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Nintendo's Game & Watch Veterans Talk Creating Classic Handhelds

Nintendo's Game & Watch Veterans Talk Creating Classic Handhelds

February 11, 2011 | By Tom Curtis

February 11, 2011 | By Tom Curtis
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As part of its consumer rewards programs in North America and Japan, Nintendo released a recreation of its classic Game & Watch, harkening back to the days when handhelds equated to little more than a simple circuit-board and an LCD screen.

As part of the latest official "Iwata Asks" Q&A session, Nintendo president Satoru Iwata spoke with some of the key players in the Game & Watch's history to discuss its inception and its recent re-release.

The handheld veterans noted the most striking difference between developing for the Game & Watch and for modern devices is that the team didn't program any software at all; games ran solely thanks to the circuit design of their hardware. In fact, Nintendo's Takehiro Izushi compared the Game & Watch to a basic calculator.

"You could turn each of those 72 segments on or off, and used them to represent objects rather than numbers," added Iwata.

"Thinking up all kinds of ideas for dealing with such constraints was lots of fun. We had to figure out how to make a game with just a few available pieces," Izushi said.

Matoko Kano, responsible for the design of the multiscreen Game & Watch devices, noted that he used traditional makeup compacts as inspiration for the clamshell design. "I made the multiscreen using those as reference," he said.

"If it weren't for Game & Watch, today's handheld game systems would probably be different. I doubt the Game Boy and Nintendo DS systems would have made it out into the world," Iwata noted.

Iwata also revealed that over the course of its existence, the Nintendo Game & Watch sold 12.87 million units in Japan and 30.53 million in other markets.

In 2009, Nintendo recreated the Game & Watch: Ball handheld for its Club Nintendo rewards program in Japan, and more recently made the handheld available to North American members.

Kano explained that manufacturing a modern version of the device was no easy task, as the company has long since shifted away from making LCD games. "None of the relevant documents were around anymore. It was hard contacting all those involved and gathering the materials," Kano said.

While the recreated Game & Watch is no longer available in Japan, North American Club Nintendo members can purchase the handheld for 1,200 coins, which are earned though registering purchases on Nintendo's website.

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