Q&A: Miyamoto plays up Wii Music

Legendary designer tells press round table about the theory behind and the practice of the last of the "big four" nontraditional games for Nintendo's console.

by

The conductor is in.

When Wii Music was first shown to the public at Nintendo's press conference at the 2006 Electronic Entertainment Expo, the reception was exultant. Hundreds of adoring fans and semi-sycophantic reporters cheered as Shigeru Miyamoto took the stage in a white bow tie and tails, conducting an orchestra of Mii avatars. The game he was playing was Wii Music, a then-mystery-shrouded game that let gamers play music with their Wii Remotes.

Just more than three years later, Nintendo again assembled selected fans and journalists to see Wii Music at its 2008 E3 press conference. The result could not have been more different. After a lengthy presentation emphasizing earnings over game announcements--with the big exceptions of Wii Sports Resort, Guitar Hero Decades, and Grand Theft Auto: Chinatown Wars--Nintendo executives joined Miyamoto onstage for a Wii Music jam session. The resulting rendition of the theme to the NES classic Super Mario Bros. was diplomatically described as discordant by some outlets, and was a big factor in Game Informer magazine giving the event a grade of D.

Concerns that Wii Music wouldn't be a hit were somewhat alleviated when it debuted on top of the Media-Create sales charts in Japan, selling nearly 92,000 copies the week after its debut. However, the reception hasn't been so warm on the other side of the Pacific, where the game has received an average 63 (out of 100) rating on Metacritic. GameSpot's own write-up summarized the game as being "fun and charming, but it's also simple and shallow." Variety described it thusly: "While it is a good way for individuals to learn different musical styles, Wii Music lacks the simplicity and vicarious thrills of Guitar Hero and Rock Band."

Unsurprisingly, Miyamoto feels differently. After being honored at the Entertainment Software Association's 11th annual Nite to Unite event, the mind behind many Nintendo initiatives from Donkey Kong to the Wii itself sat down with a small group of reporters to play up Wii Music.

Miyamoto began by offering faint praise to other rhythm games such as Guitar Hero and Beatmania. (Apparently Rock Band did not warrant a mention.) After saying that he liked playing both, he said he "often found that the enjoyment I got out of them was very different than the enjoyment I got out of playing music itself." He went on to compare the two to being in a tribute band, which is judged merely on the skill of replicating music crafted by others.

"A lot of people start off in cover bands, but people can only go so far in a cover band," Miyamoto said via a translator. "It's only when people start creating their own music and sharing it with others that they really grow. The same can be said for classical music training, since you're trying to play sheet music as accurately as possibly. However, when they start playing that music and sharing it with other people, they really start to grow."

Miyamoto continued: "So, as a game designer, I looked at Beatmania and Guitar Hero. Those games let people be the best cover band they could possibly be. As a musician, I wanted to create a game that let people express themselves in music, and with Wii Music I think we achieved that."

Indeed, rather than reward those with the fleetest fingers, Miyamoto designed Wii Music is as an introduction to the art of music itself. He has been actively promoting it as a learning tool in elementary schools in Japan, saying that it would be a much more appealing way to turn children onto music than traditional analog instruments.

"I think if we're able to introduce kids to the joy of music from the outset, maybe they'll be more interested in studying it throughout their life. … When you try and express yourself through music, there are several challenges," he explained. "The first is physical, since if you can't play a music instrument, you can't play the music itself. The second is being able to actually play the music as it should sound. A lot of people don't have those skills, and as such are missing out on the joy of musical activity."

Though Wii Music lacks the flashy cover songs of Guitar Hero--the most recognizable pop track in Miyamoto's demo was an instrumental version of "Every Breath You Take" by The Police-- Miyamoto believes that the game will help potential musicians leapfrog the frustrating early stages of learning an instrument. "Another way to phrase it is that I can't dance, but if someone could create some kind of technology which would help me dance better, I would buy it," he said. "Unfortunately that technology doesn't exist yet, but that's what I think we did with Wii Music. I've been playing music since college, but that doesn't mean I'm a good musician. However, I was able to get up in front of 1,000 people and play this instrument," said Miyamoto, pointing to Wii Music as the "instrument."

Indeed, Miyamoto openly acknowledges that Wii Music might not be a game at all. "A lot of time people ask me, 'Is this really a game?' I don't know how to answer that," mused the game designer. "Maybe a better way to describe it is as a new musical instrument. For example, if a family gets a piano, everyone is going to try it out. They're going to hit the keys, but what they're making isn't actually music. With Wii Music, everyone in the house can pick it up and, within a few minutes, start playing music. … Wii Music lets people experience that higher level of musical creation without having to spend years training."

Miyamoto went on to show off the variety of rhythmic weapons in Wii Music's arsenal. The game has 60 "instruments" including piano, vibraphone, bass, and several types of guitar. It also includes less conventional instruments such as turntables and clapping. It also features several Wii Music avatars-called "toots"--as instruments, either rapping phrases like "Yo! Yo! Check it!", playing castanets and shouting "Ole!", or barking in a dog suit.

The game lets players arrange the instruments in up to six-person-strong bands, and then pick and arrange one of 60 songs. Miyamoto said the tracklist, which is the same in all territories, was selected on the basis of familiarity. He wanted every track to be recognizable as soon as people heard it, so as to allow them to arrange it more easily.

"We weren't able to go with more popular music because of the chord progression, which eventually combines the melody and the harmony," he said. "This time around, we wanted to make it easy for people." He also said that the reason the game includes only three Nintendo game theme songs was because he wanted it to appeal to nongamers.

Ultimately, Miyamoto sees Wii Music as more of "musical arrangement engine" than a game. It lets players tweak familiar tunes by preselecting one of a dozen musical styles, ranging from rock to Latin to Hawaiian. To demonstrate, he selected the French song "Frere Jacques" and proceeded to play it in a reggae version, with steel drums and a space-y "galactic guitar." He then switched to a Japanese arrangement, replete with a flute, taiko drums, and two shamisens.

However, Miyamoto's ambition reaches beyond mere living-room composers. He hopes that, as the last of the "Big Four" Wii games intended to appeal to nongamers, Wii Music will help designers of traditional games expand their horizons much like Wii Sports, Wii Play, and Wii Fit have done.

"We didn't look at the question of whether or not it would appeal to core gamers or casual gamers," elaborated the designer. "It really depends on one's interest in music, not their interest in games. If you're the type of person who taps your feet to a song, I think this will interest you."

That said, Miyamoto believes that Wii Music will prove as time-intensive as any other offering. "I think you'll find people who are as hardcore playing Wii Music as any other game," he said. "I have found that, as a single player, you can spend over three hours arranging a single song. Since there's 50 songs, simple math tells you that you can spend 150 hours playing it--and that's just by yourself. I am actually getting concerned about how much I'm playing it!"

When asked what his next project was, Miyamoto grew pensive. "We've learned that what a game console can do has been broadened," he said in closing. "I'm always looking at what a game console can bring to entertainment as a whole, in a wide variety of different audiences." He then threw a bone to Nintendo loyalists, adding, "We're not forgetting we need to keep making Zelda games, though!"

Discussion

233 comments
Quofan
Quofan

What a bunch of morons you self-titled "hardcore" gamers are. You wanted better third party games for the Wii and now we are getting it! Nintendo hasnt got as much first party stuff now because most of it has been released quite early on. We got plenty of first party games already - how can ANYONE (most of you are exaggerating, clearly) not have games to play on the Wii? You list games you have bought but there is no way you've finished them all. It all boils down to stubbornness and fear of change. This man is making gaming acceptable to the masses. This man is making games an acceptable, legitimate form of entertainment, something it has never really been. The more Nintendo expand the market like this, the more hardcore games will get made, not just casual games. You want to blame someone> Blame companies like Ubisoft. Remember Nintendogs? Ripped off by Ubisoft with Catz and Dogz. Remember Raymen gsmes that were good? Turned into minigame fests - by UBISOFT!!! Companies like them assign their best devs to the 360 and PS3, and their worst to make shovelware for the Wii. The same thing happened on the PS2, but on a smaller scale. Name good "hardcore" games on the Wii both published AND developed by Ubisoft. Now think of the tonnes of "hardcore" games that Nintendo has already released, and will CONTINUE to release.....

gameconniseur86
gameconniseur86

@ Frazzle00 You are right, it is a casual trend, and though most people will not make it their top priority, the fact that people are getting exposure means that many people are reshaping their views on gaming and its cultural implications. Awareness is the first step to acceptance, and that is what it takes for gaming culture to grow.

bennae66
bennae66

my 2 bobs: kudos to the big N once again for bringing more non gamers into the fold with offerings such as this. im sure wii music is a great game/tool and that many would love it. i dont play rhythm games and i will stay away from this one, and yes my wii is gathering dust also. ps3 sometimes gets used but fallout has my g/f and i in a very tight grip on 360. thanks nintendo for all you have done tho and keep it up!

powerfulone1987
powerfulone1987

BLANKSHORE: If you happen back upon this page again and even more unlikely happen upon my message to you, then please RE-READ your post and THINK ABOUT IT. Really eat up what you said to us and tell me that you approve it. This is all.

Carbon_
Carbon_

YAY! A new Zelda! Oh wait.. yeah uhhh Wii Music is cool?

necronaux
necronaux

Hey, now parents can get to listen to their child's school music ensembles not with real instruments, but with Wii ones. How cool will that be?

frazzle00
frazzle00

@ gameconniseur86 I guess you're more optimistic then I am. The way I see it, a lot of people who have got the Wii have done so because it is the "in" thing at the moment. These "casual" gamers don't place gaming at the top of their priority list. So when times get hard, or when more pressing matters emerge in their life (college, relationships, mortgage, kids etc.) gaming will be one of the first things that get abandoned. This is not so for the more dedicated gamers like myself, and to be honest, I reckon there is a fair amount of us as well. To abandon such a core demographic is a mistake in the long run. I guess we'll have to wait and see.

Dualmask
Dualmask

gameconniseur86, best comment ever. Couldn't have put it better myself. Recognize and respect Miyamoto.

frazzle00
frazzle00

A stinker is a stinker regardless of whether or not Miyamoto endorses it. How about some quality titles Nintendo? Games for tweens are just not cutting it for me :).

taddia
taddia

Myamoto can really catch the whole of my attention.. In a few words he completely changed my expectation for this game when it will come out in italy.. I love u shigeru ^_^

Madrak_Arakeen
Madrak_Arakeen

Wii Music has been unfairly compared to Guitar Hero in many circles here locally. I think this article finally explains the theory behind this overachieving MIDI device. I look forward to what else comes out of their development house. Miyamoto's level of genius is the stuff of legends.

Ocean791
Ocean791

Looks brills. The guitar sounds bit iffy but, well. Definitly looks better than past music games (guitar hero, rock band etc)I agree with WaZelda, a fellow zelda fan.

waZelda
waZelda

What I think most gamers do wrong when judging wii music is they expect it to be something it's not trying to be. Wii music isn't trying to be another rock band or guitar hero. I haven't played the game yet, though, so I can't say whether I'm agreeing with you or disagreeing.

tudyniuz
tudyniuz

@xdeiri: you're idol is this man?come on...

blankshore
blankshore

I think this game is absolutly brilliant. I simply can't put it down. I've spent countless hours agranging songs just the way I like them, trying to get them absolutly perfect. It's not for everyone, but it's really not as bad as people are making it out to be. The people who are calling it a "glorified noise-maker" are really just making themselves look like idiots because the game only sounds bad if you play bad.

fauljosh
fauljosh

I'm a hardcore gamer. I own all 3 systems this gen (and did last gen too) and I have this game and I love it. It's not for everyone but it's a good time.

timmay0000
timmay0000

i dont understand how u people can complain about this. if they want to come with this let them. it isnt like they arent working on the games you want. everyone knows that a good games developed buy nintendo takes time. Though Microsoft is currently on top, everyone's acting like nintendo still isn't one of the best 1st party developers out there. As for promising more 3rd party support, well that was fulfilled. its just nintendo cant force 3rd party developers to develop good games instead of crappy ports and mini/party game collections. no im not nintendo fanboy. does my wii have dust on it? yes...its just i cant really hate nintendo or miyamoto for it because they have came out with the games they have needed to come out with( Mario, metroid, zelda, smash bros) plus games like wii music.

Lucidmike78
Lucidmike78

wii music isn't as bad as you think. You can press A or B (C or Z) on both right and left controllers as you strike down, giving you effectively 6 different actions. Some instruments also take into affect the angle that you're holding your arms and the joystick will affect the pitch. From the miyamoto video, it seemed like all you had to do was shake your arms randomly and it would play music. Don't knock it until you tried it.

WithoutGraceXII
WithoutGraceXII

"I looked at Beatmania and Guitar Hero. Those games let people be the best cover band they could possibly be. As a musician, I wanted to create a game that let people express themselves in music, and with Wii Music I think we achieved that." I have nothing but respect for what Miyamoto has done for gaming, and I'm a huge Nintendo fan. But guitar hero DOES feature an in game song creator now, and I'm willing to bet (have never played wii music, can't say for sure) that's it's more comprehensive than Nintendo's offering.

gameconniseur86
gameconniseur86

Ok, so we know gamers don't care for wii music. Is anyone surprised by this? They shouldn't be. What I do find myself surprising is the gaming communities closed minded views on what a video game should actually do. Miyamoto has proven for over twenty years that games can be far more than what people give them credit for. Miyamoto is in essence, the ONLY reason the games you play today exist. His games are created with one idea in mind: Let's do something more. He did it when he created narrative in gaming with Donkey Kong. He did it again by creating the platforming genre (and salvaging the ruined reputation of gaming as entertainment) with Super Mario Bros. The Legend of Zelda both established a new level of narrative and essentially creates the action-RPG genre. It was Miyamoto that ushered in the golden age of 3-d platforming with Super Mario 64. Now with the wii, he is creating a brand new, completely original style of gaming. Though you may not respect them as "hardcore" games, the wii's popularity far outweighs the cries of our small, elitist sub-culture. Because that is what Hardcore gaming is. It is a SUB-culture. No matter how much you love Dead Space, and no matter how many hours you put into buying Fairfax castle in Fable 2, we remain the tiniest of minorities among the population. Miyamoto recognizes this and shapes his games not to the hardcore, but to people as a whole. And with the wii's simple controls and innocuous visual aesthetic, he is catering games to demographics the 360 and PS3 would never breach themselves. Parents who play Super Mario Sluggers with their kids may one day pick up something more legitimate in the hardcore world, for example, Super Mario Galaxy. If/when they enjoy it, maybe some of them will go buy a 360 and learn Gears, thus expanding the population of "hardcore gamers" Nintendo abandoned the hardcore? No, Miyamoto and Nintendo will be responsible for raising our tiny sub-culture to a prominent cultural standing. By introducing basic gaming skills to the general public, they will eventually learn why we love what we do, and with this understanding will accept gaming for what it truly is: The future of mass entertainment.

dzimm
dzimm

I have to say, Miyamoto makes a good point. I've never much cared for Guitar Hero and similar games because they don't allow me to express myself. Wii Music looks like it taps into the self-expressive properties of music composition.

xlukebearx
xlukebearx

Nintendo: please make a game I will like.

GhostStalkerX1
GhostStalkerX1

Popular in Japan but here Guitar Hero/Rock Band hold there own.

jadefury27
jadefury27

another gameless game for the wii. so disappointing. what's next? stuck in traffic for the wii? maybe wii's paying the bills where u use the control as a pen to sign checks for utilities and rent. so lame.

Sins-of-Mosin
Sins-of-Mosin

I highly doubt most people will spend three hours per song. Then again, I doubt most people will spend three hours TOTAL with this.

pitchan
pitchan

[This message was deleted at the request of a moderator or administrator]

tman978
tman978

I totally understand the Michael Jackson comment. Instead of giving us what we fans crave, they are caught up on crap no one cares about. It's been 2 years, your damn right we need a Wii specific new Zelda game. Im shocked we're getting Punch Out.

firehawk998
firehawk998

Nintendo these days creates games for the "family" like Wii music. Who is here among you that honestly (unless you are a kid) wants to play these type of games with your MOM/DAD/GRANDPARENTS, etc. Nintendo plz make games like Zelda and Mario again.

Neoyamaneko
Neoyamaneko

Miyamoto = George Takei's wierdo brother.

earlthecannibal
earlthecannibal

... That's a nice way to talk about the man who pioneered the gaming industry..." @noclue_27 He didn't ....The ATARI 2600&Intellivision did (well at least they did for me)and before that there was Pong ...so saying Miyamoto pioneered gaming... is FALSE :)

bildevo
bildevo

Miyamoto has some good points and theory behind game development, but in the end my wii remains dusty and I don't feel like spending $50 on another kids game

onthe_dl
onthe_dl

i haven't turned my wii on in about 6 months, this won't change anything

chimairawr
chimairawr

I'm sorry, but how on earth can this game help people to learn to play an instrument? Apart from the drums, which is almost entirely based on rhythm anyway, I honestly can't see how this could work. If Rock Band and Guitar Hero are playing in a tribute act, this is singing into a hairbrush.

OldWiseBob
OldWiseBob

Sam2k9 Try reading reviews on those games.

Sam2k9
Sam2k9

pathetic. having the mindset of a kid doesnt do games justice. i think he REALLY needs to retire and nintendo needs to grow up and stop making all these stupid little kiddie games like zelda and mario and metroid. they all suck.

Mikethechimp
Mikethechimp

I bought a Wii 4 months ago and I've already run out of games of interest. Lets see.. Brawl.. Super Mario Galaxy.. Super Paper Mario.. de Blob.. WarioWare.. No More Heroes (a **** game underneath a great one, woopee!)... Metroid Prime.. freakin Wario Land.. Zelda.. What else is there? What's the point of keeping a Wii now?

pimperjones
pimperjones

"@pimperjones and @earlthecannibal ... That's a nice way to talk about the man who pioneered the gaming industry..." Michael Jackson virtually pioneered modern rmb/pop. People like Usher owe their entire style to Michael. Yet he's now a freakshow. Does the fact that Michael Jackson's pioneered modern pop music exempt him from being scrutinized as a freak? NO Yes Miyamoto did help pioneer gaming, but he wasn't the only one. And even if it was, that doesn't make him any less of freak today. Sometimes vanity can change people. Just look at that photo of him with that Wii wand pretending to be a Mistro. You tell me if there isn't something wrong with that man. We're just calling it as we see it. Miyamoto didn't always use to be a complete loon, but somewhere along the line the man just went off the cliff. Like Michael Jackson.

blizz_kid
blizz_kid

Man, the people that call themselves hardcore gamers are making blatant fools of themselves, doing nothing but bashing any game that doesn't appeal to them. The bottom line is: hardcore gamers aren't the only gamers. Nintendo knows this, they're trying to appeal to a much, much wider audience than the people that post flaming comments on Gamespot, and you know what? They're having success. Go back to playing Halo 3 or GTA IV or whatever hardcore games you play folks. Nintendo will bring new iterations of their core franchises eventually, and they'll be great games.

noclue_27
noclue_27

@pimperjones and @earlthecannibal ... That's a nice way to talk about the man who pioneered the gaming industry...

Nintendo_Man
Nintendo_Man

Lets hope Wii Sports resort is the only Wii titled game next year. I need some Star Fox, Wave Race, DK Platformer, Pilotwings, Paper Mario, Mario Tennis/Golf and F-Zero to be announced.

OldWiseBob
OldWiseBob

(I'm totally with you Rekunta) When I think of hardcore games I think of games that make you think, they require skill to beat, they require hours of play, dying and aggravation and possibly controller beatings (I hope you get the point). I call that a hardcore game. How many of those has the Wii gotten in comparison to the Xbox 360? It's an undeniable fact that the 360 has more and better games , though I personally find them funner on the Wii because of that awesome pointing/waggle action. (Don't even bring up the PS3 library). There's just hardly any good games for the Wii (I'd say there's around ten, three of them being hard). Miyamoto has provided us with many awesome games, what the hell is up with Wii Music?

pimperjones
pimperjones

LOL Miyamoto = Michael Jackson Perfect comparison. Couldn't have said it better myself. Just look at that picture of him waving that Wii wand in that rediculous Tux. Look at that crazy facial expression. The man is a freak show. Don't even get me started on those pictures of him with a zelda sword and shield. I don't know who's scarier Miyamoto or Jackson.

TheKrystalGame
TheKrystalGame

This... Is the best way he could possibly have done this.

biggy887766
biggy887766

i have a confession to make...Miyamoto touched....he touched....he touched my heart in a way no other game designer has ever done before. rofl at the michael jackson comment