With the coming release of the NES Classic Edition, Nintendo is again sharing some of the background and inside information that has gone into creating my favorite video game company, and many of their iconically classic games and characters. It is always great to know the origin story of some the most influential things in our lives, and I don’t know about you, but video games, Nintendo games in particular, have been highly influential in mine. I have written on several occasions about my history and love of gaming with Nintendo.
Over the next days and weeks, Nintendo of America will be releasing several new interviews with the developers of the wonderful games that can be found (and played, of course) on the NES Classic Edition. The first two were released recently, and they are both very enlightening.
Now, instead of posting the interviews in their entirety here in the blog post, I will share a few excerpts from both, and provide links to check out the full text. That way you have the chance to see all that was divulged.
The first interview was with Mr. Shigeru Miyamoto on the development of Donkey Kong and its eventual release on the NES/Famicom. The interviews were conducted by Mr. Akinori Sao, who is a writer from Kyoto, Japan.
Sao: The arcade game appeared, and then two years later the Famicom version came out in Japan. Were you involved with converting the game for the Famicom/NES?
Miyamoto: No. As with Mario Bros., I left the conversion from the arcade game to the Famicom to another team. In order to launch the Famicom, I was working on a software lineup.
Sao: Donkey Kong, Donkey Kong Jr. and Popeye appeared simultaneously with the Famicom system.
Miyamoto: Yes, but I wanted to make seven titles for release early in the Famicom’s career. We were touting the system to use replaceable game cartridges, so we felt it would make the Famicom look bad if we released it with a lesser number of games.
It seems a lot of the early obstacles for the Famicom system are still issues that Nintendo faces to this day. Miyamoto-san was focused on making sure the console had a healthy launch lineup when it was to be released, and that is something that we know the company is very focused on this time around, as they admittedly fell short on with the Wii U launch. A couple of funny anecdotes were also shared about the development cycle for the arcade version, as well.
Sao: Did you make Donkey Kong in two or three months?
Miyamoto: Back then, we made games in three months. But Donkey Kong took a little longer—four or five months, I think.
Sao: That’s still fast. During that time, were you immersed in development?
Miyamoto: The company housing I was living in at the time was nearby across the river. So every day I was just going back and forth between work and home. Also, it was nice that the company had a bath.
Sao: There was a bath at Nintendo?
Miyamoto: Yes. The head office back then was in Toba-kaido, and there was also a factory for making Japanese playing cards. You need a boiler to make playing cards, so we used water boiled there for the adjoining bath facility as well. The people who worked at the card factory would clean themselves up in the bath after work. No one was there at night, so I could use it at my leisure.
For the full interview, be sure to go to Donkey Kong Interview.
The next interview from Mr. Sao is with the developer of the NES Classic, Balloon Fight, Mr. Yoshio Sakamoto. Many people may not be very familiar with Mr. Sakamoto, so to help out, just know that:
Sakamoto-san has worked on many games, from the Metroid, WarioWare and Rhythm Heaven series to Tomodachi Life and the smartphone application Miitomo, but it was only his third year at the company when he developed Balloon Fight.
Mr. Sakamoto got his start at Nintendo working on several games in the Game & Watch series, then came one of his first lasting lessons in game design from his mentor and boss.
Sao: Oh, I see. What games did you work on after Game & Watch?
Sakamoto: The arcade game Vs. Wrecking Crew.5 Back then, my boss Gunpei Yokoi believed that if you can draw, you can make games. So I would continue drawing as I designed games. Of course, I had to consult Yokoi-san about many things.
Sao: I see.
Sakamoto: That was when I began drawing pixel art.
Then came his work on Balloon Fight.
Sao: Then you made Balloon Fight. How did that come about?
Sakamoto: Yokoi-san suggested making a game focused on giving players a sense of floating through space that also has fighting elements.
Sao: Because “if you can draw, you should be able to make games,” right?
Sakamoto: Right. So I drew some pictures and became responsible for the game design. SRD Co. was in charge of programming for the arcade version, and Satoru Iwata, who was at HAL Laboratory at the time, was in charge of the Famicom/NES version.
Another of the life lessons that Sakamoto-san learned from his mentor, Gunpei Yokoi, came during the development process for the game.
Yes. And if you pop it, you get points.
Sakamoto: That happened when Yokoi-san suddenly told me to make bubbles one day, but at first I replied that I thought it was impossible.
Why did you think that?
Sakamoto: The graphics in the Famicom/NES era were much too simplistic. I thought it would be impossible to make something like a bubble that looked transparent.
Sakamoto: But Yokoi-san scolded me, saying I shouldn’t say I can’t do it before I’ve even tried.
Sakamoto: He told me to try, and I said I didn’t think it could be done but I would give it a try, and when I did…
And when you did?
Sakamoto: It was a cinch! (laughs)
Sakamoto: We had a basic development tool at the time that we were able to experiment with. Yokoi-san was watching by my side and said, “You see? You got it to work.” (laughs) It turned out to be really easy, so I regretted my earlier attitude. Since then, I’ve tried not to say “That’s impossible,” or “I can’t do it.”
For more insider details from the interview, be sure to check it out at Balloon Fight Interview.
I am truly excited to get more information when it comes about the development process for each of the games that are on the NES Classic Edition, and I look forward to sharing them with you all, as well. So be sure to stay tuned. I think it’s amazing that a lot of the things that were learned or even discovered during those early years are things that have shaped the process of game development at Nintendo to this very day. It just goes to show that a lot of what we may take for granted today are simply lessons that were learned long ago, often through trial and error, but they were also simply taken to heart to create the gaming giant that I call my favorite gaming company, Nintendo.
What stood out to you most in Miyamoto-san’s interview? What about in Sakamoto-san’s interview? Which game-developer interview are you most looking forward to reading about?
As always, gaming is meant to be fun, so keep gaming!!