Interview: Nintendo’s Reggie Fils-Aime
I was not aware that such a man as Reggie Fils-Amie existed before last year’s E3. We attended the Nintendo briefing for Retailers by mistake, which for a person on the enthusiast side of things was extremely odd - there’s probably an entire article just in that. But central to the presentation was this man, a person I had never seen before, broad of shoulder and intimidating, describing the Nintendo DS as a dangerous, unstoppable machine, like a self-ambulating bear trap that craves the human leg.
I wouldn’t find out until I came back from the event that “The Reggielution” was something like a phenomenon, a source of strength and comfort for proponents of their platform. You can see the sort of imagery he inspires in this Reverie interview. We think of a Nintendo largely defined by odd plumbers, careful to maintain its reputation as a purveyor of family entertainments. To the contrary, Reggie speaks in a determined manner and sometimes employs the rough speech of the sailor. I couldn’t go to GDC, but Robert did, and I sent him down with questions. I thought some of them were fairly saucy, but taking Nintendo to task is apparently the order of the day. After the interview was finished, Nintendo announced concrete details on some of the things he hinted at - the future of their platforms as they relate to online play. All that kind of thing can be found here.
Do you play games at home, with the family?
First off, one of my oldest kids is in college, and my other two children live in Florida, so I don’t play games with them on a day to day basis. But I recently went into a Gamestop and bought Resident Evil 4 and have been playing that with one of my children. For myself, I’ve been traveling with Final Fantasy for AGB- Final Fantasy I & II Dawn of Souls. So my gaming tastes are pretty eclectic. Everything from classic Mario games to more current things. And really, from my perspective when I’m playing games with my kids it’s all about spending good quality time with them.
Do you think that could happen in an online atmosphere with online games?
Absolutely I do - it’s interesting. The Nintendo DS is online enabled. We need to have the right software that’s internet capable to play, and we’re in the process of developing that kind of software.
What do you think of the reputation you’ve built among the Nintendo faithful, and the “Reggie-lution” persona?
You know, in many ways I’m truly honored that the fans have picked up on the theme and have, frankly, made it their own. From my perspective, the presentation we made last year at E3 was meant to be provocative. It was meant to be about the company taking steps, pushing the envelope and doing new things, and me as the new guy - the person that’s going to make that happen. But believe me, it’s not about Reggie. Mr. Iwata, in his presentation, is going to be fabulous, and he’s going to continue to drive home that this is a new Nintendo and that we’re doing new and innovative things and driving that agenda. But I’ve been touched by what the fans have done, and believe me, I’ve seen a lot of the websites, but I’m just one of the many folks making a difference at Nintendo.
People are telling me that we’re supposed to be terrified of you.
(laughs) That’s the persona you’ve built. You know, I read a quote from a gaming site that said, “You’d better be careful what you say around Reggie because otherwise he’s going to bitchslap you and take your name.” I’m a very aggressive person and a very competitive person, but I don’t go around doing that.
We were at the retail kickoff meeting last year, and you seemed very angry.
(laughs) I’m a man on a mission, that’s for sure.
Nintendo President Satoru Iwata was recently quoted as saying that the feature set of the Revolution might alienate third parties. Was that a translation? Was it accurate?
I do think it was a translation issue. I wasn’t on hand when he made the comment, but I have talked with a handful of licensees to give some perspective. What I think Mr. Iwata meant was that because we view technology, the chipset, the videocard - as a part of the system and not the defining element of the system, that what he meant to say is because we’re trying to drive an innovation path as opposed to a pretty picture path or a faster CPU path that that difference might make it more difficult for 3rd party developers to create games for our system. Said another way, it’s a lot tougher to create a great DS game with two screens, touchscreen and wireless than it is to port a game for our new competition in the handheld space. I think that’s what he was trying to get at. It’s a more challenging creative environment on our platforms today and our platforms in the future which may make it more difficult for our 3rd party licensees to create content for.
The DS has some unprecedented features in a mainstream handheld, though many of its features aren’t always put to work. Is the device a learning experience for developers?
I think it is, and quite frankly I think it’s a learning experience for our own developers as well. You look at the difference with what we’ve been able to do with Super Mario DS for example to what’s being done with Warioware Touched to how we’re pushing the envelope with a game like Nintendogs where we’re using voice activation in whole new ways, we’re using an AI element to that experience that’s never been done before - it is truly a learning experience. And this is why games will continue to get better and better as they’re brought into the market. The Touch Kirby game will be a vastly superior experience than anything we’ve done to date just because the developers have had more time to create content.
How would you respond to the gamer who believes Nintendo has stubbornly refused to take online gaming seriously in this generation?
That’s a tough question for me, because I wasn’t on hand when those decisions were made earlier-
Are you saying you would have done things differently?
I would have done it differently. I believe the sense of community has always been a big part of the videogame experience. I play videogames with my kids, and I’ve done that since they were 2 and 5 years old. That sense of community now is more than what’s sitting in your living room - it’s that larger worldwide community. I think from a Nintendo perspective we’ve wanted to do and what we’re going to do is create that experience where anyone can participate, it’s free to play, they’re strong development tools for the developer, and the game experience is truly rich and inviting. I think until we’re at that point where we can deliver all of those elements that it’s not something we’re going to do just halfway. What Mr. Iwata will talk about in his presentation is how we’re pushing the envelope on wireless Internet play for the DS. He’s going to make some bold proclamations to what we’re going to do with Revolution, and what’s going to be very clear is that we’re embracing the wireless internet play.
Animal Crossing DS and Mario Kart DS - network or online play?
Mario Kart DS will be here for the holidays. It’ll be in our view a lynch-pin 4th quarter title for Nintendo DS. We’ll be showing an 8 player LAN capability of that system with Mr. Iwata playing against 7 other lucky folks. The game looks phenomenal, I’ve played it - I’ve gotten my ass kicked but I’ve played it. Animal Crossing DS is also coming. We’re making proclamations about that regarding online play.
Are these steps online a shift for the company, going forward?
Absolutely. Make no mistake, Nintendo is absolutely embracing the concept of wireless online play. We’re going to do it in a way that truly provides the gamer an enriching experience. We’re going to put our full development efforts behind it across all our key franchises, and we’re creating the tools for the developer to do it as well. So versus the mentality of one online game for the Gamecube, I’d call that a pretty significant paradigm shift.
Jungle Beat and Donkey Konga both use the bongo controller - it’s something we’ve gotten a lot of enjoyment out of. Is Nintendo open to more games using the peripheral? It’s almost begging for a party game.
Absolutely. We’re looking at other things, and I’m happy to say here at GDC a number of developers have asked about development kits for that use, so yes, there will be more games that take advantage of the bongo controllers and I think it’s going to be pretty damn sweet.
Nintendo’s Play Yan multimedia package for the DS and SP has been a hit in Japan - are there plans to deliver the product in the US?
We’re share more about that at E3.
Have you had a chance to try out the Playstation Portable? What do you think?
I have tried out the PSP. My battery lasted all of two and a half hours, so on an international flight I was a little disappointed. What I’ll say about the PSP is that yes the screen is beautiful. I think at $250 it’s pretty expensive. I think at games that are between $40-$50, that’s pretty expensive too. I think that the multimedia play - meaning, the music downloads and the movies - I don’t think they’re fully fleshed out yet.
Do you see the PSP and the DS as direct competitors?
By both being in the handheld space, by definition they are competitors, but we do things that are quite different, and they are truly going after a very different part of the marketplace. $250 for the handheld, the software prices that I had mentioned- they are really going after a pretty affluent older-age type of consumer. We’ve always said for DS the sweetspot is 18 to 20 years old, and we’re passionate about creating the software titles that deliver against that. SP by definition with a lower price at $79 it’s going to start skewing younger and younger and that’s ok. We believe for DS to be successful it’s all about the software. Warioware has done exceptionally well, we think Metroid Prime Hunters is going to be the hit of the 3rd quarter and Mario Kart is going to be the hit of the 4th quarter.
What else can we expect from Nintendo this year?
First, there are a lot of exciting things happening on the SP - the launch of Pokemon Emerald will start preselling in about a weeks time. That’s going to be a huge title that spans everything from the core gamer to the entry level gamer. Gamecube with the launch of Zelda in the 4th quarter is going to be huge, and the reader should certainly be on the lookout for more trailers coming and lots of information on unique content for that game. It’s rich, I’ve played it, I’ve only played parts of it because it’s obviously still in development but it’s going to be huge. And on DS more great games are coming. I think in fairness to the Nintendo fan out there they’ve said “what’s new? What’s coming on DS?” Well there’s a lot coming, and I think it’s just taken a little while for all the developers to wrap their arms around it, but there are some fantastic titles coming.