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 some form.

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 Music
From
Super Mario All-Stars

Iwata
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.

Yokota
Yeah.

Iwata
Why is it okay with video game music?

Kondo
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 the rhythm.

Nagamatsu
Wow!

Yokota
You just listen to it on repeat for hours.

Kondo
Yes.

Iwata
So when you can listen to it for hours, it's done as far as you're concerned.

Kondo
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
From
Game And Watch

Izushi

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…

Iwata

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.

Izushi

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.

Iwata

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

Izushi

Exactly.

Kano

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 segments—or 7 segments by 4 digits.

Iwata

You could use a total of 72 segments, so that left 44.

Izushi

We cut back where we could and used all the available segments.

Kano

Not a single segment went to waste.

Izushi

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.

Kano

Yeah, that was a lot of fun.

Izushi

When you're under constraints is when ideas pop up.

Yamamoto

And here (pulling out an old notebook) are some notes from one of those meetings.

Iwata

Wow! What a valuable document! This is Game & Watch: Chef!

Izushi

I'm amazed you still have these notes!

Yamamoto

I hold on to everything. (laughs)

Super Mario Bros. Originally Had A Different Main Theme
From
Super Mario All-Stars

Iwata

Before Super Mario Bros. came out, most games had a black background.

Kondo

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.

Iwata

What happened to that song?

Kondo

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.

Iwata

Did you start over from scratch?

Kondo

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
From
Super Mario All-Stars

Kondo

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.

Iwata

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 that inside.

Kondo

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.

Iwata

You were thinking of the songs in terms of genre.

Kondo

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 game.

Iwata

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.

Yokota

But it's a really good song!

Nagamatsu

I completely agree.

Kondo

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 struggle.

All This Attention To Sign Behavior
From
Ocarina of Time 3D With Miyamoto

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)

Iwata

(laughs) 13. The Legend of Zelda™: A Link to the Past™: An action-adventure game released for the Super Famicom system in November 1991.

Miyamoto

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.

Iwata

It's not like you could be certain that when you changed cutting grass into 3D it would be even more fun.

Miyamoto

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.

Iwata

So you asked SRD's Morita-san to take care of that. He told me about it. (laughs)

Miyamoto

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 it!"

Iwata

You wanted the signs to cut exactly where you struck them?

Miyamoto

Even with the Nintendo 64 system, that would be impossible. So I said, "No, we just have to make several different cut patterns."

Iwata

Then you made it cut into six pieces like a wheel of cheese.

Miyamoto

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.

Iwata

It would be weird if it clacked against water.

Miyamoto

Generally, you would just decide not to put a sign by the water, but Morita-san made it so the piece would float on the water.

Iwata

And it drifts away.

Miyamoto

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

Iwata:

You needed a completely new idea to make something in such a short turnaround like one year, and that was the “Three-Day System”.

Aonuma:

Right. But at first, it was one week.

Iwata:

Three days was originally one week?

Aonuma:

That’s right. But when you returned to the first day it was like, “Do I have to go through an entire week again…?”, so we thought three days would be just right.

Iwata:

Wait, it got decided just like that? (laughs)

Aonuma:

(laughs) In this game the townspeople do different things each day and many different things happen, but when the timespan becomes a week, that’s just too much to remember. You can’t simply remember who’s where doing what on which day.

Iwata:

Moreover, you probably wouldn’t 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.

Aonuma:

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.

Iwata:

That’s how it led to the game feeling like it’s 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.

Aonuma:

I think so.

Aonuma's Dream
From Majora's Mask 3D

Aonuma:

Yeah. Miyamoto-san did tell us to make it in a year, but he must have been concerned towards the end.

Iwata:

He must have been worried that you were all exhausted.

Aonuma:

I suppose. And at that time, I did have a sense that I was being pushed on by something strange.

Iwata:

You may have been wearing one of those masks! (laughs)

Aonuma:

I had a dream about it.

Iwata:

What kind of a dream was it?

Aonuma:

It was a dream about being chased by a Deku.

Iwata:

Oh, a dream where you were being chased around? (laughs)

Aonuma:

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 that’s when Takumi Kawagoe-san told me that he finished making a movie for the Dekus, so I had him show it to me… and that movie was exactly like my dream!

(laughs)

Aonuma:

I even told him “how do you know my dream?” (laughs) That’s how on-edge I was back then.

Iwata:

Perhaps you were possessed by something.

Aonuma:

Possibly.

Link's Awakening Was Inspired By Twin Peaks
From
Legend of Zelda: Spirit Tracks

Iwata

The Legend of Zelda: Link's Awakening, which Tezuka-san did whatever he wanted with, had quite an influence over subsequent Zelda games.

Tezuka

I wonder about that...

Iwata

As far as the general flow goes, I think so.

Tezuka

I didn't try to do that on purpose, though. Oh, right, about Twin Peaks...

Aonuma

Whoa, here we go. (laughs) Iwata-san, do you know about Twin Peaks?

Iwata

No. Bring me up to speed. (laughs)

Tezuka

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.

Iwata

Okay...

Tezuka

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.

Iwata

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 Sports Resort.)

Tezuka

I remembered it earlier. (laughs)

Aonuma

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...

Iwata

You thought he just wanted to be trendy?

Aonuma

Yeah. (laughs) I thought, "You really want to make The Legend of Zelda like that?!" Now the mystery is solved. (laughs)

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 Peaks."

Iwata

Did that guy who looks like Mario appear because you wanted to make someone who looked suspicious? He did look suspicious, but... (laughs)

Tezuka

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 appealing.

Splatoon's Inklings Began As Tofu Squares
From
Splatoon

Iwata

So what was the idea that became the basis for Splatoon?

Nogami

A demo made by our Program Director Sato-san. At first there was a white cube in a maze...

Iwata

Tofu?

Nogami

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 other’s turf.



Iwata

So at first it wasn’t squid at all. It was black and white tofu shooting each other with ink. (laughs)

Nogami

Right. (laughs)

Iwata

But tofu is usually white.

Sakaguchi

The black one was sesame tofu! (laughs)

Sato

So the basis of Splatoon was a fight between a block of sesame tofu and a block of firm tofu.

All

(laugh)

HAL Labs Spent Eleven Years On Three Kirby Games That Never Came Out
From
Kirby's Return To Dream Land

Iwata

It's been 11 years since the last completely new game in the main Kirby series.

Kawase

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 Pokmon 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.

Iwata

"Were shown"? You sound so detached about it! (laughs)

Kawase

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.

Iwata

The release date went unannounced forever.

Kawase

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 and single-player.



Iwata

If it had come out, it would have been soon after Kirby Air Ride.

Kawase



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 games.



Iwata

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 together.

Kawase

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 years.

 

Mario Started Speaking Because His Jumping Sound Didn't Work
From
Super Mario All-Stars

Yokota

Mario 64 was when Mario first started making sounds with his voice.

Kondo

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"
From
Legend of Zelda: Spirit Tracks

Nakago

This is a bit of a digression, but...

Iwata

By all means. (laughs)

Nakago

(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.

Iwata

Oh, you dug up some old documents.



Nakago

These are the first specifications for The Legend of Zelda.

Iwata

Oh, wow! It's got Miyamoto-san's personal seal on it!

Nakago

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 enemies.

Iwata

Was The Legend of Zelda called Adventure at first?

Tezuka

I think "Adventure Mario" was written on the file binding these specifications.

Iwata

It's for The Legend of Zelda, but it says "Adventure Mario"?

Nakago

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.

Aonuma

Cool...

Nakago

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 Yu J" ("Saiyuki" in Japanese). He is typically portrayed with having a pig's head. This story is popular in the Japanese culture.)

Iwata

Ganon was Hakkai?

Aonuma

It says "Bull Demon King" here. Is that Ganon? And it says "octopus." That must be the Octorok, right? Wow... And "Eyeball" must be Gohma.

Tezuka

That square bit at the top indicates the size of the characters.

Iwata

Oh, it's two by two. So this enemy should be two by four. It includes how to actually design it from the very beginning.

Nakago

And it has notes designating things as small, medium-sized, or large.

Tezuka

It was visualized clearly from the very start.

Iwata

I guess it's designed with the functions in mind, but still, I'm surprised.

Tezuka

These specifications were written on a white board that could be copied.

Nakago

Miyamoto-san jotted all this down, and then we copied it.

Iwata

It's dated February 1, 1985.

Nakago

These are the rough sketches that came up afterward.



Iwata

It's dated the same year, February 13. Not even two weeks have passed since the specs were first written on the white board.

Nakago

That's right.

Aonuma

Whoa, there's even a Blade Trap.

Iwata

For the first thing drawn up, it's rather complete. Did you talk about it beforehand and build up ideas?

Nakago

I think the three of us talked it over as we did it...

Tezuka

Yeah.

Nakago

We wrote down one thing after the next, and this resulted.

Iwata

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.

Aonuma

Amazing, huh?

Iwata

I wonder if this is what we always mean by the Zelda essence. (laughs)

Iwata

Was everything here used in the first The Legend of Zelda game? I see things I don't remember.

Nakago

No, we didn't use all of them.

Iwata

I thought so.

Nakago

We drew materials from this for quite some time afterward.

Iwata

You got enough ideas from it for five, ten years, I'd say. I'm surprised.

Nakago

And this is next...



Nakago

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 signature.

Iwata

You've even got this?!

Nakago

And this is the first land map for The Legend of Zelda.



Nakago

Back then we had some long paper, and Tezuka-san and Miyamoto-san would sit side-by-side and draw together.

Tezuka

We did?

Nakago

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!

Aonuma

Yeah, the left and right sides do look different.

Tezuka

They really are different somehow.

Iwata

And they drew this all in one sitting.

Nakago

Yeah.

Aonuma

And it's marker, so it can't be erased. Amazing.

Tezuka

No, we had correction fluid, so it was all right if we made a mistake.

Aonuma

You should have stayed silent and just let me praise you! (laughs)

Iwata

Well, that's Tezuka-san's personality. (laughs)

Nakago

Oh, yeah, I can see where correction fluid was used.

Aonuma

Yeah, there it is! (laughs)

Iwata

But there aren't many places like that. Overall, it's quite a good batting average.

Nakago

The Lost Woods is there, too.

Iwata

I truly am surprised. Our discussion over New Super Mario Bros. Wii occasioned the unearthing of some ancient documents! (laughs)

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