(Iwata) Back when I was in high school, a friend sat next to me in math class or something, and he was an interesting guy. We wouldn’t pay attention to the lessons and just play games.
(Itoi) Did he like computers as well?
(Iwata) He……I guess I’d say my games made him happy, so he was my first customer. He was user number one.
(Itoi) In other words, it’s like having someone to laugh at your jokes if you’re good at being funny.
(Iwata) It’s exactly like that.
(Itoi) It’s the same with a manga creator, or someone like that too. When I think about who that person was for me, it was someone who listened to me talk. Finding a “friend” or a “reader” when I was a boy was really an amazing thing. Sometimes it would be someone in my family…
(Iwata) Right. We still exchange New Years cards, and have ever since. Obviously if you don’t have someone who praises you and is made happy by the things that you do, you can’t get to where you need to be. But I think that meeting him in high school had a profound impact on my life.
(Itoi) That acted as your entire foundation.
(Iwata) The phrase “microcomputer” was already in use back then, but there still weren’t any computers for personal use.
(Itoi) About what year is that?
(Iwata) It was 1976. I was in my second year of high school.
(Itoi) I think I understand. At that point I was able to go overseas for work for the first time, Los Angeles or somewhere, and I bought a nice guitar even though I couldn’t play.
“Hey, they’ll collect taxes from you on that as a “new item” when you bring it back to Japan! So I’ll write you up a certificate that says this is used right now, so wait right there……”
When I think back on that, I wonder if the calculator that the guy who worked at the local guitar place that said that was using was the same one that you were. In other words, would you say it was like “A cutting-edge piece of machinery that a guy into old electric guitars would have proudly used”?
(Iwata) Yes. That calculator was odd in that it didn’t have an “=” key. So if you add 1 and 2, after pressing “1” you press the “Enter” key. Then you press “2” and finally “+”. Just like in Japanese.
You can do something like “If I add 1 and 2, multiply 3 and 4, and subtract 12, what do I get?”, but since there’s no “=” key a normal person couldn’t key it in. “Mastering something that other people can’t even use” is an interesting thing.
(Iwata) I think it’s exactly as you said Mr. Itoi. That’s how it is. And in my second year the Apple computer came out.
(Itoi) I remember we hired someone to deliver our Apple computer sometime after that, and he showed up with a typically huge-sized computer. He told us “You can do anything with this!” (laughs)
(Iwata) Yeah. That was the time where having a computer equaled infinite possibilities.
(Itoi) So you evolved one machine at a time, right Mr. Iwata?
(Iwata) Yeah, you could say that.
(Itoi) You were at the point where you were figuring out what was possible with a computer, right from the beginning.
(Iwata) And that’s why I immediately developed fantasies about computers. I think I kind of understood what computers did and didn’t do well from the time I was in high school.
(Itoi) Did you understand it from the point that your parents messed with it asking “……This is a calculator, right?”?
(Iwata) Yeah, I think I did.
(Itoi) You were looking at it from the interesting perspective that “super calculators” were rapidly evolving. And you had the advantage of knowing the origins.
(Iwata) I think I’m very lucky to have been able to see the world of games progress all the way from the time of the Famicom.
(Itoi) That’s right. Your talk about being a high school student is like a tale of a boy who’s now able to ride a bicycle. It makes me so happy just listening to it……It’s so interesting! So now, in regard to your job, you’ve told us “As fellow engineers we should strive to be more elegant no matter if we’re young or veterans, and regardless of who is the most logical or correct”.
(Iwata) And as soon as I was out of college and entered the workforce, I had no one with more experience than me, so I worked according to my own judgement calls.
(Itoi) What do you mean by that?
(Iwata) I didn’t have any superiors when it came to “development” at that company. That’s because I was the first developer that the company had.
(Itoi) Oh! HAL Laboratory made a part-time kid their first developer?
(Iwata) That’s right. To put it exactly, HAL Laboratory was a company that happened to succeed with part-time kids at the skill-level of pros. Shall we explore this story a bit further?