[A lengthy Q&A that gets to the heart of Nintendo's latest handheld device -- with the man who lead the development of the project, working with Miyamoto and Iwata to create the successor to the company's most successful handheld platform ever.]
The Nintendo 3DS is a crucial launch for Nintendo. Already out in Japan, and shipping later this week in Europe and North America, the handheld is an obvious iterative successor to the runaway success of the original Nintendo DS; its primary innovation is a glasses-free stereoscopic 3D screen.
Nintendo is obviously hoping that by packing the handheld with features it can engage audiences and have another supremely successful generation -- but times have changed since the 2004 launch of the original DS.
Features like the StreetPass and SpotPass smart online functionality are innovative and fresh, but will they help bolster the appeal of the handheld in a meaningful way?
To find out more, Gamasutra interviewed Hideki Konno, the head of the 3DS project. A 25-year veteran of Nintendo's Entertainment Research and Development division whose first directorial job was on the 1988 NES favorite Ice Hockey, Konno brought a fresh perspective to the development of this bit of Nintendo hardware.
In the following interview, he explains the company's philosophy toward this design, explaining that it, as ever, is just trying to make entertaining products for its customers -- and is not really concerned about what the competition is up to.
I was able to attend your GDC presentation, and one of my takeaways was that it seems like the collaboration that led to the Wii Fit Balance Board -- which was formed between software and hardware -- was kind of the inspiration for bringing you into the development of the 3DS hardware, which would have been unusual for previous Nintendo systems.
Hideki Konno: Well actually, the hardware team that worked on Nintendo 3DS and the hardware team that worked on the Wii Fit Balance Board were not the same hardware teams.
One thing about our development style at Nintendo, we've had hardware teams and software teams, obviously, working in the same building for a long, long time. Personally myself, I've been 25 years on the software side of things. So having someone -- as you had said -- from the software side enter hardware development at such an early stage, may not be a common occurrence.
But as you said, and I think you're right, with the development of the Balance Board I think the software team provided a lot of information and a lot of ideas that the hardware team incorporated into the completion of the development process of that particular product.
Would you say that there are fundamental differences -- I'm not talking about technical differences as such -- between this and other previous handheld products because of the input of a software developer in the process?
HK: Yes, that's true. I mean, that's a difficult question; I had to think about the right way to answer that question so there was a good answer. But with Nintendo 3DS, I think because the software side was involved right early on, one of our goals was to build into the system that initial appeal for consumers; that initial inspiration, how to engage them right out of the box.
And one of the ways the software team decided to do that was look at what the hardware is offering -- the gyro sensor, the motion sensor, and other functionality -- and make the pre-installed applications take advantage of those in such a way that again, right from the very beginning, you open it up and you're engaged. And I think that's probably the software side influence on the development.
And I guess really I end up starting to talk about some of the more technical things, and I think the conversation gets back to technology. For example, StreetPass and SpotPass, just having that technology within the device is different than having the software team say, "Here are the ideas with which we want to use this technology."
So that then influences, in a way, how that is implemented and even developed. "Oh, you guys wanna use it for this? Well in that case we're going to have to make sure that the functionality works in this way." So it does influence the technology and how it's implemented as well. And also because it works in sleep mode -- again, the coordination between all of those different aspects influences, again, the technology.
I think really what you see in a lot of cases is they build the hardware system -- "Here's your hardware system, now go build software for it! Yay!" But in this case, because we have this operating system built right in, we really need the joint cooperation of the hardware and software teams.
The working together, again, influenced it. Not only the software development team's ideas and desires and needs influence the hardware team -- not only implements the technology that's available to them, but also influences the way they come up with the initial design and the housing and everything. So they all work together.