A collection of interesting snippets from the most recent Iwata Asks feature concerning the 3DS…
Itoi: It’s the concept of 3D volume. Is this something that most devices with 3D elements have?
Iwata: No, I don’t think there are any other examples of 3D devices doing this. This was the result of the ideas of multiple people, including Miyamoto-san, during the process of developing Nintendo 3DS.
Itoi: I see… So up until now, the 3D volume has generally been decided by the makers of the images.
Iwata: Exactly so. The makers of the images say, “Let’s do it about this much.” But each player will have his or her own comfort zone when it comes to the depth of stereoscopy.
Itoi: How should I put this? Maybe I adopted a slightly judgmental attitude when faced with something new, like “Let’s see how good this is or not.”
Iwata: Oh, did you?
Itoi: Yeah. I was really surprised before, but this time I’m more delighted, more excited—like it’s really jumping out at me.
Miyamoto: Doesn’t Pikmin look great? (laughs)
Iwata: It seems like Pikmin is perfect for 3D.
Miyamoto: I like the way they scurry around.
Itoi: Pikmin is a game with a peculiar 3D effect as if you’re getting down on hands and knees to look at something small. Man, I want one of these! I’ll buy one, Prez! How much is it going to cost me, Prez?
Miyamoto: Let’s see… To start at the beginning, at the time I was interested in virtual reality, and was one of the staff that went on and on about how we should do something with 3D goggles. I didn’t exactly twist his arm, but I would talk with Yokoi-san about how (3D) goggles would be interesting.
Itoi: Yeah. Miyamoto: But then when development of the Virtual Boy actually began, I was busy developing the Nintendo 64 system.
Iwata: Development of the Virtual Boy and Nintendo 64 systems completely overlapped.
Miyamoto: Right. Another complicated thing is that 3D graphics were a major theme for both Virtual Boy and Nintendo 64. Things may have turned out differently if the two devices shared their technology, but they had different purposes. If you think of Nintendo 64 as made to confront 3D head-on, Virtual Boy was using different technology to aim at enjoyment of 3D without rushing in the general direction 3D was headed at the time.
Itoi: Okay, I can see that.
Miyamoto: To be more concrete, Virtual Boy was aiming at using wire frame models6 to simulate a 3D space. If you think about the power of CPUs at the time, that makes sense. But not many games used that method of visual representation. Most of them lined 2D images up at different depths to create a three-dimensional effect.
Itoi: That’s right.
Miyamoto: At the time, as I was working on the Nintendo 64 system, part of me thought we should use wire frames to render 3D graphics, but I also thought that wire frame images weren’t terribly appealing.
Miyamoto: If nothing but wire-frame fighter craft had appeared and Mario and other beloved characters had never shown up, that would be a little sad. But if you only changed the depth of a 2D image of Mario, it wouldn’t bring out the real appeal of the Virtual Boy. So the Virtual Boy system was a complicated affair.
Miyamoto: Virtual Boy had two big tasks to accomplish, and it went out into the world without satisfying either one. It’s not so much that the machine itself was wrong as a product, but that we were wrong in how we portrayed it. Itoi: I’m not sure how to put it, but there was no way for the Virtual Boy game console to permeate daily life. Put another way, Nintendo’s products were entertainments that had always been able to enter into everyday life. There isn’t anything particularly strange about viewing Virtual Boy as a slightly unusual toy that you can enjoy apart from everyday life, but when lined up with Nintendo’s other products, I imagine it didn’t quite fit in.
Iwata: …But even though the company must have fully realized the difficulty involved in 3D products, Nintendo kept trying again and again. Even before the Nintendo 3DS system.
Itoi: I didn’t know that. (laughs)
Iwata: Those products never saw the light of day. Itoi: Now that’s interesting! Iwata: For example, a sample screen used in the Nintendo 3DS to illustrate how you can see three-dimensional images without special glasses was functioning on the Game Boy Advance SP system.
Iwata: Yes, that’s right. Making three-dimensional images that can be seen by the naked eye requires a special liquid crystal, so we tested it out by putting it in the Game Boy Advance SP. But the resolution of LCD was low then, so it didn’t look that great and it never made it to being a product.
In order to make images look three-dimensional without special glasses, you display the images for the left and right eyes separately, and deliver each one separately. To do that you need high resolution and high-precision technology. We didn’t have that to a sufficient degree back then, so the stereoscopic effect wasn’t very sharp.
Itoi: I see.
Iwata: To go back a little further, the Nintendo GameCube system actually had 3D-compatible circuitry built in.
Iwata: It had the potential for such functions.
Itoi: Nintendo GameCube did? And all the Nintendo GameCubes systems around the world?
Iwata: Yeah. If you fit it with a certain accessory, it could display 3D images.
Itoi: What a secret!
Iwata: Nintendo GameCube was released in 2001, exactly ten years ago. We’d been thinking about 3D for a long time even back then.
Itoi: Why didn’t anyone ever know?
Iwata: The liquid crystal for it was still expensive. Simply put, Nintendo GameCube could display 3D images if you attached a special LCD, but that special liquid crystal was really expensive back then.
Itoi: Yeah, we’re talking about ten years ago.
Iwata: We couldn’t have done it without selling it for a price far above that of the Nintendo GameCube system, itself! We already had a game for it, though—Luigi’s Mansion13, simultaneously released with Nintendo GameCube.
Itoi: Nintendo—and Miyamoto-san above all—has tried all this time to bring us the fun of 3D.
Miyamoto: Yes. But that was a theme (Hiroshi) Yamauchi-san always focused on.
Itoi: Oh, okay.
Miyamoto: Whenever he had the chance, he would say, “What about 3D?” Iwata: And “Can you make it jump out?” (laughs)
Itoi: Oh, I see… So 3D has been a theme for Yamauchi-san and Miyamoto-san all this time.
Iwata: That’s right.
Miyamoto: These days, I’m always saying that when we get old we should be selfish. That’s because I think an organization needs someone like Yamauchi-san.
Itoi: I know what you mean. Rather than airing all opinions to draw a fair conclusion, saying, “This is what I like!” is what pulls people and a company along.
Iwata: Right. The larger an organization is, the more important it is to say, “I’ve decided this is what we’re going to focus on this time!” There are endless possibilities for what a company should do, so if someone doesn’t determine a policy, its power rapidly disperses. That’s why people like Miyamoto-san and I have to make decisions and say, “Let’s do this!”