In an interview with Retro Gamer Magazine, former Nintendo General Manager of Research and Engineering Satoru Okada revealed that the Nintendo DS was a last-minute idea that almost everyone at the company disagreed with.
According to Okada, Nintendo had planned to follow-up the Game Boy Advance with a handheld system known only at that time as “IRIS.” The name was a play on the system’s status as the fifth generation Game Boy device (an iris being the symbol of the fifth month of the year), and the handheld itself was to be a much more traditional device that played upon the strengths of recent Game Boy releases.
That is until, as Okada puts it, something “unexpected happened.”
“President Iwata then came to see me,” said Okada. “He was obviously bothered and he said: ‘l talked to Yamauchi-san (former Nintendo President) 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.”
Okada states that the team felt that the Game and Watch’s two screens were simply a necessity of its time. Modern technology (or technology that was modern back then) allowed Nintendo to work around that particular burden.
As he was at obligated to at least make the effort, though, Okada and the design team eventually created a functioning two-screen prototype called Project Nitro which eventually became the Nintendo DS. Now we know that the DS’ two screens became the foundation of arguably the greatest handheld console of all-time, but it’s certainly interesting to hear that the idea would have never come to pass were it not for a last-minute piece of wisdom from a former company President.