Interview:TIME March 7th 2013

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TIME March 7th 2013


March 7, 2013





A broad interview about Nintendo Wii U and game development


TIME: What part of the Wii U's hardware do you find the most inspiring and why?
Shigeru Miyamoto: From a gameplay perspective, what interests me most are the new types of play you can create using the Wii U GamePad as either a second or fifth screen when you're playing split-screen multiplayer.

At the same time, one of the other things I find particularly interesting is, it used to be that when you were playing you had to choose whether you would use the television to watch TV or play games. With Wii U and the Wii U GamePad you can do both at the same time. Similarly, there used to be particular activities that you would perform on your computer, like browsing the Internet, and you would have these different functionalities or features that you would use different devices for. But with Wii U and the Wii U GamePad you can now bring these together in one device, and I think that's ultimately going to make your TV, when it's connected to Wii U, a more useful thing in the household.
TIME: I asked this of Cindy Gordon in September, but I'm curious to hear your thoughts. The Wii U GamePad as a secondary screen seems to have been inspired by the Nintendo DS. In fact I've sometimes referred to it as a DS snapped in two.
SM: Well certainly because Wii U has that second screen you can apply some of the ideas that we've brought to life on the DS and bring those to Wii U, but I don't think it would be correct to say DS is where the Wii U idea originally came from.

One of the things I think is particularly unique about Wii U is that up until now, game consoles in the home haven't been able to function unless the TV was turned on and set to display the game console. With Wii U, our primary goal was to create a game console that functioned regardless of whether the TV was on. With the Wii U GamePad's second screen, the Wii U itself can be used in the living room without the TV on, which allowed us to bring the sort of applications we've seen on Nintendo DS, or just the know-how we've developed in building games for Nintendo DS, to Wii U. It's also allowed us to bring some of the ideas that we introduced with the Game Boy Advance-to-GameCube connectivity to the console.

You could also phrase it as saying the screen that everyone watches together is the television screen, whereas the screen that an individual can watch and interact with is simply the Wii U GamePad screen.
TIME: Let's talk about the Wii U system updates. The Wii U launched with interface issues and missing applications, including slow load times for native apps. Why weren't the slow load times caught before release, and why is the update to improve system performance taking until spring?
SM: It's a tough question, certainly, but I think it's also an accurate observation. For Wii U in particular I would say that in preparing the system for launch, it was a project on an unparalleled scale for Nintendo. We had multiple different teams working on multiple different segments of the hardware and its features simultaneously. Certainly we'd had experience with that type of development designing the 3DS, but with Wii U the scope of the project was far beyond our development of the 3DS hardware. And with many of those features, you don't get a true sense for how they interact or where the advantages and disadvantages lie within the broader framework until you're able to bring all the components together into a single unified system.

Even during the testing phase, it's difficult to ascertain what facets of those interactions between the applications are resulting in inconveniences for the consumer until you have an opportunity for many people and lots of consumers to try these features out — to understand how they're using those features and what they're doing as they're switching between them. Since the system was released, we've spent a great deal of time looking at how people are using it and where they feel it can be improved, and we're currently continuing out preparations for this first major system update that's coming. What we want to do is make sure that when we release it, that we address as many of the different opinions about how people would like to see the system improve as we can at once. We hope to cover a wide range of requests while simultaneously ensuring it's a very stable update to the system.
TIME: Do you anticipate a significant performance upgrade to the Wii U interface itself?
SM: We think that by this summer, the system is going to be very much improved over how it's performing currently. Of course when it comes to the actual hardware, those decisions have already been finalized, and one of the things we focused on in making those decisions was the speed of the connection between the Wii U system and the Wii U GamePad. We strongly feel the transfer speed between those two devices is so strong that it's not something that can necessarily be achieved by other devices that haven't been designed specifically with that in mind. So as we get into these other system-based updates, our anticipation is that because of the amount of effort we've dedicated to the GamePad's wireless connection to the hardware, these additional improvements are going to make for an overall device that's even more convenient to use.
TIME: You've said that the most important thing about the Wii U for you is that it could become the first screen families interact with in the living room. Do you see Wii U becoming the default living room interface? For more than TV and gaming?
SM: Yes, I do think Wii U is going to become a place where people can go to get their overall entertainment in the living room. Certainly there are other devices that are designed with very specific uses in mind, and they might be good at those particular uses. But for people who are looking for a single device that can really meet all their needs in the living room, I think that with everything Wii U can do, people are going to find that it is the one device they're going to want to have connected in their living room to access all their entertainment.
TIME: How worried are you about the elephants already sharing the room with the Wii U, meaning tablets, smartphones and other mobile devices along with set-top boxes from players like Roku and Apple?
SM: I look at it from two different angles. One is how you can use a device like Wii U — to make an experience that up until now has happened on a single screen — into a better and more convenient experience. And I think that the Wii Street U powered by Google application we've recently released for Wii U is an example of how we've taken an existing application and really enhanced it through the use of Wii U and the GamePad.

I think the other goes back to, as I was mentioning before, the response time between the streaming of visuals from the Wii U hardware simultaneously to the TV and to the GamePad. Certainly from an interactive standpoint, when it comes to interactive content, because of the strength of that streaming capability of Wii U, my feeling is that the more you start to see other devices that are integrating connectivity with smartphones or tablets through special applications, the more that that's simply going to illustrate the benefits of having Wii U because of the advantages it has in terms of its interactive elements and how the system streams graphics to the Wii U GamePad screen.

As people are using the system and getting familiar with everything it can do and really learning how to use Wii U and the GamePad, I think the last remaining hurdle for Wii U becomes one of storage in terms of being able to store media. But since we've designed the system in a way that allows people to simply add the amount of storage media they need to supplement Wii U, we think it essentially gives people the greatest flexibility within a single device to really make the most of their entertainment in the living room.

TIME: Given the proliferation of devices like tablets and smartphones, do you see the Wii U's ecosystem eventually becoming a complementary technology, where it interacts with these devices, or does it remain standalone?
SM: When you're talking about a hardware ecosystem, Nintendo views the stability of that ecosystem as paramount, as well as our ability to ensure that everyone who uses it has access to all of the features the ecosystem can offer. That's important because then from a developer or designer standpoint, you have the ability to choose which of those features you're going to leverage in the product or service that you're developing.

For example, with Nintendo 3DS, developers can choose to leverage the 3D visuals and know that everyone who owns a 3DS can take advantage of those 3D visuals. Similarly, they understand that everybody who owns a Wii U has access to the functionality of that second screen on the Wii U GamePad. The more that you take one device and try to build in compatibility with other devices through software, the greater challenge you have from a development standpoint in maintaining stability between those different systems, and you also run into the challenge that not everybody is going to have access to those features you're trying to create.

So for this current generation of hardware, our belief is that Wii U is going to offer the most stable and consistent environment to which developers can bring their ideas. In the long term, and I mean very long term technology changes and advances, it's possible that we'll see technological advancement that from a hardware standpoint make other possibilities a reality, but certainly in the shorter term, we feel that Wii U is not only the best but also the most suitable device for the living room.
TIME: The launch window lineup for the Wii U was light on titles starring mainstream Nintendo characters, which was actually kind of refreshing given all the off-the-beaten-path alternatives like ZombiU, Nano Assault Neo, Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate, Toki Tori 2, LEGO City Undercover, Pikimin 3 and The Wonderful 101.
SM: If you look back at the launch of Wii, we were able to prepare a game like Wii Sports, which at the time was clearly a new game, and launch that alongside a Zelda game. With the Wii U, we took a similar approach by launching Nintendo Land as well as a Mario game — though we're working on Zelda for Wii U, that's going to take us a little big longer.

From my perspective, I think ideally it would have been nice if we'd been able to release Pikmin 3 closer to launch, but the Wii U — though it shares the Wii name — is obviously a brand new system, with new chips and graphical capabilities. It can do a lot more, and in the process of developing a lot of the features and functionality, the resources required to best utilize those features drew on some of the same resources that might have been spent developing games, thus we weren't able to bring quite as robust a lineup initially.

At the same time, we still have new things to learn about how to leverage the features and functionalities of Wii U in ways that create fun and interesting new ways to play, including new gameplay systems. As we become even more familiar with the hardware, we'll be able to do more from a software standpoint. That's an area we're currently devoting resources to.
TIME: With series like Pikmin and others like Nintendogs or Steel Diver you've been at the forefront of new IP for Nintendo. That said, most of your games involve taking existing IP and retooling it for new gameplay ideas. Are you more inclined these days to want to develop new IP, or to retool existing material?
SM: Whenever I start working on something I always start with creating new gameplay. After that gameplay becomes more concrete, we look at which character is best suited to the gameplay. So I guess from my standpoint, the ideal situation would be that we're creating an experience that's so new and so unique that we can present it to consumers with a new character or IP in a way that would be easiest for them to really understand the concept and enjoy the gameplay. But it may also be that in some of those cases it makes more sense for it to involve some of the characters that are more familiar to our fans.

When we created the original Wii Sports, we could have done it as a "Mario Sports" game, but we decided not to. Similarly with Wii Fit, that could have been a "Mario Fitness" game, but in both of those cases we ultimately decided that introducing those games as new IP or new franchises was a better approach. Because those games don't have specific characters associated with them, people may not view them as new IP, but certainly when we created those games we intended them to be new franchises. It may be that in the future, as we're generating new ideas, we'll come across an idea that makes the most sense to release with a new character.
TIME: We talk a lot these days about casual versus core gamers or individual versus family gaming, and yet your games tend to appeal to all of these groups and across all ages. How do you design games that maintain crossover appeal as gaming's become more of a mainstream hobby and those demographics shift?
SM: The approach that I always take from the outset is that I want my games to appeal to as many different people as possible. Certainly many years ago, it was an era where people who were 50 years old or older had never played video games, whereas now, when you're looking at people in their 40s and 50s, you see people who've played video games and have real experience doing so. Conversely among some of the younger audiences, you have groups that are very casual players or may have never played a game. And so a lot of developers or people in the industry talk about who your target audience is when you're creating a game. But I never approach game development itself by starting off thinking about a target audience. Instead, my focus is always on how I can create something that appeals to as broad a group as possible.

As I focus on developing that gameplay, I look for things that I find to be fun or interesting and then I try to find ways to convey what's fun about that to consumers in a way that is very easy for them to understand and also enjoy. As technology evolves, I have to continue to find things I find fun as well as ways to leverage that technology to deliver that to the consumer. As I'm getting older, where I start to have challenges is in trying to keep up with the pace of information flow, and really what I do is try to focus in on the essence or core of designing that interactive gameplay structure and then build the fun elements from the center of that core rather than trying to create something that's heavily reliant on lots of different pieces of information.
TIME: What hasn't changed about gaming in the past 30 years?
SM: I think what's unique about interactive entertainment that hasn't changed is the idea that the player will sit down and think about what's possible, then experiment within the parameters of that gameplay. And so what becomes important as you're designing a game remains that simple idea of, "How can I create something that's going to encourage creativity in how someone plays within the structure or world we've created?"

You didn't ask this question, but conversely, I think's what's changed with regard to video games is that in the past, people would get their information about how to play the game over the phone from help lines or from strategy guides. They had very limited access to sources of information about how to play a game or what they could do in a game. Now what we see is that there are a wide variety of ways to encounter that sort of information, and so the breadth of communication itself becomes an element that can be a part of the gameplay as well.
TIME: Would 1980 Shigeru Miyamoto in his wildest dreams have anticipated what's happened over the past three decades?
SM: I don't think I could have imagined where we've ended up. At the time in the 1980s, games fell categorically somewhere between toys and technology, and I think what I didn't imagine happening over time was that gradually games began adopting more and more of the latest technology, to the point where games today are at the very forefront of technology and something everybody seems to be paying a great deal of attention to. The other thing I couldn't have foreseen back then is that — particularly today when you look at the state of the consumer electronics industry, which had been where some of the most advanced technology was being used — that you see a number of the companies in a tough situation in a way that hasn't hit gaming.