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Yokoi remembers Nintendo's struggle to understand his Game Boy

In an interview from '97 newly translated and published by Shmuplations, Gunpei Yokoi shares some intriguing opinions on his approach to game design and the state of console games in the '90s.

Alex Wawro

July 8, 2015

2 Min Read

"The technology was there to do color. But I wanted us to do black and white anyway...Once you start playing the game, the colors aren’t important. You get drawn, mentally, into the world of the game."

- Famed Nintendo engineer Gunpei Yokoi discusses the philosophy underpinning his design of the Game Boy.

Game Boy creator Gunpei Yokoi is famous for his "Lateral Thinking With Withered Technology" approach to design, and in an interview from 1997 newly translated and published by Shmuplations the former Nintendo exec shares some intriguing opinions on his approach to game design and the state of console game development in the '90s.

"There’s a huge variety of console games out now, but to me, the majority of them aren’t actually 'games'," said Yokoi, speaking in 1997 (shortly before his untimely death) to MuuMuu's Yukihito Morikawa. "The word 'game' means something competitive, where you can win or you can lose. When I look at recent games, I see that quality has been declining, and what I’m seeing more and more of are games that want to give you the experience of a short story or a movie."

Yokoi was at that point in his mid-50s, and he goes on to acknowledge to Morikawa that perhaps the games he most enjoys simply aren't in vogue. He also digs into how this line of thought influenced his design of the Game Boy, a monochromatic system that Nintendo initially balked at producing.

"it was difficult to get Nintendo to understand. Partly, I used my status in the company to push them into it," said Yokoi, with a laugh. "After we released the Game Boy, one of my staff came to me with a grim expression on his face: 'There’s a new handheld on the market similar to ours…' The first thing I asked was: 'Is it a color screen, or monochrome?' He told me it was color, and I reassured him, 'Then we’re fine.'"

The full translated interview (originally sourced from the GSLA, an archive of old Japanese interviews) with Yokoi is well worth your time to read -- check it out over on Shmuplations for more insight into the Game Boy's development, Yokoi's approach to game design ("I think about what kind of movement would be fun") and his thoughts on leaving Nintendo to launch his own company, Koto.

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