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Thursday March 26, 2009 2:07 pm

GDC ’09: Nintendo Keynote: Wii 4.0, New Zelda DS game, more

Satoru Iwata

At the ass-crack of dawn, I got out of bed and hoofed it to Moscone South in San Francisco for the start of the GDC proper, kicked off by a keynote with one half of the fanboy’s wet dream, Satoru Iwata, president of the Big N. The line, as expected, was around the block, and I ended up passing the time by measuring my growing distaste for humanity before finally getting in and being seated. The talk, though, “Discovering New Development Opportunities,” was worth the wait. We laughed, we cried, we hemmed and hawed, and I’m not saying there were some tits, but I am certainly making the implication. Hit the jump for what you need to know about Iwata-san’s keynote, recorded moment by moment.

After an introduction, Iwata came out to be deafening cheer of the audience, on a jetpack. After a brief fight with Godzilla, he took the podium, and THESE ARE HIS WORDS:

  • Iwata began by talking about the last time he was at the GDC (in perfect English, no less!)– in 2006, before the ’s heyday, reminiscing about those who said the Wii could never do it, and then reveled in their misery by announcing the new sales figures for the Wii – 50 million. Holy sh*t. He continues to crap all over them with some impressive sales figures, basically showing that Nintendo is currently doing a happy dance all over the sensitive areas of other hardware companies.
  • Software drives hardware sales. Iwata thanked the fans from the bottom of his heart, as our heads exploded into fountains of candy.
Nintendo Death Spiral
  • He went on discuss the “Death Spiral” – the series of events that forever threatened to destroy Nintendo during the days of the SNES. The reason Nintendo was able to make better games, he thought, was that more money made more time.
  • He summed up the developmental opportunities by using Miyamoto as an example – a man notorious for turning hobbies and experiences into blockbuster game titles. Gardening lead to Pikmin, getting a puppy lead to Nintendogs, exploring hills lead to Zelda, exercise lead to Wii Fit. This is why Miyamoto was asked to instate a gag order – what he does turns into a great games. How?
  • When Miyamoto begins, according to Iwata, his concepts come from observing other human beings. If he sees something people enjoy, he pinpoints what is fun about it, even of the people participating cannot see it; This is the trait, Iwata says, is what allows them to reach out to non-gamers.
Miyamoto Upward Spiral

Miyamoto’s way – The Upward Spiral! This is his development philosophy:

  • Ideas are everywhere.
  • Personal communication is the key to good development.
  • Prototype stages are needed for every idea. Some games have prototype stages that can run for years.
  • Small teams are necessary to keep the vision coherent for prototypes.
  • Multiple projects are in development at any given time simultaneously.
  • Trial and Error – no one can predict what makes a game fun. Not even Miyamoto.
  • Mass production stage enters after the prototype is a proven concept.
  • ever ask how the team is doing. This can lead the team to cut corners. However, not knowing about the game’s progress makes you unsure about the prospect for financial development. Now, though, there aren’t any surprises with the schedule – but sometimes, there are. No matter what fear the team may have, Miyamoto is never angry – he instead does all he can to rearrange things to be more efficient and back on schedule. However, again, in some rare cases, even Miyamoto can’t “reset the table” is core mechanics go off-kilter – in which case, it is removed from the table. But Miyamoto never throws anything away.
  • They hoped that Nintendogs and Super Mario Galaxy would be launch titles. They weren’t – they needed to be tweaked to make them great.
Miyamoto
  • About 20 years ago, Miyamoto started “Random Employee Kidnapping” – kidnapping employees inside company headquarters. The victim is handed a controller and told to start enjoying themselves – Miyamoto will never allow the developers to step in and guide. The victim must figure things out for themselves. Miyamoto then looms over their shoulder in a rather creepy manner and observes them. If the player is happy, the team has succeeded – if they get frustrated, they have failed.
  • In order for consumers to be surprised, we must first surprise ourselves. At the start of 2004, Japanese pop artist Tsunku contacted Nintendo to make a game based around his own theories of Rhythm, so Yoshio Sakamoto was asked to talk with him, while Kazuyoshi Osawa was brought in later. A small development team was put together to make a prototype. But one problem – how can a rhythm game be produced if the team doesn’t have much rhythm? Well, they put the dev team through a dance class. Those who passed moved on with the project. This was the first time Iwata had to approve a budget for dancing. The result? Rhythm Tengoku. It was developed before they even THOUGHT about touch controls. It was a new franchise. It also has sold about 1.7 million units in Japan. It’s coming here soon. Go buy it. Everyone at the talk got it free. Neener.
  • The lesson? A significant number of people who have bought the Wii have never owned a console – about half the DS owners are women. There are misconceptions about what’s happening in video games. One such misconception is Nintendo’s success based solely on first party games – far more 3rd party games have been sold on their consoles.
Wii Balance Board
  • The Wii Balance Board has almost as large of an install base as the PS3. Sony dies a little inside. Iwata laughs maniacally. Somewhere, you can hear the sounds of pigs squealing. A single tear falls from the eye of an impoverished child.
  • A developer is invited to the stage and demonstrates a new Wiiware title using the balance board to illustrate what alternative controllers can do – a rock climbing game that for some reason makes you play a guitar at the end. Rock and Roll Climber. Fun? I dunno. Certainly weird. But I’m open minded.
  • To sum it up, there are new opportunities for development all around. Iwata stresses the Wii and DS as prime examples – over 90% of WiiWare games are from independent publishers.
  • We see the newest announcement –The Wii Menu system 4.0, featuring a new SD Card menu, support for SDHC cards, and the last key addition – the ability to now launch content directly off the SD card. They then launched Zelda 2 off the SD card with only a few seconds of loading time. Iwata then announced that these new features are available RIGHT NOW. Go get it.
  • Lastly, Final Fantasy is coming to WiiWare – My Life as a DarkLord, the Crystal Chronicles sequel, and Final Fantasy IV: The After Years, to come in 2009. The first Final Fantasy is coming in May to the console store, with 5 more coming in time.
  • Bill Trinnan came back on (he had announced the new menu system), and demoed some DSiWare, uncluding a flipbook animation app in Japaan called UgoMemo, and WarioWare Snap for the DSi, which is designed to make you look like an idiot in public while having fun. Iwata took the stage again and announced classic games that will be released on the online arcade – Space Invader, the Tower of Druaga, etc. All downloadable today.
  • Nintendo, Iwata claims, has a responsibility to satisfy their core gamers – and he announces a new game – It’s Zelda! And there are TRAAAIIIINS! The Legend of Zelda: Spirit Tracks will be coming to the DS later this year.
  • It is in the power of game developers to invent things we have never imagined before. He reminds us of the jet engine, television, and even the chocolate chip, all of which were invented during the Great Depression. As a developer, anything is possible – the future of videogames is in new hands.

Well, that’s all for the minute by minute account of the keynote. Go and enjoy the new Wii features. Think about all you have learned. Try chewing on a corncob pipe while you’re at it, it makes you look dignified.

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