REDWOOD CITY, California — The man who created some of the most popular video games in the world isn't used to playing second fiddle to anyone — or, in this case, it's more like third guitar.
In a gaming world that revolves around the soundtracks of the hugely popular "Rock Band" and "Guitar Hero" franchises, Nintendo's Shigeru Miyamoto laments that his latest brainchild, "Wii Music," didn't come first.
"I really wish I made this before those other games were popular," he told MTV News during a rare hour-long sit-down interview at Nintendo's Redwood City offices last week. "I really want people to be able to look at it from the perspective that I looked at it from."
The inventor of "Donkey Kong" — and maker of "Super Mario Bros." and "Zelda" — was in the San Francisco area last week to accept an industry achievement award and promote "Wii Music." The new Wii game encourages players to shake the Nintendo's motion-sensitive controllers as if they were air-guitaring, air-tromboning or air-playing any of more than 50 other instruments, to essentially customize their own versions of popular songs. (Watch Tim Kash and colleagues try the game here.)
The game can make its players feel a bit goofy as they flail to music like "Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star" or Madonna's "Material Girl." There's no guitar-shaped controller for a player to strut with, no modern-rock hits to bang a drum to. It also differs from the likes of "Rock Band" and "Guitar Hero" in that it doesn't score the gamer on points or even let them fail playing along to a song — the song plays no matter what in "Wii Music." The gamer, based on the timing of his or her movements, simply affects how many notes (and extra notes) are played and tweaks some of the settings. The results can turn a recognizable tune into something that sounds new, but the way of doing that — without a score or threat of failure — makes "Wii Music" feel less like a video game.
"When our sales teams and our [public-relations] people are asking, 'How do we promote "Wii Music?" ' I told them, 'Think of it as a new instrument you buy and bring home to play,' " Miyamoto explained. He sees "Wii Music" as something people take home, tinker with and entertain themselves by seeing what sounds and songs they can make with it.
Miyamoto describes himself as "not a good banjo player." He said that music has interested him in his life as much as it has vexed him. "No matter how much I might try something and no matter how much I might fail at it, there's always something I'm able to learn from that," he said. "The one area of my life where I felt like, for a long time, I had failed to do that was in playing an instrument. I had practiced and played instruments for many, many years, but despite all of my years of practice, I was never any good at playing instruments." Now, he believes, he and one of his development teams at Nintendo have created an instrument in "Wii Music" that even those who fumble with a violin or turntable can play.
Novel idea that "Wii Music" is, however, it does have those music-game juggernauts to compete with. Did Miyamoto study up on "Guitar Hero" and "Rock Band" while making his own music game? "A lot of the members of our team play a lot of popular and more recent games," Miyamoto said. "When they do that, they have a tendency to look at similar games that are out there and then they start to focus on [things like] 'What can we do to make sure that our games are as good as those other games in a similar style?' Whereas I feel that my job is actually to stop them and say, 'That's not the line of thinking we need to have.'
"My role becomes to put the brakes on and say, 'We need to change our direction and way of thinking,' " he continued. "That's the only way we're going to be able to create something that's unique and different."
The result is "Wii Music," thrown into competition after its release last week against this week's "Guitar Hero: World Tour" and a fall full of "Rock Band 2" releases across all major platforms.
Miyamoto said the "Wii Music" game "could be my life's work." Facing down its competitors may also make it one of the biggest challenges of Miyamoto's career — for the first time in a while, it's not easy to say if Miyamoto and Nintendo are about to teach the rest of the industry another lesson, or if the band has already marched on.
For much more of our revealing interview with Shigeru Miyamoto — in which the game creator talks about his work, his critics and the future of projects ranging from the next "Zelda" to "Punch-Out" — check out the Multiplayer blog on Monday and Tuesday.