3. The Difference Between Baseball and Football

Iwata:

So after Best Play Pro Baseball, you released Derby Stallion17. Tell me how that came about.17. Derby Stallion: A horse racing simulation released by ASCII Corporation for the Famicom system in Japan in December 1991. Further titles in the series appeared on Nintendo DS and Nintendo 64.

Sonobe:

Well, I’d put out several Best Play Pro Baseball titles, so I was thinking it was time to do something a bit different. It was just at that point that I met a friend who was really into horse racing...

Iwata:

So up until that point, you didn’t have any knowledge of horse racing?

Sonobe:

No, none at all. It’s fair to say that Derby Stallion came about because of that friend. I learned about the existence of this world of thoroughbred horses, and as there hadn’t been any games up to that point based on that aspect of horse racing, I thought I’d give it a go.

Iwata:

I’d imagine that as someone who had made use of all kinds of stats to create baseball games, you got really excited at the thought of applying that to horse racing.

Sonobe:

No, Derby Stallion wasn’t intended to be a game that was all about statistics. In fact, this is something that is true of all my games, from Best Play Pro Baseball right through to Nintendo Pocket Football Club, where my aim is for players to enjoy watching games which are computer-controlled.

Iwata:

Ah, yes. It’s true that in Derby Stallion, you aren’t actually in control of the horses in the race.

Sonobe:

Naturally, there are games that are more hands-on, but with horse racing, it’s fun just be a spectator, isn’t it?

Iwata:

So in the same way that it’s fun to watch a baseball game, you thought that it would be enjoyable to train horses and then watch them race. The games have that element in common, don’t they?

Sonobe:

Yes, that’s true.

Iwata:

And then you came to Nintendo Pocket Football Club...

Sonobe:

Right, my original intention was to make a game where you could enjoy just being a spectator, watching football matches take place.

Iwata:

So you were never obsessed by sports stats and number crunching. Rather, these statistics were just a means to an end, a tool for you to use.

Sonobe:

Yes, that’s exactly it. When I made those baseball games as a child and then compiled stats, working out batting averages and winning percentages, my only aim was to show them to my friends and enjoy their looks of surprise.

Iwata Asks Iwata:

I see. Now, returning to Derby Stallion, a lot of horse racing games started to come out around that time. I wonder what you think it was that set Derby Stallion apart from those other games?

Sonobe:

Yes, that’s true. After Derby Stallion came out, all sorts of books about thoroughbred horses were being released. I suppose there was a kind of boom in the genre. But my intention with that game hadn’t been to focus too much on that aspect of horse racing, so I get the feeling that a real racing expert would feel it was somehow lacking.

Iwata:

It was never a game aimed at horse racing pros, was it?

Sonobe:

Indeed not. I never really had any intention of coming up with authentic tools that allowed you to breed horses and so on. I was making a game, so my priority was to take the complexity of the racing world and to make it more simple and streamlined.

Iwata:

The real world is incredibly complicated, so if you attempted to recreate this and make a simulation that was excessively complex, no one could really follow what was going on, and it wouldn’t end up qualifying as entertainment.

Sonobe:

Yes, that’s right.

Iwata:

When you make a game, it’s an ongoing process of taking elements from the real world and simplifying them. The process whereby these elements are built upon and expanded takes place in the mind of the player. That allows players to enjoy the game as if it were real.

Sonobe:

Right.

Iwata:

Another way of putting it might be to say that making games isn’t a process of just adding more and more until you have something amazing. Rather, the aim is to be able to take things away and yet ensure it still works.

Sonobe:

That’s true. You can prune things, but still have a complete game.

Iwata:

I’d say that the basis of your approach to making games is the desire to identify what the core element is that actually makes something fun. I think that holds true whether you’re making a baseball game, a horse racing game, or as is the case this time round, a football game.

Iwata Asks Sonobe:

Yes, I’d say you’re right about that. I don’t really want to create full simulations.

Iwata:

But though you may say that, from the perspective of the player, it feels as if you’re experiencing a really well put together simulation.

Sonobe:

I’d say that’s most likely a result of successfully sifting through all the different elements of a game and retaining what’s most essential. As game consoles have got more and more sophisticated, the graphics and so on have become much more realistic, and while that’s not in itself a bad thing, I can’t help feeling that it isn’t quite what I’m aiming for.

Iwata:

Games might look increasingly realistic, but that isn’t always an ideal fit with those gameplay elements that worked precisely because they were so simple.

Sonobe:

Yes, I think that’s true.

Iwata:

After all, when the game is based on a process of simplification and the graphics are too lavish, that process where the player’s imagination would fill in what was only implied becomes redundant.

Sonobe:

Yes, I think you’re right there. As you say, when the player’s imagination is engaged, they can play the same game over and over again and not get bored. And imagination is something that itself changes depending on the circumstances.

Iwata:

And yet having said all that, I think it’s a very good thing that there are games aiming to get closer to reality in terms of their graphics.

Sonobe:

That’s true, of course. But I do believe that it’s precisely because the imagination serves to supplement and expand upon what’s on screen that you can play a game again and again. This is what I wanted to achieve with Nintendo Pocket Football Club.

Iwata:

What was it that originally made you want to make a football game?

Sonobe:

After making baseball and horse racing games, I was looking for ideas as to what to do next. It was just at that point that the J-League started in Japan, and people were getting really excited about football. I started watching football games, and people were expecting me to come up with a football version of Best Play Pro Baseball. But it just didn’t feel right to me...

Iwata:

Why was that?

Sonobe:

Fundamentally, football and baseball are sports that are fun for different reasons. In baseball, a player’s individual results can be broken down in all sorts of ways.

Iwata:

Yes, you’re right about that. Even taking a single batter, you can calculate their batting average, their on-base percentage, all of these sorts of individual statistics. Baseball is all about these detailed stats.

Sonobe:

That’s right, and I had used all these stats in Best Play Pro Baseball. But in football, the concept of individual statistics for each player barely exists.

Iwata:

You have goals, assists...

Sonobe:

Yes, it’s just stats relating to scoring goals.

Iwata:

So because there aren’t as many stats in football, there’s no use looking to it for the same type of enjoyment you find in baseball.

Sonobe:

Right. It was at that point that I really began to think about what exactly was fun about football. Baseball has always been a sport that you can enjoy while doing other things.

Iwata Asks Iwata:

Yes, that’s true. You can just switch the TV on and have it on in the background. You can enjoy it while you get on with other things.

Sonobe:

Yes, it’s enough to be able to hear it. But with football, you have to keep your eyes glued to the action. It’s the moment you look away that someone’s going to score. That’s just the worst thing.

Iwata:

I know what you mean! (laughs)

Sonobe:

Also, it’s very common to have only a couple of goals being scored in a 90 minute match.

Iwata:

Yes, because goals are less frequent, the importance attached to each goal is increased accordingly.

Sonobe:

That’s exactly what makes it so terrible to look away for a moment and miss a goal. And that might be the only goal, as a lot of games end with the score at 1-0. So that was how I came to realise that football was a game that was enjoyable precisely because goals are so infrequent. This means that the most exciting thing is actually when the ball hits the post.

Iwata:

Ah, yes! (laughs)

Sonobe:

Everyone watching puts their head in their hands and groans. It’s more exciting than when an actual goal goes in.

Iwata:

Ah, you may be right there. (laughs)

Sonobe:

That’s why I’d find myself coming up with ideas such as making the goal posts even thicker.

Both:

(laughs)