Satoru Iwata is asking questions again which means that it's time to learn several new facts and bits of inside information about the company's operation. A few weeks ago we found out that a 3D version of Luigi's Mansion for the GameCube was resting in the Nintendo vault, for instance, and this installment of the ongoing interview series delves deeper into the game we never had the chance to play and the LCD accessory required to make it play in 3D. Guess what? We saw that accessory once before and just didn't know what it was at the time.
Konno: After the development of Luigi's Mansion for Nintendo GameCube was over, I was involved in the experiment of making a 3D version of it.
Iwata: Luigi's Mansion 3D. Unfortunately, we never released it.
Konno: Yeah. We tried fitting the Nintendo GameCube with a small, roughly four-inch, LCD that allowed you to enjoy Luigi's Mansion in glasses-free 3D.
Iwata: We showed that LCD as a reference exhibit at the 2002 E3, but kept the 3D aspect secret. I liked that, though.
Konno: Yeah. It had depth, so it really pulled you into the world of the game. I thought it was great, but…
Iwata: But we just couldn't get past the problem of how to sell it.
Konno: Right. Liquid crystal was still expensive back then, and no matter how new an experience we could provide through the games, there would have been a need for players to buy the LCD as an accessory. There was even talk that it could turn out to be more expensive than the console itself!
Iwata: In the end, we couldn't overcome that hurdle and it never made it out into the light as a product.
At that price and that size screen, I'd imagine that such an accessory would have been a hard sell back in 2002. We still make Virtual Boy jokes today from time to time; think back to how much of a punchline the maligned 3D system still was a decade ago. Maybe it's for the best that Nintendo tabled the 3D plans until it could do it right with the 3DS.
Speaking of the 3DS, there was a bit of a mad rush to create working prototypes in time for the big expo last year. Multiple designs and system features were under consideration as time counted down and some interesting creations resulted during the chaos. One early prototype couldn't actually display the 3D visuals. Another had a removable circle pad and control pad so that players could customize the positions of each input method (this was never intended for the final product outside of a few joking mentions which is just as well, as I'm not sure we're ready for a modular handheld gaming system). In the end, time ran out as the big Los Angeles conference approached:
Iwata: I'd like to ask about E3. We decided pretty early on to exhibit Nintendo 3DS at the 2010 E3, but I think that caused a lot of trouble for you developers.
Umezu: Yeah, it did.
Sugino: Just before E3 was the hardest period. (laughs)
Umezu: In order to be in time for E3, I was constantly pressing them to make certain decisions by certain days.
Iwata: You were always saying, "Decide today!" (laughs)
Umezu: Yeah. (laughs)
Iwata: If someone asked when something needed to be decided, you immediately replied, "Right now!" (laughs)
Konno: That's right. (laughs)
Umezu: People were probably sick of me. (laughs)
Konno: No, not at all! (laughs)
Iwata: Exactly what kind of challenges did you face?
Umezu: As mentioned earlier, I designed the chip without any thought of 3D, so we had to change the design quite a lot, like doubling the graphics rendering speed. I was really worried about whether we could make a chip that players could actually use in time for E3.
Iwata: And of course we couldn't ask E3 to change its schedule on our account.
Umezu: Right. I asked those involved with the SoC to do the impossible, and with regard to polishing it off, I think Sugino-san had a rough time of it, too.
Iwata: I told him that I wanted several that looked like the final product for when I revealed the Nintendo 3DS system to everyone at the E3 media briefing.
Sugino: Yeah, that's right.
Iwata: And I said that given the time constraints, I didn't care if they used big ol' things like sandwich boxes--as long as they ran, that is—for the ones that the players used in the exhibition hall. That's how badly I wanted to exhibit working models at E3 so players could experience the 3D. But you actually prepared a lot that looked like the final product in the end.
Sugino: In the end, we prepared about 200.
Iwata: But when, at first, I said I just wanted a few, you said, "That's absolutely impossible!"
Sugino: Yeah. I really thought it was impossible. But when I tried it, I did it! (laughs)
The extra effort and stress was certainly worth it. Trying one of the demo 3DS units at the media briefing is what sold me on the visual effect. I really hope that E3 character demo in which players could rotate the 3D camera around scenes of Mario, Link, Captain Olimar, and other Nintendo heroes in action turns up again sometime in a public capacity so that all of you out there can see it. It's a fantastic little introduction to the 3DS's capabilities that will swallow $250 from your pocket or purse before you can put the unit down.