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Saturday, May 13, 2006 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Q&A | Nintendo president sits down to chat a Wii bit

Seattle Times technology reporter

LOS ANGELES — Even late in the afternoon, after days of talking about the new Wii console, Nintendo president Satoru Iwata is still in a good mood.

A long line has continually queued up at the Nintendo booth to see the Wii, a sign of the interest the upcoming system is getting here at the Electronics Entertainment Expo. In a small conference room nearby, Iwata has the Wii controller — with its remote and its "nunchuck" components — in hand, demonstrating its functions and laughing about the quirks of the video-game industry.

Here's an edited version of an interview with him.

Q: Was there anything that surprised you here at E3?

A: The surprise was that the feedback to the Wii console was actually even better than we had expected before coming to E3. Before E3, we thought that maybe people would have hesitation because what we are proposing is, "Forget about the past. Forget about the classic controller. You are now supposed to do a free controller style."

We thought that we would get mixed reactions to our presentation. However, almost all the people who have touched and played the Wii have shown very positive reactions.

Q: What did you think about the name "Wii" when you heard it the first time?

A: I saw Wii as one candidate among many others, but the name Wii captured my attention so strongly, I thought, "This is it." At the same time I thought that probably Wii would have some controversy.

There were some criteria for us to come up with the name. It had to be short enough so that we didn't need any other nicknames or abbreviation. What we are targeting with Wii is not only existing gamers, but also people who have shown no interest in other games. These nongamers, for example, really cannot understand what GBA means, if GBA is something different from Game Boy Advance. We wanted something with a strong impact that people will remember as soon as they hear it.

Finally, we wanted a name unlike any video-game machines.

Q: I didn't understand the Wii until I played it. Will it be hard to sell this machine to people who haven't done the same thing?

A: The same thing happened in the case of the DS [Nintendo's handheld player]. The DS was a very unusual machine. For us, the DS didn't necessarily boast beautiful graphics at all. We had to emphasize that touching is believing.

But we were in a better position for marketing the DS because the DS is, after all, a portable machine. We can take it anywhere and present it to anybody on the street and say, "Please try it."

In the case of a hardware console like this, how can we ask a sufficient number of people who need to have the hands-on experience? That requires us to be smart with the marketing.

Q: I'm sure the Wii will be a big success in Japan. How will it sell in the U.S.?

A: It has global potential. When we showed the tennis game ["Wii Sports: Tennis"] at the media briefing, we had such a strong reaction afterward. There is no boundary to games like tennis, and so it can be appreciated around the world.

Q: Do you think people will pay $600 for a PlayStation 3?

A: That's not something I should comment on as a corporate president. But as one single person, a potential customer for the PS3, I think it's a bit expensive. But it depends on how the general public is going to see it. So far, within two days now, a majority of people who have commented on the price point are saying the same thing: It's expensive.

Q: Do you think Sony copied Nintendo with its new controller?

A: (Laughs.) Actually before they made the announcement we already anticipated that they might do that, so I had to laugh. Even though I was laughing, it was with a grim face, I should add. (Laughs.)

Having said that, please know that putting the motion-sensor technology into the classic-style controller is one thing. Putting the motion-sensor technology into the Wii remote as well as the "nunchuck" controller, where you can use both hands freely and independently, this is quite another thing.

Q: Was it hard to add sound to the Wii's controller? [It has a speaker embedded in it.]

A: Technically speaking, it's not very difficult. But if you ask me if any company can do it, I think it would be difficult. That's a very unique advantage Nintendo has. In terms of hardware, we can work very quickly because Nintendo is the hardware manufacturer as well as the software developer and publisher.

In this case, when somebody suggested the idea of putting the speaker into the Wii remote, the trial software was made immediately so we could test what it would sound like.

We really want [filmmaker George] Lucas to think about making a game where this can be used as a light saber. It should be fun.

Q: The graphics seem to sometimes look better on the PlayStation 3 or Microsoft's Xbox. Do you think that's a problem?

A: They are putting so much cost and energy to beef up the pure horsepower. I really do not deny the way they have chosen, because beefing up the graphical capability is one of the ways to entertain people. It's just that Nintendo has not chosen that because Nintendo is not concerned about the possibility of putting those kinds of energies into the graphical engines.

Even though we can make the current game graphics a lot better, we don't believe we can expand the gaming population at all. That's why Nintendo decided to take a completely different path for the Wii.

Kim Peterson: 206-464-2360 or kpeterson@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2006 The Seattle Times Company

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