Nintendo of America president Reggie Fils-Aime covered a broad range of topics withe me during our interview at GDC last week. In the first of a series of posts, check out our conversation about all things DS, including his hands-on impressions of the new “Zelda” and his expectations for the DSi gaming market.
I conducted the following interview with Nintendo of America president Reggie Fils-Aime in his hotel suite in San Francisco last week. I’ve interviewed Fils-Aime several times, which allowed the mood to be light, the banter to be quick and for a lot of ground to be covered.
First, here’s the DS-centric part of our interview:
MTV Multiplayer: What’s the DSi software landscape going to be like once the system is out? Will there be DSi-exclusive games? Will there be DS games that have DSi-exclusive features?
Reggie Fils-Aime, president, Nintendo of America: The short answer is “Yes.” There’s going to be both. Our expectation is that most of the content will be, call it, DSi-enhanced vs. DSi-exclusive. Why? One hundred-million installed base of DS. Developers are going to want to leverage that installed base and yet they’ll want to provide extra content via the features of the DSi, like the camera. That’s my expectation as to how it will play out.
MTV Multiplayer: You guys didn’t announce any hybrid games like that.
MTV Multiplayer: When could we hear about that?
Fils-Aime: It would be reasonable to talk about that after we’ve launched. Part of it is, we want to make sure people understand some of the core functionality. Down the road is when we’ll start talking about DSi-enhanced or DSi-exclusive content.
MTV Multiplayer: “Zelda”? DSi-enhanced?
Fils-Aime: Wouldn’t that be nice?
MTV Multiplayer: Yeah. Now, when you guys were thinking of the subtitle for the new “Zelda” [“The Legend of Zelda: Spirit Tracks“], did you start with my initials and go from there?
Fils-Aime: That was not the driver.
MTV Multiplayer: Ok. Because the “Halo 3” spin-off was originally “Halo 3: Recon.” They changed it to “Halo 3: ODST. And you guys? “The Legend of Zelda: ST”!
Fils-Aime: I have to say that, as we were doing all the naming, and working with NCL [Nintendo’s Japanese main office], we were not in the background saying, “It’s gotta be Stephen Totilo somehow!”
MTV Multiplayer: It should be. But that’s a tentative title, right? So people shouldn’t get too attached to it?
MTV Multiplayer: Can people assume that this game puts a new 2009 “Zelda” game on or off the table, because maybe there can’t be more than on new “Zelda” for the year?
Fils-Aime: What we’ve done is we’ve announced a great “Zelda” game for the DS — one I’m looking forward to. But reading anything more into that would be a mistake.
MTV Multiplayer: Have you had a chance to play it yet?
Fils-Aime: I did play a little bit of “Spirit Tracks.”
MTV Multiplayer: How is it?
Fils-Aime: I love it.
MTV Multiplayer: How does it compare to you as a player?
Fils-Aime: I’ll tell you what I love about it. It takes some of the things I liked about “Phantom Hourglass” to the next level. Example: I thought tracking the path of the boomerang was nice in “Phantom Hourglass.” But the way you use [the stylus] to solve puzzles with “Spirit Tracks” is really provocative. I think the “Zelda” fan will really enjoy it… You do more in tracking and outlining. We showed it in the trailer. You move [an extra] character to a spot in order to unlock puzzles. I really like that. I think it adds a level of gameplay which, for me, hearkens back to some of the classic “Zelda” puzzles.
MTV Multiplayer: If you can have trains in the “Zelda” universe, can you have planes in the “Zelda” universe? How advanced is this universe?
Fils-Aime: [“Zelda franchise director] Mr. Aonuma must answer those questions. I cannot answer those questions.
MTV Multiplayer: Another DS question: “Grand Theft Auto: Chinatown Wars” — there was a lot of skepticism about the M-rated market for the DS. What have you been able to determine about whether the market is there for that game?
Fils-Aime: The market is absolutely there. Look at it from a US perspective. Here’s a fun ST-factoid. Fifty-two weeks into the marketplace, the installed base in the U.S. for the DS is larger than the installed base for the PS2 at the same time. And yet there was no concern or disagreement that PS2 had an M-rated consumer they could sell to.
MTV Multiplayer: Well, they launched with fighting games. You guys had a dog game.
Fils-Aime: We didn’t launch with a dog game. [laughs]
MTV Multiplayer: No, you launched with “Mario 64″…
Fils-Aime: Which is still selling exceptionally well.
MTV Multiplayer: Have you seen what the ordering pattern has been?
Fils-Aime: I have not talked to the folks from [“GTA” publisher] Take-Two. We certainly believe that there’s an 18-and-above consumer opportunity with DS, just as we believe there’s an 18-and-above consumer opportunity with Wii.
MTV Multiplayer: One of the things that struck me while playing “Chinatown Wars” was the amount of resources put into it. There was so much effort put into it. Outside of Nintendo and maybe Vicarious Visions, I can’t think of any development studios that have exhibited the ability to put so much time and so much talent into a DS game. I see it as a pro and a con. It’s disappointing that it took five years to happen. What could this developer and publisher been doing on this platform all this time? So what is there about the DS market — and what you guys are doing with it — to ensure that that effort and top-of-the-line quality of “Grand Theft Auto: Chinatown Wars” is not a fluke?
Fils-Aime: There are two things we do. The first is to make sure we drive the installed base. Just to put it in perspective, since October — and I use October because that’s when the financial crisis came to ground — we’ve sold over six million pieces of DS hardware. Our job is to create the installed base for the opportunity to be leveraged. The second thing is to work with publishers and to give them technical knowledge and insight to create a stellar game and we do that as well. From there it really is the job of the independent publishers to jump on it and bring the ideas to life.
MTV Multiplayer: So, you can’t pick up the phone and call Blizzard or Valve and say, “You guys are some of the best people out there? We want to have you on this platform.”?
Fils-Aime: We have conversations with western publishers about supporting our platforms. We have a licensing organization that has those types of conversations all the time. All the time.
MTV Multiplayer: Last fall, when Mr. Iwata was holding a press conference, he talked about a piece of software called “Girls Mode,” which is a girls fashion game. And he said this would be big in other territories. One would assume, since we have a lot of girls in the United States, that this is one of the territories he was talking about…
Fils-Aime: And the fact that we had almost a 50-50 split on DS sales, male-female.
MTV Multiplayer: What more can you say about “Girls Mode” for the U.S.?
Fils-Aime: I have nothing to share today.
MTV Multiplayer: Can you talk a little more about what it is, since he said it’s coming to other territories?
Fils-Aime: I’ll describe what it is as it exists in the Japanese execution. The proposition is creating store concepts and clothing that is sold in this game environment, and as you sell more it gives you more resources to put back into the experience. It’s akin to running your own girl-oriented department store. Neat, neat concept. Very well done. Very Japan-centric in its initial execution.
MTV Multiplayer: Circling back to DS and DSi, do you see the DSi becoming the de facto DS for this market in 2009?
Fils-Aime: We will let the marketplace decide what happens between DSi and DS Lite. My belief is that, in the Americas, given the pricing differential and given the current economic environment that these two products will live side-by-side for quite some time.
Check back later today for more from Fils-Aime about a topic people on the Internet feel passionately about. And, tomorrow morning, I’ll post the Wii portion of my interview with the NOA president.