Nintendo talks Switch – origins / creation, going with one screen, name, online play, January event, much more
Hopes for the two Joy-Con’s features
There are features in the Joy-Con that lay the foundations for a variety of different gameplay methods. I’m sure it was very difficult figuring out which features to include and which to leave out, but can you tell us why you included the features that you did?
Takahashi: As I mentioned at the start, we had a lot of different materials in the form of components and technologies, but we didn’t evaluate those individually. We took into account various things related to how players would interact and enjoy the games while using those features, and in the end we were left with features like the HD Rumble, the IR camera, and the NFC reader/writer.
So your selection process consisted of deciding how the features would translate to something entertaining in an actual game, and made your decisions based on how you saw things playing out.
Takahashi: Exactly. That’s why the hardware team was always on our case, saying “You’re going to use this? Are you sure you’re going to use it?! Give us an answer!” (laughs).
It affected their workflow, after all (laughs). So the features that made it into the final design were ones that you two deemed to be well-suited to building games around, ones you deemed were necessary?
Koizumi: That’s right. We came up with various games that used the different features in 1-2-Switch, but those aren’t the only ways to use them, of course. We made the decision to include features based on whether or not they expanded gameplay possibilities. We took into account the size the entire system would need to be in order to be able to carry the console around and play with two people. We knew it wouldn’t be possible to fit all of the features into the console itself, so we ended up cramming everything innovative into the Joy-Con.
The Joy-Con are rather small.
Koizumi: We were surprised at how small and light they ended up, even with all of the technology we decided to pack into them. It was all because we kept insisting that the size be kept small. You could say our hopes and dreams are crammed in there too.
Mr. Koizumi said this just before, but the small size seems great for sharing them with others.
Koizumi: Yes. The controllers had to be easy to hand off. If they were heavy, the person you hand it to would go “oof!”, and that would affect their impression. I think the end result met the lofty goals of us designers.
Recent Nintendo hardware, like the DS, 3DS and Wii U, had diverse gameplay by having two screens, yet the Switch doesn’t. I would imagine there people who supported the inclusion of dual screens.
Koizumi: We decided from the beginning that we would only have one screen, because it’s something you play on your TV, then pick up and play on the go. Since televisions don’t have two screens, we kept it simple and only included one screen. We had other core ideas for the Switch, like “create something new” and “don’t get caught up in traditions”, so we had to be firm in our decision.
Takahashi: Of course there were those who asked whether we would have two screens again, but in the end we kept it to a single screen.
The direct predecessor in your line of home consoles, the Wii U, ended up being short-lived. How do you perceive the Wii U’s legacy, and what lessons have you learned from it that you’re applying to your strategy with the Switch?
Takahashi: It’s not just the Wii U that influenced our decisions. I think the Switch was the result of us taking a look at what we could use from all of our past hardware, at Nintendo’s history with games like the Hanafuda, and at the various ways we can bring joy to people. We regret that with the Wii U, we were unable to constantly be producing something that people would enjoy, but that wasn’t the only thing we took into consideration. We also switched our stance, and built off of everything Nintendo has done as a whole when creating the Switch.
The Switch certainly seems have a lot of ideas mixed in from past hardware, while still being a completely new thing.
Koizumi: We looked at everything as a whole when reevaluating what form consoles should take, not just the Wii U. For example, ever since the Nintendo 64, we’ve only included one controller with the console. This caused developers to focus primarily on single-player games. We did of course sell additional controllers, and multiplayer games were made, but they required players to purchase additional things, and created a barrier of entry into multiplayer titles. Games I created which allowed for multiple players, like Super Mario 3D World on the Wii U, could only be played by one person if you only owned the Wii U GamePad. So development would be focused on the single-player aspect, with multiplayer coming as an afterthought. For the Switch we re-examined that, and thought we should have a console that came ready for two people to play together on from the start. So we stuck firmly to our decision to include two controllers with the console.
Takahashi: Our reevaluation led to us wanting to revive the inclusion of two controllers with the console that we had with the Famicom and Super Famicom.
Past Nintendo hardware did not go for specs alone, but placed an importance on balancing it along with new gameplay methods. Have you taken into account the performance of competing companies’ gaming hardware and PCs this time?
Takahashi: Our main focus was with the implementation of the Switch’s core concept: how it would switch from playing in TV Mode, to Tabletop Mode, to Handheld Mode. It had to be graphically capable enough in TV Mode, but it had to be capable of playing in handheld mode for long enough as well. We made it an important goal of ours to find a good balance between those two aspects, so I think our team had a much different mindset than that of other companies.
It certainly seems so. A console focused entirely on maximizing its graphics would probably only last 30 minutes on the go.
Takahashi: If it even lasted that long (laughs).
And could you tell us about how the Switch got its name, despite the Wii being followed by the Wii U? I imagine there was a lot of heated debate regarding it during your development discussions.
Takahashi: We had numerous discussions about it.
Koizumi: The late president Iwata initially asked us to “Do something new”, so we had it in our heads from the start that we had to move away from older names like the Wii and Wii U, or the DS and 3DS. Our line of thinking was that all aspects of the system must be drastically different from past hardware, even down to the name.
Takahashi: And that went for the software development side as well.
Koizumi: Yes. In that sense, we would be changing many different things. For example, we were always thinking about how we could revise the development environment, the way development teams were structured, and even the mindset of the developers themselves. This had more of a connotation of “change”, but we decided it would be more appropriate to call it the “Switch”, as that had the nuance of a replacement. So we chose that name out of all of the various candidates.
Takahashi: And there was no shortage of name candidates. We must have had thousands.
Thousands! Did the ideas come from many different people?
Koizumi: We told everyone what the new hardware would be like, and asked them to come up with names that would fit well and be easy for people to understand. And we ended up with thousands of potential names.
Takahashi: We ended choosing “switch”, a word that means something. It’s not a made-up word like the “Wii”, so it was also a switch away from that (laughs).
Was decision on the final name made unanimously?
Takahashi: There were a lot of different reactions to it (laughs).
Koizumi: When we explained it, they went “you took all this time to come up with that?” (laughs)
Takahashi: But in the end, we made sure it felt right to the overseas staff. We decided to use it because it would convey new changes from new hardware, and a switch in gameplay.
The Wii and Wii U came with various built-in channels and software like the Miiverse, but the menu feels very minimalistic this time. What made you decide to do it like this?
Koizumi: Kawamoto and I would very often use “snappy” when discussing the Switch, because at the end of the day, it’s a game console. You play games on it. 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. It takes a lot of time to get to the game these days compared to the old cartridge consoles. We won’t be able to compete with the cartridge era load speeds, but it was something we kept in mind while working on the system.