We store cookies, you can get more info from our privacy policy.

Iwata Asks: DSi

by Francesca DiMola - February 27, 2009, 6:04 am PST
Total comments: 16 Source: Nintendo

Did you know that the DSi was originally supposed to have two DS game card slots?

Iwata Asks is back for another edition, and this time the Nintendo CEO interviewed the DSi development team about their thoughts, opinions, and the development of the latest DS redesign.

The DSi story begins with Masato Kuwahara, from Nintendo's Development Engineering Department. At the end of 2006, roughly two years ago, his boss had assigned him the task of doing yet another redesign of the DS hardware. The caveat: Kuwahara needed to have the proposal completed by the end of December. Listening to the story, Iwata remarked that it was "quite short notice," to which Kuwahara quickly agreed, "I'll say!" Kuwahara and the rest of the team also had to move at top speed in order to meet their second goal, producing the internal chip for the DSi.

While developing the system, Kuwahara needed to keep in mind how they were going to market and sell the DSi since it wasn't a brand new handheld system, but rather the third edition of the DS line. Kuwahara admits that this problem caused "some frustration," but he persisted nonetheless.

Iwata revealed that the idea for the cameras began early on, when a coworker mentioned how the DS already had ears (the microphone) and a sense of touch (the touch pad). The only thing lacking was for the DS to have eyes.

According to Iwata and the team, two cameras were created in order to make the DSi more versatile. The outer camera is used to take general pictures and/or videos, whereas the camera on the inner side of the DSi is used to photograph a person during play. When the camera idea began, the development team considered inserting a rotating camera instead of two separate ones, but due to the extra cost of production of such a camera and the possible durability issues, this idea was ruled out. The camera pixel count was another concern of the team. As such they decided on an ample 0.3 megapixel camera to avoid increasing the DSi's physical size and reduce possible processing times associated with higher megapixel cameras. Iwata claimed that there was nothing to be worried about in regards to the clarity and quality of the pictures.

The other DSi hardware upgrade was the new SD Card slot. According to Iwata, the feature was heavily questioned by the development team, but was strongly "pushed for" by Shigeru Miyamoto.

According to Kuwahara, the hardest part of building the DSi was physically designing it. Back in October of 2007, while the molds were being prepared, the DSi team held a meeting with producers from Nintendo's EAD division to finally unveil the new product to the company. After the presentation, the DSi team asked the representatives from EAD if they would want a DSi of their own. Of the twelve questioned, only three felt they would actually want one. Kuwahara remarked that they seemed to "[hold] back their true" opinions since "one of the designers was standing right there." This lukewarm response was due largely to the DSi's huge size at the time. The original design featured two DS cartridge slots due to the many requests Nintendo had received from gamers and in-house employees as well.

Due to the negative reaction the developers decided it needed to be changed. Unfortunately, at the time of unveiling everything was already done for the DSi including the parts configuration, durability and assembly checks, and prototype evaluations.

Physically redesigning the DSi pushed back the release date and forced the development team to abandon the dream of having two DS cartridge slots in the system. According to Kuwahara, "it was more important that lots of people who would see the Nintendo DSi would want one." Since the internal structure of the DSi was complete, the deadline to create its new outer design was on a very strict schedule. Yui Ehara, designer of the outer shell of the DS Lite, was put in charge of redesigning the DSi's structure. Ehara stated that he wanted to make "Nintendo DS a kind of icon" instead of drastically redesigning a new version. He wanted to keep its general concept (the two top and bottom rectangles) the same so that anyone would be able to recognize it.

Ehara had three goals while redesigning the DSi structure. The first was to make the unit slimmer than the preceding DS Lite. The second was to make a strong outer shell that could withstand a decent amount of force and that was also not too stressful on the moulds in order to ensure easy duplication. The final goal was to design the casing with affordable materials in order to keep cost down.

Ehara also made some other cosmetic changes from the DS Lite to give the system an even cleaner cut look. The original speaker design featured six small holes. This was discarded in favor of a single horizontal slit. The shiny material used to create the DS Lite casing was also discarded in favor of a matte finish. This prevents fingerprints from showing on the casing, and gave it a distinguishable look from the DS Lite.

The response after the unveiling of the second version was much better received, with everyone in agreement that it was much better than the original design. The EAD team also appreciated the larger LCD screens that were built into the DSi. Though Kuwahara admitted that the feature was not something that would cause people to "shout from the rooftops," he believed that the new screens, now measuring in at 3.25 inches across, was a great update.

A reset button was also added so players could return to the menu. From here they could play a different game without having to turn off the DSi thanks to the extra system RAM.

Another feature that was updated was the quality of the handheld's sound. In the DSi the team upgraded the IC codec, which is responsible for amplifying sound and converting digital into analog signals. This upgrade allowed for a much louder and better quality sound. Developers, and Iwata himself, were very pleased that this aspect was improved.

Kentaro Mita, the go-between for the software and hardware DSi development teams, told Iwata that the true "turning point" of the DSi, the point where it was separated from its predecessors, was achieved when the Shop functionality was implemented. The concept of a personalized "My DS" image was a concept conceived by Nintendo prior to the inception of the DSi project, and the shop brought the DSi one step closer to realizing it. The DSi shop could allow players to purchase various games and applications to make their DSi unique to their own tastes.

The DSi Shop also works in Nintendo's favor, allowing the company to market and sell items that wouldn't have been practical to sell previously as software packages. These applications include things such as maps and calculators. With low-cost downloads like an Animal Crossing clock, Link calculator, and even a simple version of Tetris, players can customize their DSi to their liking. In order to accommodate the shop functionality, the hardware development team incorporated internal memory to store players' downloaded content, similarly to the Wii.

Kuwahara expressed his hopes that everyone's individual personality will be reflected in their DSi systems. He said it would be great if the DSi was an integral part of its owner's life, something they couldn't leave home without. Iwata echoed this sentiment stating that he hoped it would become "something [people] carry around with them at all times."

Iwata closed the interview by stating that the DSi is "full of changes" and users will come to discover all of them "little by little once they get their hands on one and start playing."


Nick DiMolaNick DiMola, Staff AlumnusFebruary 27, 2009

Wow, I had no idea the DSi went through so much to get where it is now. One would assume with such a similar design and structure to the DS Lite that Nintendo used that system as a jumping off point. It seems this was not the case originally.

Two DS Card Slots would've been very nifty and I would've loved the feature. It's too bad that it didn't pass the EAD test.

The My DS concept seems like a pretty ingenious one to me. When I first heard about the shop functionality, I immediately thought "Portable Virtual Console." However, after reading this Iwata Asks, it's obvious that Nintendo wants to give people the ability to have an all-in-one device without explicitly making it one. If you want a calculator on your DSi, buy one. A map, buy it. Any other nifty little gadget, buy it.

The approach really matches what the iPhone is trying to do, and I have a sneaking suspicion that it will be very successful for Nintendo.

RizeDavid Trammell, Staff AlumnusFebruary 27, 2009

Bigger screens and a better DAC for higher sound quality?  Count me in!  I could care less about cameras and calculators.

TJ SpykeFebruary 27, 2009

Damn Japanese with their tiny hands (j/k). I doubt keeping the GBA slot would have made any real difference in the size of the system, and removing has nothing by negative effects (pissing off people who still play GBA games but no longer have a GBA, not to mention taking away use of the slot for games like Guitar Hero).

vuduFebruary 27, 2009

Thanks for the summary!  I was interested in the contents of the interview, but I don't have the time to read the full thing.


I wont' have the credit saved up to get one for free in April, so the DSi will be the first time I've spent actual money on gaming equipment in more than six months.

pyrokamileonFebruary 27, 2009

I'm sure the screens are brighter, even if just a little, and I really love the fact that they are just a little bigger but I think it would have been good if they had focused on improving battery life more...

AVFebruary 27, 2009

Quote from: Rize

Bigger screens and a better DAC for higher sound quality?  Count me in!  I could care less about cameras and calculators.

I haven't seen it in person, but from pictures the new screens are not a quantum leap bigger if anything its like 1/10 of a millimeter.

GoldenPhoenixFebruary 27, 2009

I love these stories about the development process. They usually make you appreciate what all went into something.

BeautifulShyFebruary 27, 2009

The second volume of Iwata asks DSi.
They talk about how the development went as well as the features of the DSi.I like the idea of DSi sound.

CalibanFebruary 27, 2009

It was good to read that feature. Shame we didn't learn if they will be bringing over a VC section just for past portable systems.

DjunknownFebruary 27, 2009


Bigger screens and a better DAC for higher sound quality?  Count me in!  I could care less about cameras and calculators.

I'd have to hear the difference. How much better can it get?

What would be the point of having 2 DS slots? Aside from saving some time shuffling for games?

Its interesting to hear how they crammed a number of features in such a short amount of time. Makes me wonder what they'll have in store when DS2 arrives...

TJ SpykeFebruary 27, 2009

I assume they meant 2 cartridge slots (like the DS and DS Lite have) and not 2 DS slots.

Quote from: TJ

I assume they meant 2 cartridge slots (like the DS and DS Lite have) and not 2 DS slots.

I think it's pretty clear that they meant two DS card slots.  That would have been a silly feature to have added so much complexity to the design.  (More moving parts, less room for internal components, etc.)  Being able to hot-swap games with the reset button is a far more elegant solution.

NovaQFebruary 28, 2009


Iwata revealed that the idea for the cameras began early on, when a coworker mentioned how the DS already had ears (the microphone) and a sense of touch (the touch pad). The only thing lacking was for the DS to have eyes.

Smell-O-Vision for DS v.4 confirmed.

Mop it upFebruary 28, 2009

Quote from: NovaQ


Iwata revealed that the idea for the cameras began early on, when a coworker mentioned how the DS already had ears (the microphone) and a sense of touch (the touch pad). The only thing lacking was for the DS to have eyes.

Smell-O-Vision for DS v.4 confirmed.

Nah, I think they're going to work on the sense of taste before moving to that. Imagine if the lime green DS actually tasted like lime...

BeautifulShyMarch 06, 2009

In this edition Iwata asks about the DSi web browser.

Got a news tip? Send it in!