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Iwata Asks About Pokemon

Franchise creators share insights into start of franchise.


This month's biggest release -- and quite possibly this year's biggest release -- is Pokemon Heart Gold and Soul Silver. The remakes of the original Gold and Silver are due for release on the 12th.

If you've been keeping up with Nintendo's promotional engine for all its major releases, you're probably wondering why we haven't seen an Iwata Asks column for the game. Today, that very column appeared off the Touch-DS.jp website.

Typical for the feature, the interview is long at six pages. I've summarized just a few points, mostly covering background into the start of the Pokemon franchise.

Morimoto (left) and Ishihara (center).

In the column, Nintendo CEO Satoru Iwata speaks with two key persons in the Pokemon franchise: Tsunekazu Ishihara and Shigeki Morimoto. Ishihara, while now the President and CEO of Pokemon Company and Chairman of Creatures, was a producer on the original Red and Green, working with Game Freak. Game Freak's Morimoto, director on Heart Gold and Soul Silver, was a programmer on Red and Green.

The Pokemon project began in 1990. However, it wasn't until February 1996 that Red and Green were released. Iwata noted that the start for Red and Green was extremely quiet, providing no indication of the boom that was about to take place.

Development on Red and Green finished in October of 1995. Ishihara said that he wanted to release the games immediately, but they ended up slipping from the holiday season, and were released at the end of the following February, a terrible time to release product.

At the time of Red and Green's release, there was a feeling that the Game Boy's life was over, said Iwata. Interestingly, according to Ishihara, the Pokemon project started with the idea of making a game for new hardware. The Game Boy had been released in 1989, with Game Freak also opening shop the same year, so the hardware was quite new at the start of the project.

(NOTE: In a previous version of this story, I mixed up a few dates. Game Boy was released in April 1989. Game Freak was started by Pokemon series creator Satoshi Tajiri that same year.)

The Red and Green packaging.

Iwata assisted with starting up Creatures, and he was next to Ishihara as initial shipments for Red and Green were decided upon. The initial shipments were lower than he'd expected, but he was still excited for the product because he thought that with such low shipments it would sell out. This didn't happen. As Ishihara recalled, the game may have just barely made it into the top 10 in the weekly sales rankings.

As reason for the game's turn around into a sensation, Ishihara points to the power of word of mouth. Additionally, publications, mostly Coro Coro Comics, helped accelerate the game's popularity.

Mew was also extremely important, said Ishihara, despite being added at the very, very end of development. Morimoto explained that he was only able to add Mew after freeing up 300 bytes by removing the debugging program for the final version of the game. Mew only ended up appearing for some users due to a bug, and this lead to a present campaign from Coro Coro Comics which, Iwata said, coincided with heightened sales momentum for the game.

Red and Green started selling in a week what it sold in a month. Sales then expanded three times and then four times. At the time, this type of sales pattern was rare, said Iwata. It wasn't until a year and a half after release that the game reached the top of the weekly sales charts.

Heart Gold and Soul Silver will probably have a more front loaded sales trend.

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