NEW YORK — The T-shirt in the crowd said it all: “Miyamoto is God.”
More than 2,000 gamers lined up Sunday outside the Nintendo World store in Rockefeller Center to get an autograph and trade Nintendogs with Nintendo designer Shigeru Miyamoto. Those who didn’t equate the 51-year-old inventor of “Donkey Kong,” “Mario Bros.” and “Zelda” to a deity called him “the father of my generation,” brought sketches of his face or showed their loyalty by wearing Mario hats, Power Gloves or full Link costumes.
Making his first public appearance in the U.S. since he began work for Nintendo in 1977, Miyamoto was welcomed like a rock star. He signed autographs on the second floor of the Nintendo store, a veritable museum showcasing every Nintendo system, oddities like a still-functioning Game Boy mangled from the first Gulf War, and playing cards created during Nintendo’s pre-video-game history. When Miyamoto approached the store’s second-floor windows, the throng below let out cheers of “Ma-ri-o!” and “Nin-ten-do!”
Miyamoto was clearly energized. “I’m very impressed that there are so many fans — not just in Japan, but here in America — that are fond of the work that I’ve done,” he said through a translator. “I’m actually kind of embarrassed by it all.”
After the signing, the jovial game designer sat down with MTV News to discuss Nintendo’s past, present and future. As TVs in the store flashed footage of Nintendo’s latest games, he explained just how close the wildly popular virtual pet game “Nintendogs” (see “If You Enjoy Picking Up Virtual Doggy Doo, You’ll Love ’Nintendogs’ “ ) came to being “Nintencats” and shared his thoughts on the company’s next-gen system, the Revolution.
Some of the T-shirts in the Sunday crowd may have celebrated Miyamoto, but Miyamoto himself was wearing a shirt celebrating Super Mario’s 20th “birthday,” an event Nintendo celebrated earlier this month in Japan to commemorate the 1985 release of “Super Mario Bros.” When asked why Luigi’s birthday wasn’t celebrated, Miyamoto searched the front of his shirt. “Is Luigi on the back of my T-shirt?” he asked his translator. He wasn’t.
Miyamoto said he has a soft spot for Mario, partially because in 20 years no one on his Mario development team has ever quit.
The team gets a lot of credit from Miyamoto, who points out that even conceiving the character’s name was a group effort. The character was initially called “Jump Man” when he made his debut as the player-controlled protagonist in 1981’s “Donkey Kong.” Nintendo had warehoused the first American copies of the “Donkey Kong” arcade game in New York. “Apparently the landlord of the warehouse in New York had a striking resemblance to the character that we had designed in Japan for the game,” said Miyamoto. The New York-based Nintendo players took note. “They kept calling him Mario, and eventually we made that the formal name of the character.”
Mario has gone far, but on Sunday, the big buzz game was “Nintendogs.” Players with the game running on their Nintendo DS were able to unlock a hidden breed in the game, a Jack Russell, when they got within wireless range of Miyamoto’s own DS.
Miyamoto acknowledged that his team had considered making the game about other animals. “The reason it ended up being a dog game is because about four years ago me and my family actually got our first dog,” he said. The family’s tri-color Shetland Sheepdog named Pikku sealed it, Miyamoto said, which isn’t to say that “Nintendogs” doesn’t contain any feline influence.
“We didn’t actually create the game in terms of creating a cat portion of the game,” he said. “But the funny thing is that the main programmer on the project is more of a cat person and we gradually found that there were some catlike elements being implemented in the game as well.” He said that feline influence can be seen in the way the game’s dogs play with toys and lick their paws.
So will there be a cat version? “It would be very easy for us to create a Nintencats game,” he said. “Nintendo’s philosophy is never to go the easy path; it’s always to challenge ourselves and try to do something new.”
One of the new things Miyamoto clearly is interested in is the controller for Nintendo’s next home console, code-named the Revolution. Earlier this month, Nintendo President Satoru Iwata captured gamers’ attention by revealing the device (see “Nintendo Revolution Controller Unveiled, And It’s Revolutionary” ). Shaped like a remote control, it will be armed with sensors that allow players to control onscreen action by moving the controller through the air.
“I’ve been heavily involved in the creation of the controller almost to the extent that I haven’t had enough time to work on software itself,” Miyamoto said.
He was quick to point out that Nintendo will offer an attachment for the controller that will allow it to take a shape more typical of current gaming devices. “There’s no worry that this controller is going to leave behind everything you’ve known gaming to be.”
But Miyamoto said that the controller was a natural result of 20 years of observing gamers at play. Since “Super Mario Bros.,” he has seen gamers futilely tilting their controllers for that extra edge. With Revolution players will get it.
While the new setup may have been nice to have in the old days, Miyamoto’s convinced that it is essential to appreciate today’s deep, 3-D games, a genre he helped launch with the widely acclaimed “Super Mario 64″ in 1996. “For a lot of people up until now, when they’ve tried playing 3-D games, they’ve had a hard time,” he said. “They don’t really understand how to control in a 3-D environment.”
He suggested that the Revolution controller, responding to movement in three dimensions of a player’s living room, can change that. “It becomes very easy to move and very natural and really intuitive,” he said. “I think a lot more people are going to experience 3-D gaming the way it’s meant to be.”
Miyamoto was excited about Revolution, but not quite enough to spill the details about the system’s games. When asked how the new controller might broaden Mario’s horizons, he would only say, “We have a number of experiments in the works, including a lot … where you’re using motion to control Mario.” As he spoke, he repeatedly flicked both hands in the air.
Having already accomplished so much in game design, Miyamoto said he hoped he could now help Nintendo use the Revolution to make gaming a true social phenomenon, something everyone of every age and gender feels comfortable doing.
But given the adulation he received on Sunday and the status he has received as an icon who some gamers esteem as highly as they do Mario and Donkey Kong, might he venture into one more frontier and literally get himself into video games? “That might be kind of funny,” he said, entertaining the notion that he might be at home in the roster of Nintendo’s all-star “Smash Bros.” fighting series.
“Well, of course we are working on a new ’Smash Bros.’ and we are planning on adding many new characters, so maybe I guess I can say there’s a 1 percent chance of me being in the game.”
That’s enough hope for Sunday’s Nintendo fans to cling to.