Big Nintendo Labo interview – origins, challenges, changes along the way, much more
Nintendo has published a big developer interview with some of the key team members behind Nintendo Labo. Nintendo Labo director Tsubasa Sakaguchi, Switch director / Nintendo Labo producer Kouichi Kawamoto, and Nintendo Labo hardware lead Mr. Ogasawara were brought in for the discussion.
The interview is really worth a read, as it covers how Nintendo Labo came to be, the struggles the team encountered (including disastrous consumer tests), changes that were made, and a whole lot more. Also, as a sidenote, we have confirmation that Tsubasa Sakaguchi moved on from Splatoon as one of the original game’s co-directors to Nintendo Labo.
Continue on below for the full interview.
Something we could only do with Nintendo Switch
Mr. Kawamoto, Mr. Sakaguchi, Mr. Ogasawara, thank you for making time for me. I’m really looking forward to hearing about Nintendo Labo.
All three: Thank you for having us.
Let’s begin with discussing the Nintendo Labo announcement video. Consumers had a lot of different reactions to the announcement. What was it like watching the reactions come in?
Mr. Kawamoto (Nintendo Switch Director / Nintendo Labo Producer): The response was really something, and I’m very grateful for it. The truth is that I didn’t know what I would do if the reaction had been something like “What is this supposed to be? It’s just cardboard!” Luckily that didn’t happen, and the reaction was more positive than I could have hoped for.
Mr. Sakaguchi (Nintendo Labo Director / Software Lead): There was a clip in the announcement video of the Toy-Con Piano lid being opened to show that it was empty inside.
We made it this way because I can’t help but feel like there’s something really interesting about all that sound coming out of an empty Toy-Con creation. We didn’t include any explanation in the video, so I was concerned that people might be confused by that shot. In the end, though, people responded very positively to it, which was a big relief.
Mr. Ogasawara (Nintendo Labo Hardware Lead): Before the announcement went out I felt a mix of excitement and anxiety. Of course, we all felt that we’d made something interesting, but we also knew that it was a very unique, peculiar product. I was surprised – in the very best way – with how positive the reception was.
Excellent. Moving on then, I’ll jump right to it: Where did you get the idea for Nintendo Labo? I suppose it’s a basic question, but I’ve been wondering for a while, so I thought I’d just ask you directly.
Mr. Sakaguchi: Not wasting any time, are you?
I have always enjoyed thinking about interfaces, and I’ve always wanted to make things that you can interact with.
I worked on the Home Menu UI for the Nintendo 3DS, as well as the terrain system, player control scheme, and the interplay of these elements for the Splatoon game on the Wii U console. All of these projects involved control-and-response relationships – it’s an area I enjoy working in, and I think I might even be good at it.
Anyway, getting back to what gave us the idea for Nintendo Labo… I knew I wanted to make something new, and I knew that there are already a lot of videogames out in the world. Honestly, I just tried not to overlap with things that had already been done.
We’d been thinking a lot about how to make something easy to grasp, something that could only be done with the Nintendo Switch console and its Joy-Con controllers. I just followed the logic of that question as far as I could, and it turned into Nintendo Labo.
So you started by wanting to make something different from other games, something you could only do with Nintendo Switch?
Mr. Sakaguchi: I started thinking about what makes Joy-Con controllers different from other game controllers. At first I thought it was the way the separated controllers could work together as one unit, but of course we’d already done that with the Wii Remote and Nunchuk, so that couldn’t be the standout feature. Then I thought about how unique it was that the Joy-Con controllers could be split, so two players could use one set—but then I remembered that the original Famicom had a similar setup, so even though I think it’s a wonderful feature, it’s more of a throwback than an innovation.
So I kept thinking about the controllers and what made them special, and eventually I realized it was the sensors—both the left and right controllers have sensors in them.
If we made something with both Joy-Con attached to it, we could use the differential between their sensors to do all kinds of new things…that was really the start of it.
When you say, “use the differential,” what do you mean?
Mr. Sakaguchi: Well if you had one controller be a “sword” and the other controller a “shield,” that’s an additive relationship, by which I mean each controller can perform its action on its own. If that’s the case, you could theoretically just use one controller and switch the control schemes with a button press. But using both controllers and controlling something with “the relationship between the controllers” is a control scheme that absolutely requires the use of both.
For example, the fishing game we’ve made here uses this “controller differential control scheme.”
By attaching the right Joy-Con to the handle of the fishing rod and then attaching the left Joy-Con to the reel, it allows us to use the position of the handle to measure the rotation of the reel.
Or to phrase it differently, if you were to only use the left Joy-Con, you would not be able to differentiate the motion of the fishing rod from the movement of the reel. However, if you then added the right Joy-Con and compare the differences seen from its sensors to those of the left Joy-Con, you can make it work. As we got deeper into all our experiments we started to think of the Joy-Con as bundles of sensors – that really freed us to consider all kinds of possibilities.
Mr. Kawamoto: That’s right. All throughout development, you were always saying “bundles of sensors.”
Mr. Sakaguchi: Exactly. At the beginning of the process I didn’t realize it, but the Joy-Con are sensors before they’re controllers.
So we had these two small bundles of sensors and the hardware they attached to – a very unique design, and certainly something no one else could imitate, even if they liked the idea. That was our advantage going into the project, but not our only one. We also have the IR Motion Camera, don’t we Ogasawara-san?
Ogasawara-san, coming from the hardware side of things, how were you involved in this project?
Mr. Kawamoto: Before we continue talking about the Nintendo Labo project planning, it might help to quickly go over the design process for the Nintendo Switch itself.
Mr. Ogasawara: Nintendo Labo utilizes the IR Motion Camera in a variety of ways. I oversaw the development of the IR Motion Camera when we were originally deciding the specifications of the Joy-Con hardware.
I see. So you were involved with the implementation of a key feature used by Nintendo Labo.
Mr. Ogasawara: That’s right. When we were designing the Joy-Con controllers we didn’t actually have any concrete plans for the use of the IR Motion Camera at the time. So I had to think of all kinds of possibilities for it, concepts for ways it could be used, which I then presented to Kawamoto-san, the Nintendo Switch director.
Mr. Kawamoto: It’s true. At the time I never could have imagined it would end up being used like this! When we were designing the Nintendo Switch we had all sorts of brainstorming sessions with both the hardware and software developers. It was through this exchange of ideas that we settled on the final design for the system. Nintendo Labo uses the Nintendo Switch system’s more unique design elements in a deeply satisfying way.
Mr. Sakaguchi: The three technologies that Nintendo Labo uses most are the dual gyro sensors, the IR Motion Camera, and the HD rumble function.