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This interview was originally published in a book called Family Computer: 1983-1994 which was released to coincide with an exhibit called Video Game Exhibition -Level X- at the Tokyo Metropolitan Museum of Photography, which ran from December 4, 2003 to February 8, 2004. This is a reproduction of the English text from the bilingual book with no alterations. As far as I know this is the first time this interview has been published online.
-We have finally reached the 20th anniversary of the Family Computer. How would you look back these 20 years?
It was my youth. I was a game magazine writer, and had just started making games when the Family Computer was released. You know, I was pouring all my energy, practically devoting my life to games.
-What did the Family Computer mean to you 20 years ago?
We got acquainted with video games at video arcades, so the Family Computer was it’s reflection. Although the first Family Computer game was Donkey Kong, the Donkey Kong we knew, was that of the penny arcade. I was interested in knowing how loyal the Family Computer version was, to the one from the arcade. Although it was pretty close to it, there were some differences. So what were those differences; I think that finding them out became my basis for game developing.
-You once said that the first game from GAME FREAK, Quinty [Mendel Palace], was created by analyzing the Family Computer.
It became possible to see what was actually going on inside the Family Computer, when a machine for beginners called Family Basic was released. When I completely understood it’s mechanism, I went to Akihabara to buy a multi-use circuit board, added the terminals from my Family Computer, and run my programs over it. That was our first step. Then I made a long lasting battery to save the memory on the circuit board. It was all a handmade development environment.
-The handmade Quinty was released from NAMCO after 3 years.
I couldn’t think of another company. NAMCO games of the 80’s had this incredible aura. I could even say that I learned the A-to-Zs of game making from them. I wanted the NAMCO people to know that, and that was why I brought the game Quinty to them.
-What’s your opinion on Quinty, looking at it now?
It was punk. At that time, Family Computer games had restrictions on it’s hardware, and I think that most of them were ‘ordinary games’, due to their sales strategies. I just wanted to go against the flow of time, and it was also a very stoic manner of trying to show them the kind of games we thought were fun. For example the game representing the golden era of NAMCO, Pacman used 3 different animation patterns for Pacman’s movements. That is how they were able to make them look like they were actually eating. However, most of the Family Computer games had limited hardware, and they were only using 2 patterns of movements; such as opening and closing their legs to depict a person walking. I couldn’t forgive this type of animation that looked like a cheap picture-story. I thought that we had to draw several patterns to make them move, as movement is the core elements of games. We thought that it was important to dig in the most essential things such as the movements, instead of just using flashy colors; there weren’t games with such concept, besides Quinty. That is why I say that it was punk.
-After Quinty, you went straight to developing Pokemon. But there were a lot of difficulties before the game launched, right?
After the Japanese release of Quinty, I was thinking about releasing it for the U.S. market as well. So I rented a car and drove all over the West Coast, and visited a bunch of software developers there. However, everybody simply rejected them by saying that they were too cute. No one understood the respect we paid to the history of video games in Quinty. So it was kind of a body blow, and I started to ask myself what I really wanted to make. That became the roots of Pokemon. Thinking about ‘who I was,’ brought me back the Space Invaders boom. I was hooked on games through my Space Invaders experience, but what was I doing before that? I used to love catching bugs, crayfish… I also watched the re-runs of special effects monster films… I wanted to create a game with all my memories; that was the birth of Pokemon. I got the idea of creating a game close to my own roots, in which you had to catch the Pokemons in the mountains, or under the sea.
-Why did you select Game Boy as it’s platform?
I had some information regarding the specifications and characteristics of the Game Boy, before it’s release. Among these specifications, ‘data communication’ was printed as a key word. It said that they could communicate with each other by connecting Game Boys with special cables. My imagination grew as I thought more and more about this word. I imagined a chunk of information being transferred through data communication; I went wow, that’s gonna be something! And decided to create a game using that idea. I was quite sure that it was going to be a game that could only be made for the Game Boy.
-I understand that you exchanged quite a bit of information with Mr. Shigeru Miyamoto, as you developed Pokemon.
I always try not to miss any words Mr. Miyamoto is saying, because suddenly he utters very important things. I remember him saying “wouldn’t it be better if you had a scene where you could pick either of them,” when he saw our design documents for “Pocket Monster”. I was creating a ‘greedy’ game in which the player should be able to catch as many monsters as they wanted to. I was enlightened to hear Mr. Miyamoto’s idea of selecting one of them, while discarding the other. That idea ended up defining the first scene where the protagonist must select one capsule among three. I made the player choose the “Pokemon” that would be his partner.
-Why do you think Pokemon became a worldwide major hit?
Receiving a bicycle as a present, catching bugs and fishing. I realized that all of these experiences that I felt were just mine, were shared by all of the kids. I guess that’s why people around the world embraced it.
-My last question; I think that you can tell someone’s personality by his favorite Pokemon, but which is your favorite?
I like Poliwag. It is a tadpole monster which has a circle pattern on its tummy. Actually the patterns are drawn where the intestines should be. When I was a kid, I would go to the riverside to catch frogs, and I could see their intestines, because their skin was transparent. The Pokemon themselves are based on my own experiences. Poliwag is symbolic of that.
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