Ask the Developer Vol. 2, Nintendo Switch – OLED Model–Part 1
Content pre-recorded in accordance with current COVID-19 health and safety guidelines.
This article has been translated from the original Japanese content.
1: Gaming consoles are destined to be continuously improved, even after launch
Part 1: Gaming consoles are destined to be continuously improved, even after launch
In this volume of Ask the Developer, an interview series in which Nintendo developers convey in their own words Nintendo’s thoughts about creating products and the specific points they are particular about, we’re talking to two people who led the development of Nintendo Switch – OLED Model, launching Oct. 8.
Could you please introduce yourselves?
Ko Shiota (referred to as Shiota from this point on): My name is Shiota, the head of the Technology Development Division, which is responsible for hardware 1 development. I have been part of home-console hardware development since I joined the company. I have had opportunities to participate in the interview series “Iwata Asks” to talk about the development of Wii2 and Wii U3 in the past, but I was also part of console development even before that. In fact, the first console-development project I was part of was “AV Famicom” 4. I learned at that time Nintendo’s way of creating products by example from more senior Nintendo employees.
Toru Yamashita (referred to as Yamashita from this point on): My name is Yamashita, of the Technology Development Department. I have been part of home-console hardware development in various ways since I joined the company. For Wii, I was part of the development of the built-in features, such as the system menu. For Wii U, I was part of the development of the Wii U GamePad 5. I have been involved with Nintendo Switch as the manager of hardware development, and with Nintendo Switch – OLED Model, I coordinated the suggestions and opinions from the development staff on what kind of experience we can offer to our customers.
1 The main consoles and controllers for dedicated game machines.
2 Released in 2006. A home console that uses the Wii Remote as a controller and features games with intuitive controls.
3 Released in 2012. A home console that features games that link the screens displayed on both the TV and the handheld Wii U GamePad.
4 An improved model of the Family Computer released in 1993. In addition to changing the look of the console and controller, it was equipped with an AV port that enabled composite-video output. The Family Computer (Famicom) was released in North America as the Nintendo Entertainment System (NES).
5 A controller unique to Wii U equipped with a touch screen in addition to analog sticks and buttons.
First of all, what motivated you to develop Nintendo Switch – OLED Model?
Yamashita: In the early stages of development of the Nintendo Switch system, we were considering the development of the hardware variations, and our idea was to expand the Nintendo Switch platform in various ways. Therefore, we were thinking of releasing a new model of Nintendo Switch at some point, after the first release of Nintendo Switch. However, at that time, we hadn’t decided exactly what specific functions we would update, and while we were developing Nintendo Switch Lite, we were hoping to offer a new model not only for people who are buying one for the first time, but also for those who are thinking of buying an additional model after purchasing the original.
Shiota: As Mr. Yamashita mentioned, I also wanted to launch a new model of Nintendo Switch. However, at the conceptual stage, we didn't have any specific ideas about what features we wanted to include. Since the release of Nintendo Switch in 2017, we came up with various ideas, did some technical testing, gathered those results, and finally created the new model that you see now, which we are finally able to launch. The backstory is during the trial-and-error period, we considered some different technologies, and by referring to how our customers played with Nintendo Switch, we decided on the ideas and technologies adopted in the new model.
You said that at first, you had not decided what to include in the development of the new model, but while you were coming up with ideas for features to be included, did you have any criteria for selecting them?
Shiota: During the process of deciding what to include in the new Nintendo Switch – OLED Model, we referred to the reactions of our global customers who were playing Nintendo Switch. Fortunately, I believe that the concept and experience of Nintendo Switch has been well received. So rather than creating something completely different, we decided it would be better to keep the current form and deliver a better experience. In other words, we wanted to “refine” the existing functions and design. That perspective led to the technical choices we ultimately made.
Yamashita: Because we wanted to “refine” what we already had, we made sure that we wouldn’t add any new features that couldn’t be used with previously released software. For example, if we added a new button or function to the Joy-Con controllers, you wouldn’t be able to use it in previously released software or games, unless we updated them as well. Instead of doing that, we thought it would be better to improve and enhance the functions that our customers are currently experiencing.
So the idea was to further enhance the satisfaction of the gameplay experience while keeping the existing functions.
Shiota: Yes, that’s correct.
Yamashita: It’s not that we didn’t have some customers asking us for different functions or features. Fortunately, however, I felt that the gameplay using the current Joy-Con controllers and the gameplay in the three modes of Nintendo Switch—TV mode, tabletop mode, and handheld mode—were widely accepted. So we thought if we could introduce new features based on the existing playstyle without changing it and make gameplay more captivating, we might be able to bring Nintendo Switch to even more people.
As you just mentioned, you listened to the customers' input and decided how to improve the product, but is this unique to Nintendo Switch – OLED Model? Or is this something that Nintendo has been doing for video-game consoles in the past?
Shiota: Dedicated video-game consoles, once released into the market, have a relatively long product life cycle until the production is finally over. Therefore, we continue to provide products with the same functions to our customers over the years. Also, continuing to provide products with the same functions during that long period means that we have the opportunity to hear much more input from our customers. Nintendo developers have a strong desire to always respond to the customers’ feedback candidly, and technological progress also occurs during the product life cycle, so by combining that with the customers’ feedback, we are able to improve the product even after its release.
Such efforts for improvement have been ongoing, not just for Nintendo Switch – OLED Model, but also for past platforms, and we have considered many ideas and technologies for improving even the current models. In fact, there are many examples where we adopted such ideas and technologies to make improvements before the launch of this new model. Therefore, I think it is the “destiny” of gaming consoles that improvements will continue even after the launch.
”Destiny” is a weighty word.
Shiota: For example, even the main semiconductor of Wii, which is like the “heart” of the console, had three major changes by itself. At that time, there was great technological progress in semiconductors, and by taking in such new technology and making improvements after the product was released, we were able to reduce power consumption because of it. It was a change you couldn’t tell just by looking at it, but I think it was a meaningful improvement.
Have such changes been going on since the Famicom times?
Shiota: Yes. Because the product life cycle of game consoles is relatively long, and we continue to offer products with these same functions, I think this culture of improvement has taken root in us. Even while developing the “AV Famicom” we continued to use the basic parts of the Famicom, but we adopted the new technologies and ideas at that time and improved on things, like adding the AV port 6, making the console smaller, and making the controller more comfortable to hold.
Also during this time, I looked into the original Famicom again and realized that it, too, continued to incorporate various technological advances since its first release in ways that were not so obvious—like the circuit boards and components inside. I was surprised there were so many different versions, and it got to the point that we had to create a work process called “lotcheck.”
6 An analog output port that connects a TV and an external device. The white, red, and yellow cables support audio and composite video.
Shiota: We have to make sure that all new software being released works properly on the hardware, no matter what hardware version. Lotcheck is the process of actually checking if new software works on the numerous versions of hardware that are out there due to improvements being made. It’s a big problem if it doesn’t work on even one version. Since we had to check on every version, even back then, we kept many different versions for the verification process. So improving the contents of every product has been ongoing since the Famicom.
In other words, it may look like there are only two types of Family Computer to the customer, the “Famicom” and the “AV Famicom,” but when you consider the changes of the parts inside, there are actually many types.
By the way, are there still many versions of hardware in the product-testing area?
Shiota: Yes, we have different versions of the hardware that’s currently on the market.
Yamashita: Versions that have had a significant content change must be included in the lotcheck process. That’s why it’s so important to keep all those different versions in the testing area.
I see. So lotcheck is a process used especially with game consoles that are being continuously improved even after the launch. Now, I would like to go back to talking about Nintendo Switch – OLED Model. What are the specific features of the new model?
Yamashita: First of all, when it comes to "visible changes" that customers will immediately notice, there are changes in the display, which can be said to be the “face” of the console. By installing an OLED display, colors are expressed more vividly, black is expressed deeper, and the screen size is also increased. In addition, the stand on the back of the console can be freely tilted and adjusted, so you can play in tabletop mode at any angle you like. This improves the visibility of the screen and the stability while playing.
Shiota: On the other hand, when it comes to "invisible changes" that you can't immediately see when you pick it up, the console’s internal storage has increased, and the onboard speakers have changed. These are the changes made to offer a better, more enjoyable gaming experience.
Next, I would like to ask you more about the “visible changes” and the “invisible changes.”