Nintendo Game is Official Successor of Japanese Culture

Featured on NIKKEI DESIGN, Apr, 2010

 Among the home video game industry, SONY and Microsoft sought for a high visionary definition. However, Nintendo sets apart drastically from hostile companies and they succeeded by creating the real world performances as a new interface. Why Nintendo was capable to be at the forefront of the technology? Even they did sort of the flipside to the general trend. Inoko Toshiyuki (CEO of teamLab co.: Creating unique interface on websites, and recording good rate of traffic to the website they designed such as TOYOTA and Suntory) and Sakai Naoki (The representative of Water Design Scope: a conceptor from Kyoto) will discuss about the strength of Nintendo design.


SAKAI(S): Mr.Inoko, what do youthink about design of Nentendo’s game console?

INOKO(I): I think they are literally cool and stylish.

S: Generally, SONY’s playstation3 and PSP, Microsoft’s Xbox are accepted by people as “cool” designs. For Nintendo, on the contrary, Wii and DS are seems to be not very famous for their designs. But you think that’s wrong?

I: First I want to say that their graphics are incredibly cool. For example, in “Super Mario World,” the very first game of super family computer, they used layers for drawing all the background graphics including trees. And it moves sideways. They are cool not only for its graphic but also for its design, which is similar to those of classical Japanese garden.

S: The backgrounds remind me of the stage design of Kabuki as well.

I: I especially love their Map screen of Super Mario World that they have both bridge and ladder icons on it. Bridge is depicted as we see them from above, and ladder is portrayed as we see them from side. They combine the pictures of both views, from above and side. Players distinguish the bridge and ladder by the pictures. Originally, in real world, people recognize the world by combining of the bodily sensations. The same experiences are provided in the Mario’s map screen. Therefore I think it’s very natural technique of expression. However, it is uncomfortable for people who used to the perspective drawings or Western designs.

S: Is it hard for people who graduated from art school to understand the value of Nintendo design?

I: I think they are very Japanese way of drawing. YAMATOE also combines the both scenery that view from above and side. Draw things in point of view from above, when people recognize the things from above, draw things in point of view from side, when people recognize the things from side. Mario’s Map screen and YAMATOE are using the same technique of spatial expression. Therefore I thought Nintendo is the official successor of Japanese culture. Let me change a topic, do you know why ink-art (SUIBOKUGA) was drawn? It is said that they are minimalism, but I think there’s another answer. First of all, there were basically no specialists for ink-painting. Japanese artists were drawing both YAMATOE and ink-painting. So the painters choose the technique of expression in each time. When they draw something that reflects the power of life, they choose ink-painting. Painters choose to draw YAMATOE when they are drawing the whole world. Ink-painting as monochrome (single color) would better convey a personalized feeling or atmosphere. Painters, in ink-painting, abbreviate the things they feel no vitality. Japanese people believed that every creation has life energy and humanity is just a part of big nature. This way of thought reflected in drawings. Nintendo also succeed this traditional thought, that they make a cartoons for everything which they felt life energy. Therefore, in the map screen, tree has eyes and dancing around.

S: It’s similar to the conception of Hyakkiyagyou (situation that many monsters, spirits, etc. forming a line and walking through the night) and YAOROZU NO KAMI (a large number of deities), right?

I: Yes, they succeed the fundamental point.


Colors that excites players

I: Including the title logos, Nintendo uses a lot of colors for the games, aren’t they? Super Mario Galaxy has sparkle stars, and it floating around the screen. People naturally feel so excited when they saw such colorful and sparkle things. However, other game publishers tend to use sober colors to make the game more realistic. If that’s the mainstream of game industry, Nintendo is doing what they want to do and they don’t care what other companies are doing. The reason why the other game publishers avoid using bright colors is, I think there must be some influence of the Western culture. In the Western society, they suppress the expression of people’s feelings and desire, because they think taking precedence over such instinct means becoming the same with savage wild animals. In respect of design derived from such deliberation thoughts, Nintendo designs are different.

S: Nintendo did a great job on creating a new interface which works with actual actions, such as Wii. What do you think about this kind of design?

I: From the very first, I love the way we can control the Nintendo games, they are simply enjoyable and feels good when you are playing them. In Super Mario world, all kids were just in love to see Mario running faster, so that they kept pushing B dash buttons. B dash doesn’t mean giving them extra points, but they just kept pushing it. They just felt good by seeing Mario running so fast. Similar thing is happening in Super Mario 46. The game officially starts only when the player get set in the Peach’s castle, but no one enters the castle and just hangs around in the garden for an hour. It’s all because it was just fun to have an operation. When we play video games, originally the purpose is to get some score, and the results in the competition. In case of Nintendo’s games, they design the games to made process as the purpose of playing games. Moving your body makes you feel good, and that’s kind of the same feeling you get when you taking a bath. I consider that Wii controls made those feelings materialized by extend of technology.

S: We can say the same thing in cars. Originally, we just felt good to drive cars, so we get into them without particular reasons. However, car industries started to decide emphasized interior comfort and usability to sell more cars. Such strategies brought consumers to stop demanding the pleasures in handling (driving) cars, and let them start leaving away from cars.

I: Even so, “what feels good” is hard to put into words and difficult to explain theoretically. We are just able to say, ”Just use it, and you’ll know it.” However, explanation in theory places greater importance in today’s business, and under such circumstances, we can’t create the products like Wii.
 Up till now, technology means physical technology based on natural science. Natural science is to take an objective view to anything and generalize them. However, the subject of technology has changed to digital, which means all technologies are based on humanity itself. In natural science, the solution finally settled to nature For example, in case of manufacturing the steam locomotive, people generalize natural phenomenon and take it down into the piston action. In respect of the engine, we can judge it objectively based on speed. In case of technology targeting digital domain, they are clearly separated from the nature, in a word, they can’t be judged objectively because the subject is humanity, and they finally settled to humanity. Which means a center element for assessment becomes subjective and based on real feelings. These kinds of changes are actually happening.

S: Evaluation criteria for Hollywood movies are subjective, whether it makes you feel good or not.

I: Among the content business including movie and music, people evaluate them subjectively all along. As you said, judging the products based on one’s feelings and one’s taste. Thank to digital appearance, technology become separate from natural science. From now on, technology also be evaluated subjectively, which means users judge the technology whether they are interesting, enjoyable. And Nintendo was head of others that they are already practicing.

S: Huge hit of iPhone is the same thing. In iPhone, we can directly touch the content, such as extending pictures by fingers. A child of Ogata Hisato, the design enginner, is just a year and half and is perfect for using iPhone. They are instinctively fun and easy. Before the release, some people said that it won’t sell well, because no one knows how it feels like “touching informational contents directly”.

I: I agree. In the latest Nintendo video game called “New Super Mario Brothers Wii”, users are able to play the game with other users that are in different levels. They created a new excitement of game by providing different team game system from those of conventional video games. This is a solution. They solve the issue which stays in the conventional games that users in different levels can’t play together. Nintendo is capable to offer these kinds of solutions because their management is well organized.


Strong management system is the most essential point.

S: In Nintendo, Mr.Yamauch withdraw from the president in 2002 and name Mr.Iwata as next chairman.

I: After that, the management is organized by 3 people; Mr. Iwata, the programmer and be specialized in software, Mr.Takeda, the hardware engineer, and Mr.Miyamoto, the creator. They all capable in making products and understand what feels good and exciting is above the explanation. They can make and consider things at the same time. I’ve heard that when they are developing Wii system, they have tested like 30-40 controllers, and create games that go well with those controllers over and over. As a consequence, the Wii remote controllers and Wii sports were commercialized.

S: Mr.Yamanaka had the same experience when he was creating Suica. He couldn’t derive solution of the best angle for touching card by logic, so that he experiment several angle by himself. Then he decided to fix it with 13 degree.

I: For Nintendo, it was the milestone that 3 blue-collar workers, who can make things and think things at the same time, became the top of the company.
 What is great about Mr.Yamauchi is that he has chosen a programmer as successor, even thought the traditionally trained MBA people were famous in that time. MBA people prefer logical explanation and tend to refuse matters that go above the theory, which means they can’t fully understand the domain of creation.

S: It would be very interesting if Nintendo produced a mobile phone. I want to see what kind of product they would offer, although I know they won’t do such business. Mr.Inoko and I have announced the prototype of mobile phone which changes its interface by the act of using.

I: Interface of the mobile is design as a town, that when you often talk about works, the town becomes an office town. When you talk a lot with your friends, the town becomes like a tropical resort area. When you get some lovely texts from your girlfriend, the whole town is filled with lovely heart, and if you missed incoming call too much, terrorists are start to destroy the town. I decided to produce such prototype because I wanted to demonstrate that the shape of mobile phone is not a big deal anymore. Now we are live in time that people choose their mobiles by its interface.

S: The issue of Nintendo, if we are allowed mentioning it, is the using the potential of the internet.

I: I think so too. They are not doing the best job with internet. Also, their current competitive is iPhone, not Play Station or Xbox. The age of hardware ends and the software age had begun, and this can be said to all other Japanese manufacturing industry. There are less Japanese workers who understand the change. Most of people still believe that manufacturing mean making actual products. What determines the winner is the element that is beyond the physical products. System with connecting with internet becomes extra values. It was significant case for the transformation that iPod beats SONY’s walkman.

S: Sony has less traffic attraction then.

I: From now on, we need to be able making software, designing interface, and architecting the system connected with internet. An American urban studies theorist, Richard Florida suggests the similar opinion in his book, The Flight of the Creative Class. The New Global Competition for Talent (HarperBusiness,2005). I expect that Japanese manufacturing company will suffer if they miss to bring thoughtful creators up to the top of their company.

teamLab’s design for a cell phone, presented for the 2007au design project. The interface is a town with streets that change depending on the usage of the device.