Nintendo DS is the highest-selling dedicated video game handheld of all time, and the second highest-selling video game console of all time behind PlayStation 2. The DS’ two-screen, clamshell design has been a huge hit with millions of players around the world, and Nintendo loved it (and the gameplay opportunities it created) so much that they made their next two consoles (3DS and Wii U) use a two-screen design as well.
Nintendo was passionate about promoting DS and the benefits of two-screen gaming, but that wasn’t always the case behind the scenes. According to Satoru Okada, a Nintendo employee for more than 30 years and the former general manager of Nintendo Research & Engineering, everyone at the company initially hated the design. Speaking with Retro Gamer, Okada gave us some insight into the early days of the DS’ development.
“Actually, after the SP, we were working on the newest model in this range. The code name for this new Game Boy was IRIS, like the flower. The explanation for this name is simple: since it was for us the fifth generation of Game Boy, we chose the symbol of May (the fifth month of the year). In the Hanafuda playing cards, the month of May is symbolized by the iris.
“The project was moving forward at a good pace but during the development, something at unexpected happened. President Iwata then came to see me. He was obviously bothered and he said: ‘l talked to Yamauchi-san over the phone and he thinks your console should have two screens… A bit like the multi-screen Game & Watch, you see?’ Everybody is aware of this, but what people do not know is that at the time, everybody hated this idea, even Iwata himself.
“We thought it did not make any sense. Back in the Game & Watch days, it was different because a second screen allowed us to double the playing area and the number of graphic elements on display. But with the modern screens, there was no point. We were free to choose the size of our screen, so why bother splitting it into two? Especially considering that it was impossible to look at both screens at the same time. This is why we did not understand his idea.”
— Satoru Okada
The idea of two-screen gaming seemed confusing and pointless to many Nintendo employees at the time, but they stuck with the idea, and eventually they began to realize all of the ways they could take advantage of the new handheld. Nintendo DS went on to sell over 154 million units worldwide. Its successor, 3DS, has sold over 61 million units to date.