Monday, April 21, 2014

Gunpei Yokoi's final two games

Gunpei Yokoi (横井軍平), Nintendo's legendary inventor and yearslong head of its R&D department, suffered a tragic death in a roadside accident on the 4th of October 1997, aged only 56.

One month earlier, his just established company Koto Laboratory released two products, that would turn out to be Yokoi's final two games.

Keychain games designed by Yokoi's Koto Laboratory

Yokoi worked at Nintendo for over thirty years, and played a pivotal role in the company's evolution from a relatively small manufacturer of playing cards to a global player in the world of electronic entertainment. The list of inventions that bear his name is beyond impressive and includes the Ultra Hand, Ultra Machine, Love Tester, Kousenjuu SP light gun series, Ultra Scope, Light Telephone, Eleconga, Ten Billion, Game & Watch, Game Boy, Virtual Boy and more.

As a result of Nintendo's prosperity, to which Yokoi himself had greatly contributed, the company's staff size had grown considerably and Yokoi's role had gradually become more managerial. He increasingly longed for the early days when most of his time was spent working hands-on on new ideas and inventions, and started dreaming about forming his own small ideas company that would allow him to do just that.

In August of 1996 Yokoi retired from Nintendo, after completing the design of the GameBoy Pocket, and founded Koto Laboratory in September of the same year. Like Nintendo, it was based in Yokoi's hometown Kyoto.

Inside Koto Laboratory in 1999
(Photos taken from The WonderSwan magazine vol 1, copyright Soft Bank)

The small team that Yokoi assembled at Koto started working on a number of projects, including an assignment from toy giant Bandai. Bandai had asked Koto to develop a competitor to the Game Boy, one of Yokoi's most successful creations during his time at Nintendo.

The Koto team also returned to another area were Yokoi had put a big stamp on in the past: LCD games. The heydays of the Game & Watch games were long over in 1996, but there still was a market for affordable, portable electronic games.

Koto's first products, a couple of keychain LCD games, were released in Japan by Hiro Company in September of 1997, one year after Koto had started.

Saturday, April 5, 2014

Another beautiful Nintendo company guide

Last month I showed some pictures of the 2014 edition of the Nintendo company guide. This guide is provided to new and prospective employees. It shows the company's history and basic corporate information, and also gives a flavor of what it is like to work for Nintendo.

Nintendo company guides from 2013 and 2014

Each year, the guide is not only brought up to date, but also completely redesigned, usually around a theme. Over the years, the design has become more and more elaborate. These guides are little pieces of art, that contain behind the scenes material you do not see very often.

Recently, the edition of last year fell into my lap. This 2013 version is once again so nicely made, that I will show quite a bit of it in this post. I am sure you will enjoy this little peak behind the curtain of the wizards from Kyoto.

The somewhat surprising theme of the 2013 guide is vegetables. The front of the booklet is designed to look like the side of a cardboard box that can hold various sorts of produce. There is even a cutout in the shape of a handle.

The four kanji on the front (京都特産) stand for 'Kyoto speciality', referring to Nintendo's output as a regionally grown delicacy. Quite fitting, actually.

The booklet is 64 pages long. It starts with some pictures of vegetables and agricultural landscapes mixed with Nintendo characters and products.