Last weekend, Nintendo's CEO Satoru
Iwata passed away at the unfairly young age of 55.
There's never been a leader so selfless, and there may
never be one again. When Nintendo's profits and stock
went south one year, Iwata personally took a voluntary
pay cut, bowing to his stockholders in a show of
humility. I can't think of one other boss that would do
something like that. The fact that this guy is dead while
Donald Trump is still alive means the universe has a sick
sense of humor.
One of the many un-CEO-like things
Iwata did was engage his company's fans directly, and not
in the usual phony, pre-rehearsed,
one-tweet-and-you're-done manner. He personally appeared
to narrate many of Nintendo's Direct videos, even when
his health was going south. And he opened up Nintendo,
which had previously been a very secretive company, to
the public with his roundtable series "Iwata
Asks," which I sincerely hope is able to continue in
If you've never read these, or haven't
read many of them, you'll be blown away by how many
behind-the-scenes facts are just lying there, spoken by
their creators. I compiled just twelve of these
interesting tales below in honor of Iwata's memory, but
trust me, there are many more. The
site is still up; why not pay
it a visit sometime?
Koji Kondo's Secret To Game
Wow... I suppose lots of people all around the world are
listening to the music in Mario games all the time. When
you play a video game, you listen to the music the whole
time, because it repeats. Usually, no matter how much you
like a song, if you just keep listening to it over and
over again, you get sick of it.
Why is it okay with video game music?
It's hard to put into words, but I try to make music that
people can listen to over and over again without getting
sick of. Then when I think I'm finished, I do this...
(closing his eyes and leaning back in his chair) ...and
listen to it for hours on end. Sometimes I even dance to
You just listen to it on repeat for hours.
So when you can listen to it for hours, it's done as far
as you're concerned.
Right. And when I can't do that, I know there must be
something wrong with it.
Early Game Development At
Nintendo Was As Primitive As You Could Get
The chip used in Game & Watch was the same as in
calculators. A single number on a calculator display is
composed of seven segments, so
Each number from 0 to 9 is made of seven parts called
segments. In other words, it's a way to display numbers
using seven component parts.
Right. So if a chip can calculate eight digits, that's 7
segments times 8 digits for a total of 56 segments. And
there's the decimal point and symbols like the minus
sign. We made the Game & Watch: Ball game using a
chip that could display 72 segments.
You could turn each of those 72 segments on or off, and
used them to represent objects rather than numbers.
And in the upper right-hand corner of the screen for Game
& Watch: Ball was a four digit counter for points and
time. There, we used 28 segmentsor 7 segments by 4
You could use a total of 72 segments, so that left 44.
We cut back where we could and used all the available
Not a single segment went to waste.
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.
Yeah, that was a lot of fun.
When you're under constraints is when ideas pop up.
And here (pulling out an old notebook) are some notes
from one of those meetings.
Wow! What a valuable document! This is Game & Watch:
I'm amazed you still have these notes!
I hold on to everything. (laughs)
Super Mario Bros. Originally
Had A Different Main Theme
Before Super Mario Bros. came out, most games had a black
Right. That blue sky was really refreshing. I wanted
music to match that, so I made the mistake of creating
something easygoing, like you're out for a carefree walk.
What happened to that song?
It got canned. I realized that an easygoing sound
wouldn't match Mario's running speed and the way he
jumps. I remade the song so it would match the rhythm of
his movements, and that became the aboveground BGM.
Did you start over from scratch?
There's a noise in there like triplets. Tee tee-tee...tee
tee-tump... I took that from the first song I made. I was
going to remake the whole thing, but when I wrote the new
melody and listened to it, I decided to try out that
noise, and it just seemed to fit. It had a groove that
suggested moving forward, so I kept it just as it was.
Super Mario Bros. 3 Is Reggae
Right. You might say that the success of the aboveground
BGM for the original Super Mario was hanging over me. It
had an enormous influence over me, so I really struggled
with Super Mario Bros. 3.
Even though you yourself had made that music, it must
have been difficult to top it. It had made a strong
impression on so many people, so you were grappling with
Yes. When I made the music for the original Super Mario
Bros., I didn't really think of it as Latin in style, but
people around me said it was Latin-flavored or jazzy, and
I came to think of it that way, too. So when I made the
music for Mario 3, I wanted to make something that wasn't
Latin in style, but more like reggae.
You were thinking of the songs in terms of genre.
Yes. I made them with a genre in mind, trying a
reggae-ish song for the aboveground BGM, but when I think
about it now, I'm not so sure it was a good idea.
(laughs) It may not have really matched the rhythm of the
You made the aboveground BGM for the original Super Mario
to match the rhythm of gameplay, but this time reggae
didn't match those rhythms.
But it's a really good song!
I completely agree.
There was actually one other candidate song. Right up
until the end, Tezuka-san and Miyamoto-san and I were
debating which one to use. So Super Mario Bros. 3 was a
All This Attention To Sign
of Time 3D With Miyamoto
When you change something from 2D to 3D, though, you
discover a lot of things, like certain things become no
fun anymore. For example, cutting the grass was something
that first appeared in The Legend of Zelda series with
The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past.13 When we made
it, it was surprisingly fun. Some people started talking
about how this was a video game that you cut grass using
Spin Attack! (laughs)
(laughs) 13. The Legend of Zelda™: A Link to the
Past™: An action-adventure game released for the
Super Famicom system in November 1991.
But when we went to bring that element of cutting grass
into The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time 3D, it was like
we were under orders to do so.
It's not like you could be certain that when you changed
cutting grass into 3D it would be even more fun.
Right. Just when we were saying that simply remaking that
old topic in a prettier way wasn't particularly
impressive, we started talking about how it was weird
that you could cut the grass but couldn't cut the signs.
So you asked SRD's Morita-san to take care of that. He
told me about it. (laughs)
You heard? (laughs) We became able to cut the signs, but
then we knew people would cut them in different
directions. When I said that the signs should cut
diagonally when Link swings diagonally, everyone froze up
and said, "We can't check exactly where they cut
You wanted the signs to cut exactly where you struck
Even with the Nintendo 64 system, that would be
impossible. So I said, "No, we just have to make
several different cut patterns."
Then you made it cut into six pieces like a wheel of
Right. Then you could cut the signs from different
directions, but then when a piece flew off and landed in
the pond, since we hadn't taken care of collision
detection when it hit against water, it would just fall
to the bottom with a clack.
It would be weird if it clacked against water.
Generally, you would just decide not to put a sign by the
water, but Morita-san made it so the piece would float on
And it drifts away.
Yeah. Morita-san made that because he was certain the
players would love it. Then we just wanted to put more
signs by the water!
Majora's Mask Originally Had
Seven Days In It
From Majora's Mask 3D
You needed a completely new idea to make something in
such a short turnaround like one year, and that was the
Right. But at first, it was one week.
Three days was originally one week?
Thats right. But when you returned to the first day
it was like, Do I have to go through an entire week
?, so we thought three days would be
Wait, it got decided just like that? (laughs)
(laughs) In this game the townspeople do different things
each day and many different things happen, but when the
timespan becomes a week, thats just too much to
remember. You cant simply remember whos where
doing what on which day.
Moreover, you probably wouldnt have been able to
make it in a year if you were aiming to make a game
filled with so much content for seven days.
Right, we never would have been able to do it. We felt it
would be best to make it a three-step process, and we
compressed all sorts of things we had planned for over a
week into three days.
Thats how it led to the game feeling like its
packed to the gills with content. You squished all sorts
of ideas you were originally planning to use in a week
into only three days.
I think so.
From Majora's Mask 3D
Yeah. Miyamoto-san did tell us to make it in a year, but
he must have been concerned towards the end.
He must have been worried that you were all exhausted.
I suppose. And at that time, I did have a sense that I
was being pushed on by something strange.
You may have been wearing one of those masks! (laughs)
I had a dream about it.
What kind of a dream was it?
It was a dream about being chased by a Deku.
Oh, a dream where you were being chased around? (laughs)
I was thinking about an event for the Deku, and had been
trying to figure out what to do with it. I thought of it
at home, and a Deku appeared in my dream. I woke up
screaming! I went to work the next day and thats
when Takumi Kawagoe-san told me that he finished making a
movie for the Dekus, so I had him show it to me
that movie was exactly like my dream!
I even told him how do you know my dream?
(laughs) Thats how on-edge I was back then.
Perhaps you were possessed by something.
Link's Awakening Was Inspired
By Twin Peaks
of Zelda: Spirit Tracks
The Legend of Zelda: Link's Awakening, which Tezuka-san
did whatever he wanted with, had quite an influence over
subsequent Zelda games.
I wonder about that...
As far as the general flow goes, I think so.
I didn't try to do that on purpose, though. Oh, right,
about Twin Peaks...
Whoa, here we go. (laughs) Iwata-san, do you know about
No. Bring me up to speed. (laughs)
We were talking about this before you arrived. I was
talking about fashioning The Legend of Zelda: Link's
Awakening with a feel that's somewhat like Twin Peaks. At
the time, Twin Peaks was rather popular. The drama was
all about a small number of characters in a small town.
So when it came to The Legend of Zelda: Link's Awakening,
I wanted to make something that, while it would be small
enough in scope to easily understand, it would have deep
and distinctive characteristics.
That makes me think of Wuhu Island in Wii Sports
Resort11. The events occur at a well-known location, so
background elements come into clarity. You were thinking
about that for The Legend of Zelda: Link's Awakening?
(Wuhu Island: The island that is the setting of Wii
Sports Resort and Wii Fit Plus. The general concept is to
develop a wide variety of games entailing adventures and
other activities that take place on the island. For more
on the "Island Concept," see Iwata Asks: Wii
I remembered it earlier. (laughs)
At the time, I didn't know what he was talking about. I
was like, "What is this guy talking about?"
(laughs) But since Twin Peaks was popular at the time...
You thought he just wanted to be trendy?
Yeah. (laughs) I thought, "You really want to make
The Legend of Zelda like that?!" Now the mystery is
When I was reading Tanabe-san's comments in the strategy
guide, I saw, "Tezuka-san suggested we make all the
characters suspicious types like in the then-popular Twin
Did that guy who looks like Mario appear because you
wanted to make someone who looked suspicious? He did look
suspicious, but... (laughs)
After that, in The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time and
The Legend of Zelda: Majora's Mask, all kinds of
suspicious characters appeared. I didn't tell them to do
it that way, but personally, I did find it considerably
Splatoon's Inklings Began As
So what was the idea that became the basis for Splatoon?
A demo made by our Program Director Sato-san. At first
there was a white cube in a maze...
Yes. (laughs) There was a white thing and a black thing
shaped like blocks of tofu, and they were shooting ink
and they had to steal each others turf.
So at first it wasnt squid at all. It was black and
white tofu shooting each other with ink. (laughs)
But tofu is usually white.
The black one was sesame tofu! (laughs)
So the basis of Splatoon was a fight between a block of
sesame tofu and a block of firm tofu.
HAL Labs Spent Eleven Years On
Three Kirby Games That Never Came Out
Return To Dream Land
It's been 11 years since the last completely new game in
the main Kirby series.
Yes. To begin by introducing myself, I was originally a
designer on a team called Jack and the Beanstalk Project
and worked on games like Pokémon Snap. Now I'm a
producer in Tokyo.
As for that 11-year gap between home console Kirby games,
right after Kirby 64: The Crystal Shards, we immediately
began working on a new Kirby game. That was during the
time of the Nintendo GameCube system, and screen shots
were shown at E3.
"Were shown"? You sound so detached about it!
Oh, believe me, I'm not! (laughs) But after that, it
never got updated, and I'm sure some people would wonder
and ask, "Whatever happened to that?" To some,
it had become an object of mystery.
The release date went unannounced forever.
Yes. Actually, there are three lost Kirby games. The
first one is the one that pictures were shown of at E3.
It was a Kirby game based on the concept of four-person
simultaneous gameplay. That was when I learned how
difficult it is to make a game that is both multi-player
If it had come out, it would have been soon after Kirby
That's right. The second one was an experiment with
extremely challenging gameplay that placed Kirby in 3D
space and allowed players to freely move around. But
unfortunately, we weren't able to achieve the quality we
hoped for and it never reached completion. The third one
involved an animated Kirby sort of like a pop-up book. We
renewed the Copy Abilities, and tried to power it up. We
spent 11 years
making and abandoning these three
During that time, screen shots were shown and release
dates went unannounced for a long time. Then the Nintendo
GameCube system changed to the Wii console. Miyamoto-san
says that video games are something you never really
complete. It's hard when a game simply refuses to come
We wanted to bring it out when the fans wanted, but the
movement wouldn't feel right or we wanted to deliver more
of a surprise to the fans, and we couldn't bring one out
in final form. We experienced that difficulty for 11
Mario Started Speaking Because
His Jumping Sound Didn't Work
From Super Mario All-Stars
Mario 64 was when Mario first started making sounds with
Right. It was decided that we should give him a voice. In
3D, I couldn't get the jump sound to match the action
right. So I put in a sound for when he lifted off and for
when he landed, and I had him make a sound with his
voice. A lot changed starting with the N64. Including how
I viewed sound effects.
In The Very Beginning, The
Legend Of Zelda Was Called "Adventure Title"
of Zelda: Spirit Tracks
This is a bit of a digression, but...
By all means. (laughs)
(flipping through the file in front of him) After we
talked about New Super Mario Bros. Wii for "Iwata
Asks," I decided to see whether what we said was
accurate or not.
Oh, you dug up some old documents.
These are the first specifications for The Legend of
Oh, wow! It's got Miyamoto-san's personal seal on it!
It says "adventure." Over the course of these
few pages it doesn't just talk about the overall
structure of The Legend of Zelda, but also items and
Was The Legend of Zelda called Adventure at first?
I think "Adventure Mario" was written on the
file binding these specifications.
It's for The Legend of Zelda, but it says "Adventure
It always said "adventure." Whether it was
"Mario" or "Zelda." On the second
page, for items, it mentions compasses, bows and arrows,
boomerangs, and gold and silver.
On the third page, labeled "Enemies," it says
"Hakkai." I think that became Ganon.
(Editor's note: The Hakkai reference must be from
"Chohakkai" (which is the Japanese name, and
called "Zhu Balie" in Chinese), a pig-like
character that appeared in the 16th century Chinese novel
"Xi Yóu Jì" ("Saiyuki" in
Japanese). He is typically portrayed with having a pig's
head. This story is popular in the Japanese culture.)
Ganon was Hakkai?
It says "Bull Demon King" here. Is that Ganon?
And it says "octopus." That must be the
Octorok, right? Wow... And "Eyeball" must be
That square bit at the top indicates the size of the
Oh, it's two by two. So this enemy should be two by four.
It includes how to actually design it from the very
And it has notes designating things as small,
medium-sized, or large.
It was visualized clearly from the very start.
I guess it's designed with the functions in mind, but
still, I'm surprised.
These specifications were written on a white board that
could be copied.
Miyamoto-san jotted all this down, and then we copied it.
It's dated February 1, 1985.
These are the rough sketches that came up afterward.
It's dated the same year, February 13. Not even two weeks
have passed since the specs were first written on the
Whoa, there's even a Blade Trap.
For the first thing drawn up, it's rather complete. Did
you talk about it beforehand and build up ideas?
I think the three of us talked it over as we did it...
We wrote down one thing after the next, and this
The original specifications were drawn up in 1985, and
here we are today still making The Legend of Zelda games
by basing upon these specifications.
I wonder if this is what we always mean by the Zelda
Was everything here used in the first The Legend of Zelda
game? I see things I don't remember.
No, we didn't use all of them.
I thought so.
We drew materials from this for quite some time
You got enough ideas from it for five, ten years, I'd
say. I'm surprised.
And this is next...
Last time we talked about how the first The Legend of
Zelda only had dungeons. This is the planning sheet for
the dungeon select screen we drew up back then. The title
is "Adventure Title," so we hadn't decided on
The Legend of Zelda yet. And that's Miyamoto-san's
You've even got this?!
And this is the first land map for The Legend of Zelda.
Back then we had some long paper, and Tezuka-san and
Miyamoto-san would sit side-by-side and draw together.
Yes, you did! (laughs) You drew the stuff on the left,
Tezuka-san, and the right side is Miyamoto-san's. If you
look closely, you can tell how marker was used to make
small dots. These are rocks, and these are trees.
And you can see Miyamoto-san's personality. At first he's
making individual dots, but as he gets tired of it,
toward the top, he just fills in a bunch of space!
Yeah, the left and right sides do look different.
They really are different somehow.
And they drew this all in one sitting.
And it's marker, so it can't be erased. Amazing.
No, we had correction fluid, so it was all right if we
made a mistake.
You should have stayed silent and just let me praise you!
Well, that's Tezuka-san's personality. (laughs)
Oh, yeah, I can see where correction fluid was used.
Yeah, there it is! (laughs)
But there aren't many places like that. Overall, it's
quite a good batting average.
The Lost Woods is there, too.
I truly am surprised. Our discussion over New Super Mario
Bros. Wii occasioned the unearthing of some ancient
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