the user and the television was something that had never been attempted before. Didn’t you run into any difficulties during development?
Ikeda – In the early stages of development we ran into a number of problems that we hadn’t anticipated, like the fact that the controller would react to fluorescent light, for example. Creating a mechanism that prevents the controller from responding to fluorescent light and sunlight may sound like low-profile activities, but it still gave us a lot to work on.
Iwata – I imagine that designing the actual sensor bar also raised an entirely different set of problems from those raised by the controller?
Ashida – That’s right. As I said before, the Wii console was originally designed to be extremely small and simple, so that it could be placed amongst all the AV equipment packed in around the TV without being conspicuous. But, now a sensor bar would need to be attached to the TV. It’s design proved to be more problematic than I ever expected. It wouldn’t have been acceptable to simply brush the issue aside by suggesting that it just be placed on top of the TV. After all, flat-screen models are becoming the norm, and since they are designed to blend into the overall design of the living room, we had to consider how the sensor bar could be adapted to this. For example, should it be placed above or below the screen? How could we make it so that it would fit with a variety of TVs? What color should it be? I remember taking countless prototypes to Mr Miyamoto, but they were all rejected… How many times did you turn down our designs in the end?
Miyamoto – I did turn down an awful lot, didn’t I? I really was quite obsessive about the appearance of the sensor bar! (laughs) I mean, we are working hard to convey to our customers how enjoyable Wii is, but once it seems that they might want to buy it, it’s like we are telling them at the last moment, “Oh, by the way, you’ll need this, too.” Honestly, if it had been possible to do it without the sensor bar, then it would have been better to not have it. This was clear to everyone. However, given that we needed it to improve reliability, and given that reliability was at the heart of the technology, we absolutely had to have the sensor bar. We originally discussed having it use batteries and placing it near the TV, but this would just make the user worry about the batteries running dry all the time. Since the Wii console was going to be connected to the TV by cable, it had to lie within cable-length of the TV. So, we decided to have the sensor powered by the console with the intention of coming up with other ideas later so that it wouldn’t stand out any more than necessary, and so that the customer would be free to attach it any way they wished. If you think about it, when we released the NES, we asked the user to unplug the antenna from their TV in order to play! (laughs) (The earlier versions of the NES were connected to TVs through the antenna jack)
Iwata – That’s right! (laughs) People had to get around this nuisance in order to play a game, didn’t they?
Miyamoto – Certainly. You could say that the hurdle we had to overcome this time was
much smaller in comparison! (laughs) In any case, when this kind of technology is eventually integrated into televisions, there may no longer be any need for the sensor bar. But we’re in a period of transition at the moment, and we have no choice other than to have the customer attach this device. For this reason we made it fairly small, because we were really trying hard to make it inconspicuous.
Ashida – For the cable alone, there was a lot of debate over whether it should be black or grey. We also made it so it could extend from either side of the sensor, so that it would fit perfectly against the TV.
Miyamoto – Of course, you have two kinds of people – those who will attach the sensor any old way, and those who will do their best to conceal it. We tried to meet the demands of the latter. We thought about all possible TV shapes and stands, and did our best to make it fit perfectly.
Ashida – Actually, this was one concern that resulted in Mr Miyamoto turning down a lot of designs. In our earlier designs, the cable came out of the back of the sensor, and didn’t fit snugly against the TV.
Miyamoto – All I could say now is, “We’ve done everything we could, so please do your best to make it fit!” (laughs)
Ashida – Right. So we really went all out to make it finally click into place.
Iwata – It must be tough when your boss knows a lot about ID. At the last minute he’ll say something like, “You could do it this way if you changed the mold, right?” (laughs)
Ashida – (laughs)
Miyamoto – If they tell me, “Well, it isn’t impossible…”, then I tell them to get on with it! (laughs)
Iwata – With Mr Miyamoto, the design will often be changed just when the ship is about to leave port! (laughs) And because of this, the hardware gets a little bit better. This happens every time.
Ashida – Even though the ship has basically already left the port, Mr. Miyamoto upends the tea table, not just when he is working on software but when we are working on the hardware as well! (laughs)
All – (laughter)
Miyamoto – Also, there was a lot of debate over whether or not to show the sensor bar to consumers at game exhibitions, wasn’t there?
Iwata – Yes, but when recommending Wii, you really have to point out the existence of the sensor bar. Basically, you should show it off rather than hide it. I wouldn’t want a customer who has just bought a Wii to think “What on earth is this?” So, right from the start, we had a clear policy of essentially asking the user to put up with the sensor bar in exchange for all the enjoyment they would get in return.
Miyamoto – I think our customers will be able to fully enjoy Wii if they understand the significance and technological importance of the sensor bar. For example, they can experiment with finding the best place for it.
Iwata – Well, there’s no denying the fact that some people were worried that users would be put off by the sensor bar, but in the end I feel that we’ve overcome this barrier.
Ashida – Yes.
Iwata – So, that’s how the specifications of the Wii controller were decided. However, it wasn’t until the Tokyo Game Show last year that it was unveiled to the general public. I was up on stage as the keynote speaker at that event, and I still vividly remember the silence that followed the video that introduced the controller. It felt like time was standing still… It was as though the audience didn’t know how to react. Given that you’d all worked so hard on the controller, what did you think of that reaction?
Ikeda – I thought that the video alone didn’t really give them a good enough idea of the controller, did it? It’s entirely possible that they felt a bit perplexed because they hadn’t had a chance to get their hands on it, to actually experience it.
Ashida – For me, audience reaction aside, I was really pleased with the demo video that we’d made. I felt that the video did a more than adequate job of conveying our concept.
Takeda – Well, I was breaking out in a cold sweat!
All – (laughter)
Takeda – I finally felt relieved after some parts of the media praised us by saying it’s groundbreaking after the presentation. I still felt we had a long way to go, but we’d reached an important milestone.
Miyamoto – Like Mr Takeda, I too was very much on edge. I was certain that they wouldn’t understand Wii unless they actually tried it out for themselves, and so I was unsure how convincing the presentation alone would be. Everyone was clapping, but I couldn’t help but wonder whether our message had gotten across, or whether people thought it was too unconventional. However, looking at the other unveiling’s at the Tokyo Game Show that day, I was very much relieved by the fact that Nintendo was the only one doing something new. Everyone else seemed to be just polishing up something that everyone had already seen before.
Iwata – Around the time of the Tokyo Game Show, we had a chance to let external game creators actually try out Wii for themselves, didn’t we? What kind of impressions did they have back then?
Ashida – For the most part, their feedback was very positive, which was a great relief. Needless to say, there were a few cries of dissent, but most people were left with a favorable impression.
Ikeda – I was often left in charge of explaining the controller’s functions, but it was only when they actually got their hands on the controller that their faces would light up. Seeing this, I really felt as though we’d scored a hit. And then, immediately after they had a go on Wii, they started coming up with ideas. Right there and then they were already discussing what they could do and how they could do it! I was amazed by the speed of this.
Iwata Speaks In London Part 2
Iwata – Producers are more likely to pick up the controller and start thinking about its limitations on conventional gaming. Creators, on the other hand, are more likely to look at what is possible, come up with ideas and ask a lot of questions. They’ll go home with smiles on their faces, won’t they?
Miyamoto – I think it’s natural for us to see both of these reactions. If I was just suddenly shown the controller, I’m sure I’d think “What will this do for Zelda?!”
All – (laughter)
Iwata – Moving on, the next unveiling was at E3 this year. Although we were already getting feedback from developers, I think we were all a little anxious to see how the consumers would react once they actually had a chance to try it for themselves. You were all at E3, and got to see their reactions in person. How was it? Let’s start with you again, Ikeda-san.
Ikeda – Well, firstly, I was very moved by Nintendo’s Media Briefing. It started with Mr. Miyamoto getting up on stage and using the controller to conduct a virtual orchestra, and it finished with Mr Iwata playing Tennis from “Wii Sports”. By the time it finished I was close to tears. (laughs) I’m a little embarrassed to say this in front of you guys, but I was overflowing with emotion. And even after that, I thought I was going to cry again when I saw how much everyone enjoyed using the controller. (laughs)
Ashida – I spent all of E3 at Nintendo’s exhibition corner, and I’ve never witnessed at previous E3s anything like the excitement I saw there at the Nintendo booth.
Iwata – We had that glass case with lots of controllers lined up, didn’t we? The people crowding around there, it was a truly unforgettable sight.
Ashida – There were so many of them! Sure, there have been displays like that in the past, but the atmosphere… it was the first time I’d ever experienced anything like that.
Iwata – There was a great air of excitement, wasn’t there? Their eyes were glued to the case!
Ashida – It was absolutely incredible. Everyone looked so thrilled, including the staff from Nintendo of America. And the smiles on the faces of everyone who got to play the games.
Iwata – That’s what I remember the most. I actually found myself wondering “why are they smiling so much?” as if I didn’t know what they were doing. I wondered what was happening.
Ashida – It was the thrill of getting their hands on something new, wasn’t it?
Ikeda – Perhaps it was because they finally got their hands on something they’d been wanting to try out for so long? Sure, moving things around on-screen is fun, but with Wii, you feel as if you’re actually part of the action.
Miyamoto – You know that those people waiting in line and looking at the action on-screen couldn’t wait for the people in front of them to get out of the way.
Ikeda – Ah, I felt that, too.
Iwata – Takeda-san, you were in charge of development. How did you feel about what you saw at E3?
Takeda – Americans are, by nature, a group of people who will openly applaud anything that challenges the norm. In that sense, I was pleased that it had been so well received, but I was still very much aware that we’d just finished creating the hardware. (laughs) We still had loads of work to do, and I told everyone this, so that all the excitement wouldn’t go to their heads . . . didn’t I? (laughs)
Iwata – We’d just come back from E3 and you were already saying “we’re not finished yet!” (laughs)
Takeda – But we weren’t finished. In fact, there’s still more work to be done, even now!
Iwata – Well, the hardware is pretty much finished. Let’s move on to the software side of things. Is there anything that exceeded your initial expectations?
Takeda – Hmm . . . Coming up with new ways to play games is perhaps what we at Nintendo do best. As a result, those of us in the hardware team were given the chance to appreciate anew just how talented our colleagues in the Software Content team actually are. Sure, we belong to the same company, but I can honestly say that they do a great job of showing off new ideas effectively. And I’m not just saying this to flatter them! (laugh)
Iwata – Ikeda-san, you designed the controller. How did you feel when trying out some of the recently completed games?
Ikeda – I was really stunned.
Iwata – But it was you that designed the controller! (laughs)
Ikeda – That’s true. Even though I came up with the specs for the sensor, more often than not I’m saying to myself, “Wow! You can use it like this?!” I get such a kick every time I make that kind of discovery. People consult me about issues and concerns, and there are times I need to consult other people.
Miyamoto – Well, in a nutshell, we’re all having the time of our lives! Of course, over the last few years, the entire software team has been under constant pressure to come up with new ideas to attract the public to our games. This pressure, and by contrast, the joy of making a breakthrough, are felt all the more strongly because of our experience with the DS. That excitement that comes with breaking the mold really spurred us on. For example, even if you make a game like Wii Sports Tennis, the character you control looks like a kid’s doll. But by just swinging the controller, the player brings it to life! Thinking in terms of the standards we used to create more realistic tennis games in the past, ideas came flooding in from developers that we would have dismissed out of hand back then. In fact, there are some people who will try to make games simpler than they need to be, so I was even suggesting that we make the game more elaborate! (laughs) So, as you can imagine, I’m in a really good mood!
Iwata – That brings me to my final question. Why do you all think Nintendo was able to create such a controller? Please feel free to summarize what you’ve told me already.
Ikeda – Nintendo is the company which demands its employees to challenge something new all the time. In our company challenging the norm earns the praise, I think that’s Nintendo style.
Ashida – For me, it’s the teamwork between our internal hardware and software divisions. This unique strength that no other companies have gives the power to come up with something unprecedented. I believe that we should work to maintain our culture and tradition of teamwork.
Takeda – I feel the same way. It’s all thanks to the traditions we have here at Nintendo, or our DNA if you will. This controller became a reality due to our constant belief in the need to keep entertainment fresh, and our ambition to do new things.
Iwata – And last but not least, Miyamoto-san.
Miyamoto – As someone who has hands-on experience in the production process, there is a part of me that is always a little conservative about new ideas. So, it’s important for us to acknowledge that we’re prone to be conservative, and in turn surround ourselves with individuals who will help break down our conservatism. Nintendo thinks about both the hardware and the software in order to create a complete product. Companies like this are few and far between. Wii reminded me of that fact, and I realized all over again that Nintendo is a company that is at its best when developing innovative products.
Iwata – In bringing Wii to the world, we’ve filled up countless boxes with mock-ups, prototypes, trial software, and so on. But I truly feel that none of our efforts were wasted. These concepts came and went at a remarkable pace, until we came across those special technologies that solved all of our problems at once. Nowadays, nobody has any doubts about the “d-pad with two main buttons” interface. But twenty years ago many people wondered whether such a controller could really be used to play games. So, if we continue to do what we know has to be done, our controller, which now appears quite unusual, may very well become the new standard. As someone who has made it their life’s work to make innovative products, I feel very lucky to have had the chance to witness this story from beginning to end. Everyone, thank you very much.