TGS 2005: Iwata speaks

Nintendo president uses keynote address to introduce the Revolution controller, says only innovation can save the game industry.

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TOKYO--Nintendo may have introduced the gaming world to the Revolution at its pre-E3 press conference earlier this year, but it seemed every answer it gave about the system only led to more questions. Where's the controller? How will the backward compatibility work? When will it launch? Where are the games?

When word came that Nintendo president Satoru Iwata was delivering a keynote address at the Tokyo Game Show this year, a show Nintendo traditionally doesn't participate in, conventional wisdom suggested that more answers would be forthcoming.

But perhaps the answers were not as forthcoming as eager gamers would have liked. Iwata took to the stage and delivered his presentation in basically two sections, the first dealing with Nintendo's present and recent past, the second looking toward the future. He began with dry figures, talk of sales, and the success of the Game Boy Micro's Japanese launch.

Then Iwata said Nintendo sees a crisis happening in the industry. He said that making games more complex and photo-realistic has helped the industry grow to the point where it's at today, but such thinking won't keep it growing indefinitely.

"Will anyone invent a new framework that allows for further expansion of the industry, or will video game players become bored and cause the industry to shrink?" Iwata asked. "We are at this crossroads, I believe. For the future of the video game business, we need to expand the market."

Iwata said Nintendo hopes to help the industry through by getting back to the basics and attracting new users. He asserted that if the industry wants to grow, the best way for it to achieve that is through innovation, attracting former gamers back to the fold and finding ways to appeal to the casual and nongaming crowds.

Iwata specifically pointed out the success of the Famicom Mini Series of classic NES titles on the Game Boy Advance as one initiative that retailers said drew dormant gamers to the cash register. By the same token, strong sales of the Game Boy Micro and the instant sellout of the Famicom-styled limited edition of the handheld pointed to the company's ongoing efforts to appeal to that crowd.

As for the casual gaming crowd, Iwata talked about the success of Nintendo's "touch series" games, like Nintendogs, and "brain exercises" games, which have been designed to appeal to those outside the core gamer demographic. He also said the success of such efforts should be taken as a sign that Nintendo knows what it is doing.

After the prelude, Iwata turned his attention to the future, saying it was time to rethink everything about games to make them more accessible for players.

"Since the days of Famicom, the game control mechanism has become more and more sophisticated," Iwata said. "Perhaps those who have quit gaming or who have never played with games looked at the controller and felt it may be too difficult to play, even before they dared to touch the controller."

Following those remarks, Iwata introduced a demo video and the Revolution controller, which sought to rethink the traditional controller concept from the ground up.

The direct pointing device on the front of the controller is intended to make control intuitive for novice players, while giving veteran gamers new ways to control their games. Iwata specifically mentioned how the controller could be used for squash, music, or fishing games. He went on to point out that adding the analog controller expansion to the basic controller could drastically change first-person shooters or perhaps could be used to let someone move his or her character in a game while the main controller acts as a flashlight the player can shine on the screen.

The controller bears more than a passing resemblance to a TV remote, and that's something Iwata said was definitely intentional.

"To expand the gaming population, it was necessary for us to design the controller so that any family member would like to place it on the living room table and think it was something relevant for them and actually pick it up, just like they do with a TV remote controller."

Not wanting everyone to take his word for it, Iwata then introduced clips of game developers giving their takes on the Revolution controller, with the concept and execution earning high marks from Final Fantasy XII producer Akitoshi Kawazu, Dragon Quest creator Yuji Horii, and Metal Gear Solid director Hideo Kojima.

"'You've done it!' was my impression," Kojima said. "This was totally unexpected. I was pleasantly surprised, because the controller is quite comfortable yet provides something brand-new."

Iwata addressed concerns people might have about playing retro games on the Revolution's new controller through its virtual console backward compatibility, saying that classic-styled expansion controllers would be available so people could enjoy the games as they originally remembered them.

Despite the new technology at work in the Revolution's controller, Iwata insisted that developers would be able to develop cheaply and efficiently for the system. He pointed to small development teams responsible for the brain-training games that created best-sellers, despite their use of the DS touch screen in new ways.

Iwata also stressed the need to offer a greater variety of games to the market.

"We need to satisfy both the novice gamers looking for simple and compact players and the veteran players who are looking for big, deep, highly sophisticated games or we cannot expand the gaming population," Iwata cautioned.

In his closing comments, Iwata expressed confidence that Nintendo is on the right track, given trends in the Japanese and foreign markets, coupled with the warm public reaction to innovative games like Nintendogs. Don't expect Nintendo to rest on its laurels, as Iwata also emphasized constant innovation as a key for the industry's continued growth.

"When our games can no longer surprise, people will grow tired of gaming."

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