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It All Began In 1984

Iwata
I'd like to start by thanking you both for joining me today.
Nakago/Tezuka
Thank you.

Iwata
Now the two of you have lunch with Miyamoto-san on a more or less daily basis. I sometimes join you, which means that we've spent a lot of time together. But this is the first time we've ever spoken in this kind of formal setting. Especially for Tezuka-san, even though the Iwata Asks interviews have been going on for such a long time, this is the first time that you have formally participated, isn't it?
Tezuka
That's right! (laughs)
Iwata
You know, I always got the sense that you were suspicious that there was some kind of ulterior motive behind these interviews. (laughs)
Tezuka
Well, I always thought it would be better to stay out of them. (laughs)
Iwata
(laughs) Well, I asked you to join me for this interview because I felt that it was impossible to discuss the history of Mario without reference to the triangle formed by Miyamoto-san, Tezuka-san and Nakago-san. Perhaps we could start with the two of you briefly explaining what your roles are.
Tezuka
I work as a producer in the Entertainment Analysis and Development Division, working alongside Shigeru Miyamoto-san in overseeing all aspects of game development.
Iwata
You're the head of the Software Development Department.
Tezuka
That's right. My official position is General Manager of the Software Development Department in EAD.
Iwata
Actually, I was really pleased when you became the head of the department, as it was the first time a department was headed by someone younger than me.
Tezuka
Is that right? (laughs)
Iwata
You've worked alongside Miyamoto-san ever since you first joined the company, haven't you?
Tezuka
That's right. I joined the company in 1984, so that makes it twenty-five years...
Iwata
So you joined the year after the Famicom1 was released.
Tezuka
That's right.
Iwata
You timed it perfectly!
Tezuka
(laughs)
1 The Famicom, known as the Nintendo Entertainment System outside Japan, was a home gaming console released in July 1983.

Nakago
I can still clearly remember Tezuka-san joining the company. Miyamoto-san brought him to the office to introduce him to everyone. That was back when Tezuka-san was still really slim... (laughs)
Iwata
You did use to be really slim! (laughs) I mean, it's not really my place to comment...
Tezuka
(laughs)
Nakago
So at that time you were Tezuka, the new boy in the company. And now we've known each other for twenty-five years… (laughs)
Tezuka
Indeed we have.
Iwata
Nakago-san, it's your turn.
Nakago
I'm currently the President of SRD2. I originally came to Nintendo to assist with programming for the Famicom and ever since then I've been lucky enough to be involved in many of Nintendo's products.
2 SRD Co., Ltd. is a company that was founded in 1979. They program video games and develop and sell CAD (Computer-Aided Design) packages. The company is based in Osaka and its Kyoto office is located inside the Nintendo headquarters.
Iwata
So how were you originally introduced to Nintendo?
Nakago
The job I originally did at SRD had absolutely nothing to do with video game development. The kind of work I did included programming office calculation software for use on standard personal computers.
Iwata
You were working on applications such as control systems, meaning you were more on the business end of things. So how did you end up becoming involved in video game development?
Nakago
Well, the thing that got me involved with Nintendo was the 6502 chip3 that Ricoh had developed for the Famicom.
Iwata
That was the Famicom's CPU (Central Processing Unit), wasn't it?
3 The 6502 chip leapt to prominence when it was used as the CPU in the Apple II home computer. The Famicom CPU was a specially developed version of this chip.

Nakago
Right. So at that time, Nintendo were looking for programmers who were familiar with the 6502.
Iwata
Yes, that's right. When I first visited Nintendo back then, I remember thinking: "I might be the person who knows the most about the 6502 here!"(laughs)
Nakago
I was told that because Nintendo were developing a new chip, they wanted to develop new programs in tandem with that and I became involved in working for the Famicom. So I started off dealing with Research and Development 2 (R&D2).
Iwata
R&D2 would later be merged into the Software Planning and Development Division, but at that time they were the department responsible for developing both hardware and software for the Famicom and Super Famicom4.
Nakago
That's right. I worked on a wide variety of titles together with R&D2, including Donkey Kong5, which was released at the same time as the Famicom, Donkey Kong Jr.6, Mahjong7 and Donkey Kong Jr. Math8.
4 The Super Famicom was the successor to the original Famicom games console and was released in Japan in November 1990.
5 Donkey Kong was the first game designed by Shigeru Miyamoto. Released in the arcades in 1981, it appeared on the Famicom in 1983.
6 Donkey Kong Jr. was released in the arcades in 1982 and appeared on the Famicom in 1983.
7 Mahjong was released for the Famicom in August 1983. Mahjong is a Chinese tile-based game.
8 Donkey Kong Jr. Math was a fun educational game released in December 1983 for the Famicom.
Iwata
So your job was to port arcade games like Donkey Kong over to the Famicom?
Nakago
That's right. Then around the time that job was coming to an end, someone I didn't know came up behind me and said: "You're Nakago-san, right?" And that turned out to be Miyamoto-san.
Iwata
So even though you'd ported Donkey Kong across to the NES, you didn't know Miyamoto-san? (laughs)
Nakago
I honestly didn't know anything about him! (laughs) At that time, I didn't even know that anyone by name of Miyamoto was working for the company. Then he came up to me and said: "We're going to be working on Excitebike9 together."
9 Excitebike was a side-scrolling racing game released for the Famicom in November 1984.

Iwata
Excitebike? So how many years would that make it since you and Miyamoto-san began working together?
Nakago
It's just over twenty years.
Iwata
It's longer than that, isn't it?
Nakago
Well, yes, it's around twenty-five years. So immediately after working on Excitebike and Ice Climber10, I was thrown right into the Super Mario Bros. and Zelda series.
10 Ice Climber was an action game released for the Famicom in January 1985.

Iwata
I'm going to ask you all about what happened after you were thrown into the Super Mario series in a moment. But casting my mind back, I believe I met you just prior to that.
Nakago
That's right. What sticks in my mind in particular is the guidance you gave me at the time of Balloon Fight11.
Iwata
Ah yes. At that time, there was an arcade circuit board called the Nintendo Vs. System12 that used the same chipset as the Famicom.
Nakago
The Vs. System! That really takes me back! (laughs)
11 Balloon Fight was an action game released in the arcades in 1984. It appeared on the Famicom in January 1985.
12 The Nintendo Vs. System was a circuit board for arcade machines that was developed to be compatible with the Famicom. A large number of titles, including Balloon Fight and Excitebike, were released in both Famicom and arcade versions.

Iwata
There were a lot of games that were developed both for the arcade and the Famicom. HAL Laboratory worked on the home console version of Balloon Fight while SRD…
Nakago
We worked on the arcade version. Then after we'd completed it, we wondered why the player's movements were smoother on the home version developed by HAL and asked Iwata-san for some advice.
Iwata
That's when I told Nakago-san everything I knew. One thing I recommended was that instead of calculating the character's position using integers, they should also calculate it using decimal points, thereby doubling the precision. In this way, calculating gravity, buoyancy, acceleration and deceleration all become more precise and the movements look smoother. That's the kind of thing I explained at the time.
Nakago
When Iwata-san explained all this to me, the scales fell from my eyes! (laughs) But I remember Miyamoto-san complaining: "Why do you have to go to another company to find this stuff out?" (laughs)
Iwata
I was actually really pleased to be asked.
Nakago
Is that right? (laughs)
Iwata
Well, I hoped it would prove useful, and I believe that it did when you came to work on Super Mario Bros.
Nakago
Yes, it proved incredibly useful. The reason why Mario moves so smoothly in the underwater stages is thanks to the guidance I was given by you.
Iwata
At that point, I had been involved in the development of a whole variety of software while working at HAL Laboratory, but I'd always thought: "It's only the main Mario series that I've had nothing to do with." But it turns out that because of what I told Nakago-san all those years ago, I was actually indirectly involved in a Mario title. When I found that out, I was rather pleased! (laughs)
Nakago
(laughs)
Iwata
Out of interest, how old were you when we first met in 1984?
Nakago
At that time, I'd have been about twenty-six. Miyamoto-san is five years older than me, so he'd have been thirty-one.
Iwata
I was twenty-four at the time. How about you, Tezuka-san?
Tezuka
Well, I was the new boy, aged twenty-three.
Iwata
We were so young, weren't we? (laughs)
All
(laughter)