1. When Developers Did Everything

 

Editor's Note:
This interview was first published in April 2010

Iwata:

Hello.

Everyone:

Hello.

Iwata:

Today - for the first time in a session of "Iwata Asks" - I will be talking to a group of people who are all older than I am. I have gathered together developers who were at the forefront of Game & Watch, Nintendo's first handheld gaming system, which laid the foundation for the Game Boy and Nintendo DS systems. Thank you for coming today.

Everyone:

Thank you for having us.

Iwata:

First, I'd like you to tell me what you were in charge of for the Game & Watch system. Kano-san, would you start us off, please?

Kano:

Sure. It was quite a long time ago, so some of my memories are vague, but at the time, Nintendo didn't have many designers, so...

Iwata:

You were part of the first generation back when Nintendo first started hiring people who specialised in design.

Kano:

Right. When development of Game & Watch began, I was in what we then called the Creative Section.

Iwata Asks Iwata:

Miyamoto-san was also once in that section. How many people were in it at that time?

Kano:

Five, including me. Research and Development Department I was going to make Game & Watch, but it didn't have a designer, so I participated as a helper. I did all-round design work - design aspects of the games, the faceplate around the LCD, the colour of the system, the packaging, and so on.

Iwata:

You were involved with every aspect of design, from the character known as Mr. Game & Watch to the exterior box.

Kano:

Yes. I was a sort of jack-of-all-trades. But back then everyone was.

Iwata:

Izushi-san, what did you work on?

Izushi:

I worked on the software that made the game run. I did that together with Yamamoto-san.

Iwata Asks Yamamoto:

We took turns programming the software. And like Kano-san said, we were jacks-of-all-trades, so we also participated in meetings for new game ideas. We proposed our own ideas and had quite a lively time as we worked.

Iwata:

Back then, the work wasn't clearly divided up among programmers, planners and hardware developers.

Izushi:

No, not at all.

Iwata:

So people who came in as hardware personnel wrote programs, put forth ideas and even did some of the manual craftwork. (laughs)

Yamamoto:

Yeah, we did some of that, too. In the end, we'd even make arrangements for mass production.

Izushi:

We even went to shoot commercials! (laughs)

Yamamoto:

That's right, we did! I remember showing up at the location of the shoot, and even though it was afternoon, all the staff members said, "Good morning!" I thought that was weird. Editor's note: In Japanese video production circles people greet each other by saying "Good morning," regardless of time of day.

Iwata Asks Iwata:

(laughs)

Izushi:

It was our role to hide under a big box and play the game.

Iwata:

You played the game under a box? (laughs)

Izushi:

Yes. We hid under a box and played the game, which was connected by a cable. The top of the box was lit up and a Game & Watch system was there, so it looked like the celebrity star of the commercial was playing it. The shoot lasted a long time. I remember how everything seemed so bright when I came out of the box!

Iwata:

(laughs)

Izushi:

It was quite a valuable experience, though.

Yamamoto:

It really was.

Iwata:

I remember the Multi Screen1 advertisement pretty well. 1Multi Screen: A series of Game & Watch systems that featured two screens and a clamshell body. The first game in the series was Oil Panic , which appeared in Japan in May 1982.

Izushi and Yamamoto:

      (singing together) Multi...la la la...Multi...!

Iwata:

Right, right! (laughs)

Iwata Asks Izushi:

We were listening to it the whole time we were under the box, so I remember it well!

Everyone:

(laughs)

Iwata:

What year did each of you join the company?

Kano:

I was the first, in 1972. Nintendo only had one development section then, so I was immediately assigned to the Research and Development Department.

Iwata:

How many people were in that department?

Kano:

I think about 20. I designed board games and small analogue games.

Iwata:

In 1972, you were designing board games without any advanced technology. When did you come to Nintendo, Izushi-san?

Izushi:

In 1975. I also belonged to Research and Development at first. I made targets for the Kousenju Custom2 series. If you hit the target on a doll, it would fall over. Kano-san was the one who designed the dolls. 2Kousenju Custom: An electronic light gun toy that employed a sensor with a resistance value that would change according to the amount of light that struck it. Two games were released in Japan in 1976: Kousenju Custom Gunman and Kousenju Custom Lion.

Kano:

Kousenju Custom Gunman and Kousenju Custom Lion.

Izushi:

I became involved with the mechanical aspects, and, again, did everything from designing the chassis to working on the packaging and throwing around ideas that I thought would be neat. Later, I started working on video games. Back then, though, you couldn't change the games.

Iwata:

You mean Color TV Game 6 and Color TV Game 15 .3 3Colour TV Game 6 and Colour TV Game 15: Released in Japan in 1977. The systems held, respectively, 6 and 15 games such as tennis or table tennis.

Izushi:

Yes. Later on, I designed hardware for Color TV Racing 112 4 and Color TV Game Block Breaker .5 4Colour TV Racing 112: A video game system with a steering wheel and gear shift. Released in Japan in 1978. 5Colour TV Game Block Breaker: A video game system with six similar games based around breaking blocks. Shigeru Miyamoto was in charge of console design. Released in Japan in 1979.

Iwata:

Yamamoto-san, how many years after Izushi-san did you join?

Yamamoto:

Three years later, in 1978. Soon after joining, I was assigned to the manufacturing department at the Uji plant for orientation. I helped with the manufacture of arcade games there, and then the next year I transferred to Research and Development II.

Iwata:

When you joined the company, the Research and Development Department had been split into two separate departments.

Yamamoto:

Right. When I transferred, development of Color TV Game Block Breaker was over, so we were discussing what to make next and making test models for new games. I was designing, by hand, the necessary mask pattern for making the LSI for production. Editor's Note: LSI stands for "Large Scale Integration" and refers to the type of circuitry used in an electronic game.

Iwata Asks Iwata:

Back then, game systems didn't use a computer, so instead of writing programs, you achieved the game through hardware.

Yamamoto:

Computers weren't common then.

Izushi:

Hardware technicians made the games.

Iwata:

You made a piece of hardware dedicated to a single game.

Izushi:

If a hardware guy wanted to increase the speed somewhere, he'd bring in a soldering iron and change the wiring. We'd all play it and say, "Hmm, it needs to be a little faster," and then make repeated adjustments. Finally, we'd say, "Let's go with this!" and move on to mass production.