The Game Boy Gaijin
The Game Boy Gaijin
Before Entertainment Analysis and Development (EAD) became Shigeru Miyamoto's playground and, as such, became Nintendo's flagship internal development house, all of your favorite NES games were made by a not-so-originally-named Nintendo Research and Development 1 (NR&D1). From Metroid to Kid Icarus to The Legend of Zelda, it was all thought up and executed there. But this small subsidiary didn't just program software; no, they also designed hardware. And in 1989, they released their masterpiece, headed up by our old friend Gunpei Yokoi: the Game Boy.
Featuring an 8-Bit processor and four shades of gray, it wasn't much to look at, but its smart design and killer applications (some would say that Metroid II: The Return of Samus is one of the best handheld games ever released) made it a hit among audiences the world over. Even in a small English independent gaming studio...
Jez San and the Argonauts
While the American gaming industry was ruled by the likes of Atari and Coleco in the early 80's, Europe was PC-Land, where Amiga Computers was the only way to go. And because it featured limited programming utensils (BASIC, essentially), a strong homebrew community sprung up. This let's-make-it-work attitude is what prompted teenager Jez San to drop out of high school and form his own game development studio, called Argonaut (a play on words from the movie, Jason and the Argonauts.
One thing that must be said from the get-go is that Argonaut is about as different from Nintendo as it gets. Their design philosophy was to build astounding development technology, and then wrap a mediocre concept around it, rather than thinking up creative gameplay and using the technology only to the point of what was needed. This yielded small games; Skyline Attack on the C-64 and their signature title, Starglider, on the Amiga.
However, even with their tech-focused logic, they were still quite significant, if only for the fact that they could make 3D run on anything. So when the Game Boy was released, Jez San held it up in front of the crew and said, "Well, let's give it a shot, then."
Secretly, San took the design for this untitled project to the Consumer Electronics Show, and somehow managed to get Nintendo of America's attention. Stunned by their technical achievement, Jez and the gang were almost immediately flown to Kyoto to meet Hiroshi Yamauchi...
Let's Call it "X"
Just as Nintendo of America was at CES, Yamauchi was quite fascinated with Argonauts game, and, almost immediately, commissioned it for release. With a title screen in four-tones, even though it was 3D didn't make it very nice to look at, but Yamauchi knew it'd sell regardless. It just needed a name. Originally, was to be named after Argonaut's previous success, Starglider, but Hiroshi had a penchant for coming up with ideas at the middle of the night, and this time was no different. After waking up from a dream, Yamauchi made the call: the game was going to be called "X."
Argonaut and Nintendo grew close during this time, and so Yamauchi decided to break his personal taboo and work with foreigners, with gaijin, on hardware. He unveiled Nintendo's newest family member, the Super Famicom.
Now, before I end this chapter, I'd like to discuss why this is important. Hiroshi Yamauchi, growing up during World War II and seeing the horrors of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, was what you might call a Nationalist and wasn't very fond of foreign countries. In fact, he never once came to the United States; he always sent a representative for NCL - he would often refuse to speak English. So you have to understand that for the man to show reverence to gaijin, let alone young gaijin, they must have really impressed him.
Sadly, this sort of thing didn't happen often. With the exception of a few select studios like Rare, Silicon Knights, and Retro, Nintendo didn't often accept foreign studios into its bosom, which has always been part of the problem. The secret to success has always been balance, and because Hiroshi would rarely accept Western influence into his company, they were always somewhat alienated in other territories. And when the N64 didn't live up the hype, it caught up with him.
Now, with that out of the way, I hope you enjoyed this entry. Come back next time, eh?