The Game Boy was a pivotal moment in Nintendo's history, establishing near-complete dominance over the portable gaming market that still persists to this day somewhat. Part of the appeal of the Game Boy was offering a largely console-esque game experience on the go, and its usually attributed to the talented mind of Gunpei Yokoi. Recent reports, however, suggest that things could've turne out much differently had Yokoi gotten his way.
Satoru Okada—a former Nintendo employee who was the head of R&D1—recently talked with Retro Gamer Magazine and reflected on his time with Nintendo. When discussing the game boy, he explained that the original concept was to have it be a Game & Watch-like device, with no third-party developers and cheap, simple games. Were it not for Okada's adamant assertion that they flesh it out more, the Game Boy we know and love would never have happened. Here's what he said:
When was young, I was rather stubborn and often became angry at my superiors when was trying to defend my ideas. The best example of this was the Game Boy. The Game Boy you know today actually had nothing to do with the one Yokoi had in mind. He saw the Game Boy as a direct follow-on from the Game & Watch, which meant a rather cheap toy, without any real business model and no long-term ambition. To give you a clear comparison, Yokoi wanted a Game Boy that would have looked like the Microvision and would not have lasted more than one or two seasons. For instance, he did not care if there were third-party editors or not. Furthermore, he only wanted 'quick games', quickly completed and quickly forgotten. I wanted the Game Boy to have more ambition, closer to what the R&D2 had managed to with the Famicom: a machine built to last, with hardware that was good enough to play a variety of quality titles. I was the assistant director of R&D1 and we had many arguments over this. In the end, he gave in and angrily told me: 'Okay, do what you want!' l then asked him: 'Fine! But are you givng me full responsibility?' and since he said 'yes', I made the Game Boy project my own. Yokoi just gave his seal of approval. In the end, the Game Boy is much more similar to the Famicom than the Game & Watch. The hardware was good enough to offer a wide range of games and we were ready to welcome third-party editors, with a real development kit, instruction booklets, some real support, etc..
What do you think? Would Nintendo still have dominated the portable market if it went down this route? What's your favorite Game Boy game? Share your thoughts in the comments below.
It's crazy to think my childhood system was going to be a short lived project that would soon be forgotten about. Thank you Okada for you input! Thanks to the Gameboy, we got new franchises like Pokémon and Kirby, and amazing Mario & Zelda games on the go. Not to mention the later iterations, GB Color & Advance!
Huh, assuming this is true, Gunpei Yokoi got the credit for another man's work!
In the interview he says that Hiroshi Yamauchi himself suggested the dual screens for the GBA successor! And that the team, including Iwata, thought at first that it didn't make sense!! Iwata got the credit for this "bold innovation".
Links Awakening and Super Mario Land were turning points for me. They are both strong foundations in my love for games.
Exploring a Zelda game world for the first time is a truly wonderful thing. Mine just happened to be one of the best in the series
Why does Gunpei Yokoi always get so much credit?
@Moshugan I kind of read it that way, too. Yokoi is known as the "Father of the Game Boy" and assuming this is true, its winning design was someone else's idea.
@samuelvictor Well thanks for the Game Boy, then
Few inventions have One True Father™. Just how inspiration tends to work out. As well, there's always more names that shaped history that we ever get to hear.
I've many fond memories of the Gameboy. This year I've been on a bit of a binge, finishing off a lot of unfinished Gameboy games in my library. Just need to finish off Kid Icarus and I'm done.
The first games I completed were Turtles Fall of the Foot Clan and Super Mario Land. Double Dragon 2 was the best side scrolling beat em up. GhostBusters 2, The Simpsons escape from camp deadly I think it was called. Radar mission. Many great games. I'm sure I'll remember more later.
Unbelievable, IMO the Gameboy era (from beige brick to advance) were the golden age of portable gaming, nothing against the DS and 3DS, but i have a soft spot for the 8- and 16-bit games.
And to then read that Nintendo had to be persuaded to do anything with it, what would portable gaming be like without the gameboy?
@MysticX I dare question if even mobile phones would necessarily have games nowadays in that alternate reality.
Drama inside Nintendo HQ. I think a lot of project's are like this. You start out with an idea, but that vision can change as the project matures.
He seems slightly bitter about the whole thing, which to be fair he probably has a right to be if his story is true. Interesting that stories like this can pop up 25+ years later
I thought that as well. Well maybe not bitter, but like; not a team player and thinks he deserves more credit. I seen it all my life.
@Moshugan To be fair you can have a golden idea but making a good idea a reality is the hard part. The key part of the DS success was the touch screen, not just the two screens.
I think everyone involved deserves atleast some credit even if they disagreed on a point. Like Yokoi is still deserving credit for the Gameboy even if his original vision was different to what made it a success.
i would take this with a pinch of salt, the japanese are extraordinarily good at stabbing their work colleagues in the back in order to gain personal recognition (deserved or otherwise), its pretty much part of their business culture. Granted a lot of time has passed but there seems to be quite a lot of bitterness here.
@nhSnork I'm sure some form of mobile games would exist by now, but all pre-mobile dedicated portable gaming systems were either by Nintendo or other companies trying to get a bit of the market, a market that wouldn't have been there if it wasn't for the Gameboy... ~_~
@NintyFan Yeah, and that was especually true when Yamauchi was the head. I read somewhere that he purposely put Nintendo's several teams in competition so they could come up with better games and ideas faster.
@Mart1ndo Nobody likes to be a team player when another man takes credit for your work. I've seen it all my life.
@G-Boy It may have something to do with the fact that Yokoi was a prominent figure during his time at Nintendo. But, as always, there's always a team behind the best ideas.
I wonder who takes credit when something flops? Do they just blame Reggie? Is this why his 'body is ready'?
It's crazy to think that so many huge historical events & products could have been completely different if not for random chance. Presidents may never have made office, countries could have fallen & games may have never happened all on the roll of a die.
As someone who is predominantly into handheld & mobile gaming nowadays, I am unquestionably in this man's debt whether he is credited or not. It's easy to say "we would have got mobile games anyway"... but we don't know. There are a lot of things that should have "obviously happened" that didn't.
I'm only 20 years old so I never played the original GameBoy. I just remember having great experiences with my old GameBoy Color and eventually my GBA. Nintendo portables have consistently been solid so it's not a big deal as long as I go back to some original games.
Never played a gameboy but I'm very glad this guy started paving the road to make handhelds a viable gaming experience.
Some of the best games I ever played came on the GB family line. Golden Sun, Kirby, MM Zero, Legend of Zelda, Konami Krazy Racers, Spyro Eternal Night, Pokemon. Glad he stuck it out.
@DanteSolablood Well, i think it's a given that when looking at a modern mobile phone there would always be somebody saying "You know, i think you could play games on this too!", but where dedicated portable consoles would be is the big mystery...
On the next episode of DYKG...
That Game Boy in the picture needs a good cleaning.
@MysticX You say that, but if you look at early mobile gaming it found it's start in the wildly unsuccessful Nokia nGage & evolved from there (before the nGage which gave us Sonic & Tomb Raider, Snake was the most ambitious mobile game). The nGage was pretty much a Gameboy with a phone wedged in.
Also, it's false logic to think that because something is "obvious" it would have happened. Japan was decades ahead of the West in technology before the cultures mixed & had come up with rockets, metals and medicines far ahead of the West. But they hadn't discovered glass. No glass windows, no glass doors, spectacles, beakers etc. It should have been obvious that a culture decades ahead of the west would not have missed the discovery of glass for a thousand years or so. But it happened.
Lots of things coming to light about some of our gaming heroes. Seems like we have to thank the "little guys" a lot more for making gaming what it is now.
We all tend to give Nintendo too much credit. Yes they deserve it for making portable gaming popular in a relatively short amount of time, however even if they don't do it someone else will. It MIGHT HAVE taken longer to take root, but portable gaming likely still would've existed the way we know it now.
Really hoping Nintendo releases a Game Boy Classic/Mini. The original grey brick version but backlit or some kind of Kindle-like screen.
This might be true. It also might very well not be, and this guy might just be making stuff up to make himself look good. Yokoi won't be arguing with him. :/
@AVahne I appreciate the "might have".
Sounds like Yokoi secretly worked in Taiwan for a time to realise his true vision: the Gamate.
"...over the portable gaming market that still persists to this day somewhat."
Love the backhanded compliment.
@NinChocolate "you can accomplish a great if you don't care who gets the credit."
Making Game & Watch-esque games into the '90s?
Did Yokoi think he worked for Tiger Electronics?
That would've been a bad move, especially with Lynx released the same year.
Dead man tell no tales. Like a drama queen Yokoi angrily said whatever, you do what you want, I'm going to run away and cry because you yelled at me, and collect a pay check.
That's how it comes off to me. Not very believable.
As people say; there's no I in team. There's no F in duck either.
But there is a "me" if you rearrange the letters.
It's not generally like Japanese businessmen to be so individualistic. If this story is true, we got lucky, as someone with enough balls to speak up and say something seems pretty rare in business over there.
You know the more story I hear about the Game Boy and Gunpei Yokoi from associates of Nintendo, the more I started to see connection of why Yokoi got killed.
Wow. Who knows if Nintendo would have ever taken the handheld market seriously if it weren't for the GB. The gaming landscape as a whole could look entirely different!
I wonder how long the GameBoy would last if it had rechargable batteries. I love the New 3DS, but imagine playing a GameBoy with today's tech. That mono screen would probably give you weeks of gaming.
@NTELLIGENTMAN Well the Game Boy Advance SP does have a rechargeable battery. In fact it's the first Game Boy unit to ditch the commercial Alkaline batteries of old for the new rechargeable Lithium-ion battery. It's also the first Game Boy to borrow the clamshell design from its older brother the Game and Watch not to mention the first to use a true backlit screen rather then the dim lit version of the Game Boy Light. If the original Game Boy had a backlit screen, it'll probably run through 10-12 hours of play time but with the lights off it could be longer.
I'll be sure to pick up this issue of Retro Gamer, to cross check with previous accounts like Game Over by David Sheff.
What this interview does not tell you is that it was Hiroshi Yamauchi's idea to create the original 3 R&D groups, pitting each group's teams against each other to create different hardware concepts. However, many other ideas had been scrapped, since they all had to pass Yamauchi's judgement- months of work could be tossed out with a single word and a scowl. Basically, it was an autocratic system. (In other words, if this interview's story is true, then Yokoi's idea described here was among the many scrapped ones.)
Satoru Okada was a team leader of about thirty engineers and fifteen other designers and programmers in R&D1. They were the team that won the competition to create a successful portable console project. It has been chronicled for years now, including in David Sheff's Game Over, that the R&D 1 team, not Yokoi alone, created the Game Boy.
The attribution of the Game Boy only to Yokoi is the result of repeatedly mistaken reporting by gaming publications. However, for some reason, Okada's identity was intentionally kept a mystery from outsiders. It would have been interesting to hear Okada elaborate upon why he was publicly described at the time as a "nazonoyona," an enigma. (Perhaps to prevent employee poaching?)
That's not all that Okada and his team at R&D 1 were responsible for, either- they also created ROB and the Zapper gun for the NES. In addition to creating the Game Boy, they also helped make the NES/Famicom a success outside of Japan, by making the hardware for ROB and Duck Hunt a reality. So yeah, Okada's team is definitely an unsung group of heroes... Or "samurai," as one outside colleague referred to them as.
@retro_player_22 Nope, that line of things like Yakuza conspiracy theories are false. According to one of Yokoi's employees in the book Nintendo Magic (a great addition to the details missed by Game Over), Yokoi was planning to leave Nintendo at age 50. (If he had left then, it would have been in 1991, soon after the SNES was released.) He was kept on until age 54 due to Yamauchi's insistence. They were trying to keep Yokoi, not off him. He didn't leave due to the Virtual Boy's failure, as the story has often been mistakenly told.
The location of Yokoi's death was an expressway. It wasn't a crossing that would be easily accessible to multiple drivers for a planned hit. After getting into a minor accident, Yokoi got out of the car with Esuo Kiso, a former Nintendo executive he was driving with, to check the damage/exchange insurance info/whatever. Soon afterwards, two more drivers coming down the expressway weren't able to stop in time before their collision. It would be like stopping on a beltway, and expecting not to get hit. So Yokoi just wasn't wary enough of traffic after the minor accident.
@samuelvictor I had a similar idea as a child. I could never afford all the Game & Watches I wanted so I thought it would be much better if Nintendo made a single device where the top and bottom screens could be removed and new ones plugged in to play different games.
At that age the idea of a dot matrix screen didn't occur to me, so I was locked into the mindset of the fixed layouts of the G&W screens!
Handheld as a short term project that is quickly forgotten after a couple of years? Sounds like just about every Sony handheld...ZING!
But in all seriousness, it's interesting to hear how this came about. A cartridge based handheld just seems so logical after the way the Famicom/NES took off but it seems no one thought it was viable except this guy.
Easy enough claim to make when the other party in the discussion is deceased and can't give their side of the story.
If you are saying "Mobile gaming" is actually cell enabled consoles then perhaps but actual mobile gaming started much earlier in the 1970's and 80's.
I would disagree. The touch screen certainly was a big part of it but the dual screens enabled a wider variety of software titles to be developed for the system and are still used today on current systems.
@DanteSolablood That's not true - you had Nokia n60 etc before nGage with NES and GB emulation along with JAVA titles (which is the same as nGage.)
Mobile gaming had developed past 2D and into early 3D such as Carmageddon Mobile before nGage!
@aros2k It's a little while since that post so I can't exactly defend what I meant at the time.. but considering that even early 3300s had snake, I was probably concentrating on mobile/cell hardware specifically built with gaming in mind.
Early ROMs were fun, but would never really be considered a rival to handheld gaming.. but then neither was the nGage.
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