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Nintendo Labo's creators answer our biggest questions

What is Nintendo's cardboard dream all about, where will it go next... and how long will the cardboard stuff last? We asked its creators.

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Sarah Tew/CNET

Nintendo's wild cardboard-folding educational toy-slash-game, Nintendo Labo, goes on sale today for the Nintendo Switch. I've reviewed both sets and played with them for a week, but before that Nintendo asked me for CNET's biggest Labo questions. 

Our questions (asked a couple of weeks ago) were answered by several of the Switch's creators: Mr. Koichi Kawamoto (who was General Director for Nintendo Switch, and worked on 1-2-Switch and the Brain Age Nintendo DS games), Mr. Tsubasa Sakaguchi (a director for Splatoon, and a character designer and art director for Nintendo), and Mr. Yoshiyasu Ogasawara (according to Nintendo, an inventor for several Nintendo patents.) The answers, which we just received, are presented as they were sent to us via email.

CNET: What was the process like to source cardboard, and what surprised you most about the cardboard industry?

Ogasawara: A lot of cardboard is made mainly from recycled paper, which can potentially contain a variety of different materials. From as early as our initial designs, we selected cardboard to be used for Nintendo Labo from materials that would comply with regulations. Governments have implemented regulations to ensure consumer safety. North America, Europe and Japan each produce the cardboard sheets for their region to ensure that the material complies with regional requirements.

We were looking for cardboard sheets that would be easy to build with in our plans for Nintendo Labo, and we designed around optimizing that, the folded tabs, and a few other factors. What we have required with the cardboard for Nintendo Labo must be different from the ones to be folded for packaging some commodities. But when we explained what we wanted to a manufacturing partner who would be making the cardboard for us, they were impressed with how precise our blueprint for cardboard sheet was.

There is a big difference between how to mass produce cardboard sheets and plastic goods. In addition, we have used cardboard as a material for packaging our products but this is the very first trial for us to produce cardboard to enable consumers to build their own Toy Con. As developers, we've also had a variety of new experiences with the final design of cardboard sheets for Nintendo Labo.

CNET: Do you do anything special to ensure customers won't get papercuts?

Ogasawara: Each Toy-Con can be assembled without the use of scissors or glue. And we paid attention to the shape of the parts as we designed them so that they wouldn't be sharp enough to cut the user's hand.

CNET: What's the most impressive or intricate thing you've seen built with Toy-Con Garage?

Sakaguchi: There are quite a few, but one that really surprised me was when someone on the internal debug team cut out a piece of paper and put it over the screen to recreate a Game & Watch game. And we already showed this one in one of the videos, but the first time I saw the bank that lit up in different ways depending on the size of the coin dropped into the slot, I was taken aback by what that simple mechanism could do. I would definitely encourage everyone to think about what they could do with something like that.

Now playing: Watch this: A week with Nintendo Labo
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CNET: Why do you think people are excited by Labo? Does the fan response encourage you to make more and different Labo?

Kawamoto: At first, I was afraid that people could feel confused about Nintendo Labo, but I am pleasantly surprised by the enormity of the positive response we got to the announcement video and to the live demo events we've held in a few different regions. We have also realized that we are expected to develop such a non-traditional product as Nintendo Labo. And it hasn't even been released yet, so I'd say it's real value has yet to be seen.

CNET: Do you think software and games tied to the Labo is what makes them special? And does that mean all Labo will have to be preplanned and created, kind of like Legos you have to build exactly to the instructions?

Kawamoto: The interconnectivity between Nintendo Labo and the Make process, as well as with the software and games is one part of the overall experience. Nintendo Labo isn't just something to play with. It's a product that lets you have fun making hardware that enables play, and in doing so, discover how it all works. In addition to this experience, Nintendo Labo lets you customize the Toy-Con you made however you like, and you can use Toy-Con Garage, included in the software, to combine different inputs and outputs to invent your own unique ways to play, which I think is a very unique point.

CNET: What was a Labo idea you loved that didn't ultimately work, and why?

Sakaguchi: We got lots of ideas from a large number of developers during development, and from those, we're now releasing two different kits. Should this turn into a series in the future, then we'll very likely polish some of our other good ideas and turn them into a finished product as well, so I regret to say that I can't really answer this one. I can say that some of our unused ideas were part of the discussion when deciding what functionality to include in Toy-Con Garage. So I hope you'll use those to create all kinds of ways to play.

CNET: How long will a Labo kit last till it needs to be replaced?

Ogasawara: We designed every Nintendo Labo Toy-Con so that they won't break easily. We tested their resilience to the same action through hundreds and thousands of repetitions, so we expect them to last a long time under normal use. And even if one should happen to break, they are made of cardboard, so they can be mended or even re-created fairly quickly.

CNET: What sensors or technology would you like to play with next using Labo?

Kawamoto: Nintendo Switch does come complete with a wide variety of features and we could say that Joy-Con is a bundle of censors. Nintendo Labo still hasn't actually been released yet, but we would be very pleased to see a wide variety of consumers enjoying it, and to have that lead us to look into even more things we could do in the future.

CNET: Can the Joy-Con IR camera do even more than what's already been shown with Labo?

Kawamoto: Experience with Nintendo Labo will help you understand what the IR Camera can do. And once you understand how it works, you'll be able to apply that knowledge to invent new ways to play. Our expectation is that people will use Toy-Con Garage to come up with uses for the IR Camera that go beyond anything that we've even imagined.

CNET: My son and I loved playing. It seemed like a two person experience. Do you imagine Labo being made for multiplayer or multi-Switch experiences?

Sakaguchi: Thank you. Nintendo Labo can definitely be enjoyed as a single-player experience, but just looking at the Nintendo Labo kits we're planning to release soon, two players with two Nintendo Switch systems and the two RC Cars included in the Variety Kit can race each other or compete in sumo-inspired matches, and two players can battle each other if they have two Robot Kits and two sets of Joy-Con. Plus, during the Make phase, one person can go through the instructions and communicate with another person who is assembling the kit, and the whole family can get together to look at the Discover topics on a large TV. And I'm sure people will make things in Toy-Con Garage that everyone can play with together.

Nintendo Labo Toy-Con 01: Variety Kit