Interview:Wired June 12th 2009
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LOS ANGELES — Shigeru Miyamoto has a lot on his mind.
In a one-on-one interview at last week’s Electronic Entertainment Expo, the head of Nintendo’s game design department and creator of Mario touched on a wide variety of topics: His new Mario and Zelda games, of course, but also what he thinks of the competition’s new camera-based motion controllers, which are intended to compete with Wii.
The full Q&A is below.
Wired.com: I’m really into Wario Ware: DIY. Have you made any games with it?
Shigeru Miyamoto: I made some games, but I’m pretending like I didn’t because they all turned out weird.
Wired.com: You said you had the idea to do a four-player Mario game for a long time. Had you ever actually done any prototypes of such a game on other hardware?
Miyamoto: With each (Mario) project, we do different experiments. It’s something I’ve always wanted to do. We’ve done games in the past where we’ve had the idea and worked on it. But with side-scrolling games, the challenge was that the screen continues to scroll forward, and what happens when the other player falls off the screen? With Mario 64, we had an experiment that took advantage of the idea of the screen growing larger and smaller depending on how far apart the characters were. So we had Mario and Luigi running around in that 3-D world, but we ended up not using it.
There’s also the issue of the resolution of the graphics. If you were to try to do a system where the camera zoomed in and out, and the graphics grew and shrunk in relation to the camera, back on the NES, the resolution of the graphics there, if the Mario character got too small you wouldn’t be able to distinguish the character easily. But with the Wii, because the resolution of the graphics is strong enough, you can pull the camera back very far and still see the character.
Wired.com: Why did you decide not to use that Nintendo 64 game with Mario and Luigi?
Miyamoto: Ultimately, it’s the idea of processing speed and working within the constraints of the hardware. The DS Mario 64 had a mode with something similar to that, where you were playing with four characters.
Wired.com: With Microsoft and Sony introducing camera controllers, it’s interesting that Nintendo has never shown any sort of camera controller off. What’s your opinion on what the competition is doing?
Miyamoto: I’m sure you’re aware, but obviously this type of motion-sensing camera technology has been around for quite a while. Over the years we’ve looked at a variety of different technologies and seen what could be done with that, and ultimately made the decision not to take advantage of what they can do.
Of course, we’ve, in terms of looking at that, felt that it wasn’t time to take advantage of technology like that yet. Particularly from a cost standpoint, we don’t think the time is right. Of course, looking at what we’ve done with Wii Sports Resort, we feel that with Wii MotionPlus we feel that we’ve pursued a very deepened gameplay experience, and we’re delivering it in a way that’s cost-effective. And with up to four players, it’s very easy to purchase the initial devices. We think that overall, Wii Sports Resort is a very good real demonstration of what precise motion control can be.
Wired.com: Nintendo had done experiments with camera control in the past. What do you think of the idea of controlling a game with nothing, no controller, in your hands? Do you think that costs aside that that’s a good idea, or that you do need something physical to hold on to?
Miyamoto: You ask sharp questions, don’t you? As someone who thinks of things from the perspective of creating interactive experiences, I really think that you do need something. I don’t think as a creator that I could create an experience that truly feels interactive if you don’t have something to hold in your hand, if you don’t have something like force feedback that you can feel from the controller. That’s why I think the Wii remote, particularly with Wii MotionPlus, makes for such a strong experience.
I think that some of their designers are going to be faced with that question going forward, and they’ll have to find solutions to that, and perhaps that’s why you see for one of the devices that it’s not simply a camera, but that you’re holding some kind of wand with lights that change colors. I think those are interesting ideas, and there are interesting ways that that could be developed, but those are challenges that they’re still facing and trying to learn to overcome.
Raising a couple of examples, the archery in Wii Sports Resort feels very, very good. Another one that I think is very interesting is Frisbee. Because with Frisbee, you not only have that precision motion, but when you throw the Frisbee you hear that sound of the Frisbee flying through the air coming out of the Wii remote speaker. And that does an amazing job of making it feel like you’ve just thrown a Frisbee. We’ve been working with motion control for several years now, and have really learned how to take advantage of it and what can be done with it. Looking at what the other companies have shown here at E3, it feels like they have finally obtained the very basic technology for doing motion control, but perhaps they still have to learn how to use that and take advantage of it in an interactive experience.
Hopefully you won’t write this in too great detail. Maybe you won’t write that I said those things specifically.
Wired.com: Unfortunately, I’m planning on writing everything. And I have another sharp question: Super Mario Galaxy 2. I was surprised to see this announced, because as was said, typically Nintendo doesn’t do two Mario games on one console, and beyond that it’s a very straightforward follow-up with similar levels, which is something that we rarely see in the Mario series. Why the change in philosophy that says it’s ok to do a sequel?
Miyamoto: The biggest reason is because we simply hadn’t run out of ideas within the system that we’d created for Super Mario Galaxy. One of the biggest ideas that we felt we didn’t take good enough advantage of in the first one was “China Syndrome,” or the idea that if you drill a hole straight through the earth in one place, you would end up on the other side, so if you drill a hole from Tokyo you would end up in New York. We had some elements of that but the first thing that we did in Super Mario Galaxy 2 was to create the drill item that you saw in the trailer. We felt that as soon as we completed the drill item and began playing around with it, we felt that with just that one item there was a lot that we could do that would really make the game a lot of fun.
Wired.com: You’ve added Yoshi, which is something that people are really interested in. How does that change the gameplay mechanics?
Miyamoto: In Super Mario Galaxy, one of the features of the game was the pointer functionality — you were able to point at things in the game, and grab onto them, and pull yourself through, and things like that. We felt that was somewhat similar to one of the things that Yoshi could do, and in bringing Yoshi in, it felt like a new approach to it and that there was a lot of fun that could be had.
I think it’s kind of difficult for us to have Mario running around and carrying things in the world, but by incorporating Yoshi there’s a variety of different ways that we can have Yoshi carrying things and using that as a new gameplay element as well.
Photo: Jon Snyder/Wired.com Wired.com: Super Mario Galaxy was also the first time where we saw a story in a Mario game that was more than just window dressing, that was a really interesting narrative. Are we going to see more of that?
Miyamoto: I’ve talked to (Galaxy director Yoshiaki) Koizumi about that a lot, but this time I’d like to go with as little story as possible. I’ve always felt that the Mario games themselves aren’t particularly suited to having a very heavy story, whereas the Zelda series is something that lends itself more naturally to that idea. We’ve differentiated a little bit between those two, because the Zelda games have had an in-depth story whereas the Mario games have not. Mr. Koizumi is the type of person who, whenever we’re working on a new Mario game, he always wants to bring more story elements into it, as he did with Super Mario Galaxy. But in talking with him this time, he agrees and feels that with Galaxy 2, there won’t be a need for as deep of a story.
I think you did see a person carved out of a tree stump in the trailer. That person has a bit of a story.
Wired.com: When I talked to Mr. Koizumi, he said that he would try to sneak in story elements without you knowing.
Miyamoto: Well, I put a stop to that at the beginning, this time (laughs).
Wired.com: Why do you think that Mario games aren’t served by having a story?
Miyamoto: I just feel that the Mario games are something that should be a much more bright and active experience. The games are much more of a physical action type of game. My feeling is that with the Mario games, you don’t need to have such a complicated setting where you have these particular characters with complicated backstories that can weigh down the bright and fun feel of the game. So in that sense, I feel that even if all that you have is that the villain is just simply a villain and you fight them, and you throw them down, and you find out, well, that wasn’t such a bad villain after all, that’s enough story for ultimately what is just about a very fun experience.
I think what’s really the most ideal thing is for the player themselves, within their own imagination, to carve out what they view as being the essence of the character. With New Super Mario Bros. Wii as well, we’ve had some battles over the story elements. They always want to have these dramatic scenes where Princess Peach gets kidnapped, but I always tell them, no, it’s fine — Princess Peach likes cake, so you can just have them use cake as bait to kidnap Princess Peach, and that’s enough. I was thinking they could have these big ships come in, and they’ve got these big chains all over them, and they drop a plate down with cake on it (laughs).
Wired.com: That’s good. I would have saved that for the game instead of telling me. Shifting gears again: Why did you decide to show that image from Zelda at a Q&A session, instead of the press conference?
Miyamoto: There are a couple of reasons. One is that personally I think the videogame industry has adopted a bit of a bad habit in this idea of announcing games long before they’re ever going to release. I don’t necessarily think it’s the most healthy of habits. In terms of the media briefing itself, for us that’s a place where we’re going to talk about our business for the coming year and the products that we’re going to release over the next 12 months or so. To that end, looking at how many products we have here at the show, we felt that it was important to focus on those products, important to focus on the Metroid announcement, and that the announcement of a Zelda game was not as high of a priority. It’s a particular challenge for me, and the way that I develop games, because we tend to not release games before they’re done, and that makes it hard to announce things very far in advance.
The other reason, relating to Zelda in particular, is that the development of Zelda has been focused strictly on the gameplay structure at this point. We haven’t devoted much in the way of efforts to things like graphical representation, and story, and those types of production elements. Because of that, we thought it was just more valuable to continue have the team focus their energies on creating what will be a very entertaining gameplay system, rather than have them waste their energies creating a trailer to announce a game at E3 very far in advance.
Wired.com: You’ve mentioned that you’re not sure if the game’s going to be MotionPlus or not MotionPlus — why not make it exclusive? Doesn’t it handicap you if you have to make two different control schemes?
Miyamoto: Of course, we don’t yet know how things are going to go. We’re doing our best with what we’ve created with Wii Sports Resort. We feel confident that it’s a strong product and that it will help to really drive the install base of Wii Motion Plus. Hopefully with something like Wii Sports Resort, people will feel like they want to have two Wii MotionPlus units in the house to be able to play that game. But the goal at this point is that we would make Wii MotionPlus required in order to play Zelda.
The bigger hurdle for us is not really whether people have a Wii MotionPlus or don’t have it, it’s whether or not the experience is one where people will think they want to have a Wii Motion Plus in order to experience it. I have actually been a little bit reassured here at the show, watching how people play New Super Mario Bros. Wii. There may be a group of people out there who look at people playing motion control games and have a hesitancy to try to play those because they’re worried that they might not look so cool, swinging a Wii remote around. But in watching people play New Super Mario Bros. Wii, even though it’s just a simple shaking motion, I’m watching people play New Super Mario Bros. Wii with a big grin on their face. So I’m hoping that we might be able to create a similar-feeling experience for Zelda.
Wired.com: With the Japanese videogame market as it is, sales Japanese games in general seem to be declining all over the world, what kind of pressure do you feel as the preeminent Japanese videogame designer to not only help Nintendo but help the rest of the industry? What are you doing to help Japan get back to a healthier state?
Miyamoto: When people are faced with a situation, they’ll assess that situation and based on that assessment they’ll think: “Well, if these products aren’t selling, what products can I make that will perform better?” Perhaps, up until now, in the Japanese games industry the situation has been that people could make whatever they wanted and it would perform fairly well. So in looking at the situation, I think that gradually with time people will begin looking at it more objectively, and assess the situation, and we’ll start to see them releasing titles that will begin to perform better.
I don’t think it’s a situation where the consumers are bad for not buying the games, or that the marketing for the games has failed — it’s that the people who are planning and designing the games haven’t really, maybe they’ve created games that there’s not demand for. I think that in that sense going forward, they will be forced to look at what their plans are and the types of games that they’re designing, and hopefully that will inspire them to do things that are new and different.
I don’t think it’s Nintendo’s position to tell people what types of games they should be making or how they should be approaching their game design. But what I do think Nintendo can do is that when we see those types of creative minds coming to the industry, and coming up with creative new ideas, then I think that what we can do is support them the best that we can. Of course, the other thing that we can do is create new interfaces that will give them the chance to create new games.
(Professor Layton publisher) Level-5 is a great example of a Japanese developer whose games are doing very well all over the world. They didn’t jump on any trends in the industry. Instead, what they did was they looked at the DS install base and they looked at the userbase that’s playing Nintendo DS, and they said, well, what type of game can we create that’s going to appeal to a larger audience. When you begin working on a product like that, you don’t know whether it’s going to sell only in Japan or if it’s going to perform well in America or Europe, but that’s one example of a developer that’s done something new and different with their games.
I think that Level-5, when they’re creating their games, they’re creating them from the perspective of who’s going to be playing their games, rather than from the perspective of what types of games are doing well, and how can we also try to do well in that same area. So it’s a heavy discussion.
I am talking fairly straightly, but I don’t want this to be taken as criticism, so I hope you write it in a way that points to it more as observation than criticism.