Interview with the NES case designer

Discussion in 'General Gaming' started by Shadowlayer, Feb 1, 2006.

  1. Shadowlayer

    Shadowlayer KEEPIN' I.T. REAL!!

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    Yep, right from nintendojo:


    Nintendojo: How did you end up working for Nintendo?
    Lance Barr: I interviewed for a part time, temporary design position with Nintendo while I was still in college. After I graduated, a full time design position was available.

    ND: What do you do for Nintendo now?
    LB: My title is Product Design Director. I manage both graphic design and industrial design projects within Nintendo of America.

    ND: Can you tell us about the prototype process and inspiration for the final case design of the NES?
    LB: The original design of the NES was worked out over several months including a stay of a couple of months while I worked in Japan at NCL. The design was conceived as a wireless, modular system, designed to look more like a sleek stereo system rather than a electronic toy. After the first public showing in the US at the Consumer Electronics Show, I was asked to redesign the case based on new engineering requirements. To reduce costs, the wireless function was eliminated, as well as some of the modular components such as the keyboard and data recorder. But the biggest change was the orientation and size requirements to accommodate a new edge connector for inserting the games. The new edge connecter was a "zero force" design that allowed the game to be inserted with low force, and then rotated down into the "contact" position. The case had to be designed around the movement of the game, and required the shape and size of the NES to grow from the earlier concepts. Many of the features remained, such as the two-tone color, left and right side cuts, and overall "boxy" look, but the proportions change significantly to accommodate the new edge connector.

    ND: When it came time to redesign the classic NES, why did you decide to go in such a different direction, rather than shrink the original console design, like Sony did with the PSone and Slim PS2?
    LB: We considered a reduction in scale, but the point of the redesign was reduction in manufacturing costs so everything was evaluated. The redesigned NES did not use the "zero force" connector, but instead relied on a direct insert connector. Form following function, the new connector placed the game 90 degrees to the main PCB and eliminated much of the bulk needed for the old electronics and connector. The redesign was made several years after the original, which was designed in 1984. The boxy look was out and I thought it was time for a more sleek and inviting look.

    ND: What do you think about your prototype designs being on display at Nintendo World Store?
    LB: Well, I put them there--so I think they look great. We don't get to show our old systems or models very often, so I took the opportunity to display these prototypes a the Nintendo World store knowing that many Nintendo fans would appreciate seeing some of our history.

    ND: How do feel about the fact that the NES design has inspired the industry and generations of gamers? People love the original NES, and specifically the controller, as evidenced by t-shirts, belt buckles, etc.
    LB: As a designer you are always making new, and hopefully better designs and products, so as you move on to the latest project, it's great to look back on some of the things that people noticed and appreciated. When I designed the controller, I never thought it would be the icon that it has. But I have to tell you, it's weird when my daughter comes home wearing the NES controller design on her shirt.

    ND: What do you think about the Generation NEX, strictly from a design standpoint?
    LB: Not many new products are dual-tone any more. The dual colors and overall detailing give the design a dated look--which may be fine for a system that can play classic games.

    ND: The Super NES design is quite square compared to the Super Famicom. What was your motivation for going in that design direction?
    LB: The Super Famicom was maybe okay for the market in Japan. For the US, I felt that it was too soft and had no edge. We were always looking at future modular components (even the NES had a connector on the bottom), so you had to design with the idea of stacking on top of other components. I though the Super Famicom didn't look good when stacked and even by itself, had a kind of "bag of bread" look.

    ND: Why is it that all the case designs have been handled by NCL from 1995 on? Do you have any input into those designs at this point, in order to ensure American appeal?
    LB: Individually designing a product for a given market would definitely appeal to more consumers, and would be seen as having a more current, in style look. Because of the low cost of packaging, companies almost always individually design for each market--regardless of the language requirements since they know that for the cost, you can better reach your intended audience. But with products, the realities of manufacturing and time to market make it necessary to design in a single, world-wide style. Nintendo started to do this beginning with Nintendo 64. Of course the down side of this is that a given design never quite fits the needs of a particular market as well as it could had it been specifically designed for that market. Within these bounds, Nintendo localizes the hardware for each market, mainly thorough variations in color.

    ND: What are your favorite and least favorite pieces of Nintendo hardware you designed?
    LB: My favorite is the Hands Free controller for the NES. We were able to design for a very specific video game fan, and the design was both functional and aesthetically graceful. My least favorite--tough question, since I shouldn't be designing anything I don't like. I always thought that if I had the time, I would have liked to make the original NES even better.

    ND: What non-Nintendo consoles (current or past) do you think have the best and worst design?
    LB: Besides the old Atari systems with the fake wood grain on the sides, I thought the Jaguar looked rather like a toilet. I always thought the Neo-Geo system was uninspired. I liked the old Atari 7800. It had a nice, clean, high-tech look. The Sega Dreamcast had a great, fresh look, that was a nice departure from previous systems.

    ND: If you could give advice to those who design consoles for the next 20 years what would you say?
    LB: Play video games to understand what you are designing for. Don't get too caught up in making a stand out design. Video game systems are the opposite of cars--most consumers by a car for what it looks like and not so much for the performance. With a video game console, although the design is the face of the system, consumers care more about the performance than the exterior design.



    Discuss
     
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  2. sayin999

    sayin999 Officer at Arms

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    very good read indeed, i could see why he didn't like the super famicom design, when i saw it at first i was like wtf is that?
     
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  3. Yakumo

    Yakumo Pillar of the Community *****

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    So this is the guy why have to send our hate mail to for designing that birck known as the SNES in the US. Thank God the rest of the world got the loaf of bread :lol:

    Yakumo
     
  4. SuperGrafx

    SuperGrafx Guest

    I'm surprised he considers the Neo Geo AES uninspired.
    To me, that's one of the greatest looking system casings ever made...functional, sleek, and able to stand the test of time without looking dated.
     
  5. Blur2040

    Blur2040 Game Genie

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    I too was totally blown away by the fact that he thought the AES design was bad. The console itself is absolutely beautiful. It's one of a very few examples where I feel the controlelrs for a console match the console itself in design style.

    Still...when you put one of those giant ass cartridges in, it totally loses some of the cool design factor...but that's quickly made up by the "Look at the size of my giant game" factor.
     
  6. ccovell

    ccovell Resolute Member

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    Yeah, he may be a professional designer, but I completely disagree with him. I can just see the undertones of the interviewer's question about systems being designed in Japan from 1995... "Do you think they moved all the design back to Japan because of the horrible reaction the US SNES got?" BTW, the GameBoy and Virtual Boy were earlier examples of consoles that didn't get changed on the way to North America.

    The Japanese SFC was almost perfect. Futuristic lettering, hard plastic case, graceful straight and slightly rounded lines; and a vibrant logo that was instantly recognizable, used on every part of the system, and actually translated into functional gameplay (games showed coloured buttons on-screen instead of just X,Y,A,B).

    Now the US SNES... it looks like Stalinist architecture laid on its side. And who wants lavender on a console, anyway?
     
  7. Shadowlayer

    Shadowlayer KEEPIN' I.T. REAL!!

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    Yeah, it looks like some kind of Lego inspired nightmare:lol:
     
  8. jonwil

    jonwil Robust Member

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    Thankfully Australia got the US design for the NES and the Japanese design for the SNES.
    The US SNES looks ugly compared to the Japanese SNES.
     
  9. neomatrix

    neomatrix Intrepid Member

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    yeah I like the super famicom and neogeo us nintendo 8bit
     
  10. Yakumo

    Yakumo Pillar of the Community *****

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    Yeah but don't forget that this is coming from the guy who made a shoebox console design and a God knows what for the SNES. Personally I think his ideas of "design" are pathetic.

    Yakumo
     
  11. SuperGrafx

    SuperGrafx Guest

    Didn't the Sega Genesis just barely beat out the GameBoy in North America?
    It got a minor aesthetic upgrade (mainly the "16-bit" lettering design and some color swap) but I was blown away in the summer of 1989 seeing that fabled console in the Toys R Us display case virtually unchanged from the Mega Drive pics I had seen in old issues of EGM.
     
  12. Lavender is a beautiful color. I don't feel my manhood is impinged saying that.

    I don't really even have any problem with the general shape of the US SNES, either.

    I think the really bad things about its design are that ridiculous eject lever, the giant sliding power and reset buttons and the...ruffles along the bottom.



    ...word is bondage...
     
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  13. SuperGrafx

    SuperGrafx Guest

    I think my mom said it best when I bought my SNES back in the day...."the Genesis is a beautiful system...the Super Nintendo that you bought looks like a cheap child's toy"

    Lol, she was right!
     
  14. XerdoPwerko

    XerdoPwerko Galaxy Angel Fanatic Extreme - Mediocre collector.

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    The US Snes is really a VERY ugly machine. The second revision looks a lot better. What hits me hard is the change of colours on the controller buttons. Why do that?

    Heh, SuperGrafx's mom is a SEGA fan! That is AWESOME.
     
  15. Shadowlayer

    Shadowlayer KEEPIN' I.T. REAL!!

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    Yeah mine was too, until she started to curse SEGA for pulling the plug on every console they released:-(
     
  16. I like the color and styling of the Super Famicom, but this guy hit it spot-on: It's too rounded, and does indeed look like a bag of bread. I think the perfect combination for me would be the coloring of the SFC with the form of the SNES, minus, as SweaterFish noted, the stupid ruffle around the bottom.

    I had to do a double-take on my Jaguar when I read his comment. Sadly, I must acknowledge that - especially with a cart inserted - it does indeed look similar to a toilet. I still find it a fairly neat-looking console though.

    Speaking of bricks, though: The Saturn, as much as I love it, has got to be the ugliest console I own - even beating out my MSX, which is so heavy it could crush a man's skull. Both of the Saturn controllers were wonderful, but the unit itself looks designed to be hid away in some stereo cabinet or under a table and never looked upon unless a game's being switched. It might look nicer in white, but the black one - ugh!

    Then again, I don't have an XBox, which could easily beat the Saturn in a competition of ugly.
     
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  17. ccovell

    ccovell Resolute Member

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    I meant strictly Nintendo's products.

    Yeah, damn, I forgot to mention the frills on the underside of the SNES... I had it in my head... Stalinist Architecture... Convention centre table-style curtains underneath.

    Plus, I love the look of the Black Saturn. I have the greenish-grey Japanese one, and have had the white one; I think it looks best in black.

    I guess that's the prevailing dogma of game system design -- Paint it Black.
     
  18. Blur2040

    Blur2040 Game Genie

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    So....what do we think the ugliest console is?

    ::coughColecoVisioncough::
     
  19. XerdoPwerko

    XerdoPwerko Galaxy Angel Fanatic Extreme - Mediocre collector.

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    Colecovision is SLEEK, dude. It's great 80's design. I like it, at leat. The pictures at ColecoNation make it look like something out of a retro-future sci-fi stage. The black and silver colour looks impressive. The logo is questionable, though. Intellivision II is ugly, though. But the ugliest retro-machine is more than likely the Channel F.


    PS2, the original brick, that one is fucking ugly. Xbox is also ugly, and also big, but mainly ugly because of the colours. N64 never convinced me designwise.

    Portables are always very good looking. The re-designed gameboy still looks awesome for me, but I really love some versions of the WonderSwan as well. And the Neo Geo Pocket is pretty too.

    The prettiest machine ever built has to be the PCFX. I've always wanted one, useless as it is, just because of its sleek looks.
     
  20. Garlo

    Garlo Peppy Member

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    And even worse, when you turn it on, instead of a growl it sounds more like someone flushing a small toilet.

    Still think it looks ok, tough. Just wish it didn't look so much like a toilet. :D
     

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