Pushing Buttons: Nintendo’s Shigeru Miyamoto – what we owe the most influential game designer | Games



NOTIntendo designer Shigeru Miyamoto – one of gaming’s first creative superstars and the mind behind Super Mario Bros, Legend of Zelda F-Zero and many other wonderfully inventive games – has turned 70. Miyamoto, who has been involved in the development of most Nintendo games and consoles, is the most influential game designer in the world. Nintendo is part of the creative marrow of the gaming industry: there is hardly any game developer today who hasn’t played and been influenced by Miyamoto.

He has worked at Nintendo for 45 years and since the 1990s he has been the face of the company. Alongside the late and great former President Satoru Iwata and genius Game Boy hardware designer and architect Gunpei Yokoi, he laid the foundation for the company’s enduring success and helped establish its gaming approach to video games. His smiling, familiar presence at events such as E3 and the Tokyo Game Show over the decades – where he’s always been happy to appear on stage, waving a Master Sword or a Wii Remote – has made him a beloved figure among Nintendo loyalists. . He used to show up at midnight launches to sign things for fans; a friend of mine once asked him to draw a Mario doodle on his GameCube while meeting, and he happily agreed. He just seems like a really nice guy.

Miyamoto, left, with Steven Spielberg in 2006. Photography: Branimir Kvartuc/Associated Press.

In my 17 years in the video game industry, I’ve only met Miyamoto once. The first time I had the opportunity to interview him, in the late 2000s, my editor sent me on a press trip to Vienna instead. (I don’t think anyone has ever been so disappointed to be in Vienna.) I missed meeting him a second time, in Tokyo, because someone else from the publication I worked for jumped on it. But in 2012, I finally met him, in Paris, just before the launch of the Wii U; I had a terrible cold, barely survived the flight and had to go to bed right after the interview. It’s still one of the highlights of my career. He was surprisingly calm, a pensive listener and an even more pensive speaker.

The hallmark of Miyamoto’s game design – and that of Nintendo more broadly – is understanding how technology and ideas work together to create fun. There will be a good idea: what if you could play a game on two different screens? What if you could swing the controller to play tennis? What if you could rotate this character in 3D? The hardware and design of the game will then follow this idea. Nintendo’s consoles are uniquely interconnected with its games. Nintendo Labo – a spinning game cardboard into playable toys, with the help of all the Switch’s cool little tech features like infrared sensors and vibration – isn’t a Miyamoto game, but it shows how that ethos has spread across the entire company.

Technological innovation is also what keeps Nintendo’s decades-old franchises from becoming obsolete. They’re familiar, but there’s always something new – even groundbreaking – in another Zelda or Mario game. “We often get asked, ‘Another Pikmin, another Mario – why don’t you come up with new ideas and franchises?'” Miyamoto told me in that 2012 interview. iteration for the existing franchise, we are always trying to create unique entertainment, and one way to do that is to take new technologies and apply them so that even the existing franchise can provide you with a whole new experience.

Creation of Miyamoto Fox McCloud, the main character of the Star Fox series.
Creation of Miyamoto Fox McCloud, the main character of the Star Fox series. Photo: Nintendo

These days, Miyamoto is a background presence at Nintendo. When I interviewed the company’s senior creatives, Shinya Takahashi and Hisashi Nogami, a few years ago, they sounded like he was lurking around the office, popping up to pass judgment or offer a rare compliment. on an ongoing project. “He’s not involved in the smallest details of development, but oversees entire projects and identifies major issues: ‘This part is bad, this part is bad, this part is bad,” Takahashi told me, with a smile. “If he says something is good, it’s rare, and you know it is. He’s actually a shy person – even when he thinks something is done right, he wouldn’t often tell someone directly.

“I’ve never been praised by Mr. Miyamoto,” Nogami interjected deadpan. Obviously, he’s a hard man to please.

I’m not sure Miyamoto will ever retire. He’s too much of a creative mascot for Nintendo, too much of a symbol of what makes the company what it is, and he still loves his job: most recently, he oversaw the upcoming Mario movie. He, too – like me, really, and I’d bet like many of you – refuses to do without video games, because he sees them as something life-enhancing, something that will always have a place.

“Sometimes people say, ‘I graduated from video games.’ But I don’t think that term is appropriate. This unique interactive media called video games can be very easily integrated into your ordinary life, and I hope I can work on finding ways to play games that can attract people – to encourage them to play with video game technologies in one way or another, so that they can enjoy their lives even more.

I believe few people alive today could say that they brought more happiness to more people than Shigeru Miyamoto, through his games and his influence. Happy birthday, Miyamoto-san. Here are many more.

what to play

Pac-Man vs.
A riot… Pac-Man Vs, from 2003. Photography: Namco/Nintendo

I recommend a real Miyamoto deep cut: Pac-Man vs.. Released on GameCube in 2003, and only playable by connecting a Game Boy Advance to the console via a cable, it takes the Namco classic and gives it an inspired twist: one player controls Pac-Man and three others control ghosts. The result is a riot. A collective scream goes up every time the Pac-Man player finds a Power-Pill, rivalries and alliances form and dissolve, and everyone has a great time.

With its fun approach and technical dual-screen inventiveness, I think this game is a wonderful example of how Miyamoto approaches game design. It was created to show off the possibilities of dual-screen gaming, and its central idea has appeared in numerous titles throughout the DS, Wii U, and Switch era, most notably Nintendo Land’s Mario Chase. These days, Pac Man Vs can also be played on Nintendo DS and Switch, via Namco Museum.

Approximate playing time: Only a few minutes per game
Available on: GameCube, Nintendo DS, Nintendo Switch

What to read

  • Pokémon Scarlet and Violet, the most ambitious entries in this long-running series in years, came out in somewhat poor condition, with surprisingly poor technical performance and bugs spoiling the experience for many players. This sparked the usual tedious talk about its developer, Game Freak, which has long struggled with the shift from 2D handheld console game design to modern open-world structures, while releasing one or two games every year. What Game Freak probably needs isn’t more people or “better” talent, but more time: a cake takes the same amount of time to make, no matter how many cooks are involved.

  • If you’re as fascinated as I am by Elon Musk’s terrible behavior during the ongoing Twitter convulsions, read this article by Ed Zitron (who was a games writer).

  • Saints Row developer Volition is set to be part of Gearbox Studios, following the reboot of its underperforming irreverent crime series to new owner Embracer Group’s expectations.

  • An NFL linebacker retired from the sport at age 28 to apparently sell Pokémon cards instead, after recently selling an infamous Illustrator card for $650,000. Good for him – Pokémon cards are much less likely to cause you brain damage than American football.

What to click

Scholars, Symphonies, and Rave Music: Creating the Assassin’s Creed Soundtrack

Pokémon Scarlet/Violet review – poor performance holds back exciting game

Unexpected nudity and vomit-covered cats: How Dwarf Fortress tells some of the game’s weirdest stories

Sonic Frontiers review – wild, weird and a bit broken

Block of questions

Outdoor savages.
Outer Wilds time loop space game. Photography: Mobius Digital/Annapurna Interactive

Today’s question comes from the reader Adam:

I’ve just finished In other waters on Switch. One of the things that struck me about the experience was the clunky user interface. I enjoyed the feeling of resistance and learning to manipulate the controls. What control schemes have, by design or accident, have improved your gaming experience?

I could write a whole column about bad controls that are actually good, all along Resi Games‘slow tension build-up pivoting on Octodad’s intentionally slippery controls, which have you ineptly maneuvering a costumed octopus around a supermarket. Often, idiosyncratic controls are used intentionally for comedic effect. In the space game in time loop Outer Wildlands, however, the hard-to-master controls of my rickety spaceship added another dimension to the game’s sense of wonder. Unlike the fast flying machines of Star Wars or, indeed, Star Fox, landing is difficult and fly without bumping into each other. As you learn to wrestle with your spaceship, you also learn more about the game’s alluring capsule solar system as its mysteries begin to open up to you.

If you, like Adam, have ideas about bad controls that are actually good, or have a question, email me at pushbuttons@guardian.co.uk.

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