GDC: Nintendo’s Hideki Konno discusses the challenges of 3DS development

Hideki Konno, the manager for the 3DS’s Nintendo’s EAD Software Development Department, discsussed the development of the much-anticipated Nintendo 3DS in a GDC session that highlighted numerous decisions on hardware, function form and game development.Here are some of the key takeaways:

1.) The original plan did not include 3D at all

According to Konno, a designer hand-picked by legendary game designer Shigeru Miyamoto (Super Mario Bros, The Legend of Zelda), there were no plans for 3D implementation at all when the concept for the portable came about in Spring 2008. Right off his work on Mario Kart Wii for the Nintendo Wii, Konno’s sudden shift from software development to hardware was a drastic one, but he wasn’t alone. The 3DS hardware team of Umezu-san and Sugino-san was there for supporting Konno on producing what would eventually become the Nintendo 3DS.

2.) Konno was uneasy about doing 3D without glasses because of Nintendo’s past

Although Konno-san did not specifically mention it, the Virtual Boy was clearly Nintendo’s first attempt (and failure) to combine 3D implentation with a game system. Before Konno first started on the 3DS, he was worried about Nintendo’s public image. He was worried that after this failure, his second attempt at 3D would lead consumers to think he was piggybacking on the disappointment of the Virtual Boy. To prevent the same thing from happening again, Konno decided to create a series of experiments to test the effectiveness of the 3D effect.

One of the first experiments focused on a glasses-free 3D demo of Mario Kart Wii, utilizing a small LCD screen to display the game in 3D without glasses. The effect worked as planned, but the result wasn’t the same for everyone.

The hardware team decided to conduct another experiment, this time to focus on the development of the 3D depth slider. The team then took a Wii Nunchuk controller, opened its innards, and glued a small stick to it to control the depth of the 3D display, which was still being tested on numerous LCD panels. The ability to adjust the depth made the 3D experience more personal, and as Konno put it, “a fresh experience.” Nintendo employees responded with plenty of praise for the project after this point.

The last experiment that Nintendo conducted was the tough decision to position either the new circle pad or control pad in the usual control placement. Several blocks of buttons were played around to test this with Super Mario 64 DS and the team finally found a right balance of control. Since more 3D titles were on the way, the team decided that the circlular, analog-like pad would be incorporated into the controller scheme for the 3DS.


3.) Nintendo wants to surprise customers and always thinking how to surprise customers

 With so many competitors in the marketplace, Nintendo’s is stressing the importance of surprising its customers and fans with upcoming gameplay experiences. According to Konno, the 3DS will surpass expectations of the ordinary consumer on a global scale. The surprise for the casual gamer is the 3D effect, but Konno loves the potential of 3DS’ upcoming software as a big win for the more core-based set of gamers. 

The 3DS also includes such innovative features as a gyro sensor, Street Pass (a program that encourages owners to bring their 3DS everywhere they go), and Spot Pass (an application that pushes data to you via handheld-like messages), apps, and 3D movie trailers accessible through Wi-Fi hotspots. Konno also confirmed that games like Mario Kart and Animal Crossing will also take full advantage of these 3DS-exclusive features.

Konno ended his presentation with mentioning that “the game creators among us” will allow for new experience for all of us to share.

If Nintendo’s already showcasing some of these cool tools to everyone, I can’t wait to see what 3DS owners start to create to further lengthen the life of Nintendo’s intriguing new handheld.