May 27, 2022 - Technology

Nintendo describes its struggle to develop Nintendo Switch Sports

Nintendo Switch Sports. Screenshot: Nintendo

Nintendo game designers struggled for years to make a Nintendo Switch sequel to the company’s best-selling game of all time, 2006’s Wii Sports, before finally releasing one in April.

Why it matters: Game design is a tough process, even on a project that seems like the ultimate no-brainer.

  • That's on display in a new Q&A published by Nintendo about the making of Nintendo Switch Sports.

Details: The game began development some time after the Switch’s 2017 launch. But design dead ends required an eventual “fresh start” to the project.

  • Nintendo’s designers were stumped about how to distinguish their new game from Wii Sports (and its 2009 sequel Wii Sports Resort), which was iconic for letting players swing a Wii controller to play simplified versions of tennis, bowling and more.
  • They experimented with controls that didn’t involve motion.
  • They brainstormed about making the player-characters robots.

What they’re saying: “By the time we acknowledged we’d pursued the wrong direction, years had already passed,” Yoshikazu Yamashita, a director on the new game and the old Wii Sports titles said in the Q&A.

  • Their solution was to pursue simplicity, to design a motion-controlled game playable by anyone age 5 to 95. They’d make another Wii Sports, basically, circling back to the original intent.

Yes, but that wasn’t the end of their problems: Creating motion controls that worked as players expected was tough despite the Switch’s technological superiority over the Wii.

  • Wii controllers were big wands that most people held the same way. The small size of the Switch’s detachable controllers made it harder for Nintendo’s designers to predict how players held them and how, in turn, the system should interpret their gestures.
  • The developers used machine learning and other techniques to optimize the accuracy of the controls.
  • The eventual result is a game that plays quite well on Switch.

Between the lines: Nintendo is in many ways the most secretive company in gaming, but it occasionally offers impressively deep analysis of the development of its games.

  • That tradition began in 2006 with the launch of Iwata Asks, a series of detailed, mirthful interviews with groups of Nintendo game designers conducted by company president Satoru Iwata until his death in 2015.
  • In them, Nintendo creators speak of the challenges of making new Mario and Zelda games and the like — and of trying to produce the near-magical quality Nintendo’s games are known for.
  • Last July, Nintendo began a similar series with a new, anonymous interviewer.

The bottom line: Interviews about game design humanize the process and help explain why so many games take years to make, get delayed or just don’t pan out despite the effort poured into them.

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