Many Nintendo fans like to put Shigeru Miyamoto on a pedestal of perfection for the monumental contributions he's made to video games over the past 20 years, but it wasn't always Easy Street for the quirky developer.
In fact, during an interview with Nintendo President Satoru Iwata this week, the esteemed Miyamoto revealed he was plagued with poor eating habits, weight issues and a borderline pachinko addiction during his early years as a developer. What was bad for Miyamoto was good for gaming, however, as his subsequent desire to improve his health so many years ago led to one of the most popular peripherals in Japan: Wii Fit (one million sold in seven months).
"I used to play pachinko many years ago, but that stopped when I started swimming. Simply swimming without thinking about anything except how demanding it was had a similar effect to the stress relief I got from pachinko, which enabled me to escape the cycle of worries I had. Another thing I managed after quitting pachinko was to stop smoking, which also lead to better fitness," Miyamoto said.
Miyamoto also talked about the challenges of working with a development team and outside hardware manufacturers that were wary of creating such a complicated, risky piece of technology.
"We subsequently decided that we'd just have to go ahead and make it ourselves, fully aware that if we just made it like an ordinary scale you could buy anywhere, it'd be just plain boring. That's when, after a process of trial and error, we settled on the idea of making it so that you could balance on four points: front, back, left and right. This in turn lead us to the idea that we could also use it as an interface for a game," he said.
Even the size of the Wii Fit balance board was meticulously vetted by the infamously fickle Miyamoto, who's been known to make drastic changes to software and hardware at the last possible minute. A fan favourite from the US was brought in to test how the board responded to American feet.
"Since Reggie at [Nintendo of America] was scheduled to come to Japan to attend meetings of overseas executives, we had him get on the Wii Balance Board and even measured his shoulder width!" Miyamoto said. Suffice to say, the board passed the Regginator test.
In their four-page interview Iwata and Miyamoto also tackled one of the long standing criticisms of any accessory: you'd be hard pressed to find a 3rd party developer that would specifically design a game around one because of the risks involved. With WiiWare, Iwata thought Nintendo might have a solution.
"I think it'd be nice if some new, simpler software that used the Wii Balance Board came out through WiiWare," Iwata said. "I think if you suddenly released new software for the Wii Balance Board at full price, the publishers would find it a bit difficult to market as packaged software to be sold in shops. That's why I think it'd be good if you could download less expensive software onto your Wii instead of just relying on boxed games."
Not a bad, idea, Iwata-san. Just one thing: where are people supposed to store all these downloaded WiiWare games?