Why is Shigeru Miyamoto so Damn Happy?

Of all the different ways to introduce Shigeru Miyamoto, none seem adequate. He’s the creator of Mario: Sure, but what about Donkey Kong, Yoshi, Zelda, Star Fox, and Pikmin, not to mention the dozens of games, such as Kirby, Pokemon, and Metroid, he’s consulted on over the years? He’s the senior managing director and general manager of Nintendo’s Entertainment Analysis and Development Division: That’s technically correct, but what the hell does it mean? He’s the “Spielberg of videogames”: That has a nice ring to it, but did Spielberg establish any genres in the movie industry the way Super Mario Bros. defined the platformer? He’s a god of game design: Most would agree, but somehow it doesn’t quite fit the humble family man who rides a bike to work every day.

Maybe the best introduction is Shigeru Miyamoto needs no introduction, at least to gamers who’ve enjoyed any of his work over the last 25 years. We know he’s important, his time is precious, and what he has to say about online gaming, the next Mario, and Nintendo’s upcoming Revolution console is worth reading.

EGM: We’ve heard that you’re working on a new project for Revolution. What can you tell us about it?
Shigeru Miyamoto:
[Only that] we want new projects that utilize the inherent functionality of the system. I want to concentrate on something really unique—but because it’s unique, it’d be premature to say anything about it right now. I get a lot of questions about Mario 128 and [other Revolution titles], but until the interface is announced, I can’t really talk about them.

EGM: You mention Mario 128—two years ago when we talked, you said if you didn’t show Mario 128 in that next year, you would consider yourself a failure. And now here we are....
I’m sorry. [Laughs] Yeah, I got sidetracked with things like Donkey Kong: Jungle Beat and some other titles, and they took some of my energy away from the project. We have been continually working on different projects, different experiments with the Mario 128 engine. The name Mario 128 came from Mario 64 [for the Nintendo 64 and now DS]—with that name, we wanted to say, ‘Hey, we’re creating something brand new.’ So what we do on the Revolution, whether or not that’s going to be [called Mario 128]’s going to be a new Mario.

EGM: Since Mario 128 started as a GameCube project and has now been moved to the Revolution, has the game design changed as well?
Well, [when we] create a Mario game, there are [initially several] experiments. A lot of fundamental things have to be in place. And really, Mario 128 never really got past that stage. So rather than having an actual game design for it, it was more of a concept, like the types of things we want Mario to do. So we’re obviously still using a lot of that material, but as far as the game design [is concerned], we’re swapping ideas and different concepts with the Mario Sunshine team and trying to see what we can come up with, trying to find the most interesting direction to take.

EGM: We know the Revolution will be Wi-Fi [wireless internet] capable out of the box, and later this year we will see the first online Nintendo DS games. After holding out for so long, why has Nintendo finally decided to embrace online gaming?
At Nintendo, we’ve always had to step back a little from network or online gaming. We didn’t like the business model [where] you’ve got a server, you pay a monthly fee, etc. There’s all this setup involved—it didn’t seem all that customer-friendly. But with [the online plan we have], there’s no fee. It’s easy to use. There’s no setup for [the player]. This type of system really generated a lot of interest within Nintendo. We wanted something that was safe, reliable, and didn’t cost the player anything.

EGM: It’s funny you say that, because when the other systems went online, Nintendo introduced “connectivity” [hooking a GBA to the GameCube], which seemed pretty complicated. Do you now think that was a mistake?
Connectivity was a very interesting idea. I still believe it [is] a very interesting idea. Unfortunately, the idea wasn’t communicated very well to the consumer, and that’s too bad—I wish we had done that better. Part of [the problem] was the obstacles consumers perceived before they actually tried it. I think people felt, “How am I going to connect these?” “It sounds really difficult,” “I’m not going to be able to look at both screens at the same time,” and so on. With the DS, we made up for some of those problems—when you buy the DS, it’s got the dual screens, it’s got the mic, it’s got the wireless. It’s all built in, so the player doesn’t have to worry about it.

EGM: Was there any thought of revisiting the connectivity idea with the DS and the Revolution via Wi-Fi?
Of course we’ve thought about it. But our main goal is to create an environment that provides easy access for the player. So whether or not the DS will be used as a controller or what people will do with the Revolution—we’re really not interested in everything the Revolution can do. We don’t want developers to build games around what the Revolution can do, we want them to build games around what is interesting—to use that functionality to their best advantage. So again, it will end up being whatever the developers think is best for their game. The main point of the Revolution is to create a console that allows game designers to create unique, interesting, fun game experiences, rather than being focused on just super graphics or something like that.

EGM: Let’s switch gears and talk about you for a bit. Take us through your typical work day.
Well, it varies a little, of course, but some mornings I’m up at 7, some mornings I sleep in until 9...I’m usually up by 9 at the latest. Then I’ll stay at work until at least 10—sometimes until 1 in the morning. Most of the time is taken up walking around and checking in on all the different teams working on different projects. The biggest job per week would be meeting with the producers of these titles, checking on their progress, and deciding [if they are] on the right track or [if] things need to be adjusted. Then I’ll have meetings with [Nintendo President Satoru] Iwata to talk about things like Revolution or meet with [the public relations department] to talk about advertising and marketing and how to marry those things with products—that takes a lot of my time.

EGM: What’s your favorite part of the job?
Well, since Mr. Iwata became company president, I’ve been able to duck out of some of the more tedious management issues I’ve had to deal with in the past. So I’m really happy I can do more on the development side, meeting with teams and checking on their progress.

EGM: What do your wife and children think about your work?
I have two children: One is in college, and one is a senior in high school. And unfortunately, they both now know where to look on the Internet if I get up at [the industry trade show] E3 and do something embarrassing. [Laughs] [At an E3 press conference two years ago, Miyamoto appeared in a puff of smoke with a Zelda-style sword and shield to thunderous applause—Ed.] I try to keep my private life and work separate as much as possible. At home, we have a really cheerful life.

EGM: Does your family play games?
My wife has never really been into games—not even Tetris or anything. But Nintendogs has her hooked. We have three DSes sitting on the living room table right now, all being actively used to do things with the dogs. You may ask yourself why I only have three DSes when there are four people in my house. After all, I’m a big shot at Nintendo, on the board and everything, right? Well, the truth is my dad stole one. [Laughs] He took one and he’s playing [the import-only problem-solving game] DS Brain Training for Adults on his own. Compared to the past, games are really popular right now in my household. I’m hoping we can have the same sort of response with the Revolution—I really feel we’re getting close to that.

EGM: Any chance either of your children will follow in your footsteps?
My daughter really likes videogames, but she has no intention of [doing what I do]. My son is looking more at advertising or design, but not related to games.

EGM: We’ve seen how your home life can influence your work, like how your gardening hobby led to Pikmin. Recently, your family got a dog, and now we have Nintendogs on the way.
[Once we got a dog], we met a lot of other dog owners. From young people to older people, having the dog enlarged our circle of acquaintances and friends. If you see people passing on the street who aren’t walking their dogs, you don’t have to stop and talk to them. But if [people] walking their dogs catch each other’s eye, they will generally stop [and talk about their dogs]. And I really thought it was an interesting communication phenomenon—pet owners chatting with each other. So one thing I thought was, wouldn’t it be interesting if dogs had some sort of a device on their collars that allowed them to exchange information with other dogs as they were walking by, like a business card? “Hi, I’m Fido.” “Hi, I’m Spot.” Anyway, we actually used the GameCube to make [a prototype dog game]. Of course, on the GameCube we had some great graphics—really realistic, really nice-looking dogs—but that’s where it stopped.

EGM: Until the DS?
Looking at the Nintendo DS’ functionality, with the touch screen, the mic and the voice recognition, the wireless communication feature—I’m like, “Wait a minute! This is the perfect hardware for this particular software title.” While this discussion was going on, a younger director was talking about making some kind of parrot game. His idea was you talk to the parrot, and the parrot talks back to you. But then we started thinking of localization issues—English for America, and then Europe, where you’ve got five languages, and it just sounded like way too much. But if we make a game work where you would record your own voice and it was played back, there’s no localization needed. So I said to the director, “Parrots are nice. Let’s do dogs.” [Laughs] But obviously, the director was really happy because his idea was still alive, and married with my idea, it was even better.

EGM: Moving on to other games—we know Smash Bros. is coming to the Revolution, but what about the DS?
We’re thinking about it.

EGM: What about Luigi’s Mansion? Is that series over, or will we ever see another?
The [director] often says, “Make another one! Make another one!” And I want to use Luigi again.

EGM: Any chance we’ll see another Pikmin?
Nothing’s set in stone yet, but the interface we’re creating for the Revolution is well suited for Pikmin—I think it would be a good match. Not much I can say other than that.

EGM: Will we ever see anything more of Stage Debut [a technology demo that allowed players to map their face on in-game characters]?
Yeah, I want to do something with it.

EGM: How does it feel to see all the nostalgia and goods based on your earlier games?
It’s nice to see, as long as they’re [of] good quality and [are] good products. It’s flattering. In Japan, there’s this group called Tongari Kids that have a rap song [called “B-Dash”] that uses some Mario sounds. It’s really popular right now, and there’s a lot of talk about it.

EGM: What about this: If you could only save one of your babies from a burning building—Mario, Link, or Donkey Kong—who would you save?
[Thinks for a moment] Well, if I saved Link, I’m sure the other two could get out on their own. [Laughs]

EGM: And Link couldn’t?
He’s too cute. [I’d need to help him.]

EGM: Your games often incorporate violence, but it’s always silly or cartoonish. Would you ever consider making a truly violent or Mature-rated game?
Well, if violence was a key component within the game idea, I would have no problem making a game like that. But I don’t want to make a violent game for the sake of violence, where violence is the fun part of the game.

Miyamoto Profile:
Two games he wishes he had thought of:
Seaman: “I really like well-developed concepts. I think Yoot Saito is good at that.”
Katamari Damacy: “Really unique and well executed.”

Biggest dissapointment of all the games he has made:
The Legend of Zelda: Four Swords Adventures: “It’s such a great game and just not enough people played it, you know? I just wanted it to sell better.”

What game he’s been playing a lot lately:
DS Brain Training for Adults: “There’s a Japanese university professor who’s written a series of books of brain teasers and puzzles. His idea is that the brain is a muscle that needs to be exercised just like anything else. He’s really popular right now. So they’ve made a video game version of this – there’s some really fun stuff in there.”

If he could choose only three of his classic games to download to his Revolution’s virtual console, he would pick:
1. Super Mario World
2. The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past
3. Star Fox 64