Getting Fit with Miyamoto and Iwata

Hello, everyone. My name is Satoru Iwata, President of Nintendo Co., Ltd. As you may already know, some time ago I began conducting a series of interviews explaining the vision behind Wii. Now I’d like to continue that process to help explain the thinking and planning behind our new product, Wii Fit.
Over the course of the next few weeks we will hear from those who were actually involved in the development of this title. Given that I will be interviewing my own employees, I admit this is a somewhat interesting experiment, but by talking face-to-face with them, I hope to convey why we believe this is such an important product.
There are many insights that only these key developers will be able to recount. I hope you enjoy these interviews and please look forward to Wii Fit as it enters markets in the west later this year.

Sincerely,
Satoru Iwata

Volume One: Why did Nintendo Create Wii Fit, a piece of software based on the idea of health?

Iwata

Today we’ll be talking about how Wii Fit was created. First, I’d like to interview Miyamoto-san, the man who first came up with the concept behind this project. Normally, I have you appear at the end of my interviews, but because I can’t very well proceed without asking you why you decided to make such an unusual product unlike any before it, you’ll be up to bat first this time around. Well then, let’s begin.

Miyamoto

My pleasure.

Born from a Hobby

Iwata

Miyamoto-san, you’re known for repeatedly creating games based on your hobbies, such as Pikmin1 for example, which was based on your hobby of pottering around the garden, and Nintendogs2, which was based on when you first kept a pet dog. With Wii Fit, you’ve managed to incorporate your interest in keeping track of your weight into a product.

Miyamoto

So I have! (laughs)
I’ve been told in the past that it’s better not to mix my hobbies with my work, or that it’s best not to try and make something I know intimately into a product, and I actually agreed with those notions at the time. However the simple fact remains that concepts like Nintendogs and Wii Fit work very well as games, and I’m glad that I was able to be involved in their development while maintaining a customer’s point of view.

  1. Pikmin is an AI action game for the Nintendo GameCube that revolves around searching for hidden treasures
    alongside mysterious life-forms known as Pikmin, which was released October 2001 in Japan
    and December 2001 in the US.
  2. Nintendogs is a communication game for the Nintendo DS about enjoying spending time with your
    favorite puppies, which was released in April 2005 in Japan and August 2005 in the US.

Iwata

Well then, to get us started I’d like to ask you about your hobbies. What was it that got you interested in keeping track of your weight?

Miyamoto

You know, this is likely to lead in to quite a long story, is that all right?

Iwata

Be my guest! (laughs)

Miyamoto

Up until now, there have been numerous times when I’ve become aware of my body. For example, when I graduated from university and joined the company, I ended up putting on weight. We were so busy back then, and I’d say things like “The only thing I look forward to is having a bite to eat”…

Iwata

So you were pulling long hours, and having late night snacks? (laughs)

Miyamoto

Precisely! (laughs) It continued along those lines, and then I got married and put on even more weight… So, eventually it dawned on me that this was no good, and once I turned 40, I decided to take up swimming.

Iwata

Yes, I remember you used to say quite often that your back ached before you took up swimming. But once you’d started, it got better.

Miyamoto

It did. One of the main reasons I started swimming was because my doctor told me that the cause of the pain in my back was because I was out of shape. But when I started regularly going to the swimming hall, my weight dropped quite a bit, and it felt like my overall fitness had increased as well. I started thinking that getting fit could actually be fun.

Iwata

So that was how you first got into it?

Miyamoto

Well, it does feel good to be active, doesn’t it? I also think there are some psychological benefits from becoming absorbed in doing something. I used to play pachinko3 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. To be completely honest though, I don’t really like being thought of as such a serious person. I mean, I didn’t drink in the first place, and on top of that, I managed to quit smoking and get actively involved in doing sports, so I must seem like some kind of a role model! (laughs) Even though I thought this lifestyle didn’t exactly suit my personality, I felt good about my body.

3. Pachinko is a popular Japanese game which is a mixture between a slot machine and vertical pinball. The player controls the speed at which many small steel balls are thrown into the pachinko machine in order to send them into special holes, and the aim is to get as many balls into the holes as possible. The balls won by the player can be exchanged for prizes.

Iwata

Even though you weren’t aiming for absolute perfection, right?

Miyamoto

Right. So, once I got better at swimming, I became able to swim effortlessly

Iwata

So you felt like you could swim long distances easily?

Miyamoto

Yes, that’s right. So as a result, the actual amount of exercise I did decreased, and I started to put on weight again! (laughs) At that point, I became interested in the changes in my weight, and after a bit of research, I learned about a special weight monitoring diet4. I thought this was quite interesting, and though I didn’t record the results, I started measuring my weight on the old analog bathroom scale we had in the house. While I was doing that, my wife suggested buying a better scale, so the next time she went shopping with the kids, she bought me a new scale that could measure in 100 gram units and featured a body fat scale. That was how I got started recording my weight on a graph.

4. Weight monitoring diet is a diet method where you measure your weight at a certain time every day and monitor the changes.

Iwata

I think most people normally wouldn’t even think of tracking their weight on a graph.

Miyamoto

Personally, I quite enjoy doing things that become habitual, as if it was daily routine work. I put the scale and graph paper in the bathroom, and after continuing the pattern for a month, it became like a ritual before getting into the bath. I wasn’t able to relax without doing it! (laughs) Anyway, I was able to continue on with it. In fact, once the graphs I’d recorded started to pile up, I started to feel a strange fondness for them – regardless of whether I was gaining weight or losing weight.

Iwata

When was this?

Miyamoto

I’m not quite sure, but I think I started about 4 years ago. I’d already been keeping graphs for about a year when the Wii Fit project first started.

Iwata

At first, before it became known as Wii Fit, the title “Health Pack”5 was used. When you first came up with that prototype, how did you think you would develop it into a product?

5. Health Pack was a working title for Wii Fit used until the E3 (Electronic Entertainment Expo, an annual video game fair held in the United States) event in July 2007.

Miyamoto

The prototype didn’t actually consist of anything at all. This caused the staff a lot of headaches, as we only had the core weight-measuring element. Once we’d settled on the Wii concept, one of the things we decided on was that it should be something families could gather around. We thought about what game would be good to have a copy of in every home, and out of the selection, we had Wii Sports6, Wii Play7 and also “Health Pack”…

6. Wii Sports is a sports game that is bundled with Wii which includes 5 sports: tennis, baseball, bowling, golf and boxing.
7. Wii Play is a game that introduces users to the Wii Remote, released in February 2007 and bundled with a Wii Remote.

Iwata

So with the core element of measuring one’s weight, did you have any specific idea of how things would develop?

Miyamoto

Well, I think most people takes their clothes off when they measure their weight in the bathroom. You couldn’t very well do it in front of people. But I’m sure it would be fun for people to measure their weight in the living room with the whole family, take data every day and check the graphs, then maybe poke fun at Dad who’s put on a little weight, or congratulate Mom on her diet.

Iwata

Incidentally, (Takashi) Tezuka-san8 still takes pictures of his meals with his phone whenever he has something to eat. How long has he been doing that for?

Miyamoto

I think it must be since around the same time I started recording my weight.

8. Takashi Tezuka is the EAD Software Development Department General Manager who works on series’ such as Mario, Yoshi and Animal Crossing alongside Shigeru Miyamoto.

Iwata

What a pair! (laughs) One who measures his weight and records it daily on graphs, and the other who takes photos of all his meals!

Miyamoto

That started from the same sort of idea – that it would be useful if you could just input the photos you took of the things you eat.

Iwata

So, even elements like that became ideas for the project.

Miyamoto

They did indeed. We even thought about making it so that you could take your DS out with you and store data on what you ate. With health as part of the Wii catalog, we also saw that the subject of food would be ahead of us. We asked the director to create a system where you could easily enter the things you ate into the DS, and also had the planner begin an experiment where he’d measure his weight. However, I’d already reached the crux of the development of titles like Wii Sports at that stage, so I ended up neglecting the project, asking others to take care of it. Sometimes they asked me “What are you going to do about it?” (laughs)

Iwata

The staff members who were suddenly told to measure their weight and record the things they ate must have been quite perplexed, mustn’t they?

Miyamoto

Yes, I think they were. They must have had absolutely no idea what they should do. Please ask the staff appearing in the next interview about that one. I just told them to make a pleasant interface, or gave them some hints to make it useful.

Iwata

It’s like a dialogue between a Zen monk and his follower, isn’t it? Though, game design always tends to be like that at first.

Miyamoto

For example, I told them that we certainly couldn’t make it so that when you enter the amount of rice you’ve eaten, a message comes up saying “I ate X grams”. It’d be much clearer to touch the rice icon and then have three bowl icons appear, by which I was trying to emphasize the importance of streamlining the input system. I also told them that we ought to think about what kinds of things can be done every day when a device which measures your weight can be connected with the Wii console. It must have been quite a challenge for the team to grasp the feel with only vague instructions like that, so I’m sure they must have been really struggling with it. Furthermore, there were only three people handling the project; the planner, producer and director. Not to mention that we hadn’t decided in which direction to take the software yet, so we couldn’t increase the number of staff assigned to the project.

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