“You ask very good questions!”
That’s what Nintendo’s lead designer, Shigeru Miyamoto, said to me near the end of our interview last week, before issuing a surprisingly frank explanation of what the wildly praised “Super Mario Galaxy” and “Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess” could have done better.
Then, things got even more unusual. He put me on the spot and started interviewing me. He wanted to talk about hardcore games. (Guess which first-person game he lavished praise on?)
And he wrapped it all up with a tease about the new Wii “Punch-Out!“.
Read about all of that and more in this third and final part of my interview with Mr. Miyamoto … right below.
The following interview was conducted in person at Nintendo’s Redwood City offices. Miyamoto’s answers were translated by Nintendo’s Bill Trinen. Most of my questions, however, required no translation. Miyamoto responded to most of them without consulting Trinen but replied only in Japanese. I’ve lightly copy-edited it for readability. For Parts 1 and 2, click here and here.
Multiplayer: It strikes me that, when I look at “Wii Music” or I look at “Wii Sports,” these games are very radical for their genres. “Wii Music” is very different from other music games. Take “Wii Sports,” for example: I remember when I first heard that you didn’t control the guy on the tennis court, and that the computer controlled him, I thought: “This can’t be. This isn’t going to be any good.” But it was actually really fun. [Miyamoto laughs.]
It seems to me that Nintendo has been able to be radically innovative in sports and in music, in genres that Nintendo isn’t as well-known for as the adventure genres or the platformer genres. Do you agree with that? Do you think that it is easier for Nintendo to kind of take those leaps in areas that are less familiar to the company than, say, the more conventional genres we see depicted in a “Mario” or a “Zelda”?
“Chefs are more interested in finding the most delicious ingredients they can find and cooking those in a way that really highlights the inherent deliciousness of the ingredient. And that, I feel, is our job in game design.”
Miyamoto: Actually, I think it might be a little bit different. If somebody were to come to me and say, “There’s this particular genre of games and these are all the different games in that genre and they’re all very similar. We want you to create something very similar to what those are,” certainly from a design perspective I would be able to design a game like that. And the team members I have working with me would certainly be able to program and create a game that would be very similar to essentially anything else that’s out there and feel that we could do it quite well.
Instead, where I think we’re able to innovate is we’re able to find something that’s a unique resource, or a unique idea or a unique sense of what is fun. And because that sense of what is fun is unique, we’re able to bring it together in a very simple form. And it’s still very fun.
Whereas, a lot of times in game development, teams might look at an interactive gameplay element that maybe isn’t in and of itself a particularly fun thing to do. But then what they do is they refine it, they polish it very well, they put a lot of other elements around it and then that experience becomes fun.
I liken it almost to cooking. There are certain elements of cooking where if you’re able to find a very delicious ingredient, all you have to do is put a little bit of salt on it. Then you cook it and it tastes amazing. Whereas, when you have something that doesn’t taste very good, typically then you have to season it and put sauces on it, and find ways to take something that at its core isn’t very delicious and make it taste delicious. Somebody who is a very good chef, if you say, “I want you to create a fantastic French meal,” obviously if they’re a very good chef, they can do that. But often times the chefs are more interested in finding the most delicious ingredients they can find and cooking those in a way that really highlights the inherent deliciousness of the ingredient. And that, I feel, is our job in game design.
Multiplayer: I want to make sure that the dichotomy that I was breaking down was clear. I was asking if, internally at Nintendo — and I guess this is a personal judgment call on my part — but I feel that “Wii Sports” and “Wii Music” have been more radically different from what I would call their predecessors — which are other sports games and other music games — than I feel, as wonderful as they are, “Super Mario Galaxy” or the last “Zelda” are as radically different from their predecessors. And so, I’m curious if you can identify why it is that Nintendo can innovate more radically in certain genres. And, again, I’m guessing that it’s because these are genres that you guys haven’t done as much in. There’s more room to think freely, perhaps?
Miyamoto: You ask very good questions! [Everyone laughs]
Multiplayer: Define “good.” [More laughter]
“’Twilight Princess’ was not a bad game, by any means. But, still, it felt like there was something missing.
Miyamoto: That’s something that I talk to the members of my development team about on a regular basis.
What I’ve been saying to our development teams recently is that “Twilight Princess” was not a bad game, by any means. But, still, it felt like there was something missing. And while, personally, I feel like “Super Mario Galaxy” was able to do some things that were very new and were very unique, at the same time, from another perspective, certain elements of it do feel somewhat conservative in terms of how far we branched out with design. And so this is something I’ve been talking to both of those teams about.
Of course, as is customary with Nintendo, it’s very rare that we are able to announce any games until they’re ready for release, but I can say that these are themes that both of those teams are taking into account and the hope is that for both of those franchises, when we do release the next installments of the “Zelda” [franchise] or maybe the next “Galaxy,” hopefully they will feel newer and fresher than their most recent versions.
And now I’m going to ask you a question. [laughter] I’m particularly interested if there’s anything among what you consider to be hardcore gamer games that you find to be amazingly fresh and different. Because, if there is, I’m very interested in what that is. And I’d like to take a look at it. I’d like to hear from your perspective what that would be.
Multiplayer: Well, I saw you in the EA booth at E3, I think. Did you see “Mirror’s Edge”?
“And now I’m going to ask you a question.”
Miyamoto: That feels….?
Multiplayer: I thought there was an exhilaration to, essentially, platforming at high speeds in first-person that felt like a more physical experience when playing it than much of what I’ve played. That I find interesting.
I also find games like “Spore” — I don’t know if you’d call that a hardcore game — or “Little Big Planet” on the PlayStation 3 interesting, where the developers are asking the community of gamers to be creators. There are elements that are very similar to “Wii Music” in that respect. And assuming that community will network together and will create more content and more experiences for each other, it changes the paradigm from it being “A developer created something that a gamer plays” to something where “A developer created tools that the gamers played with and entertained each other.” That stuff I find very interesting. In “Spore,” similarly, I am creating creatures that automatically appear on other people’s computers — as non-player characters in other people’s computers. The idea is that what I did in my game is entertaining somebody else that I don’t even know because it just shows up on their computer — I find very interesting, the idea that a community of gamers is entertaining each other, that it’s not strictly coming from the developer on down.
“It sounds like there’s not a whole lot in the realm of the RPG or in the realm of the adventure game where there’s an amazing new fresh gameplay element that’s been introduced.”
Miyamoto: So, those sound like — particularly in the case of “Spore” — those are games that are doing something that’s very new and different, within the game itself. Whereas it sounds like there’s not a whole lot in the realm of the RPG or in the realm of the adventure game where there’s an amazing new fresh gameplay element that’s been introduced. Would you say that’s right?
Multiplayer: I think so. I think if you look at first-person shooters, you see both the most conservative design. As wonderful as some new first-person shooters are, they’re [simply offering] different settings for the same mechanics. And then there’s something like “Portal,” which came out last year. And the mechanics of “Portal” feel very different — the idea of recreating the geometry of the room based on where I can go in it — I find very interesting. What I don’t see innovation in is the ability to tell a story convincingly and in an interesting way. I agree with you if what you’re suggesting is that role-playing games haven’t found a way to innovate in a while. I haven’t really seen that.
But I think with something like first-person shooters, where there the mechanics are so fundamentally ingrained, it has allowed some people to say: “How are we going to twist that?” “How are we going to try something different?” So, again, “Mirror’s Edge,” if you go back to that, the idea of first-person but in a high-speed platforming style of game, there I see interesting stuff. Not so much innovation in other areas.
” Yeah, I think “Portal” was an amazing game, too.”
Miyamoto: Yeah, I think “Portal” was an amazing game, too.
Multiplayer: I have just two other things to ask about. There were a couple of announcements in Tokyo — and you may not be able to address these at all — but people were very excited. I think casual gamers were excited about the new DSi and then hardcore gamers were really excited to hear that there’s a new “Punch-Out!” coming along the way. There was a lot of excitement in our office and among our readers of our site. I was wondering if there’s anything you can say about either of those projects and what you think is interesting about those.
Of course, with “Punch-Out!” it’s a game that people have been wanting for a very long time and we’ve had a number of people who have wanted to make a “Punch-Out!” game. I’m working on that game as a producer. I think people who are fans of the original will be very thrilled to see the kind of style we’ve designed the game in. It will feel very classic. But at the same time, with the 3D polygons and the polygonal rendering of the characters, I think is going to make for some very nice cut-scenes and a little bit deeper story.
Multiplayer: Thank you very much. And congratulations on a very strong year of Nintendo software.
Miyamoto: Thank you.