Interview:CVG May 16th 2003

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CVG May 16th 2003


May 16, 2003





CVG asks Miyamoto a variety of questions.


CVG: About the Pac-Man game, could you tell us what elements of the original game you most admire, that you felt would make a new version of Pac-Man a fun game?
Miyamoto: Well the best part about games from a long time ago is that they were very simple, and it's these very simple elements to the gameplay that allowed large amounts of people to start playing these games. Back then when I was making games, we put a lot of focus into that and thought it was very important that people knew what it was that they needed to do, and that it was very clear what they had achieved and what it was they had failed to do.

So that was how we made games back then. But gradually over the years, very simple gameplay and very simple rules like that weren't enough to keep gamers satisfied, and so the games got more complicated. With the evolution in hardware and graphics the worlds got more complicated and the graphics got more incredible, and so in one sense the games got better, but at the same time they got less simplistic and so fewer people were really able to get in and play them.

With Pac-Man I think that, even with the same gameplay, it's still fun. To some people it might seem kind of boring because it's not as extravagant as a lot of games now, but there's still that core element of fun in it. By adding this new connectivity structure to the game you're able to take something that many people have played and are very familiar with - Pac-Man - and add new elements and new experiences to it that you've never been able to have before.

You're able to recapture some of that simplistic fun, and yet at the same time still provide freshness, such as not just playing Pac-Man but actually being the ghost and going after Pac-Man. At Nintendo, what we want to do with connectivity is show to other developers and our third-party partners that you don't have to just make games more complicated or more beautiful, you can actually take something that's as simple as a connectivity system and apply it to a game and have very simple gameplay that will be fun and very exciting for people.

So actually we focussed on trying not to change - we didn't look for what was good about the original Pac-Man and what was bad about it, we really focussed on trying not to change the original concept but instead build in this connectivity idea to recapture some of the fun that people originally felt with that game. I guess the only change that we really did make was that the GameCube portion on the TV is 3D. There are a lot of other options we could consider with that idea, but those are all secret at this point!
CVG: Metroid Prime has been one of the biggest hits for the GameCube so far. What can we expect from the second Metroid game?
Miyamoto: What we did with Metroid Prime was gather individual developers and programmers from different areas and put them together into Retro Studios. This was their first project with all of these members working together, and while we were making Metroid Prime we didn't really know what the strengths and the weaknesses of the Retro team might be.

So Metroid Prime, as a first project, we thought went very well and based on that experience of their first project together we've learned where their real strengths lie and so... well I can't really say a whole lot about what's going to be in Metroid Prime 2, but because they have this experience behind them and they're going to be able to take advantage of their new-found strengths - I think you're going to find the game's going to be a lot cooler.

And the team of course after seeing everybody's reviews of Metroid Prime and winning multiple awards, they've really been excited by all that and they've got a lot of passion about it and they're excited to be working on the next one. But I do think that a multiplayer function that we were unable to include in the original is probably definitely within reach. [laughs] I don't know about any networking though!
CVG: You said that one of Nintendo's challenges is to come up with a game as interesting and intriguing as Grand Theft Auto: Vice City, but without the violence. Can you elaborate or give us any specific ideas?
Miyamoto: This year the focus of our show is connectivity and showing off the features and the possibilities that it provides - so I guess in that sense we haven't really shown titles that we hope to stand against Grand Theft Auto, something like that we might try to show next year or sometime after. This year we're showing titles that have their own unique gameplay with connectivity, something that can only be achieved with that title, and for that reason we think we'll gather user interest and appeal.

Actually I think Pikmin 2 this year is going to end up being one of our most fun games - we've actually removed the time limit, that was in the original Pikmin, so there's going to be a much greater degree of freedom within the game. Obviously Pikmin is a very different concept to Grand Theft Auto, but the underlying idea of being free to do what you want is there and I think that's going to be a very popular game for us.
CVG: This new-found friend and colleague Hideo Kojima - have you had a discussion about what the essence of games is, what the user is doing with them? Hideo Kojima say that games are a commodity but what is getting used is parts of ourselves, so I wonder how he looks at himself - is he an artist, or a producer, or a commodity?
Miyamoto: I think that, apart from how other people may view it, I personally see what I make as being a product for sale, and not so much as a work of art. When I make a game, it's full of my own expression but ultimately the objective of the game is to make the user happy, and one thing that I'm required to do is not only create my games but also put them in the market at a time when I think people will purchase them. So while a game may contain some of my own personal expression its ultimate objective is not to convey that expression so much as to make people happy.

Being a game developer requires a lot of artistic talent from the designers, such as creativity and finding your own unique nature and finding a way to put that into a game, but at the same time the ultimate product that they're putting out is just a product for consumption.

A lot of people will just continue to make games, and they just make sequel after sequel and the gameplay doesn't change much. When we make, say, a Mario game, we always try to find that new idea or that new bit of creativity that goes into the Mario game, so that if you look back at past Mario games and the ones we're doing now they're different. In that sense being a developer requires a lot of artistic expression and being able to get in touch with your creativity and find ways to put that into the game, but I don't necessarily thing that that means video games are an art.

Games do have very artistic elements and could be partially considered an artform but at the same time, because the ultimate goal of the game is to reach as wide an audience as possible, I think that the focus of game design is not so much on the artistic expression as it is on the actual design of the gameplay. When we make a game I don't just draw out a picture and give it to my designers and say: "Here, I need you to make this game". We look at the actual structure of the gameplay and we start from that core and design outwards.

It's kind of a different process I think. The opera for instance is very interesting and can be fun and a lot of people consider opera to be 'art' and very artistic but really if you get down to it, all the opera is is entertainment. And of course long ago when people were writing plays, when they were writing the script for their own play in their theatre, if the theatre next door suddenly started running a production that was a very similar idea then all of a sudden the scriptwriter would re-write his script completely.

So that's probably one of the reasons that you used to see a lot of stories where things wouldn't line up at all and you'd have these crazy stories that didn't match together and people would say: "Oh, that's brilliant artistic expression" but (laughs) really it's probably more often because they were forced to change things at the last second because of other things in the market.
CVG: But aren't you being compromised in a sense? If you just did whatever you wanted to do and disregarded the market, what would that be?
Miyamoto: I don't think what I would create would change much, because what I want to do is create things that are going to make people happy and give them enjoyment. But on the other hand I never go out to the market and say "what game do you want?" and then come back to my office and go to work and try and make that game. That's because everyone in the market will say "Oh, I want... what's popular right now".
CVG: Microsoft has showed a very strong focus on online gaming this year. What is the reason why Nintendo isn't taking part in that area of the business and what's your personal opinion about online gaming for consoles.
Miyamoto: Nintendo isn't saying that we're not interested in doing anything online and myself as a games creator, certainly I'm not saying that I don't want to do anything online. What's we're saying is that as a business, online is not viable right now and we don't want to go into online unless we make a viable business from that.

Until we reach that point, we're not going to go in that direction. But we have Mario Kart on the showfloor this year with a local area network and we've got eight GameCubes hooked up together. And although we're not showing it on the showfloor, Kirby Air Ride is another game that will be linkable via network cables. And we're doing experiments with Animal Crossing in Japan where you'll be able to use SD memory cards and actually transfer data over the standard Internet.

Entertainment is kind of interesting - Rubik's Cube is probably the best example of this - the thing about entertainment is that you can put it in a store and someone walking by can see it in the window and say "Oh, that looks fun and that looks entertaining". They can walk in and they can buy it, pay 20 dollars or whatever and take it home and play it, and it's accessible to everybody.

But the thing about the Internet is that its not accessible to everybody, there are still a lot of people who do not have Internet access and I think the most important thing for entertainment is that it has to remain something that it available to everybody. Because of that I think that Nintendo's main focus will never to limit their base to one certain group.
CVG: Since you first showed Zelda at Spaceworld with cel-shaded graphics, and later when you released Mario Sunshine, there has been a very strong rumour that you're developing two different Zeldas and two different Marios - one that you actually wanted to make, the cel-shaded one, and the one that the fans wanted; not very different from Mario 64 but with upgraded graphics. Is there truth to this rumour or if not how do you envision the next Zelda and Mario?
Miyamoto: We never really work with that intention. We're always doing different experiments within EAD. and I guess in that sense the rumour is somewhat true in that we did do experiments with a more realistic Zelda and the toon-shaded Zelda of the Wind Waker.

In the case of Mario obviously we were doing work on the Mario 128 demo that we were showing at Spaceworld, and separately we were doing work on experiments that we made into Mario Sunshine. That has absolutely nothing to do with us trying to make something that we think the users want versus me trying to make something that I want to make.

As to what's going to come next for those franchises, it's not that there's a plan for what we're planning to make, what we're going to do is look at our experiments and out of all of them we're going to find the one that's most fun and exciting and can eventually evolve into the next versions of those games.

As for what that's going to be I can't say right now. But the thing about games development now is that it's getting more and more difficult to create games because the graphics are so complex and require so much time to create. Obviously if you don't have the staff that are talented enough they'll never be able to put together a game. It's true that we have a team that focuses on an existing sample or an existing model and improving upon that idea and building it into a new type of game. We also have staff that focus exclusively on creating completely new ideas that we've never seen before.
CVG: So if Mr. Iwata made a point in the press conference saying that Nintendo's favourite franchises will be the cornerstone of your strategy for the next few years, in what time frame could we expect the next Zelda or the next Mario?
Miyamoto: Right now we do intend to use the system we've developed for the Wind Waker to go and make another instalment in the Zelda series. And we did use the more realistic Link experiments in Soul Calibur II, and I'm sure there would be a lot of people who would be happy to see more of that.

As for Mario Sunshine, it would be very easy to take the Sunshine engine and create a sequel to that but really right now what we're focussing on is what really is fun, and how can we take that and find a way to make it accessible to a much broader audience.
CVG: What do you think is the biggest news in this year's E3?
Miyamoto: Well actually I haven't seen the showfloor at all this year so I don't know what kind of big news is coming out of other companies. For me I think the biggest news right now is connectivity. One of my biggest worries before the show was if people would come and see our connectivity titles, and see that some of them have slightly dated graphics - particularly the SNES version of Zelda: Link to the Past on the Four Swords game - and look at that and be disappointed. But from what I've seen of our stand people are having a lot of fun playing it so I feel somewhat relieved.
CVG: Recently we've seen the GBA being mainly a platform for re-releases of old games, even if they're tweaked and improved. How is Nintendo planning on finding ways to bring games to the GBA that are more original and less retro?
Miyamoto: I think we've put out quite a number of rather original titles. The most recent and I think the best example of all of them would be Wario Ware, which we're releasing soon in the US and Europe. I think on the showfloor you'll also be able to see a game called Mario and Luigi RPG, which is a brand-new title with brand-new ideas to it. The Golden Sun series has been brand-new on Game Boy Advance, and has done quite well. We're getting to the point where there's not a lot left from the SNES era for us to convert to the GBA anyway, and you're going to be seeing a lot more original titles and a lot more innovation with connectivity I think.
CVG: About Mario Kart now. At the start of the project, what did the designers decide they wanted to do - which elements did they want to keep and which did they want to most change, and why?
Miyamoto: We had a lot of long discussions about what to do with Mario Kart early on, and what we decided was that we didn't really need to change the game because in its simplicity it has some very strong gameplay that's a lot of fun. So it was really about finding a way to keep that simplicity and move forward.
CVG: But for example, they don't drive actual Karts any more.
Miyamoto: (laughs) Well yeah, that's true!
CVG: For me that was the real cool thing about Mario Kart was that, you know, Donkey Kong was really oversized and he had to squeeze into his little Kart. What drove the decision to put them all in crazy looking wagons?
Miyamoto: The nice thing about Mario Kart is that it's a game where the gameplay is so simple that anybody can play it - kids, teenagers, adults, grandparents - so what we wanted to do was try and keep those elements and at the same time make the game look more fun and more exciting, by putting in some of these wacky cars and having fun things going by in the environments. Those are things we could easily do with the GameCube power, so we wanted to take advantage of that and see how we could make the game not only fun to play but also fun to watch as well.
CVG: When GameCube launched, one of Nintendo's aims was to try to reach a wider audience - adults especially, but most of the games are still focussed on children. Do you think that the objective of reaching a wider audience was fulfilled?
Miyamoto: First off I think you might be mistaken on the idea that games are just focused on children, and if you look at the GameCube software line-up there's well over a hundred titles that have been released and overall I think there are a lot of games that are not all focused on children.

There are a lot of games that have a very broad appeal. So people talk about all these games but they're only looking at the ones that have sold well, and that have drawn a lot of attention, and they're not looking at the entire catalogue.

For us we think it's far more important to focus on making good games that sell well, and over time. If you look back at what we've done in the past, Nintendo has a unique strength in that it is very good at making games that kids enjoy. But these are also games that everyone can enjoy, and I think that with our partnerships and by focussing effort on our development you're going to see that there are going to be a lot of games that are going to appeal to people of all ages.

We have Medal of Honor on GameCube, we've got Resident Evil on GameCube, we've got the Metal Gear Solid game, Twin Snakes, which I think you're going to find is extremely highly polished and is a very cool looking game. Star Wars, Splinter Cell... I could keep going... [laughs]. The list is there! Sometimes I wonder if people haven't been caught up by Sony's strategic plan and they're not writing about the titles for GameCube that are out there that appeal to all ages. [laughs] I wish people would write more about them; I hope you all will because there's a lot of games out there for GameCube that do appeal to adults.
CVG: What do you consider are the differences between the Japanese and the two Western markets, especially regarding consumer behaviour?
Miyamoto: We don't really intentionally pay a lot of attention to the differences between the markets - some of them are obvious, like first-person shooters don't sell well in Japan, and if you make games that are very complicated and very deep then there's a core audience in America that welcomes games like that. But its not really something that we take into consideration all that much. In particular, my games don't really distinguish between differences among countries. One game I was really worried about was Animal Crossing and how well that would translate but it's sold quite well in the US.
CVG: Why hasn't that come out in Europe?
Miyamoto: Localising that game for Europe would be extremely difficult [laughs]. Every country in Europe has different events and different holidays in their calendar. If Europe would be happy with the events in the American game then there might be some possibility in doing that. Would that be okay with people in England? [laughs] Maybe we'll do it!
CVG: Do you have any retirement plans? How long are you going to keep going? Some people just want to stop and spend time with their families!
Miyamoto: There was a time when I thought that maybe if my games completely stopped selling then I might retire, but actually at Nintendo now we've got a lot of young, talented game designers. Maybe once I'm able to train them I'll get to a point where I feel like I can pass the torch on and let them get on with things on their own without me watching over them. Maybe that's the day that I'll retire [laughs].
CVG: If you left the company what kind of legacy would you like to leave?
Miyamoto: I've been working with a lot of my directors and designers for many years now, and we always talk about my philosophies on creativity and creating new ideas and things like that. In that sense I think there isn't anything particular I would like to focus on trying to create as a legacy... So long as there's still something I can pass on to them that I think will be positive in terms of the products that we're putting out, it would still be too early for me to retire. If on the other hand I get to point where my input is no longer of any use then I guess that's when I've overstayed my welcome!
CVG: In the last couple of years there have been a lot of changes in gaming, because of new technologies, new ideas, new possibilities. For you personally, which era was more exciting - the first days of gaming, or the present time, and what are your hopes for the future?
Miyamoto: I don't think I could specify an era because, particularly for me, it's all been fun from the start up until now. It's funny that you mention the technological advances because I think we've seen technology become about ten times faster than I ever expected it would have back when I first started making games. Compared to back then it almost feels like we've got so much technology that we can't use it all up! I think that game designers, even including myself, we've almost been helped along too much by these advances in technology.

Also I think that because of the technology we have, we can do almost anything in creating these incredibly realistic worlds. A lot of game designers spend so much time focusing on doing that, that they're failing to do what they should be doing as game designers, which is creating new gameplay.

I think if game designers don't focus on which aspect of the technology they want to use, and take advantage of it to bring their creativity to games, and instead they focus on doing everything the technology allows, all that's going to do is use up their energy and lead to games that are less innovative and less creative.
CVG: Nintendo's policy of outsourcing games has paid off pretty well - Toshiro Nagoshi's F-Zero looks fantastic, I think Star Fox needs some polishing but I trust Namco will do a good job. Are there any other franchises that you will entrust to your partners?
Miyamoto: When we take our franchises and we let others develop games for them we're really not doing it on a company to company basis, where we go to one company and make a contract for them to do a game for us. Instead I find individuals, individual game creators who I feel I can entrust our franchises to.

Mr. Nagoshi [of Sega] was someone I felt I could really entrust the F-Zero franchise to, and also Capcom's Mr. Okamoto, who we've entrusted some of the Game Boy Zelda games to. With Namco, there are some talented individuals that we've entrusted Link and Star Fox to. Really it's not so much about getting other companies to make these games for us so much as it is trusting other developers to take our franchises in new directions - particularly these creative game directors. In the future I think that if we find more of these creative individuals who I feel I can entrust more of our franchises too then we'll probably continue to do that.
CVG: Are there any other developers you would like to entrust some of your franchises too right now? Do you have someone in mind?
Miyamoto: It's funny that you ask me that because I was asked the same question yesterday, to try to name somebody, and unfortunately while there are definitely people out there who I would like to work with I can't really name them right now.

Lately I've been meeting and talking with a lot of very artistic people, and working with them on small, unique projects and giving them support and helping to provide resources for them, and I think that probably next year or the year after we'll probably see the fruits of some of those projects as well.
CVG: What do you think are the biggest problems in gaming? Do you see any?
Miyamoto: It's hard to say there's really one major problem but I guess that the fact that we're seeing that the overall number of software sales seems to be declining is an issue. I think we've reached an era that's almost a dream come true for gamers because they're able to buy these high powered games console - for some people at less than cost - which is something that we didn't do in the past.

It's obviously not good for the companies that are doing it because they're bleeding money and it's going to raise questions as to whether or not they can survive as a business in the industry doing that, but obviously for consumers that's a good thing. Another big issue is that when companies try to create these vast games that consumers really want, or if they try and use every last bit of technology to create really incredible games, the development cost is going to be so high for a game like that that they'll never be able to recoup it from sales. That's another major issue that's facing the industry.
CVG: Irrelevant of Nintendo's strategy, if you were given the opportunity to create and release your games on other platforms would you be willing to go for it or would you stick with the Nintendo platforms?
Miyamoto: When we develop our own hardware it gives me the freedom to do with that hardware what I want, to give me the capability to create the games that I want. If a time came where, for whatever reason, we couldn't survive doing that, then we'd probably have to think about moving into a multi-platform strategy, but I don't really see any point in even considering that at this point in time!

Looking at the other hardware that's out there right now, there isn't anything I can do on that hardware that I can't do on the GameCube, so I don't see any point in even considering trying to develop for those systems.