Interview:Official Nintendo Magazine September 14th 2003
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NOM UK: We have to ask. What's happening with Mario?
Miyamoto: I can't say anything concrete yet - sorry. We're making it, of course and as afar as Mario games go, I want to make this a different - but still Mario-esque game.
Nom UK: When do you hope to announce it? A lot of people thought that it would be announced at E3, for sure.
Miyamoto: No kidding... at E3, the question I was asked the most was, where is Mario 128? But I can't say anything now. Sorry!
NOM UK: As for games were announced at E3, how much involvement did you have in Geist?
Miyamoto: We are working more and more directly with N-Space. In fact, some of our staff members are actually solely dedicated to our collaboration with N-Space. In terms of the level of involvement, if Silicon Knights is here [holds hands in air], N-Space is much less. But it's not something like: "Okay, you make this game and we're just gonna sit over here and watch." We're deeply involved. But less so than with, say, Silicon Knights and Retro.
NOM UK: It seems as though there is a conflict between your real self and your public image that's been built up as this kindly, slightly batty, old man who makes cutting-edge video games for little kids. What do you say to that?
Miyamoto: You want to know my reputation among Nintendo staff members? I'm loud and hard on everybody; I stick to minute detailed points; I'm the guy who changes his opinions one after another; and I'm the guy who is still fighting for his opinion past midnight. People who don't know me say that I just spout things out from my gut feeling, but as they come to know me better they think of me as more of a logical type.
NOM UK: You're a musician; you play the guitar, banjo, mandolin... but we've never seen any musical games from Nintendo. Ever thought of doing something like that?
Miyamoto: Of course, we are not intentionally avoiding making music games. We've done a few games that have a music-making feature, like Mario Paint and I love that game. Samba De Amigo is a great game, too, for example. And we have such good music composers here that I often say to them, why don't you come up with a great music game rather than always trying to attach music to the games that others are making?
NOM UK: What about RPG's? Nintendo has traditionally not done many of them... basically it's been Earthbound and Super Mario RPG, but these have been very popular among fans. What was your involvement with them? And what do you like or dislike about the RPG formula?
Miyamoto: I personally have a fundamental dislike of the RPG system. But there are so many people who do like it and there are certain types of games for which that system is perfectly suited. I think that with an RPG you are completely bound hand and foot, and can't move. But gradually you become able to move your hands and legs.... you become slightly untied. And in the end, you feel powerful. So what you get out of an RPG is a feeling of happiness. But I don't think they're something that's fundamentally fun to play. With a game like that, anyone can become really good at it. With Mario though, if you're not good at it, you may never get good. I don't really like the system, but if you need to have a game with dialogue - in the case of Shigsato Itoi's Mother, as far as bringing about a writer's voice and bring a book to life. And in the case of Mario, if you're not good at action games, but still want to play a Mario title, you can/ In those cases, it's a good system. For Super Mario RPG, I worked on the game system and gameplay ideas as well, for Earthbound, I just worked on the game system. But I did speak to Itoi quite often, giving him encouragement.
NOM UK: Is there any possibility of the Mother 1&2 GBA collection coming out in English?
Miyamoto: We had high hopes for Earthbound, the Super NES version, in the US, but it didn't do well. We even did a TV commercial, thinking, "Hey... this thing could sell three million copies!" But it didn't. You might not know this, but there was a petition in the US, a 'Please make Mother 3' petition and it got about 30,000 signatures! After that, we though "Wow... Earthbound fans are really solid".
NOM UK: Mother was very much tailored to the Japanese audience, being the product of a popular Japanese writer and perhaps it struck the 'mainstream' US audience as being a little too strange. For Mother 3, are you thinking about making it more universally acceptable?
Miyamoto: We're always thinking of how to make products sell all over the world. Even at the very beginning when Donkey Kong came to America, there was some initial misunderstanding - but it was the American game players who made it huge. I thought Hamtaro was only going to work in Japan. But now it's really working in the US, too, and Europe. There are games where I think, "this will only work in Japan", but they end up selling in the US anyway. These days, we are seeing so many other things going abroad, like anime. Something which was originally thought of as purely Japanese in the foreign markets. It's really quite a recent trend. But I was always concerned in the beginning, but now just in terms of Japan, but in terms of the overseas market as well.
NOM UK: Getting onto Zelda, are there any plans yet to re-release The Adventures Of Link? Currently it's only available on the Famicom Disk System in Japan and they've stopped making them.
Miyamoto: That... is a secret. Link's Adventure... if we were to just bring it out again, it wouldn't be enough fun. It's a little rough around the edges, isn't it? The Disk System had certain limitations and if we were using the cartridge format it would have been better. You know, the American version is improved. It would be great if we were to give the American version of Link's Adventure to Japan, but... [shrugs]. Even among our staff, they love Link's Adventure. They're always saying, "Let's do it on GameCube!" [laughs] But I don't know. Not yet.
NOM UK: You've spoken of conflicts between design and practical concerns in the early days. Can you elaborate on that? Do you find that it's still the case today?
Miyamoto: It's a really difficult thing - on one hand, there is the thought that the artist has to be free, so they can demand whatever they think is best. On the other hand, the designers have to have at least a certain understanding about what technology can allow. In my own case, I ask my people to understand to some extent the technologies available to use. After all, if the designers are designing without understanding the background information, they can never design something feasible, something that is going to turn out to be an actual product in the end. Of course, it is good to have people who can think in whatever ways they want to and demand whatever they want for the best. After all, the best designers want to create something very unique. So once again, it's a very tough decision. But in my own case I demand people to understand what is feasible, because I myself am an industrial designer.
NOM UK: We heard that the very first game you were working on had something to do with seesaws. What exactly was it all about?
Miyamoto: Seesaw, that was Gunpei Yokoi's idea. [smiles] He wanted a game where you bounce on the seesaw and bounce right off it. But [laughs] we couldn't figure out how to do it! It was really difficult. With a seesaw, if you get on one end, the other end goes up. If you hit one end real hard, the other end goes up just as hard. It was interesting to think about this, but we couldn't do it. We were able to make the lifts that you see in Super Mario Bros., though - one goes up, one goes down... that, we were able to do. To be able to translate your ideas into something that works. That's the game designers job.
NOM UK: Was Donkey Kong Junior the very next game you worked on after DK?
Miyamoto: Yes. During Donkey Kong's development, we were already thinking about things that would become DK JR and even designing the stages. We had fleshed out all of these ideas, but we couldn't use them in Donkey Kong. So, one of my friends who was making the game with me said, "we've got all these ideas, why don't we make another game?" And Nintendo told me to make a sequel to Donkey Kong, so... I wanted Donkey Kong to be the player-character in this game. But he is really big, so we couldn't really do an action game with him. We couldn't make the screen scroll or anything. And so we thought, well, let's make a little Donkey Kong, to use in place of Mario. We did still want a big Donkey Kong on top of the screen. But of course, he couldn't be the main enemy - it couldn't be the son versus the father. So we though, "Ah, Mario has captured him!".
NOM UK: What exactly were you thinking, switching the good guy and bad guy? When you've talked about Donkey Kong elsewhere , you've said that he was not a bad character, that maybe he was just misguided or confused, or that Mario was even mean to him sometimes.
Miyamoto: Yeah, it's like Popeye. At that time, I was originally supposed to be making a Popeye-licensed game. But when that fell through, I was still thinking about the relationship between Popeye, Bluto and Olive Oyl. Their relationship is somewhat friendly. They're not enemies, they're friendly rivals. But I needed different characters. The main character, the big, strong guy, and the beautiful woman... well, uh, Olive really isn't a beautiful woman. I figured I'd make mine beautiful instead. [laughs] What's kind of a mystery is, why did I title the game Donkey Kong? The main character, the player, was Mario. That much was decided. But really Donkey Kong's personality was the most fleshed-out of all of them. I really think it's best to name a game after its strongest character.
NOM UK: Do you like what Rare did with the Donkey Kong series? And what are you trying to do with the brand-new Donkey Kong game that Nintendo is working on?
Miyamoto: Hmmm... well, I'd like to use Donkey Kong for as long as possible and in many other ways. Since he was the character I designed first, I do like him very much. I've always thought that if Nintendo ever got into robotics, if the technology allowed us, the first thing I would work on is a giant Donkey Kong Robot. Then, if I ever found myself out of a job, I could wear the Donkey Kong suit and... do some kind of part time job with it. [laughs]
NOM UK: What was it like working with Denis Dyack and Silicon Knights, and with Retro? How was that different to working with Rare?
Miyamoto: The relationship with each of these companies has been very different. Denis Dyack is an author. We're working to give him the business opportunity to make the games that he wants to; to support him and help him realize his dream. Retro is a production company so we are thinking how to benefit both companies. And Rare is an independent company that can make whatever it wants to make. So like Retro, we needed to do what was best for both of us.
NOM UK: We get the impression that Rare didn't work very closely with Nintendo to polish up its last few games, especially Starfox Adventures.
Miyamoto: Rare is a rather independent company and it has the capacity to work independently. In the case of the original DKC, because I was concerned about the outcome, I was checking and putting in comments myself, especially during the last few months. At the very beginning, my personally involvement was ten percent. This lessened as the sequels went on, but of course other people at Nintendo were always involved. The total involvement was always around ten per cent and this was mainly from my people.
NOM UK: Starfox Adventures just didn't feel like a Nintendo game; it didn't feel like you had your hands on it at all, much less than ten percent.
Miyamoto: Almost everything was done by Rare, except we specifically advised the use of the control stick.
NOM UK: You didn't tell them, for example, to get rid of the 100 or 200 stupid things you had to collect in every single level?
Miyamoto: [laughs] That was a little bit extreme, yes. But, in general, they were good. I'd like to emphasize that our separation from Rare wasn't due to creative differences. It was financial.
NOM UK: Finally, let's talk about Nintendo's position now. From the perspective of a software designer, what are you trying to do now to get Nintendo back on top?
Miyamoto: At the very least, we are always aiming to be the number-one games developer and publisher. That's for sure. In order to do so, we always try to challenge ourselves with projects that are really new and innovative. There were times in the past that video gaming meant an awful lot to a lot of people. There were times when people put gaming as their top entertainment priority. Those days are gone and we need to let people rethink gaming, and make gaming more and more important for them. But to do that, we need to do something bold and brand-new, or the total market may shrink. And if we are just fighting against our competitors to be at the top of a shrinking marketplace, it doesn't make that much difference in the public eye. So thinking about the big picture, we want to make changes so that people realize what we are making is truly innovative and fascinating.