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 the developers behind the Nintendo Switch™ Sports game for the Nintendo Switch system, which launched on Friday, April 29.
First, could I ask you to briefly introduce yourselves?
(referred to as Shimamura from this point on)I’m Shimamura, a producer for Nintendo Switch™ Sports. I served as a director for Wii Sports™, Wii Sports Resort™ and Wii Sports Club™. This was the first title in the series I joined as a producer.
(referred to as Yamashita from this point on)I’m Yamashita, the director for this title. I was also a director for the Wii Sports™ and Wii Sports Resort™ games.
(referred to as Okane from this point on)I’m Okane. I was the program director for this title. I was also involved in the Ring Fit Adventure™ game as a program director and the Jump Rope Challenge™ game as a director. I’ve been working on a lot of physical activity titles.
(referred to as Morii from this point on)I’m Morii. I joined this title as the art director. I was also an art director for the Wii Sports™ game. Some of the other titles I worked on are the Nintendo Land™ and the 1-2-Switch™ games. I have worked with Shimamura-san and Yamashita-san for a long time.
(referred to as Yokoyama from this point on)I was the sound director for this title. Before this game, I was in charge of sound effects (1) for the Ring Fit Adventure™ game, and like Okane-san, I have also been successively working on physical activity titles.
(1) Sound Effects. All the sounds that objects make in the game.
Thank you very much. Mr. Yamashita, could you kick us off with a quick introduction to Nintendo Switch Sports?
Of course. Nintendo Switch Sports is a sequel to the motion-based series of games that began with Wii Sports, released exclusively for the Wii system in 2006 (in Japan). In addition to Tennis, Bowling and Chambara, which were popular in previous titles, this new title includes Volleyball, Badminton, and Soccer. There will be an update in the autumn with Golf added as an additional sport.
When did work start for this title? Did the development start with the assumption that it would be a sequel to the Wii Sports series?
The project started a while after the Nintendo Switch system was released. Mr. Koizumi (2) called me and requested the development of a Nintendo Switch title in the Wii Sports series. And that’s how the project started.
(2) Yoshiaki Koizumi. Senior Executive Officer, Deputy General Manager of Planning and Development Division. He is the general producer of the Nintendo Switch system.
So, it started quite a while ago.
Since it launched in 2022, one may wonder why it took so long.
You have been working on it since you received the request from Koizumi-san, haven’t you?
Yes. With the Wii Sports™ and Wii Sports Resort™ games, we came up with as many ideas as we could think of...and most of them were achieved and implemented in the titles, so we felt that we had done all we could. My impression at the time was that if we were to do a sequel in the future, it would be quite difficult. Therefore, when this Nintendo Switch Sports project started, I honestly felt that there weren't any sports left to be added.
So, your starting point was "there is nothing left to do", and you considered creative ways to add new things?
Yes. "There may not be so many new sports and types of gameplay anymore. But that's not good enough," and so on. I thought about a lot of things for a while and worked hard on my own. New members joined, and in the process of prototyping, we were conscious of creating something that looked new and different from the past. But we were so conscious of this, that we ended up going as far as having gameplay where you can play without swinging the Joy-Con™ controller. (Laughs)
Without swinging the Joy-Con controller...? The plan was to develop a Nintendo Switch title in the Wii Sports series, right?
That’s right. We started off with Wii Sports but got so caught up in making it look new, the swinging motion controls became a secondary consideration, and other aspects of the game, like the game’s atmosphere, became a higher priority for us to put our efforts into. But we were working so hard at the time that we didn't really question it. We were very conscious of creating something new no matter what... However, it didn't go well in the end. We had lost our way and were on the verge of losing the charm of Wii Sports. And by the time we acknowledged we'd pursued the wrong direction, years had already passed.
I understand that quite some time had passed since the start of the project. How did you pivot from there after you realized it was going in the wrong direction?
When you actually played the prototype from then, the operations were complex, and the motion controls ended up on the back burner. I felt that, if we proceeded in this direction, it was not going to be something you can just pick up and say, "let's play it together," when you have someone over at your house. What was essential in the Wii Sports series was that it is easy for everyone to play, even if it was their first time, and I thought that was missing from the prototypes we were making at the time. So, I felt really bad for all the staff who had been working on the game up to the halfway point, but I told them that our goal should be to create “the world's most easy-to-invite to, motion-based game.” Nintendo has a lot of other games that are deep and interesting, but even considering the differentiation from those games, I thought our mission was to create a product for 5-to 95-year-olds, that is highly approachable. And so, we made a fresh start.
I see. That was a big decision to make. Can you tell us, what was the first thing you did when restarting this latest entry in the Wii Sports series as a motion-based game?
Going back to the basics, we thought this game should be something our customers can feel an immediate response to and feel it is something interesting, with just a single swing. Fortunately, we have had customers who felt this way about our past works, but we were determined to make it something that would get both those who knew the past titles and newcomers to say, "Ah, this is fun," the moment they picked up the Joy-Con controller. However, to get there, the whole development team had to bridge the gap between those who knew about the past title and those who did not. For example, the four of us here (Shimamura, Yamashita, Morii and Okane) who have experience in developing a motion control game, when we say, "this action from back then" or "that old method of making something," all of us would understand and say, "Oh, that one. So, if we do it this way, it will be easier to understand," because we have some kind of common knowledge. But when we passed it on to the new members, including Yokoyama-san, in the same way, they would say, "What exactly is that?”
The members who had a common experience of developing the Wii Sports game could quickly set priorities and say, "This is important. This can be developed later.” But new members could not understand why we were developing in such an order or why we were creating in such a way unless we verbalized it properly.
By the way, how many new people were there who didn't know about the development of Wii Sports?
More than 90% were new members. Each member would come to us with their own ideas for improvements to past titles, but since we didn't share a common experience as to why we did not make such a system, after a while of development, they would finally realize, "I see, that's why the past titles were the way they were.” It took us a long time to reach a common awareness.
I guess you are saying that it was difficult without the intuition that is unique to developing motion-based games.
For example, if you press the A Button in a normal game, everyone will get the same result. But in the case of motion controls, you operate by swinging the controller, so even if you intend to do the same motion control, it's not as easy because everyone moves differently.
Certainly, the degree of "lightly" in "swing lightly" differs from person to person.
When I hand over a prototype, which has been adjusted with what I imagine as a "light swing," to someone else and have them swing it "lightly," it doesn't move in the same way at all in the game. So things like this happen. As was the case with previous works, for motion-based games, we need to make adjustments to each of these aspects.
In the end, it wasn't so much that I explained it to them, but that everyone started to understand as they actually created and played with the game....
You mean that you were able to share various insights by tracing the actual development of the project and improving it by incorporating past methods as well. So, once you had a common understanding, did the development flow smoothly?
No, it got better, but I don't think it went as well as I thought it would. As for myself, since this was my third time developing a title in this series, I expected that I could do a certain task in a certain amount of time... First of all, in realizing the motion controls, we hadn't yet fully explored all the mechanical and systematic differences between the Wii system and Nintendo Switch system. As we went through trial and error in the development process, we found that there were more differences than we expected, and as a result, it took a lot of time there as well, which was tough. (Laughs)
I thought we could carry over some elements from the original titles, and it would be easy as 1, 2, 3... (Laughs)
So, everyone thought it would be easy to get at least as far as recreating Wii Sports.
No, the programmers were all thinking, "It is not going to be easy at all..."
That's understandable. Unless you actually write the code (3), you cannot understand how difficult it is. As directors, we simply ask, "Please make it possible to experience this in this kind of way.” But the programmers are the ones who do the trial and error to make it happen. This is the hardest part. And yet, I only remember the good memories of developing the past titles, so I tend to ask for them casually. So, um... My apologies! I would like to take this opportunity to apologize...
(3) A game program that describes, in programming language, what kind of input (motion control, button operation, etc.) and what kind of output (character running, throwing a ball, etc.) are performed.