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Talking with Nintendo of America President Reggie Fils-Aime, Part 1

Talking with Nintendo of America President Reggie Fils-Aime, Part 1   (photo)

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There’s a rolling discussion that happens every year during the Electronics Entertainment Expo. At some point between the end of all the press conferences and the last frantic day of game demos, the words get uttered over and over: “Who won E3?” It’s somewhat apropos that the biggest video game gathering elicits an antagonistic “Vs. Match” mentality but, to be honest, the “Who won E3?” chats that happen between journalists and enthusiasts are more about parsing excitement, momentum and effective messaging.

This year — despite Microsoft’s announcement that all the folks at its press conference would be getting the new Xbox 360 for free and Sony trotting out snarky fictional exec Kevin Butler — most folks agreed that Nintendo “won” E3. The Japanese giant announced tons of games and showed off hundreds of 3DS units, giving people a chance to try out its take on 3D. The company’s come a long way from 2006, when Reggie Fils-Aime took the E3 stage and declared that he was there to kick ass and take names.

A few years later, gamers may be calling him by his first name and creating memes based on random moments of his, but damned if the company hasn’t done what he said they would. Fils-Aime is now President and COO of Nintendo of America and was the man on stage for most of Nintendo’s presser this year.

I got a chance to speak to Reggie after the high-energy and occasionally goofy press conference, where the NYC native held forth on changing up the Legend of Zelda, the way games tend to sell on Nintendo platforms and, of course, the new 3DS handheld. The interview’s massive and will be delivered in three parts. Let’s get started, shall we?

Okay, so I can start off by saying, it’s pretty widely agreed that you guys had the best press conference of the show. I think the thing that surprised most people was the sheer amount of titles that you guys talked about during the show. It countered the perception of Nintendo as generally being more stingy in terms of talking about stuff that’s coming out. What’s the strategy behind just revealing so much?

Well, a couple of things. First, even with all that we revealed, we describe only the surface of product that’s coming out over the next, call it, nine months. So there is a lot of content coming on our systems, which is great. In terms of our strategy for this show, because we’re in such a fortunate position of having so much great content, and 99% of which is coming very quickly, we were in a very enviable position to be able to share it all, which is great.

07202010_skywardsword4.jpgYou know, you opened with Zelda, which set the tone. In previous years, it would have been the last thing you guys went to — and that was really impressive. “The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword” uses motion control, and the last time you and I spoke at GDC, we were talking about motion control and the approaches from the other companies. Clearly, at lot more has been revealed as of E3. I talked to (Nintendo global president Satoru) Iwata and he makes it clear that Nintendo is not a company that responds to competitors. But can you offer any opinions about how you feel, as far as Sony and Microsoft implementing their idea of motion control?

I really can’t, and that’s because while I have seen people play their products, I haven’t played it personally. One player hasn’t announced their pricing strategy, so that’s a big [component that’s] missing still. What I can say is that I believe the consumer knows which company has been the innovator in this space. I also believe that we have demonstrated with “Zelda: Skyward Sword” how a one-to-one controller can bring you deeper into a true active gaming experience, and no one else has done that. No one.

We will continue to innovate, we’ll continue to bring consumers closer and closer into the experience. And we believe that if we do that, the consumer will vote with their wallets and pocketbooks and continue to show that Nintendo is the company bringing these great experiences forward.

As far as the technological aspect, Sony has claimed they have one-to-one in their product. You move; it moves, and everything matches in the real world and the game world. I know you haven’t played it, but let’s say there is parity there and from a tech standpoint, both the Move and the Wii can do the same thing. What’s the differentiator for you?

The differentiator is the gaming experience, right? The differentiator will always be the gaming experience in the software. What they haven’t shown is exactly how their “one-to-one” can make for a better gaming experience than what you could get today on the Wii.

But, do you feel like in terms of the software and the experience, is that hinged on the characters and developers?

Well, it certainly hinges on the development teams that are creating the content.

07202010_e3_2010_Miyamoto_Skyward_Sword_demoIn that vein, lets focus on “Zelda” for a bit. This is kind of a radical departure in terms of control scheme. You can use the Wii remote and nunchuk as [series hero] Link’s sword and shield, which is the first time for that input method. And even some of the design and layout aspects of this new game seem much different. Do you worry that longtime Zelda fans may be put off by this? You’re asking those people to make a jump…

I’ll tell you: I’m a longtime “Zelda” fan. I played “Zelda” before I ever considered that I could be working for the company. I cut my teeth on “Link to the Past.” I’ve picked up that control scheme and it feels like a great “Zelda” game. I mean now, I have the sword and shield. I am the one deciding how to attack a particular enemy. It feels great to me. I found that it’s a fantastic new way to experience the “Zelda” franchise.

In terms of the look, [Nintendo’s chief Zelda guru Eiji] Aonuma-Mr. Miyamoto highlighted this-is very into our history, and they wanted to look that was more impressionistic, and that’s why you see the color palette the way it is. And I think it’s great. I love that we have done everything from, you know, the look and–

Like the cartoonishess of “Wind Waker”…

Right, all the way to the “realism” of “Twilight Princess” and everything between. I think it’s great, I think it’s what helps keep the franchise fresh.

Is there a bit of a teaser with regard to what we saw on the trailer, and in the name “Skyward Sword”? It seems to indicate that there might be some kind of vehicular element or something.

[At] the developer roundtable, Mr. Aonuma shared the skyward element of this game. The storyline goes that Link is living in a cloud world and finds a way to go down to the ground. And the gameplay will take you between this ground world and the sky world.

Right. Kind of the sailing in “Wind Waker.”

So that’s the traversal.

You know, I feel like the last few “Zelda” games have hinged on an axis mechanism that the game is organized around. Whether it’s “Twilight Princess” with the light and dark, or “Wind Waker” with the sailing. Do you feel like there is a core part of the series at this point?

I think it is.

The earlier games were more about straight RPG-style dungeon crawler gameplay.

Well, in “Link to the Past”, you had light and dark, too.

That’s true. And in “Ocarina of Time,” you had the different time periods and Link at different ages as the core mechanic in that game.

So, these two worlds are a key part of the Zelda franchise. And you know, being able to do certain things in world, different things in the other world — now, Mr. Newman, Mr. Miyamoto are the developers — but as a player, a lover of the franchise, to me, yes, those are core parts of the franchise.

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