Iwata Asks: Mario Kart Wii interview

Pre-order Mario Kart Wii with Wii WheelIn this latest “Iwata Asks” interview, Nintendo President Satoru Iwata once again sits down with some of his staff to discuss an upcoming game. This time it’s all about Mario Kart Wii. Being interviewed by him are Kenichiro Ashida of the Product Development Department, Integrated Research and Development Division “Wii Wheel”, Hideki Konno of the Software Development Department, Entertainment Analysis and Development Division “Mario Kart series producer”, and Shigeru Miyamoto the Senior Managing Director of Nintendo and General Manager of the Entertainment Analysis & Development Division.

The first two pages of the discussion are all about the original design of Super Mario Kart, how Mario Kart 64’s graphics work, and that Mario Kart DS was originally supposed to have online leaderboards and downloadable ghosts that are now in the Wii version.

Wii Wheel prototypesThe sections posted below are all about the new findings. Did you know Mario Kart Wii has measures against people disconnecting so that the amount of people doesn’t decrease after each race? And that the Wii Wheel had about 30 prototypes (see picture)? Or that you can see what controller somebody is using online, because if you use a Wii Wheel long enough the icon becomes golden, and that can view your friends’ status at any time without even starting the game simply by checking a Mario Kart Channel, from which you can select Join as well. There’s even talk of the new Ghost Battles mode. As well as random answers like that motorbikes were added because Hideki Konno likes BMX and because he wanted to make Mario more “extreme”.

Iwata:We just took a whirlwind tour of the history of Mario Kart, and now it’s time to move on to the Wii game. You could say that the biggest change for Mario Kart Wii is the Wii Wheel. Ashida-san, could you tell us a little about how the Wii Wheel came to be?

Ashida:I think it all began near the end of 2006. I suddenly got an internal call from Konno-san saying he was thinking about making a steering wheel.

Iwata:Did you ever imagine that, just when you were kicking back after the launch of the Wii, you would be asked to make a steering wheel?

Ashida:We’d had plans for the Wii Zapper from the earliest stages, and a steering wheel had been mentioned, but no one was talking about making prototypes yet.

Miyamoto:A steering wheel is so easy to understand. Almost everyone has the experience of using some kind of steering wheel, from riding toy cars with pedals as children, to driving real go-karts at a theme park. Everyone knows how to turn the wheel right in order to go right. Besides, I kind of wanted to make a product that would come in a big box for a change! (laughs)

Iwata:I don’t know about “for a change.” We’d just released Wii Fit! (laughs) (Wii Fit was released in Japan on December 2007)


Iwata:So there was talk of making a steering wheel. How did you get started?


Ashida:Early in 2007, just after the release of Wii, I got my hands on a pre-production version of Mario Kart Wii. Konno-san had already prepared a steering wheel all on his own. It housed the Wii Remote, and was ready for gameplay. I experienced game maneuvering in a way I never had before and instinctively thought, “This could work!” A lot of steering wheel-like peripherals have been on the market for some time now.

Iwata:And some of them are so realistic they could be used at amusement parks.

Ashida:But the Wii Wheel is different in that it doesn’t have a drive shaft. It’s a wheel that’s used mid-air. It’s incredibly light, and when I checked it out, it felt really fun. With a complex product, it’s difficult to get an image of the final design. But with this it took no time at all to picture the design. We made various prototypes, and I’ve brought them today.

Iwata:Some people might think it looks small when they first see it, but looking at all these, I now know that it’s been small ever since the first prototype.

Ashida:A real go-kart’s wheel is about the same size. We thought this size would be ideal for use by entire families, from children to grandparents. Here, this is the very first prototype that was made…

Iwata:I notice the Wii Remote sticks out a little.

Ashida:We made this because we were trying to figure out where, when you’re holding the wheel, it would be best to house the Wii Remote. It’s kind of a weird design, isn’t it? (laughs) But by making these models, we learned which fingers would be best for gripping it. Also, we hadn’t decided yet on whether the B Button would be used, so there’s nothing on the back. We checked out some real go-kart wheels, and saw that they’re usually square steering wheels today rather than round ones. So we made this.

Iwata:It’s a cleaner design, and the Wii Remote doesn’t jut out.

Ashida:Right. There’s a hole in the back so you can press the B Button, and since there are times when you have to operate the Wii Menu, we put a window in for the pointer.

Iwata:So this became the basis for the final product?

Ashida:Yes, I felt a firm conviction that a normal round wheel would be easier to understand for people who would play Mario Kart Wii, so we made this one, further revising the usability along with the design.

Ashida:While we were making prototypes like these, we went through a process of trial and error. In particular, only opening a hole for the B Button, made it difficult for a child’s small hand to reach, so we put a B Button on the wheel itself, where even a child’s finger can reach. We designed it so that the button pushes on the B Button of the Wii Remote. Konno-san’s team used that to play the game, and built up test results.

Konno:If we felt anything strange when holding the wheel, we told Ashida-san immediately.

Iwata:You say that you repeated over and over the process of making and testing prototypes. About how many models did you make before you reached the wheel’s final form?

Ashida:Probably about 30. With regard to weight, we thought carefully about how many grams would best suit gameplay. When considering durability, we wanted to make something strong using thick materials, but increasing the weight by even 30 grams would have been considered too heavy for some people. We eventually designed it to be as light as possible so people could use it for a long time without getting tired too quickly.

Iwata:Why did you decide to make it white?

Ashida:Actual cars don’t usually have white steering wheels, so we were considering a design that would look like a steering wheel but have a two-tone color scheme, as in this one.

Ashida:We had been considering various possibilities for the design of the Wii peripherals ever since the development of the Wii itself. Starting with the Classic Controller, however, we kept releasing products such as the Wii Zapper and Wii Balance Board that were pure white, so it only seemed natural to make the Wii Wheel pure white as well.

Miyamoto:But there’s a blue ring on the back. That cost some money. (laughs)

Iwata:If you look at the prototypes, you can see they all have the Wii logo on the front. Why is the logo on the back in the final design?

Ashida:If it were on the front, the player would always see it, but since this would be held mid-air, you could say that even on the back, it’s on the front to someone who’s watching someone else play. Since it would be sort of sad if there were nothing but a screw there, we thought it would be more fun for people watching someone play if there was a blue ring on it.

Iwata:As a result, we used the blue ring in the logo for Mario Kart Wii.

Miyamoto:It costs a lot, so we needed it to do a lot of work! (laughs)

Iwata:While going through the process of trial and error in making the Wii Wheel, you had lots of people hold and evaluate it. Does anything from that process stick out in your mind?

Konno:When we were recording, we realised it was good to have the voice actors actually play the game.

Iwata:I see. They said their lines while actually playing the game.

Konno:This time, Miis appear as players, so we hired four male and four female voice actors. One of the female actors said that, while she does have a driver’s license, she doesn’t drive very much because she isn’t very good at it. She said this game was no problem, though. That was when I knew the game was going to be a success.

Iwata:On the other hand, did you ever hear any opinions questioning the design?

Konno:The day after we sent the Wii Wheel to one of our overseas subsiduariarys, we got an e-mail right away asking if we could make it the game compatible with the controller for the GameCube, and wanted to know how the controls would be for the drifts and mini-turbos.

Iwata:I understand that feeling. Change can be unsettling.

Konno:I told them not to worry because we had, of course, decided early on to make it compatible withto the GameCube’s controller, and because once they used the Wii Wheel they’d see how fun it was.

Iwata:So just with the controls of the Wii Wheel alone, you had absolute confidence.

Konno:Absolutely. That’s why we decided to show characters holding the Wii Wheel on the package. We really want people who think of conventional controllers as being difficult to try it out. When we made Mario Kart DS, my parents tried to play it together with their grandchild, but it was difficult for them to use the +Control Pad. They were saying, “This is hard!” I thought that was really too bad… It really drove home the need to make it even more user-friendly. So the Wii Wheel is a perfect fit for a broad audience.

Iwata:But people who are used to conventional controllers will try to use the GameCube Controller or the Classic Controller in order to win matches or score good lap times, wonuldn’t they?

Konno:Yes, so we came up with a way of addressing that. We provided an incentive for using the Wii Wheel. When you battle someone you don’t know, and in the rankings as well, a Wii Wheel icon appears to the right of your nickname on the screen.

Miyamoto:When someone using the GameCube controller gets passed by someone with the Wii Wheel icon, they’re really chagrined. But just like with the Mii Contest Channel for contests, where the number of parts for faces are limited, it’s more fun when there are restraints. When you can get a great time using the wheel, you’ve got a lot of bragging rights.

Iwata:I bet there will be players who become Wii Wheel masters.

Konno:We spent long hours testing the game. Some of the staff members only use the Wii Wheel while they’re playing, and those people have climbed rather high in the rankings. And when you continue to use the wheel, you get a little treat… The wheel icon is white at first, but it changes to gold. We call it the Golden Wheel.


Miyamoto:And if you cheat on the Wii Wheel by using a different controller, the icon will revert to white. Now, although the Wii Wheel is the main attraction, the motorbikes are also the main attraction.

Iwata:Why did you decide to add motorbikes?

Konno:To be honest, there may have been some influence from my own hobbies. I love BMX bicycles and snowboarding. When we made the game for the DS, we wanted to put in some elements of extreme sports [example: motorbikes, BMX bikes or snowboards] so the players could do some rough riding, but it was difficult to achieve in a handheld game. That’s why we decided to make it happen for the Wii.

Iwata:That’s why there’s a course that has something like half-pipes.

Miyamoto:Konno-san had been proposing ideas involving BMX bicycles ever since the GameCube version.

Konno:That idea was rejected flat out, because he doubted the idea of Mario riding a bicycle. (laughs) We were able to put the motorbike in the Wii game, and for a while we had even taken the “x” from “extreme” and were calling it “Mario Kart X”.

Iwata:But the “X” had already been taken by Super Smash Bros.


Konno:Smash Bros. X (Super Smash Bros. Brawl in North AmericaEurope) was announced in 2006, but I’d decided on Mario Kart X a year before they did.

Iwata:If I’d known that, when Sakurai-kun suggested Super Smash Bros. X, I might have stopped him. (laughs) By the way, Miyamoto-san, what did you think about the appearance of the motorbike this time?

Miyamoto:I thought we could make the world of Mario a little more for boys, so I agreed right away about to adding an extreme-like element to the game.

Konno:What’s more, this time you can use the Wii Remote’s motion sensor to directly feel the intense action.

Miyamoto:That’s why the motorbike is so inviting, and I think it’s suited to play with the Wii Remote. I shouldn’t say this too loudly, but personally I think not using the wheel when using motorbikes can be fun. Of course, using the Wii Wheel for the bike can also be fun, too, but you find yourself using it the way you would use the handles of a real bike! (laughs)

Konno:We performed a lot of tests fine tuning the motion sensor. The basic movement of the Wii Wheel is turning it, but you can also drive by tilting the Wii Remote to the right or left as you would with a real motorbike.

Iwata:Some people may want to use it level, like the steering wheels of some large trucks.

Konno:We made it so that it won’t detect horizontal rotation. We learned from observing people who test-played the game, that a lot of people, rather than turning the Wii Wheel with their hands, use their whole body to move it drastically from side to side, so we adjusted it so it could react to those kinds of movement as well. This time we had asked a lot of people to test-play the game, and among them were people in their 50s and 60s. After playing the game, one of them said it reminded him of what it felt like when he used to ride a 750cc motorcycle years ago. He said using the Wii Wheel came so naturally that it brought back when he used to ride a motorcycle.

Iwata:That speaks well of the developers.

Konno:I think that’s why the Wii Wheel has been getting good reviews.

Iwata:On a different note, as touched upon earlier when we were discussing the voice talents, this is the first time Miis and Mario compete together.

Konno:We decided on that as we discussed this with Miyamoto-san. We thought that if no one but Miis appeared at the start, the game wouldn’t feel much like Mario Kart, so we made it so Miis can be chosen later on.

Miyamoto:If Miis were out at the start, it would be called Mii Kart.

Konno:The programmer this time had also been working on the Mii Channel, so the work went smoothly.

Iwata:Originally, that programmer for the Mii Channel was in the Mario Kart Wii team, but Miyamoto-san took him away to work on Miis.

Konno:But as a result of that, we were able to introduce a lot of cool features into Mario Kart Wii. The spectator stands are full of cheering Miis, and they can be seen in the course backgrounds. For example, the Yoshi sphinx may be on the track, but then all of a sudden he may be your father’s Mii. From a technological perspective, that wouldn’t be possible without fully understanding how the Miis work.

Iwata:I see. In other words, Miyamoto-san was looking ahead to Mario Kart Wii when he had the programmer work on the Miis.

Miyamoto:No, it was just coincidence. (laughs) Even if you’re not good at making your own Mii, you can get ones you like on the Mii Contest Channel. It’s fun to have full and boisterous spectator stands. But maybe we should have released it as Mii Kart instead? We could have surprised everyone by having Mario show up halfway through as a hidden character.


Iwata:It sounds like a lot of new features have been packed into Mario Kart Wii, even in areas that can’t be seen.

Konno:Since there were things we weren’t able to do using Wi-Fi for the DS game, motivation among the staff members was very high.

Miyamoto:There was a lot that we couldn’t put in the DS version, but the effort to have matches using LAN cables* in the GameCube version also laid an important foundation.
* LAN matches: By connecting the GameCube to a broadband adaptor and using multiple monitors, play became possible for up to eight people in single player mode and sixteen people in multi-player mode.

Iwata:So the fundamental research from the GameCube’s LAN matches proved extremely useful in making this game.

Miyamoto:That’s right. Even while everyone had been saying from the start that making online battles for games like Mario Kart would be difficult, the staff in charge of it gained confidence.

Konno:That’s why we decided to tackle something new like time trial rankings in addition to matches. But Iwata-san wondered what the point to being told you’re ranked 80, 000th would be, and we felt the same way.

Iwata:I remember that was brought up in one of the meetings during the Wi-Fi Connection’s development process. Something we needed to tackle with Wi-Fi matches and rankings, was how only a few strong players would be happy, among thousands of others who couldn’t become champions. You wanted to avoid that. This was discussed since the time we started development of the Wi-Fi Connection. So for Mario Kart Wii we tried something new.

Konno:So we put the rankings on a distribution map. The Miis would stack up depending on their times, and you could now see where you place in a glance.

Iwata:Instead of being told you’re ranked 83,431, it’s much more rewarding to be shown how many people around the world are playing at your level.

Konno:Also, you can easily see how you compare in global and national levels, and even with your Wii Friends. And a family of four can have fun as well. You can switch over to view the standings for those four members. For example, I can tell at one look the difference between me and my son’s times.

Iwata:Aside from the rankings, what other features have you piled on?

Konno:Matchmaking. As I mentioned earlier, there was a tendency with the DS version for one’s opponents to gradually decrease in number. This time up to 12 people can play each other, and new players can join your match after each race. In other words, if six people are in the first race, then even if two of them drop out in the next race, new players can participate for an eight, or even a twelve-player match.

Iwata:So your number of opponents isn’t fixed?

Konno:That’s right. When you want to join players who are already playing, you can watch a live broadcast of the race going on at that moment.

Miyamoto:During matchmaking, a globe appears. If you live in Seattle, your Mii is standing there in Seattle. It’s obvious which country the players are from.

Iwata:I’m sure the players will really feel like they’re facing off against the world.

Konno:On the other hand, we’ve really heightened the aspect of playing with your friends. For example, even if Iwata-san is playing with people he doesn’t know from around the world, his friend Miyamoto-san can easily join Iwata-san’s team.

Iwata:Correct, to make that happen, we created the Mario Kart Channel.

Konno:Right. Even if you haven’t inserted the Mario Kart Wii game disc, if you start up your Wii and check the Mario Kart Wii channel, you’ll be able to see if Iwata-san is playing using Wi-Fi. If Miyamoto-san then selects Join, he can join Iwata-san in the match.

Iwata:So even if I’m playing with people I don’t know, Miyamoto-san might show up to play, too.

Konno:People with lots of Wii Friends may suddenly notice that all their opponents are their friends!

Iwata:Why did you decide to include that kind of feature?

Konno:With the DS, when you wanted to play together with your friends, you couldn’t until you phoned them and agreed to a time. It wasn’t convenient. I thought if the set-up could only be more convenient, people would be able to play more often with their friends. What’s more, Ghost Data can be sent to the Mario Kart Channel. So theoretically, someone playing for the first time may end up confronting the world’s fastest Ghost…

Iwata:But that probably wouldn’t be much of a match. The Ghost would fly by and disappear in an instant.

Konno:That’s why we made it easy for players to download Ghosts that fit their own times.

Iwata:You can improve your time by competing against someone who’s a little faster than you are.

Konno:We also added Ghost Battles. There’s also a mode sort of like the 100-Man Brawl in Smash Bros., for racing with Ghosts. Ghost Data is sent to you randomly, and you can battle with a Ghost at about your level.

Iwata:It must be a completely different experience than competing against computer-generated data.

Konno:Course determination, characters and vehicle types differ by player, and there are shortcuts, so players will make all sorts of discoveries as they play.

Iwata:By the way, I’d like to ask which is better, the motorbike or a kart?

Konno:That’s difficult to answer, but the motorbike is pretty good. For some courses a kart may be better, and for others the motorbike may be better. One advantage of the motorbike is that when you do a wheelie, you speed up, but wheel movement doesn’t work during a wheelie, so it’s only good on a straight course. On a course with lots of corners, it might be better to choose a kart so you could drift. We made the game so that each player can decide what works best after trying lots of different things.

Iwata:I bet there will be players who will be driving in ways you guys haven’t imagined. It’s sure it will be astonishing.

Konno:I can’t wait to see the Ghosts on the Mario Kart Channel.

Iwata:Okay, to wrap up, I’d like to ask the each of you to leave a message for the players. Let’s start with Ashida-san.

Ashida:I myself am looking forward to playing Mario Kart Wii with my son. Mario Kart Wii only comes with one Wii Wheel, but you can buy Wii Wheels sold separately as well. It’ll be great if everyone in the family played together using Wii Wheels.

Konno:I would like people to get together and have a lot of fun with this game. There are so many ways you can play, including features utilising the Nintendo Wi-Fi Connection. We would be very happy if people could play it with their family and friends, and also with people from around the world. By the way, a new character has joined in from Super Mario Galaxy, so I hope you look forward to it…

Iwata:And lastly, Miyamoto-san.

Miyamoto:Mario Kart Wii is, fundamentally, a game that lets you enjoy communication with others. On the surface it looks like a racing game, but it’s a product that doesn’t have to be about racing at all, so if you connect it to Wi-Fi, it’ll feel like the Mario Kart experience just grew by four times. Miis appear, and you can connect to the Mii Contest Channel, and, while connecting to the world was also possible with the DS, this time you will realise the game has become a communication tool that you can play with an even greater sense of connection to the world.

Iwata:Since Konno-san told us so much today, there wasn’t much for us to hear from Miyamoto-san.

Miyamoto:I tried not to speak out too much today, but I think I still said quite a lot. (laughs)

Iwata-san:Everyone, thank you for you time today.

Ashida:Um, there’s something I’d like to show you.

Iwata:Sure, go ahead.

Ashida:Earlier Konno-san was talking about the Golden Wheel, and I thought it would be great if there actually were such a thing, so I made one.


Konno:Mind if I say something, too?

Iwata:Okay, go ahead.

Konno:Iwata-san, no one said anything about “chabudai gaeshi”** this time, did they?
** Chabudai Gaeshi, or better known to our reader as “upending the tea table”, is a reference to the classic Japanese comic and animated series, Hoshi of the Giants. The father in the series once upended the tea table while the family was eating a meal. Shigeru Miyamoto’s working style has been compared to this because of his tendency to make last-minute suggestions that leave everyone else scrambling to implement them before the deadline.


Iwata:Was there a chabudai gaeshi this time?

Konno:No, there wasn’t.

Iwata:I didn’t think there was. I was watching from afar and didn’t notice anything like that.

Konno:But looking back over all the past Iwata Asks, it seems like chabudai gaeshi has become a regular event. I thought the readers may be expecting one to happen, so I asked Miyamoto-san about it beforehand.


Iwata:You don’t have to force the upending to happen, you know. (laughs)

Konno:The staff overseas bring it up a lot when I’m working with them. They say things like, “If we make it like this, maybe Mr.

Miyamoto will give it the chabudai gaeshi treatment.

Iwata:Even the overseas staff is talking about chabudai gaeshi? How do you say it in English?

Konno:I think it was something like “upending the tea table.” I tell them no good can come from worrying about the tea table, so they shouldn’t worry about it, and because I’ve mastered upending the table again right when Miyamoto-san tries to upend it.


Konno:Then people get serious and ask me what turning the tables when Miyamoto-san upends the tea table is like. The secret is to start crying and plead for help right before Miyamoto-san does it.

Miyamoto:Tears won’t work on me. (laughs) But this time, even though I wanted to do it, I couldn’t because there was nothing that needed upending. I have a fundamental belief that as long as the video game is fun, then all is good.

Iwata:So there are times when you don’t do chabudai gaeshi? I just noticed, though, that Ashida-san isn’t laughing at all about this. It must be because to the hardware guys, one upending of the tea table can lead to a pretty grave situation.

Ashida:It really can. I mean, I’ll get sweaty trying to figure out how to explain it to all the staff members in our production and marketing departments, as well as our outside companies that we’re working with!


Ashida:That’s why I’m unbelievably anxious until the release date is settled! Especially since this time the Wii Wheel is being packaged together with the game.

Iwata:Is everything ready?

Ashida:Yeah. Well, I think so anyway…

Iwata:Thanks for your time today, everyone.