This afternoon at Games Developer Conference 2008, Deputy GM in Entertainment Analysis & Development Takao Sawano spoke before a crowd of several hundred developers and game journalists about the development process of both the Wii Balance Board and Wii Fit. Below, you'll find the notes we jotted down during the presentation. Forgive us, as they're a little rough, and, well, we're running on about three hours of sleep today.
Takao Sawano takes the stage, and we've got our uber cool translators jacked into our ears.
Says he works in the same department with Miyamoto and worked on Wii Fit.
Wii Fit was released in Japan on December 1, 2007. The game debuted at last year's E3, and there are playable units of the game at this GDC.
Showed six commercials for Wii Fit, which are currently being aired in Japan. Pretty standard ads, showing Japanese men and women playing the game.
Showed off image of the Japanese package of Wii Fit. It's been two and a half months since release, and the game has sold 1.4 million units. Says the game will release in North America on May 19, 2008. There are two major components to Wii Fit: the Wii balance board and the software itself.
Today, Sawano plans to discuss how the platform came to be, the special features of the Wii software, specs and features of the Wii balance board, and possible future implementation of the Wii Balance Board as a new controller for future video games (other than Wii Fit).
He talked about the evolution of the controller. Sawano says he can't help but feel like the Wii controller is something that should have been there from the very beginning.
Showed off a rough diagram of the original conceptual diagram of the Will Balance Board – everything Miyamoto wanted the peripheral to be. Sawano saysMiyamoto had the idea of Wii Fit before the console was even released. Miyamoto had fun just weighing himself, and thought that the idea was interesting – and that it would make for an interesting game idea. However, he was concerned over the idea, wondering if people would want to turn on a TV or game console just to weigh themselves
But despite these things, Sawano says that Miyamoto was so intrigued by the game concept of Wii Fit, that he wanted to go through with it anyway.
Sawoa says that he thought that Wii Fit would be an interesting idea, but he did not think it would ever sell very well or be a hit product.
On the screen, he shows a photo of the inside of a normal scale. When thinking about making the Wii Balance Board, a primary concern was how to create a scale-like board at an affordable price. Additionally, there was the concern of the Wii Fit software and how expensive the package would become if it was included.
Nintendo looked at using the N64 controller rotary as a way of giving the Wii Balance Board the precision that was needed for a game like Wii Fit.
On screen, a picture was shown of a Japanese sumo wrestler. Sawano sumo wrestlers are too heavy to be weighed on a traditional scale. So, in Japan, two scales are used to weigh sumo wrestlers. Nintendo tried setting up two scales for their Balance Board, and connected them to the Wii, measuring the information collected from the two scales.
When Sawano showed Miyamoto the two-scale concept, he thought it was an interesting idea and could work well as a new game controller.
At one point, the team tried having a rumble-like motor feature in the Balance Board. They thought this would work well, but admits it was a mistake. It was too difficult to make a motor that was powerful enough – and cost efficient enough – to vibrate that would affect your entire body. So, they canned the idea.
Nintendo also considered the idea of making it so the Balance Board could detect movement back, forward, left and right. Originally, the team was concerned about the cost to produce a peripheral that could detect all of these motions.
Sawano notes that the first prototype of the Wii Balance Board has strain gauges on all four feet positions of the board, detecting all ranges of movement.
By using the Wii-mote, Nintendo was able to eliminate the need to power the Wii Balance Board. The controller could power the board. However, Nintendo was worried about having the Wii-mote connected to the Balance Board, as players might accidentally step on it when playing the game. Some concept designs featured a slot that the Wii-mote could be inserted into, but this did not solve the problem. Eventually, Nintendo decided on a Bluetooth solution.
Sawano says that he will focus on talking about the Wii Fit software from here on out (during the presentation).
Talked about how Wii Fit can be started up without inserting the game disc into the Wii console.
Talked about the nine different kinds of games in Wii Fit to help train your balance. He noted that since there are many different kinds of videos you can watch or TV that will train you, there would have to be something unique about Wii Fit for it to attract people.
Nintendo talked about how a trainer can interact with you, by monitoring the data from your movement on the board. This gives the player the feeling of interacting with a real human being, says Nintendo.
Sawano talked about "Fit Credits," which players can earn while playing Wii Fit. You earn these points by playing the game, which automatically keeps track of how much time you've spent playing and then awards you said Fit Credits.
The measuring capacity of the board is up to 600 pounds.
The weight of the board without battery is 7.7 pounds.
Battery life (4 AA batteries) is approximately 60 hours.
There is a sync button that syncs the board with the Wii, via Bluetooh.
The software can check the battery life.
Highlights about the Wii Balance Board as a foot controller: controls from 360 degrees. Detects how much force is being applied by player. When and how quickly the force is being applied. Even arm movements can be detected. It can even detect when a small weight is picked up or put down by the player, for example.
In Japan, Wii Fit has sold more than any other game ever released that requires a peripheral.
Nintendo says that developers are already saying that the Wii Balance Board is a controller that many developers are interested in making use of in their own games.
Bandai Namco's upcoming Family Ski is one such game. This is a skiing game that uses both the Wii Balance Board and the Wii-mote/nunchuck combo.
Nintendo says that because the Wii can now use both the Balance Board itself and the Wii-mote, games can go beyond just hand-based controls and instead require full body motion to play.
Sawano thanks everyone for coming to his presentation and leaves the stage.