Thursday, March 26, 2009

Keynote: Discovering new development opportunities (Satoru Iwata, Nintendo)

The day starts out with a packed room, all waiting to hear the keynote to be delivered by Satoru Iwata, President of Nintendo.  With the unquestionable success of the Nintendo products worldwide this talk is to pull back the curtain a bit on some the ideas and methods that have lead to this success.

Iwata started off by presenting the obligatory numbers slides showing how much success both the Wii and DS have shown in recent history.  No one can take that away from them, they have several successful platforms currently.

Iwata then started to discuss, arguably the most important developer at Nintendo, Mr. Miyamoto.  He explained that Miyamoto is one of the main reasons for the continued success.  He explained in somewhat detailed terms, how Miyamoto’s development style has achieved this success.

Mr. Miyamoto first starts with a core concept, as do most software projects.  One of the differences comes from where Miyamoto pulls the new ideas from.  He is fascinated with studying humans and their behaviors, specifically, when they are doing something that makes them happy.  He will draw on this, to come up the concept for the new piece of software that he is attempting to create.  For example, he got a dog for his family, and out of this, was born Nintendogs.

Of course, having a good idea for a game concept, and following this through to release of a successful title are 2 very different things.  This brings up the next key point.  This is Miyamoto’s software development style.  He typically will form a very small team (sometimes even just one developer) and they will work on a prototype, or rather a series of prototypes.  At this stage, the graphics are very crude (boxes).  They will work on this for how ever long this takes to perfect the core concept.   At this stage, no even the president of the company will ask how things are going, or when this will be ready for the next stage.  It should be noted that sometimes at this stage, work will be done, but then shelved.  This could happen for various reasons, but almost always, at least some of this will be used at a later time.

If the prototyping has met Miyamoto’s satisfaction, only at this stage will others be brought in on the game.   This is where the polish comes in (graphics) and such, but the core gameplay is pretty much guaranteed at this point.  This saves from the issue of after spending time on later polish items, a core gameplay elements requires a rewrite.  This almost never happens with this style.

Nintendo also has some unique “playtest” elements to the project.  They do not conduct formal playtests.  Instead, Miyamoto will “kidnap” an employee (non-technical) and have them play the game (with no help).  He then checks to see how it works out.  If they are able to understand a play with no help, the dev team has done their job.  If not, its a failure and will be readjusted.

Next, Iwata unveiled the new Virtual console with larger SD support and options to run from SD.  Also some game demos of future titles were shown.  Also, Rhythm Heaven was introduced, and he gave everyone in attendance a free copy, before this can be bought.

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