HAL Laboratory, Inc. is a Japanese second party development studio subsidiary of Nintendo, based in Chiyoda, Tokyo. The company has a very close working relationship with the Nintendo EAD division and has collaborated with them extensively on many games across several generations of Nintendo platforms including the Super Smash Bros. series. HAL laboratory games are popularly praised for their simple intuitive controls and addictive play.
Founded on February 21, 1980 in Tokyo, Japan, HAL Laboratory has created games for many consoles and computers, including the Commodore 64, MSX, NES, SNES, Nintendo 64, GameCube, Wii, Nintendo DS and 3DS. Their name is a reference to the HAL 9000 computer in from the famous science fiction novel (and film) 2001: A Space Odyssey.
The company was originally started by a department store manager and a group of enthusiast employees, now-famous industry icons Satoru Iwata and Masahito Tanimura among them. As Iwata recalls in an interview, "We became friends, formed a club, and soon rented an apartment in the Akihabara district of Tokyo where we began designing our own games. We worked until midnight or later every night, and that group of friends is what became the company known as HAL today." It was this enthusiast passion that allowed HAL to grow from a basement club to the bastion of quality family gaming that it is today.
Although the company was made up of hardcore enthusiasts, it wasn't video games that HAL first developed. Instead, they worked on a few peripherals before getting to their real dream of developing games. They first made a scanner and a trackball for the MSX system. Despite the fact that these weren't actually games, the peripherals proved successful and HAL was quickly propelled into the meat of game development, with their first official release being Eggerland for the MSX in 1985. This would serve as the basis for their Lolo games.
The company first rose to prominence with Western audiences in 1989 with the release of its surprise hit Lolo games for the Nintendo Entertainment System. The Lolo series would serve as an aesthetic and game design template for future HAL games, the most notable of these being their signature Kirby franchise which was created immediately after the Lolo games had their run. The Kirby character has become one of Nintendo's best known mascots and has appeared in over twenty-five games as of 2011.
Before they could develop Kirby, though, HAL had to prove themselves to Nintendo. Not always a subsidiary of Nintendo's, HAL took contracts from numerous different companies and worked on many different platforms at the start of their life cycle. When they began to hear rumors that Nintendo was hard at work developing a home console that would be capable of stunning new graphics (this console would turn out to be the NES, or Famicom in Japan) they rushed to secure a contract to develop for the system. Instead of allowing them to do their own original game, however, Nintendo hired them to fix one of theirs that had fallen far behind schedule. Thus was NES Pinball born. After the surprise success of this once-broken game, HAL was allowed much more creative freedom, and went on to create both the Kirby and Earthbound series, both of which received massive critical acclaim over their life cycles.
Since then the studio has found even greater fame creating and developing Nintendo's extremely popular Super Smash Bros series, a few games of the world famous Pokemon series and the cult hit Mother series (known in America as Earthbound). In 2011 HAL released their first augmented reality game, Face Raiders, for the Nintendo 3DS.
HAL Laboratory is also notable for its talent. Satoru Iwata, former president of Nintendo, used to be the president of HAL Laboratory. Before founding Sora, Ltd., Masahiro Sakurai (creator of Kirby and Super Smash Bros.) worked at HAL Laboratory.
HAL Laboratories took on its name from the AI in Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey. It is speculated that they chose the name because the film, which emphasizes the cold and calculating nature of technology, inspired them to make their company the warm, approachable face of video game technology that they are today. Although mere speculation, titles such as Kirby's Epic Yarn go a long way towards validating this policy.
Further evidence of this is shown in their work mantras. Much like Valve and id, HAL takes a "when it's done" approach to releasing their games, emphasizing within the company the full completion of a product before it is released to store shelves.
HAL also encourages its employees to play games together socially as a way of bringing the team together. In addition to allowing team members to bond with one another, this also keeps HAL abreast of all the current trends in game design, ensuring that their products remain competitive even in such a crowded market. For HAL, it is this mixture of developing and playing that leads to such magical success. It is important to maintain and nurture employee's passion for the industry that they inhabit, and for HAL, this method has been a success.
- HAL Laboratory, Inc was situated within Pokémon Blue and Red in Celadon city as an easter egg. Collect all 150 Pokémon and you gain a special prize.
- Despite having no new releases since the early 90's, The Lolo characters often make cameos in the Kirby games.
- In their early part of their HAL Laboratory was often attributed inconsistently in their titles. They were credited in their games as HAL Laboratory, HAL America and HALKEN on varying releases until the mid 1990's
- In the ZombiU edition of "Iwata Asks," Iwata states that "HAL was named as such because each letter put us one step ahead of IBM."