Satoru Okada, Nintendo's former general manager for Research and Engineering, discussed his many involvements with various hardware during his 40-year stint at the company in a recent interview with Retro Gamer.
Okada is a crucial cog in the creation of the original Game Boy. His name might not be too familiar for many, but his work was an important attribute for Nintendo's success, with him often ambling to and fro behind the scenes, so the interview is long overdue.
The Gameboy Was Supposed To Be A Follow-Up To The Game & Watch
The Game Boy, one of the most commercially successful handheld consoles this planet has ever seen, was supposed to have been a mere follow-up to the Game & Watch — an initially fun, but shoddy plaything that had no long-term value, lasting around two seasons maximum.
However, Okada himself resented the idea and had an entirely different vision in mind. Luckily, he had the benefit of a unique kind of upbringing, often fuming at his seniors in defense of his ideas.
"I was rather stubborn and often became angry at my superiors when was trying to defend my ideas," Okada said.
He and Gunpei Yokoi, best known as the creator of the Game & Watch, would later engage in numerous arguments over the disparity between their ideas with how the Game Boy should should turn out. In the end, however, Yokoi allowed Okada to do as he wished, and Okada took full responsibility of the Game Boy's development. It was his passion project, so to speak; Yokoi simply handed out his seal of approval.
The Nintendo DS Was Received Poorly By Its Creators
The development of the DS, however, was almost the opposite of the Game Boy's. The idea of two screens on a single console had perplexed the bigwigs at Nintendo, who found the idea ridiculous, to say the least.
"After the Game Boy Advance SP, we were working on the newest model in this range. The code name for this new Game Boy was IRIS," Okada said.
The project had been ambling at an amiable pace until an unexpected turn occurred. Satoru Iwata, Nintendo's president and CEO until his demise in 2015, had come to see Okada to inform him that Hiroshi Yamauchi, Iwata's predecessor, thought IRIS should have two screens. But the people from the company did not take the idea too kindly.
"[E]verybody hated this idea, even Iwata himself," Okada said. "[W]hy bother splitting [a screen] into two? Especially considering that it was impossible to look at both screens at the same time. This is why we did not understand his idea."
What the others didn't know was that the DS would go on to become the company's best-selling console, an accolade it still owns even today with more than 150 million units sold globally. Still, it's interesting to know that even creators themselves can't accurately predict the significance of a product, and the whole affair presents a nuanced and complex look at the business of gaming: sometimes, it does pay to take risks, even if those risks look ridiculous — at first, at least.
The bigwigs arguably did not have their fingers on the pulse back then, which simply goes to show that predicting audience response has always been a difficult, if not an almost impossible, process.
The DS's design is odd, and if one gawks for a prolonged time at the console, it certainly is perplexing. Two screens, but what for? Little did Nintendo know that the console — once the recipient of an overwhelmingly pessimistic reception from its creators — would soon revolutionize touch screen gaming forever.
In recent years, Nintendo's products have had very little appeal to those who prefer smartphone gaming over purchasing dedicated handheld consoles for a similar purpose. Hopefully, it reverses this course with the Switch, an upcoming hybrid console that offers portable and non-portable gaming modes, with a seamless "switching" between the two. It comes out in March.