The 1986 Famicom Crisis – Developer Interviews
Although remembered now as the wunderkind console that changed the entire trajectory of video games, the Famicom initially faced harsh criticism for a rash of quick, cash-in third party releases. This article from BEEP! magazine is a response from various industry leaders, including Nintendo, to that crisis and the preceding “Famicom Boom.” In the West, the NES was just taking off, so this particular moment in Japanese game history is still very dim to us.
Hiroshi Imanishi – General Affairs Dept.
To us at Nintendo, the notion of the “Famicom Boom” is already something in the past. Today the Family Computer is a social and cultural phenomenon, and a part of the Japanese economy.
As for why the Famicom has become so popular, we believe it is because we had a clear concept for the system from the very beginning of its creation. That vision is something reflected in the price, the power of the hardware, and the quality of the games. And it is also something that, in a very visceral way, children have reaffirmed with their appraisal of the Famicom.
However, we have also realized that we are reaching a limit in what ROM games can do. That is why we have developed the Famicom Disk System. Thanks to it, the Famicom has become more than a game console: it is now also a device for conveying education, health, and culture. It would be correct to say that right now, our focus going forward will be on how to balance the computer-like features of the Famicom with its features as a game console.
Recently, it’s been pointed out that the quality of Famicom games seems to have fallen. We agree with that. We want to be selective about the quality of the games, for the players’ sake as well. Up to now we’ve controlled the quantity of the games that we allow to be released, but with the increase of so many new game developers, this approach is no longer working.
I believe the readers have asked us to release better games, and right now we are creating games that we believe are very interesting. Of course, who can say whether they will be a big hit or not. All I can say is that for the games developed by Nintendo, our developers spend a very long time playing and testing them. In Super Mario Bros. we took 8 months, and the Legend of Zelda about a year. At Nintendo, we are not captivated by the allure of short-term profits.
Kazuo Suzuki – Public Relations
We haven’t been conscious of a “Famicom Boom.” Rather, I think the situation today is due to the fact that, other than the Famicom, there simply hasn’t been any other product that children could get so passionate about. I think it just happened that way, and the Famicom was the device that responded to the endless curiosity that children have.
As for people who say the Famicom has good games and bad games, I think it’s difficult to know what criteria upon which to judge a game. But one thing is certain: children are more selective now. Of course I think the quality of games has increased too, but the sensibility of the children has outpaced it. They can see right through a shoddy game.
As for game development at Konami this year, please understand I am saying this as Konami’s PR representative, but we want to have the feedback from children reflected more in our games. Everyday we receive over a hundred postcards saying “please make a game like _____!” We don’t want to ignore those voices. We’re also in the middle of researching the possibility of making Famicom Disk System games.
Seiji Yoshioka – President
I actually think that because so many people want to know more about the Famicom, a boom of this nature was probably inevitable. And normally you’d think that by the time an article like this one gets published in a general-interest magazine, the boom is over. But with the Famicom, a new game is always playable just by changing the cartridge. It’s this possibility to always have new, fun games that has attracted the interest of so many people, I think.
However, since the number of developers has increased, we’re worried that we might see an overproduction of inferior games. If that happens the overall image of the Famicom will be lowered.
Users will no longer buy games thinking “oh, this is a Famicom game so you know its good”; they will probably become more selective. The power of the Famicom hardware itself is one reason for the success of the Famicom thus far, but I think the participation of other game developers who make high quality games is also a part of it. Thanks to them, Famicom games have expanded in both breadth and depth, and I think there’s been an increase overall in the number of interesting games.
As for people who say there’s been more crappy Famicom games lately, I haven’t personally played all those games so I don’t know. But I don’t think Namco has put out any bad games. At Namco, we intend to continue making high quality Famicom games, both originals and arcade ports. As for the Disk System, right now it’s No Comment.
Aki Kawai – President
In the beginning, we thought the target age for the Famicom audience was elementary and middle school children, but thanks to this boom, that age group has expanded to include older users as well. In that sense I think the Famicom boom has been a great thing.
Taito didn’t start developing Famicom games until April of last year, but omitting simultaneous Famicom and Arcade releases, all our Famicom releases have been arcade ports. The hardware memory capacity is different, so when we port our games to the Famicom, we take great care in making sure they don’t sully the image of the arcade game. I think the Famicom Boom can be attributed to the high quality of the games that have come out, so if we’re hearing now from your magazine that the quality of the games has fallen, that's an opinion we need to listen to.
This year Taito is planning to release 5 new games for the Famicom. Naturally we are also thinking about Famicom Disk System games. Last year we had many hit arcade games, and so there were a lot of requests to port those games to the Famicom. However, this year we’re also thinking about original Famicom games. Please look forward to it!
Takeo Imai – Planning Dept.
The current Famicom Boom was created by children; it is adults who are the latecomers. Among children, the Famicom has already been a part of their culture for 2 or 3 years now. At first it was just play, but now its a form of communication, a way to make friends. That’s why children are the ones who are viewing this situation with the most objective eyes. In contrast, aren’t adults making too big a fuss about it?
The quality of the Famicom’s games is not the only reason for its success among children, I think. It’s also the way everyone shares game news and tricks/tips with each other, and the way the Famicom has created a performance space in which kids can show off their skills to each other.
The quality of Famicom games is rising. But children’s taste is growing faster still, and I don’t think there are many games that can keep up with their sensibilities. If people complain that there are too many knockoff games being made, I think that’s because those games don’t have very different goals, and they only differ in small ways, with minor stylistic changes. Part of our plans this year for Hudson is to create games in which children can enact their own performances.
As for making Famicom Disk System games, at this point, I can’t say whether we will or won’t.
Yoshiki Okamoto – Game Developer
I think the reason the Famicom has been such a hit is this: with the Famicom, kids who can’t go to game centers can now play the same games at home, as much as they want, for only 5000 yen. Another reason is that once you reach a certain number of kids who own Famicoms, it conveys an image that EVERYONE owns one. Then the kids who don’t have one feel like they can’t follow the conversations of Famicom-owning kids unless they buy one too. No computer has ever sold as many units as the Famicom.
“The recent games on the Famicom suck compared to the older ones!” — players say that because they’ve become so used to a very high level of quality.
From our perspective as the game creators, no matter how many games we make with good graphics or deep gameplay, you can only fit so much into a small lunchbox (that is, the Famicom’s memory).
The process of creating Famicom games is different from that of arcade games. We worked very hard on the ports for 1942 and Sonson, but we realized that simply porting these games wouldn’t lead to big sales.
That’s why this year, Capcom’s Famicom games will feature new things like hidden characters and warps, the kind of features arcade games don’t have. And of course, we are also planning to create games for the Famicom Disk system.
The Famicom has been successful because its games have been exciting, visceral, and fun. Now it’s important not to let that quality become a stereotype or cliche.
Compared with the computers that I work with, the Famicom has far less memory. Creating interesting games with such limited memory is no mean feat. When you think about it that way, you realize the games are very well done. Since the Famicom has made real-time action games so cheap and enjoyable, I think computer games will end up focusing more on the kind of games that take advantage of a computer’s greater memory capacity, like roleplaying and adventure games.
In any event, whether the Famicom will become the standard, or whether this boom will end with a whimper, depends entirely on the cooperation of the users, doesn’t it?
Also, Thinking Rabbit plans to release versions of our games for the Famicom Disk System starting sometime this summer. They’ll probably be adventure, roleplaying, or some other kind of thinking games…
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Imabayashi is the creator and programmer of Sokoban.↩