Nintendo DS

Flipnote Studio Started as a “Secret Project”

0 I didn’t realize Super Mario Galaxy director Yoshiaki Koizumi had a hand in developing Flipnote Studio (aka “Moving Memo Pad“) for the Nintendo DSi until I read this new Iwata Asks entry and found out it was developed at EAD Tokyo.


As it turns out, the Nintendo side of the Flipnote Studio team comprised of Koizumi and Hideaki Shimizu, responsible for programming Mario in Galaxy and Donkey Kong in Donkey Kong Jungle Beat. The two of them kickstarted the project in secret without telling anyone else and had a prototype up and running in mere days.


The project went through several phases before being finalized. It was initially intended to be a tool to help take notes, and Koizumi and Shimizu considered developing a WiiWare application that would be transmitted to the DS in a manner similar to downloadable DS demos. Notes taken on the DS would then be transmitted back to the Wii and shared with other people online via the WiiWare app.


This was in April 2008. Interestingly enough, no one at EAD Tokyo had no clue that the DSi was in development at the time. Once the dynamic duo learnt of its existence, they moved development over to the DSi. The problem then became finding a suitable way to make sharing of Flipnote creations easy and accessible. Since Nintendo’s Network Development Department was up to its neck in other projects, this was easier said than done.


The issue was resolved by Nintendo president Satoru Iwata:


Koizumi: I remember you thought long and hard about it, and then suddenly jumped up.


Iwata: I did?


Koizumi: Then, after thinking about it some more while standing up, you sat down in your chair backwards, with your arms wrapped around the seat back… (laughs) Then, as if you’d just had a flash of inspiration, you said, “We’ll work with Hatena.”


Iwata: Oh, that’s right. (laughs)


Koizumi: Then you added, almost as if talking to yourself, “That would be cool. That would be cool.” We didn’t know what you were talking about. (laughs)


Hateno Co. is an Internet services provider (no, not an ISP) in Japan that offers services like social bookmarking — I had no idea what this was initially either — and hosting blogs. One of the services they offer in English is Hatena Haiku, a micro-blogging system similar to Twitter.


Hatena’s R&D department had recently shifted to Kyoto, the same city as Nintendo Corporate Labs. This was the reason behind Iwata’s stroke of inspiration.


Iwata: Sitting backwards in my chair. (laughs)
Koizumi: That was quite a sight!


Once the collaboration with Hatena got underway, the next challenge was ensuring Flipnote submissions were “safe” and “appropriate.” Initially, it was suggested that an evaluation system be implemented so DSi users could positively or negatively mark each other’s submissions. Given their experience with social networking, however, Hatena had a different idea.


It was decided that the evaluation service would rely on Hatena users viewing Flipnote submissions on their PCs. If even a single person tagged a submission inappropriate, it would be held back from being visible to DSi users. If, after a certain period of time, it was not tagged inappropriate by any more Hatena users, it would be available for viewing on the DSi frontend.


Once a submission is out in the wild, other users can tweak it any way they want, and re-upload it to the service. The interesting part is, the submission retains the name of every single person that worked on it, including the original creator, which encourages you to keep track of your work to see how people change it.


Flipnote Studio is scheduled to come out August 14 in Europe, and is out now in the U.S.


If you’re interested, there’s another very interesting Iwata Asks segment with Yoichi Kotabe, who has worked on a variety of big name anime projects (eg; Heidi, Girl of the Alps), as well as an illustrator for the Mario games in honour of its release. It’s really quite inspiring.

Ishaan Sahdev
Ishaan specializes in game design/sales analysis. He's the former managing editor of Siliconera and wrote the book "The Legend of Zelda - A Complete Development History". He also used to moonlight as a professional manga editor. These days, his day job has nothing to do with games, but the two inform each other nonetheless.