Interview:GameSpot February 23rd 2003

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We chat with the creator of Mario about Link's new look, Mario Kart for the GameCube, sequels, and more.

At the annual DICE Summit in Las Vegas, we had a chance to sit down and chat with Shigeru Miyamoto, the creator of Mario, and Eiji Aonuma, the director of The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker. Miyamoto and Aounuma covered a range of topics, including the current state of the industry, the GameCube hardware, sequels, and working with third-party developers to produce high-profile content for the GameCube.

GameSpot: Now that The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker has shipped in Japan, how do you feel about its reception in that territory?

Eiji Aonuma: I've been very happy with the reception it's gotten. When we showed off the new Zelda look at Space World, we received a lot of comments and criticism and wondered if we were going in the right direction. At that time I really had faith that once people played the game and saw it in action, they would understand the reason we took that direction with the graphical style. [All the recent feedback from both Japan and the US] really convinced me that my idea was right from the beginning and I was right to have faith in myself.

GS: How do you feel about it, Mr. Miyamoto?

Shigeru Miyamoto: Obviously, I gave my stamp of approval to this project despite the fact that there were many voices on all sides of me saying, "Are you sure this is the right thing to do?" So, to be honest, I feel somewhat rescued.

GS: In yesterday's conference with Yu Suzuki, you mentioned that in the process of developing games, you'll occasionally start working on something, only to scrap it and then start from scratch. Did that sort of thing happen with the latest Zelda?

EA: We actually didn't have to do that this time around, which was a relief because you know I like to throw everything off the table sometimes [laughs]. This time around, I would take my ideas to Mr. Miyamoto, and he would look at them early on in development and give his approval. [After that] he wasn't too involved in the development process. Then toward the end, we would have him sit down, play the game, and get his feedback on it. At that point he would say, "This is good, but you might want to change a little bit here or make other changes here and see what you can do." So development went very smoothly and it was quite a relief.

SM: The one thing you could say that we tore apart and started from scratch on was the original experiment we did that had the more realistic Link and the more realistic Gannon at Space World.

GS: After completing The Wind Waker, do you have more ideas of what can be done with the cel-shading technique used in the game?

EA: One thing that first made this process of cel shading take off was that we were able to take Link and use him to create a different experience for the player. Link would be looking around the environment and his eyes would move around and focus on one thing. The player would then become curious about what Link was looking at, so we were able to add that as a gameplay mechanism and use it as a hint. That's an example of how we've used cel shading in the current Zelda game, and I think that there's still a lot more that we can do with cel shading and there are a lot more features we can add in future games.

SM: Since we've already developed this technology, we'd really like to use it again, but we were able to use it with Zelda because in the game Link is always a child and he never becomes an adult. Since we don't what's going to happen with Link in the next Zelda game, we don't necessarily know if [we're going to use cel shading for the next Zelda game], but we'd definitely like to use it again for a game that best suits that style.

GS: How much involvement do you have with Soul Calibur II?

SM: Yeah, it's actually kind of weird. I've found that I'm more involved with meetings about projects that aren't even being developed by Nintendo, so I've had a lot of meetings lately and I'll bring the artists along and they're very involved in that process. But it struck me one day that I'm in all these meetings on outside projects and the number of Nintendo-related projects has really fallen off--I'm starting to think I'm paying more attention to what other people are doing rather than what we're doing [laughs].

Namco, the guys who are creating this game, they are big fans of Link and they really wanted the opportunity to use him in this game. From the very beginning they've been giving a lot of thought on how to use Link in the game and what sort of attacks he would perform, so they've been very attentive to how Link appears and what he's doing in the game.

GS: Some of the attacks in Soul Calibur II are somewhat violent. Are there any sorts of attacks that you didn't want to see Link performing?

SM: We didn't give Namco any guidelines to follow, but they've been very considerate with how they're using the Link character, so they would say, "We're going to have him do this, is that OK?" So that's been very good to us.

GS: You've talked about how much you've enjoyed working with different third parties, so what's your involvement with Capcom been like lately?

SM: Yeah, it's really fun working with Capcom, and actually the Capcom Zelda team is almost like a part of Nintendo now since we're so used to working with them. We would totally feel comfortable with them just joining us, but not that would happen [laughs]. They're really great to work with, even though it's certainly true that the two companies are quite different. Capcom is more of a regimented company, whereas Nintendo is more free-spirited, so it's funny that we're able to work together and get along so well.

There were a number of people working on The Wind Waker who are big fans of the work Capcom has done with Zelda, and the people who are working on Zelda are huge Zelda fans and love the Zelda universe. But since they're always working, they rarely have a chance to play Capcom's Zelda games and vice versa. One day, Capcom came by and showed us the game they were working on, The Four Swords, and our staff members were so excited that they started playing it right away. Of course, we would send them updated builds of The Wind Waker and tell them to try it out as well. We have a great working relationship.

GS: Sega's a well-known developer. What strengths do they bring to the table for the F-Zero project?

SM: F-Zero's always been an intense game with its focus on high-speed racing, and it's the type of game that people get really dedicated to. Mr. Nagoshi took a liking to the F-Zero franchise early on, and thinking about the F-Zero franchise, we always try to hype it as being a game about speed, and in that sense, that's something that we felt that Sega and Mr. Nagoshi's team are very good about doing--creating games with a sense of speed. I think the two of them together [F-Zero and Sega] are a perfect fit.

They're also working very hard to bring new ideas to gaming with this project, with the idea of bringing the game to the arcades and having the interactivity with the console version--even what they're doing with the arcade cabinet and how it moves is something new. We're really excited about it.

GS: So what's going with Konami and the reported Metal Gear Solid game on the GameCube?

SM: I spoke out of turn I suppose [laughs]. Yeah, we're actually working on a couple of projects with Mr. Kojima--he's working on his new Game Boy Advance project. Actually, quite a while ago, he talked to us about wanting to bring the Metal Gear franchise to the GameCube, and that plan's been in motion for a couple of years now. I spoke about it when I shouldn't have, so if you want details on that project, you might want to try asking Mr. Kojima.

GS: Will do.

SM: He might say no [laughs].

GS: Lately there's been some grumbling from third parties about working on the GameCube. How do you feel about the concerns of third-party developers? Also, how do you feel about the GameCube hardware? Is there anything you would change about it?

SM: Well, I really think the video game market overall is seeing declining sales of individual games. Of course, now you see a lot of publishers that are using multiplatform strategies. Nintendo has always used the philosophy that a multiplatform strategy is not the best path for a profit-oriented company. I think a lot of the third parties are starting to find out that this is accurate.

If we can increase the user base, I think a lot of developers are going to come and support the GameCube with great enthusiasm. One way we're trying to do that is by focusing on games that players can only enjoy on the GameCube and games that specifically take advantage of the GameCube hardware and the Game Boy Advance. We've been in talks with companies like Electronic Arts to take advantage of the connectivity idea and bring new ideas to gaming. I think by supporting this and by working with third parties to increase the user base we will be able to win back some of that support.

GS: Third parties haven't done a whole lot with GBA connectivity or online functionality to date. Is that frustrating?

SM: It doesn't bother me that much. I mean, obviously, we need to work to increase the install base, but also I don't think we've even shown all the strengths of connectivity ourselves. Nintendo needs to take the lead in doing that--coming up with new ways to use connectivity--and when third parties see that, they'll think they can make a project off it too. At that point, I think we'll have so much support that we'll have to turn people down [laughs].

It's important for the industry to look at these new forms of games that are going to expand beyond the current styles you see now, because developers are so focused on creating gorgeous games and incredible graphics, which require so much more time, energy, and money. I think all the software publishers are having a hard time with some of these costs.

GS: Similarly, is it frustrating when people voice concerns about the user base, when it's approximately 3 million? That's not exactly a small number.

SM: It used to be in the toy industry that if you could sell a million units, it would be considered a success. Now, with Nintendo, where the software titles are selling 600,000 to 800,000 units, we consider that to be a big success for us in Japan, so looking at our user base, we want all our games to achieve that level, but we need [to sell more consoles] for that to happen. In that sense, it is kind of funny that despite our user base we need to sell more, but at the same time, the industry as a whole is focusing on how a game sells across all platforms. So, ultimately, I think we need to increase the user base to get up to that level.

GS: You've often talked about the pressure of having to get certain games out, and we've noticed that Pikimin 2 is coming out rather quickly. Did you feel pressure to get this game out?

SM: The original plan was actually to release Pikmin 2 in October of last year, but because so many members of the EAD development staff had to lend support to The Wind Waker, it's a little behind schedule [laughs].

GS: On the subject of sequels, can you say anything about Mario Kart?

SM: Well, after winning the innovation award for Animal Crossing at DICE, I wish we could discuss some of the innovation that we're going to be introducing with Mario Kart, but I can't just yet. I can tell you that work is progressing on it, and just the other day, a North American localization group completed voice recording for the game.

GS: What about online possibilities for the game?

SM: We've been conducting online experiments with Mario Kart for quite some time. This time around, we've looked at it, and I still feel that [the kind of experience Mario Kart delivers] would be very difficult to pull off online.

GS: What kind of expectations did you have for Animal Crossing, since it was such a different game? Also, in terms of a sequel for Animal Crossing, how do you improve on a game like that?

SM: I really didn't know at all whether or not the game would be a hit, but I really did think that for the style of gameplay it offers, it definitely has a place in life and it's a game that's suited for everyday life. I came to this conclusion watching my kids play Zelda games with their mother, specifically Majora's Mask. They would try to help her through it and urge her on, and they would sit there and play for hours on end. My wife complained about the fact that you would have to play for such long periods of time to get anywhere in the game. So the thing I like about Animal Crossing is that it's a style of game that if you want to play it for a long period of time you can, but at the same time, you can also play it for a few minutes per day.

There are also a lot of families that want to play video games but find them too difficult to play. One thing that we're doing in terms of a sequel is bringing the connectivity features of the North American version to Japan, which didn't have them originally. I think that expanding on that connectivity and the non-network network style of gaming is one way to expand on the game. That doesn't mean that it's going to an online Animal Crossing game, but it will be the Animal Crossing experience with a network-style application to it. It will be very difficult.

GS: Thanks for your time.