Itoi: Mr. Miyamoto said that an idea is “something which solves multiple issues”, and you mentioned that it opened your eyes to a new way of thinking. However, as a programmer, I’m sure you have solved problems in the same way?
Iwata: Actually, yes. Fixing a bug in a program often solves many problems, or visa versa.
MM: This has actually two sides because fixing a bug may produce more bugs. We can see this in Soldat were with each new version when I fix something there happen new bugs which are a result of the fix! This is sort of an irony which we should find a way out of. One way out of it is to change our thinking because the way we think makes these problems.
Itoi: Does everyone who has studied in the science field experience such way of utilizing “single ideas”?
Iwata: There are people who solve problems via symptomatic treatments, of course. Such as “Let’s turn down the air conditioner since it’s hot”, or “I’ll drink some water because I’m thirsty”. People like this may actually be the majority
Itoi: I see.
MM: This is the rational approach, or in other words western/scientific way of thinking. I believe it is a result of our culture and our educational background. Iwata has a different idea for the reason behind this.
Iwata: I don’t think it’s a matter of coming from the science field. I think it’s just the type of person you are. There are those who are satisfied knowing that thirst is the reason for wanting something to drink, and there are those who want to unfold the cause of their thirst.
Itoi: I wonder where that difference comes from. Where those two types branch.
Iwata: I have a nature of pursuing the reason of things.
Itoi: I know you do. (laugh)
Yes, as you know very well. During my initial years as a video game designer, when the game I created didn’t sell as expected, I would look for the reason why. Technologically, my game wasn’t inferior to others, but it didn’t sell as much.
Itoi: Uh-huh. (laugh)
MM: OK enough of the laughter Itoi, now listen to sensei.
Iwata: But the games Mr. Miyamoto designed sold like crazy. I mean, its sales were multiplied by dozens compared to that of the game I designed.
Itoi: But the quality of the technology of the game wasn’t much different, right?
Iwata: Well, at least that was what I thought. But the facts were clear. His game just sold much more.
Itoi: I’m sure there are many people who draw the conclusion that their games are just as good as Mr.Miyamoto’s.
Iwata: After starting to work with Mr.Miyamoto for a while, I started to see. I was only looking from the “designer’s point of view”, but he was different. His aim does have a higher percentage of becoming a hit, but he does make mistakes. After all he’s not God, you know. The difference lies in how he corrects his mistakes. He brings an employee who has nothing to do with the game he’s designing, and hands him/her the controller and says, “Go ahead, try it.” This was before he was acknowledged as a renowned video game designer, when he still was assistant manager or manager. […]
So he hands him/her the controller and tells him/her to go at it, and all he does is watch him/her from behind. I used to call it “Mr. Miyamoto’s View over Someone Else’s Shoulder”. I didn’t realize how important it was until I started to work with him. Only then it occurred to me that this was it. We’re not able to go to customers explaining the details of the game’s intention, or how they should enjoy it. […]
He watches them play and checks in detail how they respond, playing it without any previous knowledge. He finds out what they don’t understand, what they let past, which triggers they miss. There are tons you can find from the view from behind.
However experienced he may be, he never drops the notion that “if the players don’t understand it, there’s fault in the design I made”.
MM: This is why I actually don’t like when people play my game in person with me, because I can’t really enjoy the experience, I keep thinking – is the game good enough, what are the problems, what did they miss etc. But me not liking it doesn’t matter because it is the best approach to actually making the game better and more polished and more fun. The typical way of getting feedback for the game is using internet forums, but written language can’t express what is actually happening, there is a major flaw with using forums for polishing the game.
Itoi: How interesting.
Iwata: It’s easy to say it’s the “customer’s point of view” that counts, but it’s the fact that he drew a method of how to find it very early. On the other hand, I was interested whether my program was cool or not, but not really aware of the players’ response.
Itoi: So at the time, you thought you were cool.
Iwata: Actually, yes. (laugh)
I, the novice game designer, thought I was cool.
Itoi: “The program works, and it looks cool too”, right?
Must have been like that. Mr. Miyamoto’s way came upon me as a total shock. I remember going back to my office and writing a report on it, how his method works, and it being the reason we can’t win.
MM: The truth is that the program may not work properly and not look cool but still be better than the rest because it has the factor. The thing created out of seeing how other people respond to the game, what is fun for them and what is not, that way of thinking produces results which matter in the end. I believe Half-Life 1/2 were designed and made in this way and that is why they are one of the best single player experiences (of course they also took the time to make the game work and look cool, so they have it all).
Itoi: Like Kaishu Katsu on Kanrin-maru, seeing America for the fist time.
Iwata: Ha ha ha.
MM: Kaishu who?
Iwata: In those days, there were few people around me who understood this concept. A lot of times I ended up thinking all by myself.
Itoi: The pursuit for the reason why must have made you who you are today.
Iwata: I think so.
MM: Who said Japanese people are humble?