Jeremy “Jez” San, who founded Argonaut Software and was part of the team that designed Super Nintendo’s Super FX chip, did a very lengthy interview with NintendoLife about his long career. Among other things, San discusses his time working with Nintendo in a very intimate capacity as Argonaut developed the Super FX chip, as well as games like Star Fox and other hardware like the unreleased Super Visor for VR. He expresses deep gratitude for what Nintendo enabled them to do, but he also offers his insight and opinion into how Nintendo operated back then and perhaps even now.
Notably, Jez San discusses how Nintendo was in the past mostly about creativity as opposed to technical ability, and he estimates things may still be like that now:
The reality was, at the time – and probably even still now, to a degree – Nintendo doesn’t actually employ that many good programmers. They’re mainly creative, and what used to happen was Nintendo would program their games in-house but they’d make them work and they’d make them fun. And then they’d send them to this company called HAL, which would reprogram the games with their good programmers. HAL was an outside company, but they worked only for Nintendo; it was like a crack development team.
The reality is, the way Nintendo used to hire wasn’t based on merit or talent, like western companies do. They’d hire graduates out of university and pay them based on age, not on talent or capability. So you ended up with a lot of creative people who did the design and came up with cool ideas to make the games fun. But programming-wise, they’re not the strongest because they didn’t start off life as programmers. It’s kind of hit and miss, whether they ended up being good programmers or not. Whereas teams that only hire good programmers – like Argonaut and like HAL – could do some good code.
San also discusses developing the Super Visor hardware for Nintendo, a device that was only brought to light last year. It was a VR device with a “very cool 3D graphics chip” that would have used technology that had just been invented at the time, but San claims R&D1 guru Gunpei Yokoi “nixed” the project when it was nearly completed in favor of Virtual Boy. San says the Virtual Boy technology was “awful” and that it was generally “just the most stupid idea,” which, in fairness, is the majority opinion on the subject.
All the same, San goes on to say, “Still, I’m not bitter; working so closely with Nintendo was an honour, a privilege and an amazing opportunity to be at our most creative working for a company that appreciated our tech and innovation.”
The full Jez San interview could take you a good hour to wade through, and some of it is overly technical and esoteric, but give it a look if you have nothing else to do on a post-Thanksgiving Sunday.