Interview with Game Boy Micro developer Kenichi Sugino
UPDATE: This is the complete interview.
The Game Boy Micro is currently under frenzied development, with a view to an Autumn release, but there has been surprisingly little information made available. So, we interviewed the developer about the Micro's current stage of development, its original concept, and we got lots of previously unreleased information. Take a look!
Kenichi Sugino joined Nintendo the year the original Game Boy was released, and has been involved with the development of every portable console release by Nintendo since.
Famitsu: First of all, please tell us the idea behind the development of the Micro.
Sugino: The theme was "Can we make it smaller and lighter than the Game Boy Advance?" In making a GBA that was more portable than the SP and of a higher build quality, we wanted to have people who had stopped playing games, or had never played them in the first place, to enjoy games again. Of course, we are also aiming for customers who have already played on the GBA and SP. We want lots of people to think "This is something I want to touch", so we've taken care in many areas [with the design].
Famitsu: Can you tell us exactly what you mean by that?
Sugino: When you make the system smaller, it becomes more portable, right? But you can't just shrink the size. We wanted to think carefully about the feeling you get the moment you pick it up, so we used aluminium -- not just to make it smaller, but as a vital part of making different versions of the unit. Also, by changing the faceplates you get a very different look, even though the unit colour is the same, and I think that's a very important point.
Famitsu: It's certainly great to be able to change the faceplate to one's preferred design.
Sugino: Well, the faceplates also have another important function besides allowing the user to change the look of the unit.
Famitsu: What's that?
Sugino:Well, the SP closes shut and protects the screen, but (and this is a huge point) the Micro is not a clamshell design, so it will be easier to damage the screen. Of course, the faceplates are made to be scratch-resistant, but it isn't possible to keep them completely scratch-free. So you can change the plates [if they get scratched].
Not only that, but it's more fun to be able to change the pattern to something different than what it was when you bought the system.
Also, we're considering including a carrying case with the Micro in order to prevent damage to the unit as much as possible.
Famitsu: There must be many benefits in using aluminium.
Sugino: If we were justing making the Game Boy smaller and lighter, other metals would work just as well, for example magnesium. But aluminium was best suited to increasing the quality feeling of the product, and for producing colour variations and other improvements... as befits the original concept for the unit.
In the previous GBA generations we've been limited to painting the unit and the buttons different colours, which was disappointing for us, but in keeping with the idea of a high class unit, we've been able to make it easier tp produce different variations. This has increased the cost, but we can do many things we couldn't before.
Famitsu: So the concept is different from previous portable consoles.
Sugino: That's right. We're attaching great importance to making people want to own this device. That will be reflected in the difference in cost compared to the Game Boy Advance series...
Famitsu: Can you mention any other differences between the Micro and the previous offerings in the GBA series? For example, the fact that the lettering on the A and B buttons is in small letters.
Sugino: We decided to change to small letters for design considerations. We used rubber switch buttons. [n.b.: also used in the GBA.] Incidentally, the SP used tact switch buttons. We tried out both kinds, but at this size of unit the rubber switches were somewhat easier to use.
There are other differences apart from the buttons, such as the fact that there is no power light. When you switch on the Game Boy Micro, the Start and Select buttons light up blue momentarily, and when the battery is running low they will glow red continuously. So these buttons carry out the functions of a power light.
Famitsu: Is that so! Do they only turn blue when turning the unit on?
Sugino: Yes. We had considered having them constantly lit up while the unit was on, but that would run the battery down.
Famitsu: Speaking of battery-related issues, will the power adapter be proprietary for the Micro? The socket has gotten smaller...
Sugino: Yes, it's Micro-only. As with the SP, the battery is removable, which has a great effect on the environmental friendliness of the unit. Nintendo consoles are kind to the Earth (laugh).
Famitsu: I see (laugh). The built-in backlight is a great feature, and makes games very easy to see.
Sugino: Thank you. The backlight has four brightness levels.
Famitsu: That's convenient. Is the LCD the same as the one in the GBA?
Sugino: It's the same as previous GBA series LCDs, but smaller and more dense.
Famitsu: You can still read text on the smaller screen, and it's just so bright!
Sugino: We spent a lot of time wondering how small we could make the screen as well as the whole unit. For one thing, the cartridge size is already set. We would have liked to make thinner cartridges, but we can't start making new ones that only work with the Micro. It was a lot of work to make it mini-sized while taking advantage of the fact that players already own many GBA games.
The details were difficult too, like folding the cartridge slot towards the inner side so as to avoid finger injuries [see note below]. It's important to consider safety issues like these when making the hardware so small.
Famitsu: We've been shown many variations on the hardware colours and faceplate designs. Have any of these been confirmed for release?
Sugino: No, the ones shown were designed independently by members of my development staff. For instance, a young staff member made the hanafuda [see note below] faceplate without my knowledge.
Sugino: Yes, he brought it to a senior developer and said "I made this, what do you think?". The response was something like, "Hmm... cool!" (laugh).
The hardware variations you've seen were also designed by my team, and we're currently studying which of these and other, as yet unannounced variations to release.
Famitsu: The feel of the unit will differ from person to person, but it certainly looks set to divide opinion
Please give us a final message.
Please give us a final message.
Hanafuda [lit. "flower cards"] are traditional Japanese playing cards. Nintendo was originally a hanafuda company. You can see the Game Boy Micro hanafuda faceplate prototypes at Engadget.
Without being able to see an actual Game Boy Micro up close, I can't be sure what Mr Sugino means by "folding the cartridge slot towards the inner side". When more details become clear, it may turn out that fold was not the right sense of the Japanese verb he used. If anyone has any ideas on what this might mean, please post a comment. His original Japanese statement was 内側に折り曲げる.