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Nintendo talks Switch – origins / creation, going with one screen, name, online play, January event, much more

Posted on April 8, 2017 by (@NE_Brian) in News, Switch

A little while back, Famitsu published an interview with Nintendo’s Shinya Takahashi and Yoshiaki Koizumi all about Switch in one of its issues. It was extremely extensive, covering the system’s origins and early development (including some involvement from Satoru Iwata). The two developers also touched on numerous other topics such as going with a single screen, choosing the name out of thousands, tying in smartphone usage to online play and making it paid, system updates, VR, and why the January event was held in Japan. Again, there is a lot here.

We’ve now readied a pretty complete translation of the interview. Continue on below for the extensive discussion featuring Takahashi and Koizumi.

The goal from the start: “bring everyone together and play”

Can you tell us how you both were involved with the Nintendo Switch, and how the development started?

Takahashi​: When development for the Switch began, it didn’t even have the codename “NX.” But at that time, there were discussions taking place between the late president Iwata (Satoru Iwata, former president of Nintendo), Takeda (Genyo Takeda, Nintendo’s “Technology Fellow”), Miyamoto (Shigeru Miyamoto, Nintendo’s “Creative Fellow”), and myself. The four of us began by looking at the entirety of our new hardware plans. When the discussion turned towards who should be at the center of the project, we decided to call in Koizumi.

Around what time were these discussions taking place?

Takahashi​: That was about 3 years ago. You tend to discuss what sort of hardware you want to create whenever you’re on the verge of moving into something new, but Nintendo is always coming up with new ideas, so we had numerous materials and concepts already prepared. We decided the direction we wanted to go with these materials and the person we wanted to lead everything around the same time.

And that’s when Mr. Koizumi joined.

Koizumi​: I was on the Tokyo production team at the time, but one day they suddenly told me I was to come to Kyoto. There, the late president Iwata told me to “create a tag team with Kawamoto” (Kouichi Kawamoto, the Nintendo Switch’s general director). I still clearly remember what he said back then, “I’ve chosen the most un-Nintendo-like people”. (laughs)

What?! (laughs) What did that mean?

Takahashi​: Both Koizumi and I were originally oriented around the visual aspect of games. During the time of the Nintendo 64, about twenty years ago, the two of us would talk about various different things. He was making Super Mario 64, and I was making Wave Race 64 while working on the system’s launch. Koizumi left for Tokyo afterwards, but we’ve always kept in touch since then, so I know him well. That’s why I thought he would be the best man to lead this new venture. Because, even though he has been involved in the Super Mario series for quite some time now, his ideas for Mario have always been kind of crazy. (laughs)

Koizumi​: It’s my job to come up with new ideas for the Mario series, is what I think he’s trying to get at. (laughs)

So Mr. Koizumi was chosen based on the eclectic software he’s produced and his unique approach.

Takahashi​: That’s right. Kawamoto has also made many different kinds of innovative things, such as Brain Age (Brain Age: Train Your Brain in Minutes a Day!), so he was brought on as well. However, the two of them had never collaborated until now. They weren’t even acquainted with each other.

Koizumi​: I had been mainly in charge of home console development on the Tokyo production team, while Kawamoto had mainly been in charge of portable systems. We each had different duties, so we never really got the chance to interact with each other. That is, until we were suddenly brought together one day.

So you brought in Mr. Koizumi and Mr. Kawamoto, and then decided on a more concrete concept, among other things. Mr. Koizumi, what were your thoughts when you first participated in those discussions?

Koizumi​: Even while I was in Tokyo, I had participated in the discussions regarding “what we should do next regarding new hardware” fairly often. The late president Iwata would often come to Tokyo and speak with me, so when I was told to come to Kyoto to participate in the development of the new hardware, I was very happy. But I also knew that I had to devote myself entirely to it, to live up to this responsibility that I was given. However, I was never asked to just “create something like this.” It was more often “how do you think we should do this, considering the situation?” And I began discussions centered around this grand idea of “what we need in present times” with this man I just met, Kawamoto. We broached and debated a wide variety of topics. For example, we’d start with something general, like “The Wii U is in the market, but so are smart devices…” and then go into more specific things from there. On top of that, we were narrowing down what it was that we should be making. From there we spent 3 years filtering the various concepts that came up during those discussions, deciding what would be used in the actual hardware.

I would imagine you gathered your ideas together while taking into account both Nintendo‘s strengths and weaknesses. Could you tell us a bit more about that process?

Koizumi​: Our goal from the beginning was to “bring everyone together and play”, and it never changed. After all, that is the core essence of Nintendo. And, while discussing the kind of hardware it would be, we made it another of our goals to make it possible for complete strangers to get sucked into the experience. We spoke about how the Nintendo Switch allowed people to “share the fun” at the presentation, and this key concept was something we came up with at a very early stage. But we were always concerned with how we would actually go about making that possible. It had to be capable of being played anywhere, and be able to be shared with strangers. We spent an incredible amount of time trying to figure out exactly how we would accomplish those two goals.

[…]

Takahashi​: The 3DS’s local communications made it possible for everyone to gather around and play together. We tried to figure out how we could bring such an idea to a home console, and blend it together with the key concepts we were aiming for.

“Bringing everyone together to play” has been Nintendo’s identity since the NES era, hasn’t it?

Takahashi​: It’s been that way for even longer than that. Don’t forget the hanafuda and playing cards (laughs).

Koizumi​: Ever since the first prototype back in the early days of development, I would ask Kawamoto: “Couldn’t we make a game where players look each other in the face?” That idea eventually gave birth to 1-2-Switch, but this wasn’t a concept we came up with out of the blue. It was something we had wanted to do for a very long time. We would often wonder why it was that you could play card games face to face with your opponents, but not video games. Our company originally made karuta and playing cards, so it has been a very influential concept for us since the early days.

So you were trying to reexamine the way people interact with videogame consoles. Was that something the late president Iwata steered the development towards?

Takahashi​: No, our mission was to create something using all of the concepts and materials we had amassed. The late president Iwata was an engineer, while Koizumi and I came from the design field. So although he helped us with many engineering aspects, he didn’t give any firm directions to do things a certain way.

Koizumi​: That’s right. We went with our designer’s instinct and created an idea in our heads, and then tried to convey it. In other words, we designers are daydreamers. And when we tried to transfer our ideas into something concrete, he helped us figure many things out, like what would or would not be possible to implement, what costs would be involved, and the general feasibility.

Takahashi​: Miyamoto and Takeda supported us in similar ways, so rather than presenting them our ideas and waiting for their approval, we would all discuss them together and iterate from there.

And was the Switch’s big selling point, the ability to pick up the game from home and play it anywhere, decided by that process as well?

Takahashi​: That’s right.

Koizumi​: It’s easy to say “let’s have it go from being connected to the television, to popping right out with the controllers attached to both sides, and then you can carry it around and play”, but making it a reality was another thing entirely. The engineering staff would tell us that they’d have to ‘do this and that’ in order to make it work, while they tried to come up with a solution.

I’m really happy that I can play Zelda at home, and then pick it up and continue on the go, like I did on the two hour long bullet train ride here to do this interview.

Koizumi​: I ride the bullet train from Tokyo to Kyoto too, so I was thinking that it would be nice to be able to set it down on the little tables in front of the seats. That’s why I asked them to include the retractable stand. I can play Zelda on the train, then fold the stand back in and stick it in my bag, and continue playing once I’m at work. I can be in the game at all times. (laughs)

(Everyone laughs)

Koizumi​: Actually, during the development of Switch, we gave two main ideas for the staff to work with: “let’s make a console that the most amount of people in the world can get sucked into”, and “let’s make the most addicting console in the world”

Takahashi​: It all came down to being a “video game console”. What was important was how easy it would be to play the games on it.

The Switch has been defined as a home console, but I think you could call it a console-handheld hybrid too. Can you tell us why you chose to only call it a home console?

Takahashi​: Because I want it to be a home console at heart. It’s a home console that you can play on the go. I believe that it will be primarily plugged into your TV.

Leave a Reply

  • キロ

    I actually haven’t played my Switch on a TV screen at all… xD

    • nemo37

      I have played it in docked mode about 3 times. But yeah 99% of the time I use it in portable mode.

    • OniLink97

      I am the opposite, only played it once in handheld mode

      • masterjedi

        I use mine way more docked, but I have played it often undocked with the kickstand. I definitely prefer to play with the joycons in my hands as opposed to the entire unit in my hand.

    • Tlink7

      I haven’t even unpacked my dock and other television related things 😀

      • AJK

        I’m using mine far more undocked than I ever thought I would. The screen on the Switch is stunning!

        • Tlink7

          Yeah it is a very pretty screen < 3 I was a bit afraid the handheld experience would be subpar to the TV mode, but it is by far the best portable screen I've owned 😀

          • Bradley

            Tlink I didn’t know you had yours already 😀 wanna trade friend codes (mines in my Disqus info)? Been waiting for something like mario kart or splatoon to come out so I could game with the people I am friends with, I tried inviting NeptuniasBeard to race with me in Fast RMX but there wasn’t anyway to send invites in the game so I gave up

          • Tlink7

            Yeah I got my console about two weeks ago now 😀 😀 I did announce it back then, but I guess nobody actually saw it xD I’ve added you C:

    • ForeVision

      And I haven’t undocked it for a game at all 😛 Different people, different preferences and yet we can all play the way we like, and even play together. I can see what they wanted with this device, and may they succeed in doing so.

      • SpectralDynamite

        That’s my favorite thing about this console. You can approach playing it in more ways than before, making the experience more personalized for the individual gamer.

        Just the fact that I don’t have to be tied to my TV has motivated me to play undocked in my room almost regularly. Plus, more games are coming and being confirmed with every passing day. I think there’s a bright future ahead for this device.

        I’d still like to add you in case there’s anything you feel like playing anytime soon, like Mario Kart.

        • ForeVision

          Go right ahead, and yes I will be playing Mario Kart. And that’s the beauty of this device, but at the same time it has me wonder about how long the 3DS will last.

          Imagine, having both handheld and docked as choice for Monster Hunter, the fanatics of handheld in Japan can play with the more home-console oriented West and enjoy it nevertheless. I feel that this has the capacity to have online communities live far longer than anything else, on the basis that people will be able to play on times they usually can’t, and yet those, like myself, who have seas of time and would love to have a vibrant community while playing on TV can have their fill as well.

          Everyone wins, and as long as they maintain it’s identity and equal parts hybrid, then everyone can continue to win.

          • SpectralDynamite

            Plus, since you basically get two controllers right out of the box, you get local multiplayer any time you want, anywhere you want (I did get a pro controller a few days ago, though, even though I like using the Joy-Cons). Nintendo’s really the only I know that really strives to keep local multiplayer alive, and that’s something I really cherish. Online multiplayer doesn’t need to replace it.

          • ForeVision

            Coupled with (at least Microsoft) actively leaving out of their games (Halo) that is quite right.

            The Joy-Cons, people are very mixed about. I personally wouldn’t use a single Joy-Con as a substitute for any controller, and would heavily favour a pro over 2 Joy-Cons combined, but that’s preference.

          • SpectralDynamite
          • ForeVision

            That is fancy yes, but I’m a more practical person most of the time. Hence why I’ll go with the regular ol’ pro controller and why my Switch is just the regular grey version.

            That said, I wouldn’t mind having a spiffy looking dock, that would be nice.

      • キロ

        Of course, that was the point I was trying to make. Sorry if it was read any other way!

        • ForeVision

          No worries, and no I didn’t. It merely prompted me to give a response, since it so interestingly contradicted my own use of the console, and I can only imagine that this is exactly what Nintendo wants.

    • Thomas Knapp

      Mine’s had a pretty even 50/50 distribution, I would wager.

  • Locky Mavo

    “We also have both unconventional and flagship titles coming that have yet to be announced”, “…other companies’ software, and indie software all flowing along a single line”

    I can’t wait for E3 and the next Nintendo Direct!

  • Bart

    That was interesting, thanks for the translation NE. 🙂

  • FutureFox

    “When we explained it, they went ‘you took all this time to come up with ​that​?’ ”

    That made my morning.

    • Jackiedchilds

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    • Marthadherrera

      Google is paying $97 per hour! Work for few hours & have longer with friends and family! !fe340c:
      On monday I got a great new mclaren f1 from having earned $12778 this last four weeks.. 3 to 5 hours of work a day… Weekly paychecks… Bonus opportunities…Its the most-financialy rewarding I’ve had.. It sounds unbelievable but you wont forgive yourself if you don’t check it
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  • Tlink7

    ”We had other core ideas for the Switch, like “create something new” and “don’t get caught up in traditions””

    ”The menu had to be as minimal as possible, and you had to be able to load the game up and be playing in a jiffy.”

    I am so glad with both of these statements, gaming had been less and less interesting to me because it is always the same and booting up a game used to take forever on the Wii U.

  • Tlink7

    Also glad they’re not having crappy mobile titles on the Switch or forcing the not-very-strong console to produce a questionable VR experience

    • amak11

      It’s not like there is many graphically intensive VR games

      • Tlink7

        Well the Switch would still need to render two images at like 1080p and I don’t think it can do that

  • Ektoras Kalderis

    It’s always great when Nintendo opens up and talk about development stuff. This is the legacy of Mr Iwata……i really miss him 🙁

    • Kaine Morrison

      It was under Iwata-san where Nintendo became more secretive.

  • nekoknight

    Thank you so much for this fantastic article!

  • Kaine Morrison

    I only used my Swith undocked once.

  • JasonBall

    Wow

  • MoYeung

    Switch is a mobile wii u gamepad/tablet with a tv-out feature.
    Joycon is the only innovation, if there’s any at all.