Fit Meter Iwata Asks Outlines Panasonic Partnership and Moving Beyond Pedometers
Posted by Thomas Whitehead
Also highlights the game maker's lack of fitness
Wii Fit U's retail release is creeping closer — it hits stores in Europe and North America on 13th December — yet it's been available for over a month as a free trial. In a change from the Wii original that best reflects the stronger distribution options that the eShop gives Nintendo, the trial period has coincided with the release of the new Fit Meter, which can be purchased for less than the retail game and, ultimately, allows those with a balance board and hard drive space to pick up the new title for less.
The Fit Meter, which is supposed to be worn throughout the day and synchronises with Wii Fit U, is more than a simple pedometer, however. It measures activity intensity and altitude to more accurately reflect your level of exercise; yet Nintendo didn't produce the small piece of hardware on its own, but partnered up with the well-known Panasonic for the project.
This is outlined in a new Iwata Asks, in which Nintendo President Satoru Iwata was joined by the game's producer Tadashi Sugiyama, director Hiroshi Matsunaga, assistant director Yugo Hayashi as well as Nozomu Tooyama and Tadaharo Kitado from Panasonic. The process for producing the software that would accurately capture the data had the development partners working together closely, even if the Nintendo development team weren't the ideal test subjects for measuring activity.
Kitado: Well, first we worked on the programming, but testing that was very difficult.
Tooyama: We compared estimates for calories burned as calculated by the prototype we made, against calories burned measured by another method. We then made adjustments to close any gaps between the two methods to get the logic we had devised to work, but the experiments themselves were quite challenging.
Iwata: What kind of experiments?
Tooyama: We did things like wearing a special mask to measure the tester's breaths in order to determine how much carbon dioxide is exhaled in a short period of time and asking them to run on treadmills for a long time. We gathered lots of people and did repeated experiments.
Iwata: I suppose you would get different results depending on the age and gender of those who are participating, so you must have had to gather all sorts of people.
Tooyama: That's correct.
Iwata: I just remembered how people in the company said the development room smelled all sweaty when the team was working on Wii Fit. You were moving your bodies for measurements every day, so I thought development must have made you stay active.
Tooyama and Kitado: (looking at each other)
Iwata: Nothing to say? (laughs)
Kitado: Um, the developers carrying out the experiments are getting older too, so...
Kitado: To achieve more accurate data, you have to exercise with a certain intensity for a certain amount of time. But the problem was that the developers would get too tired and give up partway through, so we weren't able to get data for intense workouts. It was a lot of work! (laughs)
Iwata: I see, it takes continuous exercise of a certain intensity for a certain amount of time to get useful data, so you were like, "You're flagging, so start over!"
Kitado: Yeah! (laughs)
For those that have used a Fit Meter, similarities to the Pokéwalker are fairly evident, and it was confirmed that the display software was initially based on the accessory.
Matsunaga: We also asked for development of the Fit Meter software. The Pokéwalker was actually the basis for the Fit Meter, so at the same time, we thought about what to display on the LCD.
Iwata: Did you make it based on specifications written by Nintendo?
Hayashi: Yes. I explained to Panasonic specifications that I had collated, but at first I didn't know how to organize it and arranged it like it was specifications for a game. I caused them some trouble.
Iwata: In other words, Hayashi-san was an amateur in this field, so he made specs completely unlike those you would make at Panasonic. Did that confuse you?
Kitado: Well, we were, um...confused! (laughs)
Kitado: It may be a difference in corporate cultures, but once we draw up specs, we barely change them afterward. But I think Nintendo gradually polishes the product specs as development progressed.
Matsunaga and Hayashi: Right.
Iwata: Since you aren't used to that, it must have been hard when they asked you to change something you had assumed was set.
Kitado: Yes. That happened a lot.
Matsunaga and Hayashi: .... Right, sorry about that.
Iwata: Matsunaga-san and Hayashi-san have been smiling wryly and nodding quietly! (laughs)
And finally, this segment outlines the feature of placing two Fit Meters next to each other to compare activity levels. The conversation quickly degenerates into talking about Ani-METS (a MET is a measure of activity) and louder-than-normal laughs.
Tooyama: The biggest difference that I noticed was its presentation and form. The compatibility test feature that was added along the way was an idea that we would have never come up with ourselves, so I learned something new! (laughs)
Iwata: What kind of function is that?
Matsunaga: Placing two Fit Meter accessories facing one another to communicate would allow two users to see how compatible they are with each other. It compares the two users' activity patterns over the past 24 hours, and the more similar they are, the better a match they are for each other.
Iwata: Oh. People whose lifestyles exhibit similar patterns have greater affinity.
Matsunaga: Right. You're more likely to have the same pattern as a spouse or pet you walk every day, so your affinity goes up.
Tooyama: That part about the dog surprised me! You can put the Fit Meter on a dog, but having the units of dog activity be "Ani-METs!" (laughs) would never have occurred to us! (looks at Kitado-san) Right?
Kitado: Yeah. (laughs)
Iwata: You can't accurately measure calories burned for a dog, so we call those units AniMETs.
Matsunaga: Yeah. Some cooler ideas came up, but we decided on AniMETs because they were straightforward. (laughs)
Hayashi: That's right. They fit better.
Everyone: (after a silence, loud laughter)
Tooyama: I mean, at our company, we'd be like, "How do we get this okayed?" I mean...we're talking AniMETs here!
Kitado: That idea would never pass. (laughs)
Iwata: It's interesting how you each experienced culture shock. (laughs) But without this encounter, Wii Fit U would not have turned out this way, and the Fit Meter wouldn't have turned out to be that different from conventional activity meters already out on the market.
Have you made use of the Wii Fit Meter and download Wii Fit U offer yet? As always, we recommend checking out the whole Iwata Asks to learn more.