Profile: Nintendo EAD
Pioneers of the Renaissance
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The Rebirth of Nintendo
Nintendo began development for its Super Famicom (SNES) console in 1989. It was at this point that Nintendo decided to fully place its chips on Miyamoto's R&D4 team as the star developers. In 1989, Miyamoto's R&D4 team officially renamed itself to Entertainment Analysis and Development (EAD). Shigeru Miyamoto's EAD team became the largest of the R&D teams, on top of that it fully concentrated 90% of its resources to console development. Nintendo's first projects for the Super Nintendo were Super Mario World, Pilotwings, Sim City, and F-Zero.
Near the end of Super Mario Bros. 3 development for the Nintendo Entertainment system, Shigeru Miyamoto selected a group of artist and designers to help design the flagship title for the Super Nintendo debut, Super Mario World. Shigeru Miyamoto and Super Mario Bros. 3 assistant director Takashi Tezuka handled lead design for Super Mario World, with the help of future star directors Katsuya Eguchi, Hideki Konno, and Shigefumi Hino heavily contributing in the design and art departments. Super Mario World development progressed smoothly, and saw a released in the Fall of 1990 accompanying the Super Famicom launch in Japan. Miyamoto's latest offering was a work of art in the eyes of most gamers, the game went on to sell a staggering 3.5 million copies in Japan alone.
Nintendo's next two launch titles were both quite different from the usual array of Nintendo titles. Nintendo's EAD department remade the Maxis' created Sim City for the Super Nintendo. Nintendo licensed the concept, and recreated it by adding new characters (Bowser makes a guest appearance) and a several tweaks to the control mechanics and graphic design. Nintendo's other top secret project at the time was a flight simulator titled Pilotwings. Both Genyo Takeda and Shigeru Miyamoto were very interested in the flight simulation genre, but both felt the PC flight simulators really weren't much fun. Nintendo's R&D3 team took the flight simulator idea, added a much more forgiving and semi-arcade control scheme, and added rocket belt and sky diving portions along with other secret mini-games like a combat helicopter game mode into the flight simulator.
Nintendo's fourth launch title, F-Zero, was created out of a mode 7 demo several EAD programmers were experimenting with at the time. The company was looking to create a new racer to fully exhibit the engine, and decided to use the engine on a "cyber-hovercraft" racing title. Shigeru Miyamoto, Isshin Shimizu, and Shigeki Yamashiro (now stationed at NSTC in Redmond) designed the title with programmers Yasunari Nishida and Masato Kimura in charge of transforming the mode 7 engine to F-Zero.
Nintendo's launch offerings alongside prolific third party publishers' software raning the likes of Capcom, Konami, Enix, and Square; helped push the Super Nintendo to millions of eager gamers around the world.
Nintendo EAD continued to flourish on the SNES by creating exciting 16-bit sequels with titles like Super Mario All-Stars, and The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past. R&D1 and R&D3 also contributed with Super Punch-Out, Super Play Action Football, Tetris 2 (Super Nintendo version), Kenji Miki's Wario's Woods and other magnificent titles.
One new original franchise using all-star characters did surface by the name of Super Mario Kart, which in particular created sub-genre of its own. The game starred the familiar gang of Mario characters like Mario, Luigi, Toad, Bowser, and Princess Peach. Instead of trying the foil the schemes of Bowser (or vice-versa), Mario and company were now in control of small race karts, launching turtle shells and banana peels at each other. The game became Nintendo's biggest hit since Mario and Zelda and popularized the "split-screen" multiplayer layout, which would serve as a cornerstone for several Nintendo titles in the years to come. This second-generation EAD racer was directed by Hideki Konno and Tadashi Sugiyama, and lead programming was handled by Masato Kimura, who just finished up working on F-Zero when he joined the Super Mario Kart team.
Nintendo's First Born
The R&D1 team of Nintendo Company Limited, was where most of the internal Game Boy titles were being developed. Gunpei Yokoi's creation was selling better than even the Nintendo Entertainment System, so Nintendo pursued Game Boy development with eager enthusiasm.
The R&D1 team's first Game Boy titles were Tetris, Alleyway, and the naval combat sim Radar Mission. Tetris and Alleyway sold extremely well for the system, as the hardware flew off the shelves, so did the games. Game Boy ports of Mahjong, Golf and Baseball followed soon afterwards.
Helifire, Radar Scope, and Space Firebird, Nintendo R&D1 developed Solar Striker for the Game Boy. A simple but fun space shooter directed and produced by Satoru Okada and Keisuke Terasaki. Nintendo continued to released more Game Boy sequels with titles like F1 Race, and compiled some old Game&Watch titles and updated it in the anthology Game & Watch Gallery for the Game Boy.
Super Mario Land. Super Mario Land was the first Mario game designed without Shigeru Miyamoto. Hirofumi Matsuoka and Minu Yamanaka designed the game with Shigeru Miyamoto's Super Mario Bros. in mind, but they also added a much more elaborate and polished design scheme. Super Mario Land also featured Princess Daisy instead of the usual Princess Peach. Released in the Fall of 1989, Super Mario Land turned out even better than the original NES smash hit, and went on to sell near 4 million copies in Japan.
In the early 90's the R&D1 team went on to develop some huge games for the Game Boy before moving on to the Super Nintendo and Virtual Boy. Takehiko Hosokawa, Makoto Kanoh, Mitoshi Yamagami, Yoshio Sakamoto, and Hirofumi Matsuoka went on to all distribute their design talents to big sequels like Super Mario Land 2: Six Golden Coins, Kid Icarus 2: Of Myths and Monsters, Metroid 2: The Return of Samus, Tetris 2, and Balloon Kid.
Shigeru Miyamoto's team also had a hand in developing some Game Boy titles. Masayuki Kameyama directed both the original top down water racer titled Wave Race, and Donkey Kong '94; a sequel to Miyamoto's classic platformer starring everyone's favorite giant ape. Then director, Takashi Tezuka (now a producer) went on to direct The Legend of Zelda: Link's Awakening in 1993. Miyamoto's team developed two more titles on the Game Boy, Kirby's Block Ball which was co-developed with Yokoi using the Alleyway engine, and the puzzle-adventure Mole Mania in 1996. Gunpei Yokoi and Director Takehiko Hosokawa also made the big move in turning the R&D1 developed Super Mario Land franchise, into the Wario Land series with Super Mario Land 3: Wario Land.
Since the R&D1 team's programmers were tied up with Game Boy and Gunpei Yokoi's next creation, the Virtual Boy, when R&D1 directors and designers delved into Super Nintendo software development; the team called upon Intelligent Systems to provide programming support for a few big SNES titles. The future alliance between the two would be a system used in several future console and hand held titles including Super Metroid and Battle Clash.
Nintendo R&D1 continued it's tradition of developing zapper games for the Super NES via the all-new Super Scope 6. Super Scope 6 titles include the Super Scope Six pack-in game, Battle Clash, and Metal Combat: Falcon's Revenge. Most of Team Battle Clash's staff came from the original R&D1 arcade team responsible for Duck Hunt, Hogan's Alley, and other Nintendo light gun games. The games did not sell as well as the original Nintendo gun games, largely due to the fact that the Super Scope Six never caught on in America and was a niche hit in Japan.
Super Metroid was produced, directed and designed by R&D1 with Intelligent Systems assisting in the programming department. Original creator Makoto Kanoh produced the title, and Yoshio Sakomoto planned and directed the title. Hirofumi Matsuoka, Mashimo Masahiko, Hiroyuki Kimura, Hiro Yamada, Hiroji Kiyotake, Hitoshi Yamagami and Takehiho Hosokowa (almost the entire R&D1 directorial staff) were involved in the last in-house incarnation of Metroid (Until Metroid 4).The programming team, Team Deer Force, was a team pulled together specifically for Super Metroid by borrowing members of Team Shikamaru (R&D1), which was Yoshio Sakamoto's personal scenario writing team, and a few programmers from Intelligent Systems . Makoto Kanoh did the lead design for the original Metroid under the direction of Satoru Okada and Gunpei Yokoi. Kanoh held the Metroid universe he created for the in original in high regard. He worked on a new chapter only when he felt he could improve the series. As a result, Super Metroid was developed to near perfection. No action platformer ever looked or played better. The control and animation were untouched by any other game. The artwork and soundtrack only added to the epic brilliance that Super Metroid delivered. The game was released in late 1993, and despite its god-like acclaim by hardcore gamers and the media, the Japanese barely noticed the title. Super Metroid sold well enough in the USA and Europe, but it was released too late in the Super NES' lifetime to make a significant dent in the mainstream market.
R&D1 went on to create Mario Paint, an editor program with a few mini-games thrown in the mix. The title was directed by Satoru Okada, one of his last games before leaving R&D1 to take charge of the newly organized Engineering Department. Genyo Takeda and R&D3 also contributed with the last internal sports sims Super NES Play Action Football.
The 3D Invasion
In 1992, Nintendo's EAD team started working with Argonaut Software to create a 3D chip technology that could be merged into cartridges and would allow the Super Nintendo to display polygons. Argonaut and EAD tested the technology by making an unnamed 3D spaceship shooter. Miyamoto and EAD decided to turn the tech demo into a game. EAD came up with the characters and level design while Argonaut assisted with the 3D system programming. From their joint collaboration, Star Fox was born. Star Fox became a truly revolutionary title for Nintendo, sporting a very different look than any other game at the time. Nintendo's EAD team decided to continue to work with the FX chip on future Super Nintendo titles. EAD then developed Yoshi's Island, Stunt Race FX, and a few unreleased titles including Star Fox 2 with the FX technology.
Shortly after Nintendo discontinued its R&D focus from the Super Nintendo. From 1996-2000 Nintendo continued to support the Super Famicom via Japan-only releases and Nintendo Power BS distributed ROMs. Titles such as Wreckin Crew 98, Mario Excitebike, Woods of Beginning, Marvelous, The Legend of Zelda 1, and F-Zero 2 were never seen outside of Japan.
In 1994 Nintendo introduced its latest creation, Gunpei Yokoi's Virtual Boy. The headset VR system was a very ambitious project for Nintendo, one President Yamauchi hoped would create a third market alongside the console and handheld fields Nintendo already dominated. Unfortunately the project proved to be far too ambitious for its time. While the system was shortlived and quickly abandoned, several titles did manage to surface like R&D3 and Genyo Takeda's Teleroboxer, the latest installment of the Punch-Out franchise.
Even a new Mario title failed to save the system. Internal projects like Mario Clash, Mario's Tennis, V-Tetris, Red Alarm, Wario Land, Nester's Funky Bowling, and Galactic Pinball all became bargain bin sellers nearly a year after release. Soon after Nintendo cancelled all of it's future Virtual Boy titles. Big production sequels like Virtual Mario Land and Zero Racers (sequel to F-Zero) were never released to the public. Soon after in late 1996, Gunpei Yokoi decided to leave Nintendo Company Limited, and form his own company Koto Laboratory. Yokoi and Nintendo left on good terms, Nintendo even funded his new company partially. Sadly Mr. Yokoi lost his life in a tragic car accident soon after the creation of his new company.
A New Era
Nintendo was gearing up for its new premier console, the Nintendo 64. The system was a drastic step in a different direction as it was built as a 3D machine. EAD once again went to work to provide the initial launch software for the system. EAD's first two projects were 3D sequels. One was a 3D sequel to its most popular game franchise, Mario. The other was more of a reintroduction to a 2D racer released quietly on the Game Boy. Super Mario 64 and Wave Race 64 took up a huge amount of EAD's resources. Mario in particular required an army-sized staff.
Nintendo EAD's Shigeru Miyamoto and Takashi Tezuka were developing Super Mario 64 in full-force by early 1995. Nintendo EAD handpicked its most experienced staff members for the team. Yasunari Nishida, who was involved in programming Nintendo EAD games like F-Zero, and The Legend of Zelda: A Link To The Past, led an all-star cast of programmers including Hajime Yajima (Super Mario Kart) and Giles Goddard (Star Fox) amongst other talented EAD programmers. Shigeru Miyamoto, Takashi Tezuka and Yoshiaki Koizumi handled the games production and lead design. Koji Kondo, who is responsible for the original Super Mario Bros. soundtrack, and most of the other sequels, provided the soundtrack that featured wonderful melodies like the Dire Dire Docks and The Road To Bowser. Super Mario 64 was in experimental phases for about 6 months, and its actual development and production lasted 2 years. A very high budget and a very big staff were no strain on Nintendo as long as it meant Super Mario 64 was going to be the 3D revolution capable of displaying the Nintendo 64's power, and the ingenuity of Nintendo as a game company.
Super Mario 64 was released with the Nintendo 64 in Japan on June 23, 1996. Accompanied by Pilotwings 64 (Paradigm programmed, NCL produced), and Shogi by Seta, the spotlight was without a doubt on Nintendo EAD's groundbreaking Nintendo 64 title. Super Mario 64 ignited record-breaking sales for the Nintendo 64 in both Japan and America. Super Mario 64 went on to sell over 10 million copies worldwide, and is regarded as one of the greatest games of the 3D era.
Nintendo EAD's second Nintendo 64 game was Wave Race 64. Intended to be released launch day with Super Mario 64, the game's ambition forced a slight delay. Katsuya Eguchi, the director of Star Fox, directed the jet-ski racer with Shigeru Miyamoto and Genyo Takeda handling production. The game was based on a sleeper title developed on the Game Boy. Nintendo EAD gave the game an overhaul in every department. Wave Race 64 was Nintendo's first 3D racer. The game started off using "hover boat machines" that raced against each other, similar to F-Zero set on water. As development went on, however, EAD decided that using human racers on jet-skis would provide a better visual dynamic for the game's precise analog control. The Wave Race team decided to focus most of the N64's resources on AI and wave physics. That decision is what has made Wave Race 64 an unforgettable experience, one that not even arcade jet-ski titles have been able to surpass. Released three months after Super Mario 64, Wave Race 64 went on to sell over 5 million copies worldwide, which is remarkable for a new franchise.
Other EAD teams began N64 development midway through Wave Race 64 and Super Mario 64's development. Star Fox 64 was picked up by the Super NES Star Fox 2 team, Yoshi's Story was picked up by the Yoshi's Island SNES team, and Mario Kart 64 was done by the last remaining EAD staff available.
Mario Kart 64 rounded up Nintendo EAD's last offering in Japan for 1996. Designer of Super Mario World, and co-director of Yoshi's Island and Super Mario Kart, Hideki Konno, directed the title. The game ran into many difficulties, as a result, the main characters were changed from 3D polygonal models to pre-rendered bitmaps in order to get the game running smoothly. The title's claim to fame was its four-player multiplayer features. The original Super Mario Kart was loved by all for its incredible 2-player combat and racing mode, fans of the original were salivating at the chance to up the ante with four player battles. Nintendo was expecting some big sales with Mario Kart 64, and Mario Kart 64 did not disappoint. Selling 10.4 million copies at last count, Mario Kart 64 surpassed Super Mario 64, and is Nintendo's biggest selling game since Super Mario Bros 3 and the original Super Mario Bros.
Takao Shimizu, game director, teamed up with lead programmer Kazuaki Morita to head development on Nintendo's Star Fox 64. The Nintendo EAD team, responsible for Star Fox 2 developed Star Fox 64. Originally intended for the Super Nintendo, Star Fox 2 was cancelled at the last minute. The Nintendo 64 version became a different beast altogether adding and removing certain features from the original. The Nintendo 64 version added fully voiced dialogue, 3D cinemas, four player dogfights, and was the first title to incorporate Nintendo's Rumble Pack. Released right before the summer of 1997, Star Fox 64 went on to sell extremely well for Nintendo, and did a great job and introducing Nintendo's Rumble Pack peripheral.
Success Is Not Easy
The Nintendo 64 also faced some hardships. Nintendo's cartridge format was isolating third party developers. Hardly any third party teams would support Nintendo, and those who did, often worked on half-hearted projects. Nintendo's solution to its third party dilemma was creating a disk drive system initially titled the Bulky Drive. The Bulky Drive proposed to use 64-megabyte disks that would allow rewritability as well as costing half of what 16-megabyte cartridges were costing at the time. Nintendo Company Limited, satellite developers Intelligent Systems; Jupiter Corp; HAL Labs, and close third party developers like SETA; began investing heavy R&D into Nintendo's coup de grace.
By late 1997, Nintendo EAD was now officially done with its first generation of Nintendo 64 titles. Yoshi's Story wrapped up development, and was released in Japan December 1997.
The 2 1/2D platformer was developed by the Yoshi's Island team, and directed by Hideki Konno and produced by Takazhi Tezuka. This was one of the firsts EAD developed titles that was not produced by Shigeru Miyamoto. The game received good reviews initially, and sold extremely well in Japan. However, upon hitting North America and Europe, the game was scrutinized harshly for its lack of difficulty and short play length. The criticism was to be expected, as it was the sequel to Yoshi's Island, a game many consider to be one of the greatest 2D platformers.
In 1998 Nintendo EAD was clearly ready to promote its second generation of Nintendo 64 software. Nintendo EAD continued to push innovative software development on the Nintendo 64 with new titles like 1080 Snowboarding, F-Zero X, and the once 64DD bound, The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time and Pokemon Stadium.
1080 Snowboarding was the first second generation Nintendo EAD title released. Directors Masamichi Abe and Matsuhiro Takano teamed up with programmers Giles Goddard and Collin Reed and developed 1080 Snowboarding in-house at Nintendo Company Limited. Goddard worked with Shigeru Miyamoto and EAD before on Star Fox and Stunt Race FX for the Super Nintendo. Goddard was also responsible for the face-stretch mini game found in Super Mario 64. 1080 Snowboarding was definitely a breath of fresh air; it was a title no one ever expected for Nintendo to develop. Released worldwide in April 1998, the game was well received by Nintendo's audience. It is considered by many to be the Wave Race 64 of snowboarding.
F-Zero X was a hugely anticipated game by Nintendo. Keizo Ohta (Lead programmer of Wave Race 64) and Masahiro Kawano were introducing many ideas to the 64-bit sequel, so it wouldn't be merely seen as a 3D version of the Super Nintendo classic. Director Tadashi Sugiyama, and designer Takaya Imamura were responsible for most of the game's development, all under the supervision of producer Shigeru Miyamoto. Tadashi Sugiyama prior worked as the co-directed on Super Mario Kart, and Takaya Imamura was a visual designer on the original F-Zero.
F-Zero X's creative group came up with many ideas for the game. Concepts like displaying 30 cars on screen, having a random track generator, focusing on the game displaying 60 frames per second instead of background detail, and even adding 64DD hooks for a future expansion disk were implimented. The end result was a game that played and moved like no other before it, but at the same time it was a game that did not excel when looked at from a pure visual stand point.