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Iwata Asks: 3DS Edition

Shigeru Miyamoto and Shigesato Itoi join the shacho for a discussion about Nintendo's new hardware.


With 3DS a little over a month away, it was just a matter of time before Nintendo shared an Iwata Asks column for the new hardware. The first part of that column came today. Fielding questions from Nintendo CEO Satoru Iwata were Shigeru Miyamoto and Mother creator Shigesato Itoi.

You can read the column in English here or in Japanese here.

It makes sense to have Miyamoto present for the column, but why Itoi? Iwata had Itoi try out the 3DS and share his opinion on the device. Itoi was shown the interactive 3D demo Nintendo readied for last year's E3.

Itoi seemed particularly impressed with the system's 3D volume control, which lets you adjust the 3D effect. He asked Iwata if this is something that's included in most 3D devices. Iwata responded that he believes there may not be a similar example from past devices. During the development of the 3DS, a number of Nintendo staffers, including Miyamoto, had the idea for the control.

The 3D volume control will only work on real time generated images, explained Iwata and Miyamoto. For prerecorded footage, you'll have the option of turning the 3D effect on or off.

The rest of the conversation was about Nintendo's past attempts with 3D and former CEO Hiroshi Yamauchi's obsession with 3D.

Iwata recalled his first encounter with the Virtual Boy. He wasn't a Nintendo employee at the time. He was visiting Nintendo one day and Yamauchi, then CEO, asked him to check out Virtual Boy before leaving. Itoi was actually with him at the time.

The Virtual Boy was a commercial failure, admitted Iwata. However, despite the failure, Nintendo continued making attempts at 3D. In a sense, the 3DS is a result of that continued work.

Miyamoto shared some insight into Virtual Boy's creation. At the time, he was interested in virtual reality and suggested doing something with 3D goggles. He spoke of his interest in goggles to Game Boy creator Gunpei Yokoi. When actual development on Virtual Boy began, though, Miyamoto was busy with development on the Nintendo 64. Interestingly, both the N64 and Virtual Boy had the major theme of 3D visuals, although their aims were different.

The aim of the Virtual Boy was to simulate 3D space using wire frames, explained Miyamoto. However, there was little software that actually used this type of wire frame expression. Most games created a 3D effect by lining up 2D images at different depths.

Miyamoto has a complicated view of the Virtual Boy, as while he felt it would be nice if people would use wire frame visuals, at the same time he felt that wire frame visuals had little appeal. A game with nothing but wire-frame tanks and no Mario or other characters would be sad and lonely, but at the same time a game that uses 2D images of Mario wouldn't really show the strengths of the Virtual Boy.

Miyamoto views Virtual Boy as a "fun toy." He believes that it was a mistake to portray it as a full scale game system and that it instead should have been treated as a niche product.

After Virtual Boy, Nintendo made numerous attempts at 3D. They had a Game Boy Advance SP system with a glasses free 3D LCD screen. The resolution of the screen was low, though, and this never turned into an actual product.

GameCube also had circuitry for 3D compatibility, revealed Iwata. If attached to a special LCD screen, the system could display 3D images. Nintendo even had a functional 3D version of Luigi's mansion. Due to the cost for the LCD screens, though, Nintendo decided that there was no market for the tech at the time.

Nintendo's work on 3D goes back before even these hardware attempts. Miyamoto and Iwata worked on Famicom Disk System game called Grand Prix II 3D Hot Rally. This was played using goggles. This game was originally developed at HAL Laboratory, but midway through development Miyamoto came in and helped fix the game. He changed the structure of the rallies and added Mario as the main character.

It appears that 3D was somewhat of an obsession for Yamauchi. The former Nintendo CEO would always ask "can you make it jump out." While Nintendo did not work with 3D for the DS and Wii, during this time they did try out some 3D effects for Shiguriden, a Kyoto theme park created by Miyamoto and Yamauchi.

The Iwata Asks columns for 3DS will continue with future installments, so keep checking the Iwata Asks site over the coming weeks.

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