Pushing Buttons: Nintendo’s Shigeru Miyamoto – What we owe to the most influential game designer | Toys

nintendo designer Shigeru Miyamoto — one of gaming’s earliest masterminds, and the brains behind Super Mario Bros., Legend of Zelda F-Zero, and many great innovative games — has turned 70. Miyamoto, who has had a hand in the development of most of Nintendo’s games and consoles, is the most influential game designer alive. Nintendo is part of the game industry’s creative marrow: there’s hardly a game developer today who hasn’t played, and been uninfluenced by Miyamoto.

He’s worked at Nintendo for 45 years, and since the 1990s, he’s been the face of the company. Together with the late great former President Satoru Iwata, genius hardware designer and Game Boy engineer Gunpei Yokoi, he laid the foundations for the company’s enduring success, and helped establish its fun-first approach to video games. His smiling, familiar presence at events like E3 and the Tokyo Game Show over the decades — where he’s always happy to appear on stage, waving a Master Sword or Wii Remote — has made him a beloved figure among the Nintendo faithful. He used to show up in the middle of the night to autograph things for fans; A friend of mine once asked him to doodle Mario on his GameCube at a meet-and-greet, and he cheerfully obliged. He seems like a really nice guy.

Miyamoto, left, with Steven Spielberg in 2006. Photo: Branimir Kvartok/Associated Press.

In my 17 years in the game industry, I’ve only met Miyamoto once. The first time I had a chance to interview him, in the late 2000s, the editor sent me on a reporting trip to Vienna instead. (I don’t think anyone was too disappointed to be in Vienna). I missed meeting him a second time, in Tokyo, because someone else from the post I worked at had jumped on me. But it was in 2012 that I finally met him, in Paris, just before the launch of the Wii U; I had a horrible cold, barely made it through the flight and had to go to sleep right after the interview. This is still one of the highlights of my career. He was unexpectedly quiet, a deep listener and a more thoughtful speaker.

A hallmark of Miyamoto’s game design – and Nintendo more broadly – is an understanding of how technology and ideas work together to create fun. There would be a great idea: what if you could play a game on two different screens? What if you could swing a console to play tennis? What if you could run this character in 3D? Both hardware and game design will follow this idea. Nintendo consoles are uniquely associated with their games. Nintendo Labo – a game that transforms Cardboard into playable games, aided by all the Switch’s cool little tech features like infrared and vibration sensors — not Miyamoto’s game, but it shows how that philosophy has filtered through the entire company.

Technological innovation is also what keeps decades-old Nintendo franchises from becoming stale. They’re familiar, but there’s always something new – even groundbreaking – in another Zelda or Mario game. “They’re often asked, ‘Another Pikmin, another Mario — why don’t you come up with completely new ideas and franchises?'” Miyamoto told me in a 2012 interview. “But… even though we’re creating a remake of the existing franchise, we’re always trying to provide unique entertainment, and one way to do that is to use new technologies and apply that so that the existing franchise is able to provide you with a whole new experience. “

Miyamoto created Fox McCloud, the main character in the Star Fox series.
Miyamoto created Fox McCloud, the main character in the Star Fox series. Image: Nintendo

These days, Miyamoto is a background presence at Nintendo. When I interviewed the company’s top creatives, Shinya Takahashi and Hisashi Nogami, a few years ago, they gave the impression that he was lurking in the office, popping up to pass judgment or praise on a project in progress. “He is not involved in the subtleties of development, but supervises entire projects and identifies key issues:“ This part is bad, this part is bad, this is Takahashi told me with a smile. “If he says something well, it’s rare, and you know it is. He’s actually a shy person—even when he thinks something is done well, he often doesn’t say it to someone directly.”

“I have never once praised Mr. Miyamoto,” Nogami interjected deadpan. He’s clearly a picky guy.

I’m not sure Miyamoto will actually retire. He’s an overly creative mascot for Nintendo, a very big symbol of what makes the company what it is, and it’s clear he still enjoys his job: most recently he was overseeing the next Mario movie. He also — really like me, and I bet many of you do — refuses to get out of video games, because he sees them as something life-enhancing, and there will always be a place for him.

Sometimes people say, “I graduated from video games.” But I don’t think that’s an appropriate term. These unique interactive media called video games can be very conveniently integrated into your regular life, and I hope that I can work on 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 more. “.

I think few people alive today can say that they have brought more happiness to people than Shigeru Miyamoto achieved, through his games and influence. Happy birthday, Miyamoto-san. Here’s more.

What are we going to play

Pac-Man vs.
Riot… Pac-Man vs., from 2003. Photo: Namco/Nintendo

I recommend Miyamoto’s True Deep Cut: Pac-Man vs. Released for the GameCube in 2003, and playable only by attaching a Game Boy Advance to the console via a cable, it takes the classic Namco game and gives it an inspired twist: one player controls Pac-Man and three others control the Ghosts. The result is riots. A collective cry rises every time a Pac-Man player finds a power pill, rivalries and alliances form and dissolve, and everyone is having a good time.

With its fun first approach and creative dual screen art, I think this game is a great example of Miyamoto’s way of looking at game design. It was created to show off the possibilities of dual-screen gaming, and its central idea has appeared in plenty of titles since then throughout the DS, Wii U, and Switch era, most notably in Nintendo Land’s Mario Chase. These days Pac Man Vs can also be played on Nintendo DS and Switch, via the Namco Museum.

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

what are you reading

  • Pokémon Scarlet and Violet, the most ambitious entries in this long-running series for years, has been released in a slump, with shockingly poor technical performance and bugs spoiling the experience for many players. It sparked the usual boring rhetoric about its developer, Game Freak, who had been struggling to transition from 2D handheld console game design to modern open-world structures for a long time, while still releasing a game or two every year. What Game Freak likely needs is not more people, or “better” talent, but more time: a cake takes the same amount of time to make no matter how many chefs are involved.

  • If you’re as impressed as I am at Elon Musk’s horrible behavior during constant Twitter twitches, read this article by Ed Zitron (who used to be a games writer).

  • Saints Row developer Volition will be made part of Gearbox Studios, following a reboot of the irreverent crime series that didn’t quite pan out to new owner Embracer Group’s expectations.

  • An NFL player retired from the sport at age 28 to apparently sell Pokemon cards instead, having recently sold an infamously rare Illustrator card for $650,000. Good for him – Pokemon cards are significantly less likely to give you brain damage than American football.

what to click

Scientists, symphonies, and rave music: the making of the Assassin’s Creed soundtrack

Pokémon Scarlet / Violet review – Poor performance gets in the way of an exciting game

Unexpected nudity and vomit-covered cats: How Dwarf Fortress tells some of gaming’s most bizarre stories

Sonic Frontiers review – Wild, weird and a little broken

question block

Outer wilds.
Space game Outer Wilds Time Loop. Image: Mobius Digital/Annapurna Interactive

Today’s question comes from a reader Adam:

I recently finished in other waters on the switch. One of the things that amazed me about this experience was the high-performance user interface. I enjoyed feeling the resistance and learning how to argue the controls. What control schemes, by design or by accident, Enhanced your game experience?

I could write an entire column about bad controls that are actually good, right from the start Resi gamesThe sluggish tension immediately boils down to Octodad’s deliberate controls, which have you maneuvering an octopus in an inept suit around a supermarket. Often, special controls are used intentionally for comedic effect. In the time loop space game Outer wildsHowever, my spaceship’s hard-to-fly controls gave another dimension to the game’s feel-good feel. Unlike Star Wars or Star Fox’s already fast flying machines, it’s hard to land and hard to fly without crashing into things. As you learn how to grapple with your spaceship, you also learn more about the game’s captivating 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 to ask, email me at pushingbuttons@guardian.co.uk.

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