Miyamoto on Animal Crossing

In part one of the Nintendo developers' roundtable, Shigeru Miyamoto outlines the ideas behind the GameCube communication game.


Nintendo held a developers' roundtable at E3 last week and invited the press for demonstrations of its upcoming software with Shigeru Miyamoto; Nintendo's new president, Satoru Iwata; and one of Nintendo's brightest designers, Takashi Tezuka. The roundtable began with a demonstration of Animal Crossing for the GameCube. As Tezuka played the game, Shigeru Miyamoto narrated, providing insight into the game's intentions and design. Check back tomorrow for more from the roundtable including comments concerning Super Mario Sunshine and The Legend of Zelda.

Shigeru Miyamoto: All of you are gaming media. I know you're all hard-core gamers and you love gaming. I won't deny you that pleasure. But I also think that games are not just for the hard-core gamer. I think they're really for a much wider audience than that.

Of course you guys are a very important group of customers for me, and I want to continue creating games designed to entertain you all. But the fact of the matter is, recently there have been a lot of comments from people that worry that maybe games have begun to become too hard for the average person. Or maybe they're becoming too soft or too easy. And what I want to do is create something that does have a broader-based appeal. And while my own daughter is very good at video games and plays them quite a bit or every day, she really doesn't like playing very difficult games. I think there are a lot of people who are like that. They might have a basic interest in picking up and playing games, and yet the level of strategy and the level of difficulty in games can be a real turnoff for a lot of those players.

This game is a little bit different in that it really doesn't have a difficulty level. Whether you're a hard-core gamer or you're picking up a game for the first time, this game is not hard or easy. It's really kind of strange, I think. And that's why this is sort of a dangerous product for us because it doesn't reflect something that I'm really good at, which is balancing games. There really doesn't need to be any balance for a game that doesn't have any difficulty.

With a lot of the games in Japan, people will play a game, be done with it, and sell it. There are a lot of games being sold used and purchased used, and I think that's a big issue for the industry to tackle. This is one game that we're trying to tackle it with. I think really the root of the problem with used games is that we've got to the point where most games are designed with a primary goal in mind. Once somebody achieves that goal they're done with the game and they essentially get rid of it. I think that people spend a lot of money developing games like that, and I think it's led to this problem with used games.

Personally, I see my games as sort of like a tool. I create my games with the idea that people can always use that tool as a means of entertainment. I think I've been very fortunate in that many of my games haven't ended up being sold used. But still I think it's an issue we have to deal with.

This is a game that Mr. Tezuka is producing, and it really is a vast tool for entertainment. It has a yearlong calendar with events planned throughout the entire year. And you just sort of live in this village and experience life in it. It's the type of game that maybe you play for a few minutes or an hour each day, and every day you try to experience life in this town.

The basic idea behind the game is that you communicate with a number of different characters, and as the result of that communication you get really basic benefits--sometimes money and sometimes items. You then use the benefits of money and items from communication and activities to enhance your own life by purchasing items for your house and whatnot.

In one game you can have up to four people playing, and it's sort of based upon the average Japanese family with maybe a younger sister, a brother, a mother, and a father. So it's really designed for an entire family to sit down and experience. Because it has an actual calendar with events scheduled throughout the year, in Japan we scheduled all the events to the Japanese calendar. On Christmas when I got home from work I actually made my kids do their homework, and then I let them play the game and enjoy the special event that was planned for that day. And they were upset because all the stores in the game would be closed by the time they got to play. So they were running around the town and they ran into a Santa Claus character. They were lucky enough to get a very special present. It's the kind of game where if maybe when you're playing and the stores are closed you can send a letter to your mother and ask her to do some shopping for you and pick up some items when she plays the game and the stores are open.

In Japan it's kind of ended up how I expected where kids will go to school in the morning, and while they're at school their mothers will pick up the game and play and leave letters for their children. And then the children will come home from school and play the game and read letters from their mom and their mom will ask them to do something in the game. And then the dad will come home after working away at the office. He'll sit down and play the game and will read letters from his children. And the game enhances communication that way. It's been great. We've got letters from fans of the game in Japan, and it's really done quite well.

The game will allow you to send and receive letters from players and animals in your town, and you'll actually get letters from animals in other towns, and you can go to other towns and send letters to people in those towns. So communication is really important.

So, as you can see, Mr. Tezuka has caught a butterfly. [Pointing to a menu system with dozens of bugs and fish.] These are all the different kinds of insects that are in the game. And these are all the different kinds of fishes that are in the game. These are also tied to the real-time calendar. You can only catch them in season. So that's another one of the things you can do in the game--spend your year hunting and fishing and trying to catch insects and whatnot. We really started this project off with the idea that we wanted to create a game that would somehow encourage communication both among players and among family members. So that was the seed for what grew into Animal Crossing.

Takashi Tezuka: So we kind of made the theme of the game communicating directly with other characters and communicating directly with other players in your town. And as Mr. Miyamoto explained, one of the real fun elements of the game is all the engaging that you do with the other players in your town, the animals in your town, and trading villages with your friends and experiencing life in their town. All the communication is really key to the fun in this sort of game. Basically, the more you communicate, the more you're able to collect the very distinct and creative pieces of furniture, clothing, and items that you can get in this game. Actually, I'm a little lost here, and the reason behind that is that every person who purchases the game and starts their own town--the town is randomly generated so in every town the terrain is going to be totally different. I'm not quite familiar with the terrain in this town just yet. So really the game is all about you having your own personal world. And really you're free to do what you want to do. You can go from your world to your friend's world. You will have different animals and characters in your town than your friend will have in his or her town, and so as you enter more towns you'll meet more of the characters in the game.

So as you can see I just purchased some flower seeds here in the shop.

[While playing the game he goes outside a shop and plants the seeds. A little sapling springs up.]

Now just as in real life, as time passes in the game the tree will actually grow. And that's one of the more fun elements of the game as well. The town changes as time passes, and you'll see trees growing up, new characters will move into your town, and some of your favorite characters will move out of town into new towns.

SM: I recently got a call from a friend of mine who has been playing the game with his daughter, and he hasn't had time to play in quite a while. His daughter got really mad, ran into his house, and found that there were cockroaches running all around. Because he hadn't played in so long and hadn't cleaned up his house and taken care of things, he got cockroaches in it.

We originally started this game with the idea that it would be an Internet game. But what happened is that we developed the game and we came to realize that the Internet isn't yet a platform through which everyone can play. So while we had originally intended for people to be able to trade furniture and things through the Internet, we've since changed it so that they can do that through passwords. Or they can do it through the E Reader cards for Animal Crossing. On the Nintendo home page in Japan we do have Internet service where we are able to provide passwords to help with the idea of building a community that way. And also, of course, the E Reader cards for Animal Crossing. They've been released in Japan, and we've already done a second set of those. Those are selling quite well, and they really add to the functionality.

Check back tomorrow for more as the roundtable addresses Super Mario Sunshine and The Legend of Zelda, followed by a short Q&A session.

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