Interview:The Illustrated History of Electronic Games

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Shigeru Miyamoto is one of the most influential and successful game developers in the history of electronic games. His importance to the success of Nintendo cannot be overstated. Today, he is a super-producer, designing games and also overseeing Nintendo's many development groups. "He is a fantastic tutor for new producers," says Minoru Arakawa, founder and president of Nintendo of America. On these pages, Miyamoto-san comments on various aspects of his games and career.

On the Origins of Mario

The Donkey Kong arcade game hit the market in 1981. Before that time, I had been designing posters to be affixed onto arcade game consoles or supporting others who were making video games. When the idea of this "new game to replace an old one" was proposed to teams of game developers in the form of an internal Nintendo company competition, I submitted several different ideas for Donkey Kong. As for the name, I just wanted to create an English name meaning "silly gorilla." As I consulted with my dictionary, there was the word "donkey" for "silly." Since apes were often called "kong" in Japan back then, I mixed them together.

On the Evolution of Mario's identity

One of the new fun things I really wanted to realize on Donkey Kong was that the player could move the character around and jump all over the screen for the very first time in the history of arcade games. However, due to the technical restrictions of those days, I could not depict the movement of hair when Mario jumps, so I had to put a cap on him. Likewise, the make the movement of arms more visible to the players, I had to put a shirt on him with overalls, etc. In other words, in order to evade the technical restraints, I came up with the very rational design for the original Mario character. Nintendo internally decided to name and promote each character for Donkey Kong. Because I wanted Mario to appear in many of the later games with a variety of different roles, I just made a vague set of characteristics for him as "a middle-aged man with a strong sense of justice who is not handsome." When we made Mario Brothers, because the setting was in an underground world, Mario's image as a plumber was set, which is still alive now.

When we were making Super Mario Brothers, I wanted players to control a Mario character who was bigger then ever. When we made the prototype of the big Mario, we did not feel he was big enough. So, we came up with the idea of showing the smaller Mario first, who could be made bigger later in the game ("super"); then the players could see and feel that he was bigger.

When we were making Donkey Kong, we did not incorporate all of the ideas that I had initially conceived, so when we developed Donkey Kong Jr., we included some of the unused ideas from Donkey Kong. I originally wanted to make "Donkey Kong's Revenge" as the main theme for this sequel, but Donkey Kong was too big of a character for players to manipulate back then, so I made the story based upon Donkey Kong Jr. As for the Donkey Kong 3, because the game was designed with another game called "Green House" for Game & Watch (Nintendo's early 80s handheld game series) in mind, we decided not to use Mario.

On Easter Eggs and Secrets in Early Mario Games

The first experiment we did for the game was to control big Mario. Because the development of Disc System was already under way at that time, we tried to pull out the best of the NES's ability with Super Mario Brothers, which might have become the very last NES game. I recall the basic game design was completed about three months after we started the experiment, when we were satisfied with the control of big Mario and we had completed the designing of small Mario and such items as mushrooms. It is true that we had incorporated some of the programming errors and unexpected reproductions during the course of development as official "secrets." However, the majority of them were intentionally designed by us. To name some of the unintentional secrets, "serial coin appearance block" and Mario's "walking on the ceiling" had originally been programming errors that we later employed as official secrets, while the "Zero World" was the error that we found only after the game hit the market.

On Other Games He Plays

When I am working, I hardly play video games, but I do not get inspiration by playing others' video games. When I am asked for my most favorite video game ever made by someone else, I make it a point of answering "Pac-Man."

On His Greatest moment as a Designer

Because I am always trying to realize the best possible unique entertainment in each day and age, I find the utmost joy whenever a new game is completed. Among the best moments was the time when I saw Nintendo employees enjoying themselves with the Donkey Kong arcade game that we had just completed. It was an especially delightful moment for me. Another time I recall was when I received the Hall of Fame Award at the E3 show a few years ago. When I received the applause of the audience, it was really something special for me.

On the Trade-Offs Between 2D and 3D Game Design

I think a great advantage of 3D is that players can feel that they are inside the game. Also, we are able to create a greater number of character animations within a much shorter time. On the other hand, it is true that the number of difficult-to-play games has increased because, for example, we have to let players get accustomed to the way the camera works, and the creators themselves have to understand the best possible way to use the camera.

On the Rumor that Pikmin Was Set in His Personal Garden

No, No! The fact of the matter is that one of the reasons why I hit upon the Pikmin idea was because I was intrigued by the movements of a group of ants and the ecology of plants when I was gardening. There's got to be some mix here. Come to think about it, however, it may be an interesting idea to place Pikmin dolls in my garden. I would have to put hundreds of them in order for people to see that such small figurines are actually there, since the real-size Pikmin is just about two centimeters high, though.

On Future Challenges in Game Design

I know people think Pikmin is a fairly unique game. On the other hand, I think it is not unique enough. Because my job is to surprise people all the way around the world, I must continue to more unique and fresh entertainment all the time.

On the Games He Wants to Make in the Future

There are too many such ideas to identify one. There are just fractions of comprehensive ideas. Integrating them together may need new technologies to develop them.

On the Evolution of the Original Legend of Zelda

The first Legend of Zelda was created based upon the original concept of "miniature garden that you can put inside your drawer," inside of which the player can freely explore. As you can see it in the recent Pikmin game too, I make it a point of making games where the players become more creative by playing the game. The Legend of Zelda was the first game which has successfully incorporated such a concept. I tried to make a game where the next move the player is supposed to take is not already determined. Each player has to decide the route he or she thinks is best and take the best possible action, and by doing so, players can accomplish a variety of wonders. Another big element is that players themselves can grow. In the game you see and feel that Link actually grows. At the same time, the players can become better game players. I believe that this is the most definition difference with RPG games that make use of parameters to show such a growth. In 2002, we will introduce you to the new Zelda game on Nintendo GameCube. This one is also going to be a unique, unprecedented game full of surprises. Please look forward to it!