Interview:Wired December 13th 2011

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Wired December 13th 2011


December 13, 2011





Miyamoto discusses voice acting in Zelda and some other Skyward Sword topics among his and the industry's statuses.


[1] When we last left off, we were at the roundtable at E3. And my question then was, Why are we not seeing more games on 3DS for the casual audience? Nintendogs came out, but I expected more things like Brain Age and going after the wide audience. And your response was, you're pursuing core gamers. So I wanted to start there — do you see this as a strategy shift, going after core gamers again? Do you feel like you were neglecting them in the past and want to bring them back into the fold? What is the reason for pursuing hard-core gamers right now with 3DS?
Shigeru Miyamoto: Of course, I have my own limits as to how much game software I can take care of at any one time. But when it comes to the time when we were developing mainly software for the Nintendo DS, my concern was, as you pointed out, looking beyond the existing videogames then — in other words, how we could expand the definition of videogames. But when we started working on the Nintendo 3DS, inside myself there was a kind of shift in terms of priority. That is, I wanted to see how games can be changed when they are running on the Nintendo 3DS. When I say "the games," [I mean] every kind of game including the series of videogames which were available in the past.

Applying that to the Wii, I wanted to see how the Wii MotionPlus could change the gameplay even when it's applied to existing gameplay.

So, of course Nintendo's main strategy has been the expanding of the gaming population. By that, what we are actually doing from the developer's side is we are trying to expand the potential of videogames. To some extent, of course, we've been able to do that, and now, people are sometimes talking about the element of smartphones and how Nintendo's market share might be eroded by the element of smartphones. But I do not think that we are directly competing against each other.

However, when we look at how we have expanded the gaming population and how we have expanded the definition of videogames, some of that might be actually done by smartphones. When it comes to some portion of the population that we have expanded, smartphones might be able to provide some entertainment as well. So looking at the situation just like that, rather than simply trying to expand the definition of videogames in the same way as we used to do with Nintendo DS, I think, why don't we look at the gaming population from a different perspective?

More specifically: For example, there have got to be a number of people who used to play videogames but who are now, even temporarily, quitting from videogames. And why don't we approach, for example, more female audiences? In order to approach those people who are taking a break, or those female customers, it so happens that applying the game mechanisms that we used to make in the 3-D world of the Nintendo 3DS might be a good idea. And actually we'll be able to leverage upon our own ability to make … game know-how, the know-how that we use to make quality games. With Mario 3D Land, which I played the whole thing, we finally saw with Nintendo 3DS a game where I never wanted to turn the 3-D off, I always wanted to keep going in 3-D. And I saw elements in that game that played with 3-D. But to look at every other game on 3DS, where Mario is head and shoulders ahead of them, what do you do for other people who are developing for 3DS? Are you outreaching, trying to get them to do what you guys did with Mario?
Miyamoto: Well, when it comes to Super Mario 3D Land, yes, that's something that we really wanted to do by taking advantage of the capabilities of Nintendo 3DS. However, even though we were able to make something like that, we have no intention to force others to make a similar thing at all. Rather, I believe that I want every single developer to come up with their own ideas in order to take advantage of the capabilities of the Nintendo 3DS.

And for the players as well, I hope they will be able to play just as they like. Sometimes they want to play with full 3-D and sometimes not. Taking for example Mario Kart 7, sometimes they may want to simply ease the 3-D effect and actually [steer by moving] the 3DS unit. That's actually very fun. But at the same time, sometimes … they just might want to appreciate the 3-D effect of Mario Kart. So it actually depends upon the good balance between 3-D and not 3-D.

When it comes to other companies and other developers, all I can say is, it's good if they are going to study the way … they can take a perfect balance. Once again, we don't have any intention to force or even educate them to do something like Mario Kart or Super Mario 3D Land, at all. For the game players as well, I hope that they can just leisurely and casually enjoy playing with Nintendo 3DS at their will. What was your input into Mario 3D Land? What did you see during the development process, and what did you tell the developers to do? You know, this would be a good idea, that would be a good idea…'
Miyamoto: When it comes to the real attraction of Nintendo 3DS, of course, first and foremost, people can point out [that] it's the 3-D. And of course I really wanted to make something which can surprise people. You know, be it Super Mario 3D Land or any other thing in the entertainment business, what we've really got to do is find out the new, fun elements. And with that, we try to surprise people. For Nintendo 3DS, and for Super Mario 3D Land, we wanted to convey the charm and attraction of something 3-D, some things which are popping up.

And what I've been doing in terms of developing or advising the making of Super Mario 3D Land, I think that hasn't been largely changed ever since I started working on Donkey Kong many years ago. At first, of course, I need to know the … technological background of what can be done, what can't be done, etc., etc. But at the same time, I never forget the viewpoint of the player. So sometimes I'm the developer, or engineer with the know-how and the knowledge of the technology. And sometimes I'm developing the game from the perspective of the game players. So I've never shifted my attention from that, anything at all like that. So what I've been trying to say to the other developers as well is just the same: Be … the developer who has technical background as well as the game players who are enjoying the videogame that you're making.

Into The West It's come out since Mario Kart 7 came out, there have been some articles about how Retro Studios was very deeply involved in the making of this game, and it's considered a landmark for the series because you had this collaboration between EAD and Retro. And I'm curious as to whether you think that this would be an interesting model for more games, like a Mario platformer or a Zelda game, to have a Western team and a Japanese team working in close concert to produce a game like that.
Miyamoto: First of all, let me talk a little bit more in detail about how we collaborated with Retro Studios this time. Of course, they were taking care of the game designing aspect. Specifically, they were taking care of the design of the courses and the artwork about that. But when it comes to the gameplay and the control mechanism itself, that's being taken care of by EAD once again.

People often say that videogames made by Western developers are somehow different in terms of taste for the players, in comparison with Japanese games. I think that means that the Western developers and Japanese developers, they are good at different fields. And that resulted in a different taste in [their games]. Mario Kart, I believe, was good in order to express that kind of different taste because we have many kinds of different courses for the Mario karts to run and race around. So for each of the different courses, we could identify: Retro is supposed to take care of this course, and EAD is going to do that, and such and such. Then, we were able to join forces in order to realize a variety of different courses, a variety of different tastes. I think that's one reason how it worked out well between a Japanese development team and a Western development team.

As you know, we have already collaborated with Retro for the Metroid Prime series in the past. And I think when we talk about any other franchise, Zelda might be a possible franchise for that collaboration. It did seem to me, playing Skyward Sword, that Aonuma-san and his team were maybe looking at some Western role-playing game convention to add to Zelda: you know, collecting hundreds and hundreds of bugs and collecting lots and lots of treasure and loot, crafting items. That seems to me something that you haven't really seen in Zelda games before or really in Japanese role-playing games, that idea of that giant inventory and that feeling of freedom is maybe something they pulled from Western games. Would you say that as well or am I really off the mark?
Miyamoto: I just don't have that kind of idea actually. Of course, when it comes to Japanese role-playing games, in any role-playing game in Japan you're supposed to collect a huge number of items, and magic, and you've got to actually combine different items together to make something really different. Of course, in the beginning, there's got to be some influence from the original role-playing games that originated in the Western PC game format.

And when it comes to The Legend of Zelda, we look at the recent series in the Legend of Zelda franchise other than creating the new items and making some new riddles and puzzles in the game franchise, we were simply making something larger. In other worse, in the course of the evolution of the Legend of Zelda, the only way that the developers were able to take was making something more. And for that matter, I think the inclusion of insect collecting and combining the different potions or medicines, for example, I think that I myself actually thought that was a good idea or direction to make a kind of change in the franchise for this time around.

But then, when I'm asked, did the making of Skyward Sword have a great impact from the Western way of making RPGs, I just don't think so. On the other hand, I also think that Zelda in the first place was a game where players were given a lot more freedom. In my opinion, the recent works of The Legend of Zelda lacked that kind of expanded freedom. With Skyward Sword one of the things I wanted to realize is going back to the basics, so that players would be given a lot of freedom. So with Skyward Sword, a lot has been said about pushing the series forward with orchestrated music. One of the only complaints I've read about the game, and this was something I noticed, is that I think in the five years since Twilight Princess and Skyward Sword… when Twilight Princess came out nobody really said anything about this, but when Skyward Sword came out and the game had no voice acting, it makes an impression now because it's one of very very few games in that genre which do not have the characters actually speaking in full voice. And I'm curious, I know we've probably spoken about this before in the past and I know Nintendo has very deliberate — it's not a question of technology, it's a question of artistic style and there are reasons you do it that way. But I'm wondering if there's any pressure now as games keep evolving to add voices to Zelda to keep it current.
Miyamoto: After all, it's a question of, what do we really want to make? As the director, of course I want to be getting involved, have direct hands on as many parts and as many things as possible. So it depends upon what kind of direction we are taking for certain projects. For example, if we are pursuing photorealism, I do not think that the director can do a lot — in other words, the staff working on the forefront of development are having their hands on, and the director cannot have their hands on, these details.

But what kind of game, it totally depends on what kind of direction I really want to [take]. And … whether the voice actors should play a key role right now is one of the elements that we've got to decide in terms of entirely what things we'd like to make. And talking specifically about the possibility of hiring voice actors to play over the roles of the main characters, we have to ask ourselves, after all, what kind of things do we really need them to speak out? Are they important, and are they really doing anything good for the expanding of the attraction of the Zelda franchise itself?

My opinion is actually against that. I mean, by having the voice actor speaking out the main character's opinions and messages, I'm afraid that they are going to narrow down the actual characteristics that people can imagine or apply to each character they are controlling, for example. But after all, it depends upon how much work the developer has to show, how many things the director can do, and is it going to do anything good to expand the charm or attraction of The Legend of Zelda? So once again, in terms of all these, if you ask me, isn't it important for Link and other main characters to speak? I just cannot think so, because of, in terms of what I can do and what Zelda should do. What has the reaction been so far to the directions of Mario 3D Land and Skyward Sword? Both have made bold steps for those series. Internally at Nintendo, do people feel like it's going in the right direction, are there other things that could happen to these series or are you happy in general with the way it's gone?
Miyamoto: After all, from the beginning I have never forced all the developers to do what we have done this time around. From the very beginning, there were many people amongst the developers who were thinking just like I did. So I cannot deny that there weren't any times that I needed to, well, rather aggressively encourage the developers to do this or do that. I cannot just deny that.

But basically, our teams from the beginning were in the same mindset as to what we really needed to do with these games. And we had a strong conviction as to the outcome, in other words that we were doing something right in terms of the courses these games' development should take. So I just believe that everyone is happy about the outcome by thinking that, yeah, we did it right.

Basically, each developer wants to make something new all the time, but the fact of the matter is, Nintendo has so many franchise series. One after another, we are supposed to make sequels. But even though these two games that you just mentioned are regarded as sequels in their particular franchises, all the developers have the mindset that we were making something new, some brand-new game. Well, of course, from now on too, many developers have to work on sequels from the same franchises. But I think the result, or one of the outcomes of developing two games this time around is how they can work on the sequels as if making brand-new products.

New Ideas You've narrowed down — you used to do every single game at Nintendo and have input into it and I know recently you've narrowed down into a few games that you work on. And all of these games are big retail boxed games that are sold in stores. I see, with Iwata-san talking more about downloadable games and digital games, that becoming more important. I'm curious as to whether you in the near future want to work on games that are smaller, maybe downloadable games, to raise the profile of those games. We see games by the B-teams, but in order to get more people buying games that way, do you feel there need to be Miyamoto download games?
Miyamoto: I just don't care — as long as I can make something new and interesting, and if it can become a social topic, and spread to so many people, I'll be working on anything. That's my attitude. Of course, the situation today is rather different, many companies are simply looking around and seeing what's trending, what's hot. Inside that kind of frame, managers demand developers work on similar games. It's rather difficult for me to say something exact, because unless I can fix my complete idea, I just cannot decide which media is going to be appropriate. What kind of size is going to be appropriate for development. But I think that is actually the right course for us to choose — in other words, developers first come up with a fresh idea. And then, once complete idea is fixed, they should decide, okay, in terms of a new idea, this media is most suited, and the size of the development teams should be just like that.

And after all, I'm aging right now. Yes, I'm in a stage, in a position to be able to take some distance away from the forefront of the development teams right now and see things from a much broader perspective right now. In other words, I think I have many more options than before. In my head, myself. I am now in a position to make things much more freely right now, but the fact of the matter is I have ideas but I have not come to the stage where I can say exactly which one is going to be good for the network games, or what kind of final format shall be appropriate for social gaming. I even have some ideas about Flipnote Studio, things like that, but I [don't] have a complete idea for that. Until I can decide, okay, this is going to be the way each one of these ideas is going to be combined and take shape, I just don't say that it's good for digital, it's good for download. That's all. On this topic, "Find Mii" is the most interesting thing about 3DS, or was when it launched. That was the game that my friends and I all played, and we all carried our 3DSes around with us. That's what we did for months until we finished that game. It was this simple little thing but we loved doing it. It was just me and seven people and we would just all keep exchanging data whenever we saw each other and everyone wanted to do it. Now the system update came out and there's the sequel which we haven't tried yet. But I think it really says something about that type of game, that it really had all of our attention on 3DS until we had all finished it, and then we put our 3DSes down but I think it's going to pick up again. As silly as that experience is, for some reason it's very powerful with me and my friends.
Miyamoto: All the developers who worked on [Find Mii] were looking forward to some solid reactions from the customers. But because it was something really new we could not have strong conviction. So we had to start from something rather small. So I think everybody involved was happy with the outcome. I hope that people can look forward to something in that nature from now as well. Are you also involved in — I think Nintendo has been pretty good at pushing out that level of free content to 3DS owners, like videos or Four Swords Adventures. Are you also involved now in trying to generate more of that to keep people picking up their 3DS?
Miyamoto: The point here is that we really wanted to make it so that Nintendo 3DS shall be used by the users every day. So that we wanted to include as many motives for the users to do so as possible with Nintendo 3DS. But we did so probably too fast. And then some people even said you really don't have to purchase anything else, any software at all, now that you have the camera and the packaged software inside the Nintendo 3DS which are enjoyable enough. But of course, until now you already have a selection of packaged software and download software to choose from.

And you know, after all, whenever we are coming up with a new product, if the only attraction is yes, we have intense extensive file capability, it's not interesting for the developers at all. Any time we are offering something new, we want to include some different attractions instead of simply beefed-up capabilities. That's why we are trying to express to the public that you can do something really new and unprecedented by taking advantage of the communication capability of Nintendo 3DS, for one thing. For that matter, we still have ideas that can be expressed on Nintendo 3DS, so please look forward to them.

Turning The Tables

Miyamoto: I actually want to ask you a question: How did you like the new Skyward Sword when you controlled Link with the MotionPlus? How did you feel that? That's the kind of thing we wanted you to feel, some unprecedented feeling of moving your body to control Link. The point when it struck me how much I liked it had nothing to do with swordplay and everything to do with bug-catching. When I was creeping up on a bug and holding my hand up, very slowly, subtly… and realizing that I can't just go like this and he's going to catch it, that I had to move the net so it swept over the bug … Swordfighting was good but the moment it clicked for me was catching the bug.
Miyamoto: That's something you cannot enjoy, you cannot experience at any other places. It's like a one-time attraction available at the arcade game center. That's the kind of thing we really want to do all the time: You can do this only on this occasion. The Wii MotionPlus controller will go on even with the Wii U. It still connects to Wii U and you can still do games. Are you planning on making games for Wii U that extensively uses, one player games that use the MotionPlus controller versus the tablet?
Miyamoto: Of course, I'm not in a position to be able to say a lot about Wii U today. But Wii U is going to be the successor machine for the Wii, so of course, those controllers including the Wii MotionPlus shall be used for Wii as well. You don't have to say anything, but I did want to say if we're talking about this that the best thing I played at E3 on on Wii U was called "Measure Up," where the game said, draw a one-inch circle and you had to draw it on the tablet. And I realized you can't do this on any other game system, and I realized how much fun it was, and my girlfriend destroyed me at it. She completely ruined me at this game. She'd just be like, bam, and it would be perfect. And my circle wouldn't even look like a circle. I know that game wasn't pushed very hard at E3 but that was the demo I played were I was, I really like this.
Miyamoto: After all, that can demonstrate the fact that interactive entertainment has much greater potential than we might be imagining today. The fact of the matter is, we've been utilizing in this industry just a fraction of the possibility or working on a tiny portion of the possibility in order to inflate that as [much as possible].

But when we look at things more calmly, there's got to be a lot more things we can do: There are some computer devices and they can recognize what we are doing, what we players, humans are doing, and they're going to give us reactions and feedback. Measuring a length is just one thing. If it's going to be interesting, it has just that kind of small possibility, a big potential to be expanded into something really fun. After all, whenever we are trying to make a new interface, we are looking to that: How can we make it so we can expand a new horizon in terms of interactive entertainment?

Something I Can Make By Myself I can't get over the fact that you said [earlier], I'm getting older. And I'm thinking, jeez. Are you going to retire anytime soon, or is that off the table?
Miyamoto: The fact of the matter is that, inside our office, I've been recently declaring, I'm going to retire, I'm going to retire. I'm repeating that message. But the reason why I'm stressing that is that unless I say that I'm retiring, I cannot nurture the young developers. After all, if I'm there in my position as it is, then there's always kind of a relationship. And the young guys are always in kind of a situation where they have to listen to my ideas. But I need some [people] who are growing up much more than today.

And then, when I say I'm retiring I'm not saying that I'm going to retire from game development altogether. What I mean by retiring is, retiring from my current position and then what I really want to do is be in the forefront of game development once again myself. Probably working on a smaller project with even younger developers. Or I might be interested in making something that I can make myself, by myself. Something really small. Do you have a plan as to when you're going to do this, or is this off in the future?
Miyamoto: This year, I have worked on, as you know, many projects and I think that I was able to show certain results. So I think I am now in a position to be able to take a little step back from the position that I'm taking right now. Hopefully I'll be able to work on something myself more deeply starting from next year and hopefully we'll be able to show something next year. In other words, I'm not intending to start from things that require a five-year development time. Wasn't the joke back in the day after you made Super Mario Bros. 3, "we're never doing another one of these," and then after Super Mario World, "we're never doing another one of these!" Have the long development cycles finally caught up to you?
Miyamoto: Anyway, I'm interested in doing a variety of many other things. I see.
Miyamoto: I'm saying this because I have a solid reaction from the teams, the existing teams. I was able to nurture the developers inside Nintendo who were able to create something like this or something like that [gestures to Super Mario 3D Land and Skyward Sword signs in the room] by now. It seems like that's been your idea for a long time — you didn't have to make Aonuma-san the producer of the Zelda series way back in 2002, 2003, you could have kept doing it on your own but it seems like you wanted to make sure people were progressing and were ready to take these things over.
Miyamoto: I think they were approaching the goal I set. Okay, well, good luck. Thank you all very much.