Some of the most important and enduring ideas have peculiar origins, starting out as projects with an entirely different goal than the end result. This seems to have been the case with Mii characters, with the original idea being perceived when working on a doomed project called "Otona no Onna no Uranai Techo" (Women's Fortune Telling Pocket Notebook).
This is explained in a rather fun article on the Miitomo website, which is a transcript of a chat between Shigesato Itoi (well known for the Mother series) and Yoshio Sakamoto, co-creator of the Metroid series and a prominent Nintendo producer with recent credits that include Tomodachi Life and Miitomo, with the latter being the main topic for the interview.
Sakamoto-san explained how the Mii avatar concept emerged, primarily as the Women's Fortune Telling Pocket Notebook project fell into problems.
Sakamoto: To describe this in order, at the time I was creating a game called "Tottoko Hamutaro: Tomodachi Daisakusen Dechu" (Hamtaro: The Great Friendship Plan). In that game you could talk to Hamtaro, and by registering you and your friends' birthdays, you could figure out your match with other people and Hamutaro would tell you when it was someone's birthday. It was a game that provided opportunities for communication through fortune telling.
Sakamoto: A little while after it was released, some women in the company expressed to me their opinion that this game for young girls could have wider appeal if it touched upon a wider range of life experiences that everyone could relate to. I also thought the same thing, and the thought stayed with me. After that I was in a team made up of all new people and we were relatively free to do what we wanted. So at that time I thought let's try making a game like that, so we started working on a game called "Otona no Onna no Uranai Techo" (Women's Fortune Telling Pocket Notebook).
Itoi: "Otona no Onna no Uranai Techo" (Women's Fortune Telling Pocket Notebook)... That title lays it on pretty thick...
Sakamoto: That was the provisional title...
Itoi: Ahh, yes, of course... So, what happened with "Otona no Onna no Uranai Techo"?
Sakamoto: It didn't go as planned. So the staff, who were stuck, started creating an Avatar (Mii) editor.
Itoi: Oh (laughs)
Sakamoto: We thought it would be meaningless if the friend's list used for fortune telling just listed names, so we thought of adding avatars (Mii). And that Avatar (Mii) editor turned out really well. At first you could not change the size or angle of the parts, but then when we made it so that you could freely adjust those things, we were able to make the avatars (Mii) that really looked like the original. When I created my own face with the editor, in one go (points to himself) this was the face I got.
Sakamoto-san took the idea to Satoru Iwata, and from there it was introduced to Shigeru Miyamoto. It was from these unexpected developments that Mii avatars started to come to life, which have gone on to be integral on Wii, 3DS, Wii U and now Miitomo.
Sakamoto: Yeah, we could make avatars that looked really similar, and we kept making a variety of faces. And then we thought "what should we do with this?".
Itoi: Hahahaha. You didn't know what to do with it?
Sakamoto: Yes So I wasn't sure what to do, so I showed it to Mr. Iwata. "Mr. Iwata, isn't this interesting" is what I said.
If I think about it now, I was acting like an excited little kid.
Sakamoto: Then he said something like "hmm.....", like that. And then he said "This seems like something Mr. Miyamoto would be excited about."
Itoi: (Impression of Mr. Iwata) "Mr. Miyamoto had been thinking about something like this for a while."
Sakamoto: Yeah, yeah, like that (laughs).
Itoi: Actually, Mr. Miyamoto had been talking about it since before. That he wanted to create avatar (Mii) software.
Sakamoto: Yes. So, we left that project to Mr. Iwata. And I had forgotten about it. Then, one day, all of a sudden I was called up. I went in nervous thinking that I had maybe done something wrong. But then I was told that they wanted to use the Mii (Avatar) editor in the Wii. Then the main members of the team joined the Wii Team in order to create the Mii Channel.
Sakamoto-san has had an interesting career at Nintendo, though it's perhaps this contribution to the history of Mii characters that represents his most important contribution in recent generations.
After all, Nintendo systems, accounts and apps with Mii characters are integral to the company's current day brand; how odd that it all began with a game loosely called "Women's Fortune Telling Pocket Notebook".