Shigeru Miyamoto isn’t ready for “game over.” The face of Nintendo (actual title: Senior Managing Director and General Manager, Entertainment Analysis and Development Division) and game development icon made a statement a few weeks back (right before receiving a hall of fame award at the Video Game Awards) that sounded like a retirement announcement. It was taken a bit out of context, and he has since backtracked. Hero Complex writer Jevon Phillips sat down with the master developer, 59, to talk about all of that as well as the anniversaries of Mario and Zelda and the big-picture changes in game development since a little plumber first jumped over a barrel in Donkey Kong.
JP: So — retiring? What exactly did you mean when you first made the statement?
SM: I’m sorry that whatever I said has been somehow reported in a way which causes some misunderstanding. To make it very clear, I have no intention of retiring right now at all, and I do not think that I’m old enough to think about retiring anytime soon. The fact of the matter is I’ve been really enjoying working at the forefront of video game-making at Nintendo, but I cannot work forever, and the current system is that when people see Nintendo, in the current structure of development, people see me as the sole person responsible for the entire development of series. There are other young developers who are being supervised by me, but thinking in terms of the future, we need to increase the number of people who can take on more responsibilities and more important assignments other than myself. One way to express what I’m doing right now is to say that I’m inspiring younger generations to take more of a lead and more important assignments for themselves by saying get prepared for the time I need to retire. That’s what I really meant to say, and once again I’m sorry if there was some misunderstanding.
JP: OK, that’s cleared up and out of the way. You mentioned the younger generation of game creators. What’s changed in the business of game development since you began?
SM: Of course in the past 25 years or so, technology in the video game industry has evolved and the things that we can do as developers have actually increased significantly. Before, game development was ‘OK, let’s think about what we can do with the limited hardware we have and push those boundaries.’ However today’s technology is so big, it’s like we’re being asked by the hardware, ‘What can I do?’ That’s pretty much the difference. We have far wider choices of how to do things as developers. That’s what I think the biggest difference is from 25 or so years ago. But I can also take note of the fact that the number of people developing video games has significantly increased. So much so that today it takes so much energy just to take care of the managerial job of making one game and introducing it to the market that it takes away from thinking about new ideas and how [to] shape the entire video game.
JP: In terms of shaping the industry … Mario and Zelda have been doing that for 26 and 25 years, respectively. What do you like about what’s new with these two properties and their newer games like Mario Kart 7, Super Mario 3D Land and Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword?
SM: They are both growing in conjunction with the evolution of technology. In the case of Zelda, it’s of course about the swordplay. But it’s also about the player growing up with the character of Link. In order to enjoy the adventures of Link, we developers always have to think about incorporating more convenient item selection in the gameplay… We were able to take advantage of the Wii Motion Plus to make the gameplay more intuitive. Link uses his sword for offense and his shield for defense, which makes it more interactive. So much so that you yourself become more involved physically in the adventure. With these advances, I think we can say that Skyward Sword is the ultimate Zelda game. Super Mario used to be a game that was accessible to anybody. But since the N64 version of Mario 64, of course many people are happy to see Mario in a 3-D World. It was like you are now able to move your character in real-time animation, and it was exciting. But at the same time there were some people who were thinking that 3-D would be too difficult, or loved 2-D more. So developers have to struggle to figure out how to make 3-D games accessible and make it play like a 2-D game. With the availability of real 3-D viewing on the 3-DS and its effective interface, I think we’ve come up with a good solution. The freedom of the 3-D world with 2-D accessibility and efficiency.
JP: With 3-D being the wave of the present, what do you see as the future for the Wii and the 3-DS? And what’s in development now?
SM: What I can talk about in terms of the future is rather limited today, but we can talk about the Wii. Thankfully, so many people play with the Wii, we can develop a variety of different games. Also, it will be succeeded by Wii U in the future. It will be HD compatible and still have enough accessibility for everyone. As for the 3-DS, it’s not the only machine that lets you see 3-D, but we know that not all households are equipped with 3-D TV sets and not all movie theaters are showing 3-D movies. But on the other hand, everyone who owns a 3-DS can see things in 3-D. For developers, we can think in those terms. Every customer sold to is able to see things in 3-D, and we just added the ability to view 3-D movies on the 3-DS with the most recent system update. That’s the latest addition, and I think that developers can take advantage of this. It’s an exciting time and gives us enormous opportunities to make something new.
JP: When developing a game nowadays, story is really important. Crafting a game like Zelda, is it coming up with a story then creating the technology to make it, or is it coming up with technology then building a story to utilize it fully?
SM: Among the many franchises that Nintendo has, Zelda is the one that makes the most use of a story. Each one of the franchise games has to make great use of the story because we want players to be involved. We’re [careful with them] because if there were any contradictions, for example, it might be awkward and become a distraction for [a gamer] to feel like they are in the game right now. Having said that, however, the most important thing is the gameplay and the experience through the gameplay itself. As far as the Legend of Zelda is concerned, one of the important factors is that the player has to think about a variety of different options. That’s gameplay and story. When they are encountering a riddle, they have to think hard and try out many different things. Of course, this time, it was really important to feature the sword, and we really wanted to highlight the movement of the sword. And because the story is evolving around the sword, we thought, ‘Why don’t we make this an Episode 1′ — that way we can tell the story of the master sword.
JP: So it all came together simultaneously. OK, tougher question: Give us your favorite Nintendo characters.
SM: It’s hard because every character is important to me. Mario, Peach, Luigi, Koopa. Zelda. Toad. Of course, Link. I should also mention Donkey Kong… it’s hard. To me, Mario is a very convenient character. I’m the type of person who thinks of gameplay first, then thinks about the most suitable character for the game. Mario happens to be a versatile character who can do anything. That’s how I think about things. Like in Wii Fit, I do not think that Mario would be suitable for that. He would be strange for the Wii Fit to me.
JP: Considering the anniversaries … what does it mean to you as a developer that you’ve created these characters who have been this popular for so long?
SM: When I was in junior high, I wanted to become a manga cartoonist. It is very natural for the manga artist to grow with their character in Japanese manga. To me, I was not sure. Inside, I naturally thought, ‘OK, I’m going to grow as they grow.’ Of course, I feel very lucky that so many fans have supported the games with these characters, and thanks to continued sales, we can now celebrate the 25th anniversaries of Super Mario, for example, and others. Even though it was the natural course of action for me to think that we should grow together with the characters, we are very thankful for the fans who have supported this growth. When I created the character for Donkey Kong, I did think that I was making Mario a character that could grow with the evolution of digital technology.
JP: Manga was your main influence before. Is it still, and do you have any current influences like TV, etc. that drive or inspire you?
SM: Japanese manga has made a great evolution. They are very well-prepared, starting from the basis of an idea, even before drawing characters, They have come up with solid characters and are so sophisticated right now that they have great influence on making TV dramas and dramatic scenarios today. Looking at the current media, including manga and TV dramas, I don’t think that I’ve been greatly influenced by them in terms of my way of making video games. I’m still being influenced from a long time ago. For example, we still have 4-frame manga in newspapers, and I’m still influenced by the Japanese format of funny storytelling called rakugo. Rakugo is a unique form of Japanese storytelling where only one storyteller is in front of you sitting on the cushion on the tatami floor and spends as little as 5 minutes or as long as 30 minutes in front of you. And using subtle movements of the hands and their faces, tell a story.
Through my own experiences in the past, I’ve been more influenced by them than something current like recent manga or TV dramas.
– Jevon Phillips
RECENT AND RELATED