SAN FRANCISCO--In a keynote address short on news, Nintendo president Satoru Iwata revved up a packed Game Developers Conference house here Wednesday morning with tales of the company's design strategies.
Nintendo had been mum in advance of the speech, leaving many in attendance hoping that the company would announce something big, along the lines of a hot new game or even a piece of new hardware. In the end, though, Iwata's revelations were limited to three new games and a new storage infrastructure for the Wii virtual console.
The games included Rhythm Heaven, an American version of a rhythm game for the Nintendo DS that Iwata said had already sold 1.7 million copies in Japan. The company got the capacity crowd excited by giving everyone in attendance a copy of the new title.
In addition, Nintendo will also be releasing a new Wii Ware game called Rock 'n Roll Climber that lets players use their Wii controllers and a Wii Balance Board to simulate the motions of climbing a rock wall. The rock and roll element seems to come into play only in the sense that when they complete a wall, players get to pick up a digital guitar and shred for a moment or two.
The last game Nintendo unveiled during the keynote was a new Zelda title for the DS called The Legend of Zelda: Spirit Tracks. It should be out later this year, Iwata said.
Finally, Iwata said that Nintendo has released Virtual Console Arcade, a selection of arcade classics, as well as a series of Final Fantasy titles for Wii Ware: My Life as a Darklord: Final Fantasy Chronicles; Final Fantasy IV: The After Years; and the original Final Fantasy, for Virtual Console.
And the last piece of news of any note from the speech was an announcement of the Wii System Menu 4.0, an upgrade to the existing Wii Ware menu structure that also features the ability to save on and load games directly from high-capacity SD cards, which should be able to store up to 240 titles each.
At the beginning of his address, Iwata said that worldwide Wii sales have now exceeded 50 million units, making the hit console the fastest-selling video game device in history. Further, the DS has now sold 100 million units worldwide.
It was clear that many in the audience were hoping for more. However, there was also an unmistakable love affair between the thousands of developers on hand Wednesday and the Nintendo president, who, in a classy gesture, thanked them for their hard work supporting Nintendo over the years.
Most of Iwata's talk revolved around a summary of the design philosophies of legendary Nintendo game maker Shigeru Miyamoto. Those, boiled down to bullet points, Iwata explained, are personal communications, a prototype stage, the use of small teams, simultaneous work on multiple projects, an acceptance of trial and error, and finally a mass production stage.
Iwata joked that it's well-known that Miyamoto's games usually stem from his personal hobbies. For example, Iwata said, when Miyamoto got a dog, the hit game Nintendogs soon followed. Similarly, his interest in gardening led to the sleeper hit Pikmin. And Miyamoto's devotion to exercise directly contributed to the creation of the massively successful Wii Fit.
Alluding to non-disclosure agreements that are common in the games industry, as well as in many others, Iwata joked, "I have asked (Miyamoto) to stop talking about his hobbies when he's not at work."
Iwata also talked about a perception that Nintendo's deep pockets create an unfair playing field for third-party developers making games for the Wii or the DS. He said that while the company acknowledges the issue, he thinks that third parties have amply demonstrated their ability to succeed on the platforms. For example, he said, 75 third-party Wii games from seven publishers have sold in excess of 1 million copies.
And that said, he urged the developers in the room to keep on doing what they've been doing.
"The future of video games is in your hands," Iwata said. "And I cannot wait for you to show us your surprises."