A newly translated interview with the late Nintendo legend Gunpei Yokoi reveals that Nintendo originally wanted the Game Boy to have color graphics. Yokoi, however, used his status at the company to push for a monochrome display. His hardware design allowed for a more affordable, more battery-efficient product that served the system’s software needs. “When you make hardware without taking into account the needs of the eventual software developers,” said Yokoi, “you end up with bloated hardware full of pointless excess.”

Yokoi believed that there were certain merits to simple, colorless graphics, such as giving players room to imagine the implied details of a game’s world:

“Do these playworlds really need to be that photorealistic, I wonder? I actually consider it more of a minus if the graphics are too realistic. There’s a similar line of thinking in the entertainment world—using soft focus lenses when women are filmed, for instance. When that is done, each person can project their own conception of ‘beautiful’ onto the woman being filmed, and everyone will see their own personal Venus.

“If things are too realistic, there’s no room for your imagination, and the reality of those faces you thought were beautiful will be revealed. Or to use another common expression, it’s actually more erotic when a woman leaves some skin covered. Even if a video game doesn’t have the power to display very complex graphics, I believe your imagination has the power to transform that perhaps-unrecognizable sprite called a ‘rocket’ into an amazing, powerful, ‘real’ rocket…
If you draw two circles on a blackboard, and say ‘that’s a snowman,’ everyone who sees it will sense the white color of the snow, and everyone will intuitively recognize it’s a snowman. That’s because we live in a world of information, and when you see that drawing of the snowman, the mind knows this color has to be white. I became confident of this after I tried playing some Famicom games on a black and white TV. Once you start playing the game, the colors aren’t important. You get drawn, mentally, into the world of the game.”
— Gunpei Yokoi

In fact, Yokoi was so confident in his decision (which, as history shows, seemed to be the right one), that he took relief in knowing that other companies were taking the opposite approach:

“After we released the Gameboy, one of my staff came to me with a grim expression on his face: ‘There’s a new handheld on the market similar to ours…’ The first thing I asked was: ‘Is it a color screen, or monochrome?’ He told me it was color, and I reassured him, ‘Then we’re fine.'”
— Gunpei Yokoi

Source: Shmuplations

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Alex Zangari
Hi, I'm Alex. I'm a lifelong Nintendo fan and PC gamer. A few of my all-time favourite video games include The Legend of Zeldas: Twilight Princess and Majora's Mask, Mass Effect 2, Rayman 2, and most importantly, Xenoblade. If I ever catch you making a "really feeling it" joke in our comments, you can bet your ass I'll hide it, you casual scum. Feel free to send me a private message if you have something you'd like to discuss... or if you just want to say hi!

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