Developing A New System
"If Nintendo 3DS goes well, that means I can retire," joked Shigeru Miyamoto, introducing Hideki Konno, a staffer who's been promoted to overall producer of the 3DS project, including both hardware and software, at Nintendo.
Said Konno of overseeing the hardware this time out, "I'm one of the guys who was always complaining about to hardware guys when I encountered problems working on software... I think I have a better understanding of the job [president Satoru Iwata and Miyamoto] do and how hard it can be."
The 3DS' Early Software Situation
The system was debuted at E3 2010 with a mixture of tech demos and games -- some of which are ports of older games, such as 1997's Star Fox 64 and 1998's The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time.
Of the new version of Zelda, Miyamoto said, "One of the reasons that we wanted to create that, three years ago when we started creating the 3DS hardware and we saw that screen, one of my first thoughts was that I wanted to experience that vast field in Hyrule again with the 3D screen. I felt that if you were able to run around in that field you would feel like you were in the land of Hyrule."
He also spoke about a game called Steel Diver, which began as a tech demo shown at E3 2004, at the debut of the original Nintendo DS. "The development on that project is moving along nicely... It's almost done. And the reason for that is that we've been making it for the last six years."
Nintendo is famous for letting games simmer, but this is an extreme example. "It was actually pretty far along on the Nintendo DS but when we got the 3D screens in we decided that this was something that could take advantage of the screens," Miyamoto said.
Of course, the company is working on a port of its Star Fox 64 as well. Praising how the 3D screen will make shooting games so much more playable, "As soon as we started working on 3DS I decided I wanted to work on a Star Fox game."
Nintendo has had a mixed history with its console to portable ports, however, in terms of adding compelling features. "If we were to just take these games and port them over to the 3DS, we'd just have a collection of old games with 3D visuals, so we've been talking to the teams" about adding new features to the 3DS versions, said Miyamoto.
When it comes to the new system, Miyamoto feels that the screen will make 3D interaction easier, and that will improve older games as well. "I'm sure that people have had to jump a few times to hit that question mark block to figure out where it is above their heads... We're figuring out how to make past games easier to play, and come up with new ideas as well."
Of course, one of the new titles is Nintendogs + Cats, a sequel to one of the DS' world-beating casual successes. "I wanted to keep this as a secret for this E3, but unfortunately at last E3 Mr. Miyamoto announced that he got a cat," joked Konno.
"Cats are kind of like girls. If they come and talk to you it's great, but if you go and talk to them it doesn't always go so well," joked Miyamoto right back. And they also present another difficulty for the designers: "They don't do tricks."
But the cuteness of a prototype of the original game with cats added won over the developers -- who then launched into development with new ideas on how to make things work. "We decided to implement cats because of Mr. Miyamoto's talk about his interest in seeing cats and dogs interact together," said Konno, who heard many stories of how Miyamoto's kitten integrated into his dog-owning household.
"We're using the inner camera to recognize the player's face," Konno said. As well as allowing "visual communication" with the pets -- they'll interact with you if you move your head or come close to the screen, "If I gave my game to Mr. Miyamoto the dog might not recognize him, and hide and bark from a distance."
On the 3DS' Persistent Tag Mode
Miyamoto said that the "bark mode" in which Nintendogs games on the original system could passively communicate has been expanded to a system feature for the 3DS.
Said Konno, "My ambition is to take that and make it something that's more widely used and more popular. The way we implemented it this time, is that we built it right into the 3DS hardware. With the Nintendo 3DS we've created a new system whereby if the games you're playing are compatible with this, all you have to do is close your Nintendo 3DS you can close your 3DS and go around and all of the communication happens automatically. My ambition is for all of you to take your Nintendo 3DS systems out and take it out and have all of this communication take place and spread that feature."
Of course, the Japanese killer app for the "tag mode" as it's called more generally is Square Enix's Dragon Quest IX. Fans gather outside electronics shops to trade quest maps, Miyamoto pointed out. Konno theorized that it could also work with theoretical new versions of Mario Kart and Animal Crossing as well.
Of course, Miyamoto recognizes that Japan's high population density makes this kind of real-life data exchange situation much easier. But he sees it as more appealing, as well: "If you were to try to use the internet and do something like this it would be relatively simple but it's fun and interesting to do it in the real world. As you walk around the real world you open your system and find out there's new data, and you wonder about who the person was and where they might be. And that's where the fun in this interaction comes," said Miyamoto.
A Gameplay-Led Change For Zelda
Of audience members who had played the The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword demo for the Wii, Miyamoto asked, "How many of you realized it was due to wireless interference?" ... jokingly, but not quite -- referring to his problems playing the game on stage at this morning's press conference.
Eiji Aonuma, the longtime director of the franchise, introduced it by saying "development started with gameplay. All development started with gameplay as the focus. Some of this is related directly to Wii MotionPlus... This [direct control] is a mechanism we've wanted to be able to do with the Zelda series for a long time."
"We've made it harder to get lost," said Aonuma of the game's new map system, which -- along with its motion control and inviting painterly graphics seem to point to the company's desire to expand the series' audience -- something that the DS Zelda game did, particularly in Japan, in a way the series had not seen previously once cute graphics and stylus control had been added.
Though fans of the series worry most about how many dungeons and what kind of story the game might have, Miyamoto said the focus of Skyward Sword is much more based around "what is it that makes it fun and how can we make it the most engaging gameplay experience that we possibly can."
"Because this style of development is a little bit different than what we've done in the past, we're not confident we can put it out by the end of this year.... So I decided to come out and say that we're putting it out next year," said Miyamoto, hinting that the change in the game's development might be even more profound than is apparent given its obvious consistencies with the series at large.
That the new Zelda game's painterly art style only took one round of approvals before he gave it an okay, Miyamoto said. "I think the art style is very unique. I'm a big fan of Impressionism and we've drawn some inspiration from that in the world. The sky and the mountains have a definite Cezanne feel to them. One of the goals was to find an art style that would allow to us to have over-exaggerated characters and enemies without it looking too strange."
"If I hadn't been told I had to change the art style the game would have been done sooner," joked Aonuma. "That being said, we think there's a really great marriage between the gameplay and the graphic style... When we're done I think we're going to find a really good harmony between all of the elements in the game."
"Mr. Aonuma is actually a victim of Ocarina of Time -- that was the first Zelda game he was yanked out of a team, by me, to work on. He has a bad memory he wants to put to rest." said Miyamoto, and asked how many of the audience thought that the game's notorious Water Temple dungeon was "horrible" -- because of the need to switch equipment frequently. Aonuma said, "So what I'd like to do is lay this evil shame to rest by implementing the touch screen to put those iron boots on and take them off again."
Miyamoto said "This is an important point for Skyward Sword as well. We've been putting a lot of thought into how to make that transition between items as natural as possible. Of course, it's a slightly different play pattern from what you're used to. Once you get used to it... it becomes very streamlined and very smooth."
The first question related to whether or not the 3DS system implements wide-area networking -- based on a comment of Iwata's the questioner felt was ambiguous -- that it allows for networking without Wi-Fi. In other words, does it have 3G or other wireless data capabilities, and does it use a networking carrier?
Said Konno, "The tag mode functionality is going to be local between system to system. And while it's a portable device it's not always connected to the internet. The idea is that with the wifi functionality it would have something of a push effect. If you were near a wireless access point it would pull the data automatically." Nintendo wants users to just find new data on their systems -- not deliberately have to choose to access the data.
Miyamoto said, "In the future there may be discussions about connecting to carriers and things like that, but that's not something we're talking about with 3DS right now."
Wired's Chris Kohler saved Gamasutra the trouble of asking about Pikmin 3. Said Miyamoto, in a rather jocular mood, "In March, I went to the UK and recieved a BAFTA award. In one of the interviews there I mentioned that, yes, we're working on Pikmin, and I was disappointed when the news started to spread. Didn't you promise you're only supposed to ask about games we're working on today?"
"Particularly looking at our E3 lineup this year, my concern was that if we showed Pikmin htis year, we had so many great games that people wouldn't pay attention to Pikmin as was its due. So rest assured, we are working on Pikmin but please don't make that the number one story of the evening."
Speaking in response to a question on the 3DS' battery life, Konno said "We'd like to match the battery life of the DSi." He continued, "Obviously there are lots of questions out there about the hardware, but I'd like to focus on the software. I'd like to limit the questions to software if we can," he said, shutting down further questions about the system's as-yet unrevealed specs.