In celebration of HAL Laboratory's 40th anniversary, Famitsu recently sat down with HAL Laboratory president, Kawase Shigefumi.
Surrounded by familiar sights and sounds in the Kirby Café, President Kawase shared his thoughts on the history and future of the beloved game developer. First credited in Pokémon Stadium for Technical Support, President Kawase has helped build the modern HAL brand we all know and enjoy today.
As this feature was exclusive to the Japanese publication, we've gone ahead and provided a full translation of the interview for Nintendo Life readers.
President Kawase's thoughts on HAL Laboratory's 40th Anniversary
Famitsu: Congratulations on HAL Laboratory’s 40th anniversary. Could you walk us through the journey HAL has taken over these years?
Kawase: Within forty years, a child is born and then a grandchild is born next. During this time, we are sincerely pleased to report that HAL has continued with the strong support of each of our fans, despite being caught up in the hardships of the gaming industry.
Famitsu: HAL Laboratory has released a number of games over the course of the past 40 years, but this celebration illustration features an all-star lineup of games created by HAL Laboratory.
Kawase: I heard that the staff who drew the illustrations this time was a good mix of both veterans and young people, and they drew with excitement, saying "I had this title!" While it's also our company's culture, there are many staff who simply want to take the initiative in doing interesting and creative things. After this project was planned, many people gathered with the mentality of "let’s do it," and we proceeded with that motivation.
Famitsu: How would you describe the corporate culture of HAL Laboratory, as you just mentioned?
Kawase: HAL Laboratory is a company where everyone is a creator and strives to create content. Beyond the game development staff, I also feel that all behind-the-scenes staff who do not directly create content are also creators. First, if we, the creators, can have fun, work, and create interesting things, we can be happy. And if you can deliver those elements in a product, customers will also be happy. In other words, HAL Laboratory has a company culture that is very fond of creating something interesting and new to make people happy. This is also linked to our corporate philosophy of "creations that lead to happy customers and happy employees, too."
Famitsu: Earlier you had mentioned hardships in the gaming industry, and in fact, there was a time when HAL Laboratory may have closed in 1992.
Kawase: Although I hadn't yet joined the company, I think it was a turning point for HAL Laboratory. After that, Mr. Iwata, who became president and CEO of HAL Laboratory, advocated for the current corporate philosophy and grew HAL Laboratory into a company that could make more and more fun games.
Famitsu: That's the event that pivoted HAL Laboratory toward its current success.
Kawase: Of course, even before that, HAL Laboratory was always a company with a strong vision of “creating interesting things." However, it was Mr. Iwata who made the philosophy more distinct and clear.
Famitsu: One could attribute HAL Laboratory’s ability to celebrate its 40th anniversary because you have kept that philosophy for such a long time. How did company policy change after you became president?
Kawase: I didn’t implement any major changes in company policy simply because I became the president. That said, I've been in game development for a long time, so I still have the mind of a creator. From that perspective, I would like to improve the company from various angles, such as our internal system and the environment of the development department, so that creators can work more easily and focus on creating even more interesting things.
President Kawase's Thoughts on the Future of HAL Laboratory
Famitsu: Please share your thoughts on the future of HAL Laboratory.
Kawase: I believe being able to create is something that is simultaneously rewarding and difficult. It is an indescribable feeling when we deliver interesting and unique experiences to our customers and make them happy. I would like to continue to lead a company where creators who want to make such experiences can gather and make even more interesting experiences for a long time to come.
At HAL Laboratory, we believe the game industry is at a major turning point. It is impossible to know in which direction the industry will change in the future. Perhaps the future will be one where AI both announce and develop games on behalf of humans. However, creators will always create content. For a long time, HAL Labs has had the idea of having machines do what they are capable of and allowing humans to do things that only we have the ability to do. Therefore, even if such a future comes, I think that HAL Labs will be a company that will make good use of AI and exhibit creative power that surpasses the development potential of AI alone.
Famitsu: I see. So, no matter how the landscape of the industry changes in the future, the vision of HAL Laboratory will not change.
Kawase: Indeed. This approach will be important. You see, the time and money required to develop video game software is always increasing. I don’t think this will change any time soon, and so, in addition to making big budget games, we have to make a conscious effort to develop interesting experiences. We do this by relying on the wisdom we have acquired over the past 40 years. Such development is not simply accomplished overnight. I want to plant the seeds of these future opportunities and encourage the growth of budding ideas as they blossom into entirely new experiences.
Famitsu: Is HAL Egg a part of that new branding?
Kawase: That's right. Through HAL Egg, we’re launching new titles on smartphones and exploring new markets in order to develop content that is different from previous ventures, including in-house publishing. The design of the HAL Egg logo features buds sprouting from eggs. Starting with the already released Part Time UFO and Housuu de Shoubu! Kame Sanpo, we are continuing to put a major focus on growing these budding ideas.
Famitsu: Additionally, in recent years, projects such as the Kirby Café and concerts have also been planned and launched.
Kawase: These were projects, the likes of which we had never done before, we were thrilled simply to have the opportunity to develop, regardless of whether they would succeed or fail. Both were well received, and, through their success, we truly felt everyone's love of Kirby.
Famitsu: Last, but certainly not least, could you share HAL Laboratory's future ambitions with us?
Kawase: The other day, when I went to an acquaintance's exhibition, I had the opportunity to talk with their daughter. She said that HAL Laboratory "makes my favorite experiences." The games we make are, on a basic level, products, certainly, but I'm always moved when I hear people call them "experiences" and even their "favorite experiences."
Well, I strongly believe HAL Laboratory is a company that says, "I just want to be myself." HAL Laboratory is a company for creators, but we can only continue with the support of our fans. We will continue to create games, ideas and experiences that will remain in your heart, sticking with our philosophy to make "creations that lead to happy customers and happy employees, too." We look forward to your continued support. Thank you.
HAL Laboratory hopes you can join them in celebration, and invites you to watch a special video and read the history regarding their history. You can check out their special 40th anniversary page here.
We want to extend our own, personal congratulations to HAL Laboratory as well, and hope to celebrate many more decades of fun. What is your fondest memory of HAL? Drop us a comment and let us know!
This interview was translated by Robert Sephazon for publication by Nintendo Life.