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Miitomo’s Potential! A Yoshio Sakamoto and Shigesato Itoi Interview Part 1

NintendObserverStory of the Mii characters. 

 

☆ NintendObs Weekly – Monday, June 27, 2016 – Sunday, July 3, 2016.

Miitomo

 

 

Miitomo

“Miitomo” is an application that uses Mii characters to let you socialize with your friends through answering questions.

The first smartphone application that Nintendo worked on was not an RPG or action game, but a communication tool.

We will show you a conversation between the producer of Miitomo, Yoshio Sakamoto, and Shigesato Itoi about this application that holds a mysterious charm and is full of possibilities.

Almost all of the Hobonichi staff members who registered for it as soon as it was released also participated as audience members, along with their Mii.

 

MiitomoYoshio Sakamoto

Yoshio Sakamoto, Producer, Entertainment Planning Development Department at Nintendo Corporation Ltd.

Born in 1959, Nara prefecture.

In addition to Miitomo, He has produced popular Nintendo game title series such as “Metroid,” “Rhythm Heaven” and “Wario Ware, Inc. Mega Microgame$!” 

 

 

 

 

MiitomoShigesato Itoi

Born in 1948 He presides over the “Hobo Nikkan Itoi Shinbun” (Hobonichi), a web site that he created in June 1998 and that is updated almost (hobo) daily (nichi).

He started his career as a copy writer in 1971.

After that, he worked on some of the most famous advertising campaigns in Japan, such as “Fushigi, Daisuki” (Strange, I love it) and “Oishi Seikatsu” (Delicious Life) for Saibu Department Store.

He has been active in a variety of creative fields, like song writing, essay writing, and game production.

In 1989 he released his first video game, “MOTHER.”

In 1994 he released the next title in the series, “MOTHER 2: Gigu no Gyakushu” (“Mother 2: Gyiyg Strikes Back!”, translated as “EarthBound” outside of Japan.)

In 2006, after the release of “MOTHER 3,” he stopped working on game development and since then he has been focusing all his efforts on “Hobonichi Nikkan Itoi Shinbun. In June 2016, he released the application “Dokonoko” for iOS. It is an app that brings together cats, dogs, and people.

 

This interview with Mr. Sakamoto was realized through Mr. Itoi’s close friendship with Mr. Iwata, the former global president of Nintendo. Mr. Iwata held the honorary title of “Cyber Director” at Hobonichi, and as a result the two companies have held a close bond for years.

 

Part 1: Avatar (Mii) Editor

 

Itoi:

Nice to meet you for the first time, I think?

 

Sakamoto:

Actually, we have met, but it’s been a while (laughs).

 

Itoi:

Oh, my apologies. When was it that we met?

 

Sakamoto:

Let’s see… there was a game called Nakayama Miho no Tokimeki High School (Miho Nakayama’s Heartbeat High School).

 

Itoi:

Ahh, yes! (laughs)

 

Miitomo

 

Sakamoto:

It came out quite a while ago. (Nakayama Miho no Tokimeki High School was a software title for the Family Computer Disk System. It was released in 1987). But when the decision was made to go forward with development, the president at the time, Hiroshi Yamauchi, told me that if I was going to work on that kind of game I should ask Mr. Itoi for his opinion. And you came all the way to Nintendo to visit.

I was in charge at the time.

 

Itoi:

You were in charge of that game!?

 

Sakamoto:

Yes. (laughs) Then, you told me a lot of your opinions, and at the end when we were done you said to me “actually… there’s this thing…”

 

Itoi:

That was “MOTHER (EarthBound Beginnings).”

 

Sakamoto;

Yes.

You showed me the plans for MOTHER.

 

Itoi:

That’s right, that’s right. At the time the name wasn’t “MOTHER”. We were using the provisional title “ESP1.”

 

Sakamoto:

Yes.

 

Miitomo

 

Itoi:

Yes, and that was the first time I went to Nintendo. Do you know why at the time Mr. Yamauchi told you to call me in?

 

Sakamoto:

No.

 

Itoi:

I heard this after the fact, but at the time there was a late-night show on TV called “11 PM” and it did a feature about games. I just happened to make an appearance, and I said something in defense of games. In the past people would stay stuff like “college students these days…” when they saw young people reading manga. But later manga was accepted by society. So I said that I thought that people are saying similar things about games right now, but that the situation is the same. Back then people were bashing games a lot more than they are now.

So, Mr. Yamauchi happened to see me saying that, and he said (doing an impression of Mr. Yamauchi) “that’s right!”

 

Sakamoto:

Wow… that is a good impression. (laughs)

 

Miitomo

 

Itoi:

So because of that I went to Nintendo. Oh yeah, that’s when we met. Wow, I’m getting caught up in my own reminiscing.

 

Sakamoto:

Hahahaha.

 

Itoi:

At the time wasn’t “Nakayama Miho no Tokimeki High School” one of the forerunners of games that used communication features?

 

Sakamoto:

Ahh, yes, it was a game that utilized communication features (laughs).

(Note: You could get game hints by calling the phone number that appeared in the game.)

 

Itoi:

And after that?

 

Sakamoto:

After that I participated in the wrap party for Mother 2. I was close with Hirokazu Tanaka (the person in charge of the music for Mother and Mother 2), or at least we hung out a lot. And at that party I happened to be with Mr. Tanaka when you came up to Mr. Tanaka and said “Hirokacchan!”, and at that time I was introduced to you and your wife.

 

Itoi:

Ahh, that day (laughs). I remember that party well. When we were making Mother 2, Mr. Iwata did something that he never did and asked if he could make a selfish request. When we asked what it was, he asked that after Mother 2 was done we invite our wives to the wrap party.

 

Sakamoto:

Ahh. (laughs)

 

Itoi:

My wife is kind of a homebody, so she doesn’t really go to places like that, but it was Mr. Iwata’s first selfish request, so I asked that she please come.

 

Both:

(laugh)

 

Sakamoto:

And because of that, I also got to meet your wife. At the time I was kind of full of myself and I had a dreadlocks-style hair do. And at the party, your wife complimented me by saying “your hair is very unique”, and even now I treasure that compliment. (laughs)

 

Miitomo

 

Itoi:

And after all that time we come to today.

 

Sakamoto:

Yes.

 

Itoi:

What have you been doing the time in between?

 

Sakamoto:

If you are asking what games I created, I worked on “Metroid,” “Famicom Tantei Club” (Famicom Detective Club), “Kaeru no Tame ni Kane wa Naru” (For Frog the Bell Tolls), and “Card Hero”… Then I was in charge of the title that is called the predecessor to “Miitomo,” “Tomodachi Collection.”

 

Itoi:

Yeah, I do see the flow from “Tomodachi Collection” to “Miitomo.” Were you also in the team that created Mii?

 

Sakamoto:

To describe this in order, at the time I was creating a game called “Tottoko Hamtaro: Tomodachi Daisakusen Dechu” (Hamtaro: The Great Friendship Plan). In that game you could talk to Hamtaro, and by registering you and your friends’ birthdays, you could figure out your match with other people and Hamtaro would tell you when it was someone’s birthday. It was a game that provided opportunities for communication through fortune telling.

 

Itoi:

Yes.

 

Sakamoto:

A little while after it was released, some women in the company expressed to me their opinion that this game for young girls could have wider appeal if it touched upon a wider range of life experiences that everyone could relate to. I also thought the same thing, and the thought stayed with me. After that I was in a team made up of all new people and we were relatively free to do what we wanted. So at that time I thought let’s try making a game like that, so we started working on a game called “Otona no Onna no Uranai Techo” (Women’s Fortune Telling Pocket Notebook).

 

Itoi:

“Otona no Onna no Uranai Techo” (Women’s Fortune Telling Pocket Notebook)… That title lays it on pretty thick…

 

Sakamoto:

That was the provisional title…

 

Itoi:

Ahh, yes, of course… So, what happened with “Otona no Onna no Uranai Techo?”

 

Miitomo

 

Sakamoto:

It didn’t go as planned. So the staff, who were stuck, started creating an Avatar (Mii) editor.

 

Itoi:

Oh. (laughs)

 

Sakamoto:

We thought it would be meaningless if the friend’s list used for fortune telling just listed names, so we thought of adding avatars (Mii). And that Avatar (Mii) editor turned out really well. At first you could not change the size or angle of the parts, but then when we made it so that you could freely adjust those things, we were able to make the avatars (Mii) that really looked like the original. When I created my own face with the editor, in one go (points to himself) this was the face I got.

 

Miitomo

 

Itoi:

The face looked like that?

 

Sakamoto:

Yeah, it did.

So I said “okay, we’re gonna make this!

 

Itoi:

You said we’re gonna make this! (laughs)

 

Sakamoto:

Yes.

 

Itoi:

And this becomes “Mii,” right?

 

Sakamoto:

Yes, though not right away.

 

Itoi:

Why was that? Even though you said “we’re gonna make this!”

 

Sakamoto:

Yeah, we could make avatars that looked really similar, and we kept making a variety of faces. And then we thought “what should we do with this?”

 

Itoi:

Hahahaha.

You didn’t know what to do with it?

 

Sakamoto:

Yes. So I wasn’t sure what to do, so I showed it to Mr. Iwata. “Mr. Iwata, isn’t this interesting” is what I said.

If I think about it now, I was acting like an excited little kid.

 

Itoi:

Hahahaha.

 

Sakamoto:

Then he said something like “Hmm…” like that. And then he said “This seems like something Mr. Miyamoto would be excited about.”

 

Itoi:

(Impression of Mr. Iwata) “Mr. Miyamoto had been thinking about something like this for a while.”

 

Sakamoto:

Yeah, yeah, like that. (laughs)

 

Itoi:

Actually, Mr. Miyamoto had been talking about it since before. That he wanted to create avatar (Mii) software.

 

Miitomo

 

Sakamoto:

Yes. So, we left that project to Mr. Iwata. And I had forgotten about it. Then, one day, all of a sudden I was called up. I went in nervous thinking that I had maybe done something wrong. But then I was told that they wanted to use the Mii (Avatar) editor in the Wii. Then the main members of the team joined the Wii Team in order to create the Mii Channel.

 

Itoi:

And that’s when we get to Mii.

 

Sakamoto:

Yes.

 

Itoi:

What happened with “Otona no Onna no Uranai Techo” (Women’s Fortune Telling Pocket Notebook)?

 

Sakamoto:

Well, if I had the chance I’d like to work on it again.

 

Both:

(laugh)

 

Sakamoto:

Well, but you can do something pretty similar in “Tomodachi Collection.”

 

Itoi:

I see.

So something that is only partly completed but that you think is really interesting, even though it is incomplete, afterwards will gradually be utilized in subsequent projects.

 

Sakamoto:

Yes, that’s right. I feel blessed that I have been given the chance to work like this.

 

Itoi:

It feels like the unfinished games are still around.

 

Sakamoto:

Yes, that’s right.

 

Source: Miitomo.

 

 

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