Why we decided to use cardboard
So you didn’t set out to make anything out of cardboard from the get-go? Ease of assembly was the priority for materials, and that’s what led the team to cardboard—do I have that right?
Mr. Kawamoto: That’s right. A typical 3D printer can produce an object from schematics quickly, but with the pace of our work it just wasn’t fast enough. We were making things, adjusting them, and testing them very rapidly. The 3D printer just couldn’t keep up.
Mr. Sakaguchi: That’s true. But the cardboard tank did break easily, because you had to apply your body weight to the top of it. So at the time I was still thinking that the final product would need to be made out of plastic. The tank also had the right Joy-Con stuck in place, so we weren’t making good use of the gyro sensor, which felt like a missed opportunity. That’s when we got the idea to lift the box off the floor and put it on our backs. This allowed us to utilize the gyro sensors and solve the body-weight issue at the same time. We tried it out, and came up with this robot prototype.
Mr. Ogasawara: We called it a “Carry-Con.”
Mr. Kawamoto: And when they showed me this robot prototype I thought they’d lost their minds (laughs). I mean, just look at the thing.
Mr. Kawamoto: Not only that, but I don’t think I’d ever seen a game console controller that makes use of a player’s hands and feet. The whole idea was crazy, in a good way (laughs). I was impressed, though, and I wanted to turn this into a real product. There were a lot of barriers to making it a hardware attachment, so I wasn’t sure how to proceed.
Mr. Sakaguchi: We knew we’d come up with something interesting, but we weren’t sure if it would sell. We’d come up to a hurdle, and I remember there were two specific things that got us over it. The first was Kawamoto-san’s idea that we incorporate the “making” process into the final product. The second was, well, we came up with a really boring prototype…
What was it?
Mr. Sakaguchi: This.
Mr. Sakaguchi: We made this music box, and as things turned out, it wasn’t fun at all. It basically worked the way those spinning barbershop poles work—they have diagonal stripes and the whole object rotates. The sign makes the rotation appear as if there is vertical motion, and we thought it might be neat to use a camera to capture that motion. Then we could calculate the speed and change the tempo of a piece of music accordingly. The way it worked was so cool that we got really excited about it…
But then I thought about it from the player’s perspective, and I couldn’t imagine what they would do with it. It was an attachment for the Joy-Con that was basically a mystery for the player because there was no visibility into how it worked. So for the player it was an experience of a little spinning thing that made noise. I was like, “Who would enjoy playing with something like that?” (Laughs.)
Mr. Kawamoto: In the end, the prototype just wasn’t any fun.
Mr. Sakaguchi: The interesting part about the music box was that we could see how it worked, and the process of thinking through the concept itself was fun—and I realized that those are the very things the customer wouldn’t be able to experience. So we figured out exactly what we had to avoid, and that was huge. If we were going to make this into a product, we had to provide the whole experience to the customer. That’s when we realized that using cardboard and having the customer build the projects themselves was the right direction to go in. It took a potential weakness in the project and turned it into a strength.
So you decided on the material and the Make part of Nintendo Labo all at once?
Mr. Sakaguchi: That’s right. We realized that if we used cardboard, the user could build the project themselves, they could fix it themselves, they could make alterations to it themselves… and so on. It brought a lot of freedom into the Make process. Even better, the consumer could experience the joy of discovery. These ideas eventually led us to create the Toy-Con Garage mode.
As you can see, the Nintendo Labo logo is designed to look like a box with the lower right corner left open. We designed it like this to show that the box isn’t closed, that you can open these Toy-Con projects up and understand how they work. We wanted it to show that the kits include detailed instructions, but that there are tons of possibilities beyond them.