Defining Awesome — Conversations with Satoru Iwata
  • Status Updates

  • Conversations with Satoru Iwata

    Written by . Posted at 9:41 am on September 12th, 2007

    These are transcripts from conversations with Nintendo’s boss Satoru Iwata. I find the philosophy behind them very true and I want to share it, especially with you software developers out there. You can find the original here. I present you a version here with my commentaries.

    Itoi: Remember talking about the definition of “idea” before?

    Iwata: The words of Mr.(Shigeru) Miyamoto, right?

    Itoi: He said that ideas are “something which solves multiple issues at once”. This notion seemed eye-opening to my staffs. Can you explain us a bit more about the intention of his words, and your analysis of it?

    Iwata: Those words came out when we were designing a video game software. I think Mr.Miyamoto said it as an example of a method for designing video games. I actually perceive this as a very versatile concept, which can be applied to many aspects of life.

    MM: Recently what can be called, from the definition of Mr. Miyamoto (the guy behind Mario) an idea, was my revolution of map creating. The idea of creating maps just by painting them. This solved several problems like: ease of creation, collision system, map looks, hardware limitations etc. This is why I get excited by such discoveries, they solve a lot of problems at once!

    Itoi: Uh-huh.

    Iwata: There’s always the dilemma of “damned if you do, damned if you don’t” when creating something. There are options that improve the product, and there are also options that work the other way. The thing is that you barely have cases in which there exists only a single problem. You usually have problems occurring everywhere, lots of them.

    Itoi: Yes, yes.

    Iwata: I’m not talking solely about designing a product. The same happens in organizations, or in personal relationships. Presenting a single antidote for a single problem doesn’t get you anywhere. It always causes side effects. It sometimes even raises trouble to issues which were fine until then. People come up with many suggestions, but usually it only gives a solution to a single problem, and only that. A project doesn’t advance much with a solution like that.

    Itoi: I know what you mean.

    MM: We share the same philosophy on “problems”. If you read my writings I probably stated it that there are no easy solutions. I will write about this more in the future because it is crucial to know this. Big ideas don’t come that often, you have to learn to notice them, search for them, in the meantime you gotta search for smaller ideas even for the tiniest details. This is where your intelligence and thinking out of the box come in handy. I’m still not perfect at this because sometimes I tend to use the brute-force method which always fails.

    Iwata: Often times, the game not being entertaining enough are the problems you face when designing video games. The more ideas put in, the more fun it brings forth, and people enjoy the game more. However, the amount of time and human resources that can be put into creation is always limited. It’s not realistic to simply propose “more” of something when you have limitations. Sometimes, one single idea solves one problem, then another, and even issues that were thought to be totally unrelated.

    Itoi: That does happen sometimes. (to the staffs) Interesting, isn’t it?

    MM: Oh yes.

    All: (laugh)

    MM: (laughs)

    Iwata: Mr.Miyamoto is constantly trying to find that kind of “idea”. I mean, constantly. Persistently. One day he called me up suddenly, it was when I used to live in Yamanashi. (Mr.Iwata had been president of HAL Laboratory, Inc., which is located in Yamanashi Prefecture) Do you know what the first thing he said was?

    “I got it!”

    (laughing) I had no idea what he was talking about.

    Itoi: (laugh)

    Iwata: What he “got” was an idea for a game we were designing together. This idea was something that solved multiple issues, all at once.

    Itoi: That’s what he called an “idea”.

    Iwata: Exactly. One single inspiration that makes so many things work. That’s what you call a “great idea”, and finding that moves things forward, moves it towards the goal. Mr. Miyamoto thinks that it’s the game director’s task to find those “ideas”.

    Itoi: He didn’t actually say this, right? You’ve picked this up working with him for a long time, observing his ways.

    Iwata: Yes. I’ve seen him “get it” many times. Through those instances, I’ve come to learn his emphasis on that method, and how he guides projects to goals using that method.

    Itoi: That’s really interesting. (laugh)

    MM: Whenever you are stuck you need an idea. I felt like this with Crimson Glory because there were too many problems with the 3D models and map making. The idea I got was that I could do it in 2D and still make it look great. The animation system is really a simple idea but making it and seeing it work moved me forward.

    Iwata: This really isn’t limited to game design. The world is full of “damned if you do, damned if you don’ts”. You call it “trade-off”. Everyone is confronted with trade-offs. The more budget, the better. The more human resource, the better. The more time, the better. That’s obvious. However, doing the obvious means doing the same thing with everyone else. That doesn’t nurture competitiveness.

    Itoi: It becomes a matter of who does it more.

    MM: Doing the obvious or going down the beaten path is a sure way to rid yourself from ideas.

    Iwata: But when you find a solution by combining issues, the more unique it is, the more value it brings. When Mr.Miyamoto said “that’s what you call an idea”, it came to me. It’s such a concept that applies to various aspects of life, so I really wanted to incorporate it into my way of thinking. I remember talking about this the other time we met.

    Itoi: If you’re looking for a solution that solves only a single issue, and not multiple issues, it’s easy.

    Iwata: It really is.

    Itoi: (Pointing at Sato sitting next to him, and Nagata sitting across him)

    See, if Sato’s life is in danger, it’s easy to find a way to save him at the cost of Nagata’s life. The more leeway an enterprise or an organization has, the more they tend to choose such solutions. They solve issues one by one. First they save Sato, then they realize Nagata’s in danger, so they choose to save Nagata, and on and on. 

    Iwata: By putting in an endless amount of time and energy.

    Itoi: Exactly.

    MM: I’ve done a lot of mistakes by doing things that way. There were many issues I solved in Soldat by the cost of Nagata’s life. These are never true solutions and I’m here to pass my mistakes to you, so you can learn, but also so I can remember not to kill Nagata.

    Iwata: Everyone can solve problems one by one. “If there’s too much of something, just make it less”, or the other way around. That’s just responding to each issue. For example, if a customer complained at a restaurant that a dish is “too much”, what is he/she really saying? Maybe the real problem may be how the dish tastes, and not the amount.

    All: Ah….

    MM:  The make it less or more is the western/scientific way of thinking and doing.

    Iwata: If the chef only sees the amount of his dish as the problem, changing the amount doesn’t solve anything. He has to be able to find the real issue and improve the taste to truly solve this problem.

    Itoi: That’s true.

    Iwata: When you dig deep down until you hit the root of the problem, you sometimes find that what seems to be isolated matters are actually connected. A single change can have impact on matters that were thought having no relation. Different problems can be solved at once. When a single idea solves various matters, those are the times when Mr.Miyamoto “get it”, and calls you up all of a sudden. You have a much clearer vision when you “get it”.

    MM: This is why I like these Japanese men. What Iwata said is an eastern/Zen approach. It is a holistic method which solves many problems at once. This is why my philosophies are the way they are, I want more things done!

    to be continued…

    Be Sociable, Share!


    1. Man, you are totally awesome… Never tought that the developer f Soldat could be a master tinking man!
      I check this blog everyday looking for something to ready, it may take a few days to come, but when it comes, it’s just somethin awesome!
      Keep up the good work! And I hope you continue the circuit stuff 😀

    2. a man who comments stuff

      “MM: This is why I like these japanese men.”

    3. Yeah MM is an interesting guy, This blog is his best idea to date.
      I love Japanese games though, If any of you have played a fighting Game called Guilty Gear – a 2D Game which is highly popular in Japan – you’ll see what I mean. I really designers will get bored of 3D and go back to good ol’ 2D.

    4. teh_ham: in fact Japanese desingners still make some 2d games from time to time. “Odin sphere” for example – just check few videos from this game on youtube. This game has the best 2D i’ve ever seen in my life :D. Too bad i don’t have ps and can’t play it :\.

    5. “Odin sphere” looks astonishing on videos and probably looks even better when actually played. They use the same techniques for character animation as me. It’s good to see that 2D is not a dying art.

      a man who comments stuff: don’t you like japanese men?

    6. Love this thinking. I never knew you were such an intellect, MM.

    7. I agree with teh_ham. This blog was a great idea, Michal. Now your legions of fans can get to know you more as a person and not just as the “…by Michal Marcinkowski” that appears when they play Soldat. As a fellow programmer I am nearly in awe of your achievements in developing Soldat, to make something that is so simple, fun, efficient, and even runs on multiple platforms (I’m a Linux user), unlike so much other Windows software. I have been playing Soldat for 3-4 years now, and it remains one of my favorite games of all time. Thank you!

    8. a man who comments stuff

      they’re alright, that comment just made me laugh ^^

    9. […] Part 1 about great ideas – […]

    10. Hi!pcjd! jfbkr aupiy omcll senoh

    11. Hi! rzkzf zzphl ymqlj vekwm

    Post a comment.