TIME recently spoke with Nintendo Director Shinya Takahashi and Switch Producer Yoshiaki Koizumi about the company's forthcoming hybrid mobile/TV games console. With its launch imminent (it arrives on March 3 for $299), both were focused on known details, but also spoke to philosophical issues surrounding Switch's inception, the console's life cycle, future connective possibilities and the system's place in the industry's fixation on pixel power.
Here's a lightly edited transcript of our conversation.
The inspiration for Switch dates to the 19th century
"Of course, Nintendo as a company is one that we've always put a tremendous amount of emphasis on playing together with others. Even going back to when we were making cards [starting with Nintendo's inception in 1889], playing cards for use with card games, those were geared towards playing with other people," says Koizumi.
"As we were talking about creating a system that you can take with you, the other thing that we felt we had to continue to place tremendous amount of emphasis on is this nature of playing with others. We felt it was important that we include two controllers with the system right out of the box because if you have a system that you can take with you anywhere and you have two controllers, you can hand the controller to somebody you know or even somebody you don't know and instantly be able to play right there."
"And so I think the story that we wanted to tell was this idea of bringing the system with you and sharing it with others. Switch has become the platform for telling that story."
Core gamers are just a part of the delivery system
"I think it's a little bit of both in terms of yes, we do hope that Nintendo fans will show the system to others, but we also have our own work to do to help convey the appeal of [launch title] 1-2-Switch to that broader audience and get them excited about the system as well," says Takahashi, to a question about the system initially being marketed to core gamers, who then in theory show it to a broader potential audience.
Switch is partly an experiment to address perceived cultural differences
"I think maybe there might be just some differences in perception around local play between Japan and the West," says Takahashi, reacting to a question about local play as official philosophy (for a company with a history of carefully avoiding official philosophies). "I think for us, it's really a much more natural thing. Partly, that's because particularly with things like DS and 3DS, kids in Japan, they walk to school together and they walk home from school together. You have a lot of opportunity for kids walking home and then playing together after school. They have more of these opportunities for face-to-face local play."
"Whereas I hear that in the U.S., there's maybe not as many of those opportunities on a daily basis for kids based on their schedules. I think for us, it's just more of a natural flow from even the days of the Famicom when you would sit down with two controllers and then hand one to your friend and play together in front of the TV. And with these other opportunities for kids, that for us the focus on local play just feels very natural."
Everything's on the table when it comes to Switch's life cycle
"It is Nintendo Switch, so maybe we'll switch it up!" jokes Takahashi, responding to a question about whether Switch's life cycle will resemble more the company's TV consoles (completely new ideas at five-year-plus intervals) or its handhelds (subtler changes every few years). "Certainly, we've designed Nintendo Switch in a way that it can be used by consumers in the way that best suits them. I think we may see that people who have bought a Nintendo home console in the past traditionally, they may treat Switch like a home console and buy it and use it for a long period of time."
"Whereas people who have been traditionally Nintendo handheld gamers, they may buy Nintendo Switch and then for example, if a new version were to come out later, then maybe they would decide to upgrade to that. Or, for example, because you can take the Joy-Con off the system, then I guess that leaves open the possibility of something else that might get attached. There's obviously a lot of different developments that we could look at from that perspective as well."
"We're hoping that Nintendo Switch will be a system that will be the constant in your gaming life," adds Koizumi. "Whereas previously, you would play certain things on your home system and certain things on your handheld. Our hope is that Nintendo Switch can be the system that bridges both of those and becomes the constant system that you're always using."
Koizumi envisions scenarios in which, say, you wake up in the morning and maybe find some time to play a game on your TV while eating breakfast. Then you bring Switch with you on your morning commute to work or to school. "And then you're coming back home on your commute and maybe you're sitting in the bath enjoying a game," he says. He believes that if Switch can achieve this, then it might hasten the demise of the split between a "home console" versus a "handheld."
"Certainly, I'm sure you're very busy and I'm very busy and maybe we don't have as much time to play games as we would like," continues Koizumi. "But my hope is that with Nintendo Switch being a system that you can play at home and bring with you, we're going to be able to find more of those moments where we're able to play the games that we all enjoy and be able to enjoy them that much more."
Switch is a potential hub for future peripherals or connective ideas
"Because you can remove the controllers from the system, it opens up a lot of possibilities for expansion of what you're able to do with the controllers or what you're able to connect to the system," says Koizumi. "I'm sure a lot of people have lots of different ideas about what might potentially get connected to the system, and perhaps suddenly one day, we'll just pop up and say, 'Hey, now there's this', though I can't give you any examples right now.'"
Takahashi and Koizumi wooed third-party developers personally
"The two of us have met with a large number of third-party developers directly and done our Nintendo Switch presentation to them face-to-face directly," says Koizumi. "There were many overseas developers who we presented the system too who were very happy to see it."
"We did a number of these presentations last year, and we were actually pretty nervous doing them, because we didn't know how the overseas developers were going to respond to it," adds Takahashi. "And in each presentation, one of the last things that we showed was 1-2-Switch [a Nintendo-developed party game that makes use of the removable controllers advanced "rumble" feedback and motion controls]."
Takahashi says 1-2-Switch turned out to be "the peak of their joy in playing the system," then adds "It's also funny to watch these middle-age guys dancing as they play."
Snipperclips is a glimpse of Nintendo's intent to make Switch easier for indies
"Snipperclips [a third-party game in which two players work side-by-side with the controllers to solve shape-cutting physics puzzles] is one that's very fun, and the interpersonal communication is a lot of fun," says Takahashi. "But it's also an example of some of the work that we've been doing upfront, as Mr. Koizumi mentioned, to get the development environment to a place where small teams like that can create the game for Nintendo Switch. Our hope is that we'll start to see more and more indie developers coming to Switch and preparing content for the system as well."
"That's a game that's being developed in Unity that's on pace to be available for launch of the system," adds Koizumi. "I think that with the tools being available earlier in the life cycle of the system, it's going to make it a lot easier for developers to create a variety of different games of varying scope for Switch."
Nintendo views Switch as the Gandalf of game consoles
Like a wizard (never late, nor early, but arriving precisely when intended), Nintendo views Switch as neither under or overpowered, but exactly what it needs to be to deliver the experience it hopes players want.
"You're asking this question to two individuals at Nintendo who come from an art background and the computer graphics background. We tend to be among the pushiest when it comes to graphics within the company," says Takahashi when asked if he thinks gaming's chase for ever-better graphics is waning. "That being said, as we mentioned before, at Nintendo we feel like we're an entertainment company rather than necessarily a games or a graphics company. Our priority is always on trying to create new and fun forms of entertainment. That's the top priority."
"Certainly, graphic quality falls somewhere within our priority, but our feeling is that Nintendo Switch is a system that really has the best balance of being able to create fun and new ways to play, but doing so with the graphic quality that's still good enough while also being one that's easy to develop for."
"Graphics and frame rate are important in terms of how you're connecting with or how you're moving the heart of the player who's immersed in that world," adds Koizumi. "Nintendo Switch also has something else that can connect with that player in the form of the HD Rumble, where you can be immersed in that world, but you can actually feel in your hands the sensation of something in that world that you haven't been able to feel before that adds a new layer of immersion to go along with the graphics and the frame rate."
"I think when you start to look at the total package of tools that Nintendo Switch has to help bring those worlds to life, I think you'll find that it has some unique ways to connect with you as a player and move you in ways that you haven't necessarily experienced before."