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E3: An Audience With Shigeru Miyamoto
E3: An Audience With Shigeru Miyamoto
June 2, 2009 | By Christian Nutt

June 2, 2009 | By Christian Nutt
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More: Console/PC, E3



After E3 ended on Tuesday, Nintendo hosted a Gamasutra-attended general press presentation -- somewhere between a press conference in size and a roundtable in intent, where the legendary Shigeru Miyamoto more casually discussed his creative process and ideas.

"I'm very lucky that I wasn't up on stage at the Media Briefing, so I'm in a really relaxed mood," Miyamoto offered, before beginning in earnest. "I've just been so busy for quite awhile now -- I'm sending emails from my hotel back to programmers in Japan during my free time here."

He joked, "We've reduced our staff at the show because of the fear of swine influenza. It's okay if I get sick, but some of the other guys -- we can't lose."

"I had the idea it would be great if you could carry your Nintendo DS with you during the day as you go through your daily activities... And download data, a guide for a shopping mail or a guide for a museum. In Japan we've done a lot of testing and had these programs underway."

The DS is being used for education in Japan at present, Miyamoto said. "Creating this sort of system in that sort of environment is something I enjoy quite a bit... and hopefully I can continue some of that work."

Old Becomes New: New Super Mario Bros. Wii

"As a lot of you know, I've been working on Mario titles for about the last 20 years," Miyamoto remarked. "And there's something I've been wanting to do for the entire time I've been working with Mario. And what that is -- you can see we've got three people playing for the same time.

"What I've wanted to do is recreate the single play with multiplayer. For pretty much every Mario project I've worked on, we start with a multiplayer experiment but we end up throwing it out," Miyamoto admitted -- a somewhat rare example of Nintendo's famous policy of dumping content that just does not work.

Watching Miyamoto laugh at the live demo -- being given by Nintendo Treehouse staffers while he spoke -- reinforced his own obvious interest in and enjoyment of his own work. "One of the reasons we were finally able to bring this multiplayer project to fruition was the Wii's processing power," he said. Miyamoto began to demo the game himself -- and quickly died, drawing laughs from the crowd.

"This is a game that's good for people who are new to games to play with people who have been playing for awhile -- this is something we've been wanting to accomplish," Miyamoto said.

Another example of that concept, he said, is Wii Sports Resort. This union of casual and hardcore -- that was a key theme of the company's press conference as well.

A Surprising Sequel: Super Mario Galaxy 2

"The first Super Mario Galaxy was the first time we had worked with spherical worlds, and we had a lot of ideas... but after we finished we realized we couldn't fit them all in. We were a little disappointed we couldn't use all of them," he said, by way of introduction.

The company has never before, it's worth noting, released two 3D Mario games on the same platform. "We thought we'd make Super Mario Galaxy 1.5 but the team got so excited that close to 99% of what you'll see is new."

The Latest License To Print Money: Wii Sports Resort

That's a gentle rib, not a cynical dig -- time with Wii Sports Resort on the show floor revealed its obvious quality and amount of content compared to the original. "There's not enough difference between this, and Wii Fit Plus, with the originals, to slap a '2' on and call it a sequel," Miyamoto, however, admitted.

Before launching into the WSR demo, Miyamoto offered up that he wanted to use the program to be able to weigh his dogs and his cats -- and made that possible in the new version. How often do you hear that at E3?

"When we first designed the hardware, Wii Sports was designed at the same time. And after we finished it, we thought, what should we do -- Wii Motorsports? Wii Leisure Sports? We did a lot of experiments," Miyamoto said, referring to Nintendo's extensive prototyping process.

But the Wii Motion Plus add-on for the Wii Remote offered the solution, according to Miyamoto. "Basketball was a sport that was really hard to do [with the old controller alone]... it's something that's really subtle and hard to recreate in a video game. It's very similar to the release point when you are playing darts or throwing a Frisbee." Though darts aren't part of the game -- UK readers may now groan.

The game includes two events from the original -- bowling and golf. "I have to say they're very different experiences from the original," Miyamoto reassured the audience. The difference, of course, is the reading of the angle of the wrist that the Wii Motion Plus allows.

What was notable here, though, was Nintendo's easy-to-understand and uncomplicated interface design in the Wii Sports titles -- the swing meter bends the way you turn your wrist, letting you know the way the ball's going to go with minimum complication or delay.

"This game doesn't have things like cutscenes that delay the game," Miyamoto also said, perhaps showing a bit more of his philosophy behind the title's simplicity.

"Another part of the game is that there's a stamp system that rewards you for achieving certain goals -- you'll get a stamp on the return challenge if you successfully return three serves... there are 100 stamps." Achievements in a Nintendo game? "This is a game that appeals to a very, very wide range of gamers, from new gamers to experienced gamers." The latter seems to apply in this case.

"One of thing I've been wanting to do for a long time is take a location and treat it like a character," Miyamoto said, referring to Woohoo Island, the setting for Wii Sports Resort and the Wii Fit games. He said he'd even like to have a similar character licensing opportunity to the Mario games -- but with a location.

"Maybe we'll put a hotel on Woohoo Island and there will be a murder in the hotel and you'll have to solve that mystery." It's worth noting that it was totally unclear whether or not he was kidding, at this point. "These are some of the things we think about while we enjoy ourselves creating games like this," he said, laughing.

Zelda First the Same, Then a Surprise

The new DS version of Zelda, The Legend Of Zelda: Spirit Tracks looks much like the previous DS game, Phantom Hourglass, and was debuted at GDC this year, so wasn't concentrated on during the press conference. Really, Nintendo's lineup is extremely iterative this year.

Apparently, Miyamoto likes trains -- Miyamoto hobby-spotters take note -- and so do many Japanese young men; that's the inspiration for the game, and the number of events that happen in the game are derived from scenarios imagined thanks to this interest.

Miyamoto revealed he's been having deep discussions of the series with its current creative lead, Eiji Aonuma."We've been talking about the Zelda franchise. What is this series?" The chief concern: what can be done to move the gameplay forward.

"Personally, I think that my idea of what I would like to see it be -- the player would have such an impactful experience that they would they, themselves, would feel like they had traveled to the areas Link visited in the game," he said.

The player would then "create memories of the characters that you meet within these travels. I think it's really important to stress that these would be your own memories of how you experienced the game."

"How you approach the dungeons, how you go about that dungeon layout, and solving that dungeon -- they would also be very important," Miyamoto continued. "At one time we would create an image movie of what we thought the game would be like, but we've moved away from that." The famous example was the Ganondorf fight from a past E3. "Instead, we're now doing repeated experiments with gameplay."

"To be honest, at this E3 I wanted to announce a new Zelda for Wii. But we've already shown you a Zelda on Wii. We'd rather work on it. But I didn't want to come empty-handed, so I did bring an illustration for the next game," he said, before showing a Twilight Princess-style realistic, teen link, with a luminescent young woman. He promised that it will -- most likely -- debut at next E3, and may well be Wii Motion Plus only, depending on sales of the peripheral.

"I love action games, and bring in archery and swordplay, that's great for me, but some people love it as an RPG, and like the simpler controls, so that's something I really have to think about," he admitted.

The Q&A Period

Miyamoto did ask, unfortunately, that discussion be restricted to games this year. This didn't happen, of course. The first question was, instead, about Miyamoto's reaction to Sony and Microsoft's motion control solutions, which debuted at their respective press conferences.

"For us in development, or policy to do development -- to get the device playable... then make our announcements. With Wii Sports Resort we thought it would take maybe six months, but implementing Wii Motion Plus took us over a year."

"On a development level, something I think Nintendo does well is not only create this technology but also implement it in a way that is user-friendly and accessible. Until this technology reaches this level it's hard to make a judgment of it."

"We, of course, are working on research at Nintendo -- so the things we've seen here [from Sony and MS] are things that we've seen before," Miyamoto said. "Taking this technology and implementing it well is something we've done with Wii Motion Plus."

Of course, the next question was about the Wii Vitality Sensor.

"I think it's a very unique device that I've been interested in for quite awhile," Miyamoto said. "Interfaces have evolved from the use of buttons to analogue sticks and even scales. There's some interfaces that are controlled by the player. Through your own volition you step onto the Balance Board and use that as a controller."

"However, can you control what your pulse does? Can you make it raise, can you lower it, from your own volition? For example, something like that which might take a lot of training, which is hard to control, but the idea of working towards that -- like with yoga, which does allow you to control your breathing."

"If I pose the question to you, when you're asleep at night, are you really relaxed all the way through? There's a device we had at Nintendo called the Love Tester, where a couple would grab the device and it would measure your compatibility," he said, referring to a '70s toy the company released.

"About 10 years ago, I was able to experience this test where you were able to use your brain waves to move a robot. This could open new doors to creativity. If you're working with a lot of creative people, these devices can give you a lot of creative things. And we have quite a few young creative people at Nintendo who are interested in the same sorts of things," he finished.

IGN's Craig Harris picked up on the Wii Sports Resort achievement thing -- and asked if Nintendo plans to support a system across its games, as Sony and Microsoft do.

"Not maybe in the overall sense that you're talking about -- it's just something that seemed to really fit with Wii Sports Resort," Miyamoto said. "I'm not a big fan of using the carrots to motivate people to play. I want people to play because they enjoy playing and they want to play more. Ideally, rather than purchase a game and you purchase a game and you have one level open and go to the next level -- I'd rather you purchased it, it's mine, I want it now!" Y

"You do have to follow some systems, but ideally I'd want something that's wide open and maybe the difficulty levels are adquate for the person who's playing that game. Really, the stamps within this are more of an impetus not to play more, but to play in different ways and try different things."

Wii Speak, the Microphone attachment which shipped with Animal Crossing: City Folk hasn't appeared since -- so Miyamoto was next asked if it'll be appearing again.

"In all honesty, I really would like to use Wii Speak more, and with every game we're working on we do think about whether it's a good vehicle for this. We end up having so many ideas, that unfortunately that one has not made the cutting board," said Miyamoto. He did clarify, at this point, that New Super Mario Bros. Wii won't be online -- as the questioner hoped.

Next, Miyamoto was asked about the limitations of the Wii's hardware -- since he mentioned that NSMB Wii can't technically support online.

"I think you can say that with every single project we do, but that's part of being a developer -- it's been a challenge for developers since the 8-bit days. When we reach the limits of what we can do with the current system, we begin to think about moving on."

"We work with the tools we have, and that's what we do well," Miyamoto said. "That's pretty much how we're going to be moving into the future. Each successive hardware, a little more powerful."

Miyamoto was next asked about the backlash hardcore gamers had about last year's showing -- and whether or not this year's lineup was a response.

"Last year, I didn't uphold my part of instrument playing on stage, so that's one of the reasons I didn't make an appearance this year," Miyamoto joked. "In relation to last year, there were so many unique features of what we announced there that we didn't fully have time to go into it."

"I really think that we have many cases with Nintendo software where we'll explain it, and you'll get a lot of questioning faces, but when people pick it up and play, they'll understand what we're talking about," he said, clearly referring to the less-than-world-beating Wii Music. Miyamoto expressed disappointment with having to show games on stage -- or have people play even on the show floor.

The final question was about what might be the most inspirational game Miyamoto's ever played -- because apparently, Valve's Gabe Newell said his is Mario 64.

"Will Wright's Sim City had a big impact on me," Miyamoto said. "Outside of video games it's been Japanese comics and rakugo, which is a comedy storytelling art in Japan."


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