Mario, Zelda creator Shigeru Miyamoto discusses how he stays creatively inspired when making sequels, Wii U struggles, and eventual retirement.
Shigeru Miyamoto, the 60-year-old developer behind iconic franchises like Mario, Zelda, and Donkey Kong is “definitely creatively satisfied.” Though some of his time is now spent working on new entries to existing franchises, namely Luigi's Mansion: Dark Moon and Pikmin 3, the developer told GameSpot today that he’s content with his work. Gamers shouldn’t shrug off sequels over thoughts that they lack innovation, because this is not the case, he argued.
GameSpot sat down with Miyamoto today, speaking with the longtime industry veteran on a range of topics. In addition to stating his creative satisfaction, Miyamoto opened up on his eventual retirement, the struggles of communicating the Wii U’s message, Pikmin 3’s recent multi-month delay, and why Luigi is akin to a salad entrée by contemporary convention.
Given that many of the games you’re working on now are new entries in existing series, do you feel creatively satisfied?
I think from the outside, if you look at it, it certainly appears that all we're doing is making sequels to the main franchises. But in recent years, I've worked on projects like Wii Fit, and other smaller projects like the Louvre museum guide that we did for Nintendo 3DS. And so, amongst all of the sequels that we do, certainly I have other projects that I'm working on that I'm having a lot of fun with. So I'm definitely creatively satisfied, but even when it comes to how we approach creating sequels for our mainline franchises, there's a great deal of research and development that goes into that and we've got a team that’s focused on how we can continue to evolve those franchises.
Do you think Nintendo is putting its best foot forward, creatively, with Luigi's Mansion: Dark Moon and Pikmin 3? What aspects of those games can you point to and call "uniquely Nintendo."
Well, of course, when it comes to what Nintendo does, we create both hardware and software and so the software uniqueness in particular tends to rely on the uniqueness of the hardware. So with Luigi's Mansion: Dark Moon, one thing that's particularly unique about that game is the way that it relies on the bottom screen--the touchscreen--for the map. And the ability to play with that map and how you use it to explore the mansion adds a lot to the uniqueness to the game, compared to the previous version. In the case of Pikmin 3, we've taken an approach with that game where we really want to take what made the original Pikmin game unique and really simply go deeper with that experience.
"And so, amongst all of the sequels that we do, certainly I have other projects that I’m working on that I’m having a lot of fun with. So I’m definitely creatively satisfied."
And so what we've done is by taking advantage of the GamePad--the second screen there--and the HD graphics that are capable with Wii U and the higher processor--we've really been able to take that original Pikmin experience and do something that is much deeper and more fleshed out this time around. I think the other advantage that we have is the attention that we pay to interface. For example, Luigi's Mansion: Dark Moon, that's a game that uses really almost all of the buttons on the 3DS.
But the way that we introduce that to people; you start off with just a couple of actions and gradually you learn the different actions of the game over the course of the game. By the end of the game, you feel like you've gotten very good and you're then using all these different actions to battle the ghosts and solve the puzzles. And so it adds a great deal of depth and growth for the player through that experience. Similarly, with Pikmin 3, really where we've put the energy is on improving that interface for the player. By taking advantage of the gyro functionality, we feel that we've managed to give the player a much easier route to achieving the things they want to achieve in the game through that control interface;gs and so what that does is it really lets them get in a take advantage of the strategic elements of that game.
With regards to Pikmin 3, what's one point of gameplay you can point to and say "that's only possible because of what the Wii U can do?"
When I create a game, I don't necessarily always try to approach it from the idea of leveraging every feature or every ability of that new piece of hardware. In the case of Pikmin in particular, the approach that we took was really less of an approach of how can we […] take advantage of what the Wii U is doing, per se, and instead how can we take what was that Pikmin experience and really make it a deeper experience for players.
So of course we're taking advantage of the graphics and improving the play control and whatnot and I guess if you were to look at it more broadly, you might not necessarily say that it would be impossible to do it on another system. But I guess speaking plainly, the idea is really that Wii U is the best system to be able to achieve all of the different things that we're trying to do with this new Pikmin game. One of the biggest features of Pikmin 3 is the fact that you have the map on the GamePad at all times and because Pikmin is a strategy game, it's the type of game that you might play the same levels over and over again. Having that map--and the fact that you have the three different leaders that you switch between to command your Pikmin--and having the touchscreen on the map will allow you to change perspective or jump to a specific leader and quickly give orders.It makes it much more efficient for you to achieve the goals that you have strategically within the game.
Pikmin 3 was recently delayed a couple of months. Can you talk about the reason for that delay and what's happened in the time since?
"And in my mind, there's really two kinds of games: games that get delayed and then there’s games that sort of shift [laughs]."
I don't know how far I should go in explaining this, but at Nintendo, there is often sort of a notion that the games I'm working on always get delayed. And in my mind, there's really two kinds of games: games that get delayed and then there's games that sort of shift [laughs]. And in the case of Pikmin, we were working on Pikmin in advance of [the Wii U launch] and I was spending a lot of time focusing on placement of items and enemies and things like that and levels. And so from my perspective, Pikmin gradually just became one of those games that sort of shifted [laughs]. I'm sorry. I know everybody is waiting for it.
On top of Luigi's Mansion and Pkimin 3, Wind Waker for the Wii U is supplementing that lineup. Is Nintendo considering giving Wii U treatment to any other games, potentially older games like Metroid Prime?
Of course I can only talk about the titles we've announced publicly. We are thinking about the possibilities around that, but there's nothing I can share today. I guess I can say from my perspective, I’m more interested in creating new titles.
Going back to Luigi's Mansion, the franchise is one that has seen a dedicated following throughout the years. Why do you think that is?
The first thing I want to say is I'm very grateful to everybody who feels that way. There are actually quite a number of Luigi supporters internally, as well. And in fact the reason that we were able to do the Year of Luigi this year is because there were so many people who wanted to work on Luigi titles and it just, by coincidence turned out all of the projects they were working on ended up releasing this year.
When you have a meal in front of you, and you have people who eat meat or you have people who eat vegetables, there's sort of the main dish and then you might have a dessert or a salad. Luigi is green, so maybe he's kind of like a salad and right now it seems like people tend to like lighter fare. [Luigi] is a little weaker and timid and maybe people like timid things these days. I guess Link's green, too [laughs].
On the other hand, I do think that the world of Luigi's Mansion and sort of the kind of "scary feel" to the mansions and whatnot is something that has a big contrast to the Mario games, which obviously are very bright and more action-focused. So having that nice story that wraps around the Luigi games is something that perhaps lingers with people a little bit longer and when they think back and remember it, they think 'Oh, I want to experience that again.'
Luigi's Mansion: Dark Moon was a co-development between Next Level Games here in the West and Nintendo’s studios in Japan. Can you talk about what that relationship was like, working across the world?
The background for that is we've worked with Next Level Games for a number of years now and there's another producer internally at Nintendo who I've also worked with for a long time: Kensuke Tanabe. And he's been working with Next Level Games and has also worked on the Donkey Kong series. He was able to find Next Level Games and start working with them originally and help build that relationship that allowed us to work with them all these years.
Were there any challenges in the fact that you're working all the way across the world; logistically, things like that?
We actually have a lot of experience working with overseas developers. We work with [Nintendo Software Technology] over in the Seattle area, we work with of course Retro Studios in Texas. And back when we worked with Rare, they were of course in the United Kingdom. And so what we've found now, particularly with the enhancements like video conferencing and just with the ability to instantly send versions of games back and forth across great distances; we're used to working in great distances and it's not very different from how we operate in terms of working with our Tokyo studios. Where we tend to have bigger challenges is just ensuring that the development team has a clear understanding of Nintendo philosophy and how we do things. But because we've worked with Next Level Games for so long, we don't have any issues there.
Two major absences so far for the Wii U have been dual GamePad support and support for NFC technology. Can you give an update regarding the status of both these?
With regard to NFC, I think we'll be able to share some products this year, but I have to ask you to wait until we formally announce them. But the technology itself has been finalized, and the development libraries have been shared with development teams, so you can look forward to seeing something with NFC soon. With that, we can do things that use figures or with chips in cards. We can do either of those.
"I think Wii U certainly has a little bit more of a challenge [than the Wii] because it doesn’t have that ‘looking-fun' element to it. "
Perhaps a Pokemon game?
[laughs] We'll leave that up to your imagination.
With regards to the Wii U, conveying the message of the Wii U seems a bit more difficult than the original Wii. With the original Wii you could pick up a Wii Remote and play tennis and you would instantly get it. Do you think this has potentially impacted sales?
I think it's very common for Nintendo products to be the type of thing that until you play it, you don't really understand how fun it is. Wii had an advantage, because watching people play it looked interesting. When you saw other people playing a game that looked interesting. But even then, it was still the type of thing that you had to play it for yourself to confirm. And once you played Wii, people had instantly a lot of fun. And what that did was reinforce for them that what they had seen was in fact true. Certainly, I think that helped Wii.
From that perspective, I think Wii U certainly has a little bit more of a challenge because it doesn't have that 'looking-fun' element to it. But I think that as people bring it into the living room and begin to play it, particularly when you experience with five people, you really do get a sense for how fun Wii U is. And I think that's the key; to try to get as many people to try it out as possible. Even with Wii, if people played a game, but it wasn't fun, it would't have had the result that it did. So I think the key for us is continuing to focus on the fun of our products.
Can you talk specifically about how you’re going to go about do that? How you’re going to go about conveying that message more clearly to consumers.
[laughs]. Ask these guys [points to public relations and marketing executives sitting in the room].
I think the key thing is to give more people more opportunity to come in contact with the system and play it. One of the things in Japan that we had been doing, is we had been careful because we wanted to make sure people understood it properly. We had been giving as many opportunities for people to try it out at demo units, at retail, or ensuring that there was somebody there to demonstrate and make sure that they were getting a proper understanding. But I think what we're finding now is we really just need to get as many people as possible to get their hands on the system so that they can see how fun it is.
Last year you said it was too soon to retire, but that preparations were underway for your eventual retirement. Given how many projects you're working on now, is your retirement on your mind now, or not at all, given how many things you're currently juggling?
This year I'm past 60; I’m going to be turning 61 this year. So for me to not be thinking about retirement would be strange. But in fact, the number of projects I’m involved in--and the volume of my work--hasn't changed at all.
"This year I'm past 60; I'm going to be turning 61 this year. So for me to not be thinking about retirement would be strange. "
Instead, what we're doing internally is, on the assumption that there may someday be a time when I'm no longer there, and in order for the company to prepare for that, what I'm doing is pretending like I’m not working on half the projects that I would normally be working on to try to get the younger staff to be more involved.
And this actually has nothing to do with any kind of retirement planning or anything of that sort, it's really more of simply the fact that people have a tendency, certainly when you're in an organizational structure, they have a tendency to always look to the person that gives them direction. And really, for a long time I've been thinking that we need to try to break that structure down so that the individual producers that I'm working with are really taking responsibility for the projects that they’re working on. I think that they are gradually beginning to understand and certainly they’re taking on more of a kind of leadership role or responsibility with their projects.
And as I like to say, I try to duck out of the way, so that instead of them looking at me, they're looking at the consumer and trying to develop their games with the consumer in mind rather than me in mind. So it's really more of looking at this as sort of an opportunity to really try to help develop them and bring them up.