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Note: this article is an extended editor's cut of an interview feature that originally appeared in the June/July issue of Game Developer magazine.
When people start reading subtexts into the events of your works, such as Frodo inserting his finger into Lord Sauron's ring of power, Lucy spreading apart the professor's wife's furs to discover Narnia, or Mario diving into a magical warp pipe fishing about for her majesty, you know your time has come. The trouble is maintaining that position.
Yet stamina doesn't seem to be an issue for Shigeru Miyamoto. Whether it's a healthy supply of 'shrooms, or little blue pills, he's definitely got access to some good stuff. Since his creation of Mario Bros. and Donkey Kong, through to The Legend of Zelda, cart racing, and Pikmin, punctuated by his introduction and refinement of handheld gaming, analog control, and controller force feedback, Miyamoto has dominated and deeply influenced the videogame industry for decades. Furthermore, he has demonstrated the ability to transfer his surreal development prowess to others such as Eiji Aonuma, whose artistic and commercial success as director of The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker earned him the authority to oversee the entire Zelda franchise. Recently, Miyamoto's infectious innovative spirit flourished yet again at E3 with the unveiling of the Nintendo DS, which he co-created with Game Boy Advance SP industrial designer Ken'ichi Sugino.
Given this mentoring trend at Nintendo, we thought it might be possible to have a few batons passed your way. What follows is a Triforce of interviews, with all three of these leading Nintendo developers sharing their insights.
The Zen of Game Development
Jamil Moledina: How do you create that elusive fun factor, and how do you know you're getting it right?
Shigeru Miyamoto: The most important thing is that the game director not lose sight of the point of origin, the reason they're creating the game they're creating. Every game starts off with some core element that you want to create and you want people to experience, but gradually a lot of times when people are creating games, things don't develop the way they expect them to, so to solve that problem, people gradually add new elements to make that game better. In doing that, you can end up going down this path where you've added all these different elements, and the game changes from what it was originally intended to be. Now, of course, if in doing that the game gets better, that's not a problem, but a lot of times it's very important for directors to refer back to that starting point and make sure that they're staying true to that. And obviously, there are exceptions to the rule where you do have to add on new elements, then the problem with that is that the game development never really ends, because you keep adding new things until you decide it finally becomes interesting.
Eiji Aonuma: For us, we're always thinking of new ideas, even during the development of say the previous title, and we'll look at what we're doing, what we want to do with that title, that we weren't able to accomplish for whatever reasons, be they technical or time constraints, and then try to use those core elements and find ways to expand them, find ways to do them better in the next game. And essentially, use these ideas from past games or ideas we had while creating a game and kind of let that evolve into the theme of the next game.
Another thing for us that's very important is that we don't just try to think up ideas, but we actually allow our experiences to spawn ideas, or instigate ideas for us. Even if I'm out with my family and I find something interesting, or experience something that I think is very fun, I might look at that and say, "That's kind of fun. How can I take that and bring it back to Zelda games?" And implement it in a way that people can interact with it and experience the same feeling of fun that I experienced when I first saw it in the real world. With Zelda, we've created this world for the player to go play in, and in this world we put in things that we think the player might want to do-that they might want to play or might want to interact with. And in doing that, what we've done is that we've given the players the opportunity to use their own imagination to come up with their own way of playing. I think that's what makes Zelda fun.
JM: As the game industry has grown, games have been subject to political scapegoating, particularly with relation to violence in society. How do you feel about the way the industry is treated?
SM: Any new media or industry that grows rapidly is going to be criticized. That's just because the older, more established media have been around, and a lot of adults can be very conservative. They may not have an open mind to new things that weren't around when they were growing up, and are replacing the things they grew up with. You know, looking at the games that I've made, fortunately they haven't met with a lot of the same criticism that a lot of the other games have. That's really important to me. I want to create games that don't fall into those strong stereotypes about videogames and instead I want to create games that others will instantly see primarily as a fun entertainment form to be enjoyed. With things like the DS and its touch panel and the new style of control that that's going to offer, and the Donkey Konga drums we've introduced with the Gamecube, I think those are really going to change little by little the image that videogames have. You know, over the years I've seen this standard image of a child playing a videogame in which the child is alone in a darkened room, with his face very close to the TV, with the light of the TV reflecting off his face, holding the controller, and just staring at the TV. I'd really like to be able to change that image of videogames into something that's a little more positive.
JM: There's a growing sense in the game development community that developers need to make a bigger name for themselves, as the creators and representatives of a burgeoning art form-like film, painting, and other things that are commonly accepted in world culture as art. Do you perceive games as an art form?
EA: As someone who studied art, it's a very important question to ask: Where do you draw the line? What is art, and what isn't? To me, I don't necessarily feel that games have to be considered as art. If you really think about art, the people that really understand it are those that have studied art, and know art, and are art buffs really. Whereas, if you look at what Nintendo tries to do with games, we want to create games and present them to as many people as possible, young, old, middle-aged, teen-aged, we really want to entertain people, and entertain as many people as we can. I think a good example is the film industry. You have two directions it's going in. You have the mass market films that anybody can go watch, and enjoy, and be entertained by, and say "Wow, this a great movie!" And you have arthouse films, where really the masses don't get to experience or enjoy the art of those films, and instead it's just really people who are film buffs who get to go and experience that. While there's nothing wrong with that, our goal is to just make games that are fun and entertain people, and thus we want to entertain as many people as we can.
On the other hand, I think it's very important that
games retain individuality and the individuality of
the people creating them. I mean, if you look at art,
even if it's not art for the masses, it's very distinct,
and each piece of art is very unique. And it's going
to have its own flavor. If games go forward and gradually
become more and more alike so that there is no more
individuality in games, that's not going to be good
for the industry. So to me, it's very important to
have that uniqueness and those distinct characteristics
and try to continue to evoke that in the games that