5 min read

GDC: Miyamoto Talks Game Design, Super Mario Galaxy

At his fascinating keynote speech at the 2007 Game Developers Conference, Mario and Zelda creator Shigeru Miyamoto dealt with the changing nature of the game market, focusing on expanding the game market, the 'Wife-O-Meter', and Super Mario Galaxy.

At his fascinating keynote speech at the 2007 Game Developers Conference, Mario and Zelda creator Shigeru Miyamoto dealt with the changing nature of the game market, focusing on expanding the game market, the 'Wife-O-Meter', and Super Mario Galaxy.

Miyamoto, handily translated by Nintendo's Bill Trinen, started by noting that it has been 8 years since he last spoke at GDC, commenting: "It seems you haven't aged a bit." He then used the Wii remote to boot up the Wii Photo Channel for his presentation.

He pointed to 1998, where "a very Nintendo multiplayer experience" was being had with titles such as Super Mario 64, and relatively wholesome games ruled. But in 2004, titles such as Halo were topping the charts. Miyamoto noted that journalists were asking more negative questions, and that the public "...somehow thought we were turning gamers into zombies."

The Nintendo legend commented: "There seemed to be only really one way forward... the player seemed to only want more of the same type of game," continuing: "We as developers even felt threatened." He indicated that he wanted to find another way forward - to expand the userbase by multiple ways.

Miyamoto then brought up his own personal test of 'expanded audience', calling it the 'Wife-O-Meter', and charting how his personal history of games have affected his wife's interest level in games.

He then referenced historical games such as Tetris, explaining: "While I thought my wife would be interested in this game, she was not." But gradually she succumbed, through games such as Zelda: Ocarina Of Time, and Animal Crossing, explaining of the latter: "I assured my wife that there were no enemies to fight... so she agreed to touch the controller."

Then, thanks to Nintendogs and especially Brain Age, Miyamoto's wife was "turned.. into a true gamer," even downloading the voting channel for the Wii when Miyamoto was out one evening. He commented of this: "It would be more normal for me to come home and find Donkey Kong eating at my dinner table."

Next up, Miyamoto discussed exactly how Nintendo works, explaining that he doesn't feel that teams are distracted by larger issues in a wide-ranging company, explaining: "Every employee is able to focus solely on entertainment."

He stressed collaboration - mentioning that he had input into all the Nintendo controllers since the NES, and explaining both hardware and software innovation at the company as "group collaboration" at its highest. Most of all, it was necessary to create "a controller that would be simple and accessible for everyone," and along the way succeed in "balancing the needs of software and hardware."

Miyamoto actually commented that Nintendo did think carefully about whether to even produce a sequel to the Gamecube in terms of hardware, and the company had floated the question: "Did we even need a new home console?" Nintendo's creative independence was a key part of the equation for Miyamoto, as he continued: "We have always encouraged employees to do things differently from everyone else."

But most of all, the Nintendo creator tries to imagine "the face of the player while he or she is playing the game," and in making the experience happy - entirely a positive feedback loop. Titles such as Wii Sports are the latest versions of Miyamoto's vision along those lines. He particularly referenced Wii Play, which has received some poor reviews in the West from some, charging: "Game reviewers out there need to add a new category when scoring games... how fun it is for people who don't play them."

Next discussed was the concept of prioritization - the concept that there's "not enough" - either for budget, time, or resources. Miyamoto explained this with regard to the baseball game within Wii Sports - just one stadium, no licenses, you can't hit a bunt, and you don't even control the fielders. In addition, the characters didn't even have arms or legs. But overall, making the game "feel realistic" was the key - just by concentrating on pitching and batting alone to make it fun and complete it on time.

He then talked about 'tenacity' - showing a Famicom Disk System concept for customizable faces, and a N64 Disk Drive service title, and then the canceled Stage Debut for the GameCube, with Miyamoto and Iwata on stage - all of which attempted the custom face creation idea with not much success, before the Wii face customization idea finally got it right. He then revealed a new Wii Channel to compare the Mii's that players have created, and have popularity contests.

Finally, Miyamoto got to Mario, quipping: "He's been in countless games recently, maybe too many." He then revealed a secret: "What happened to Mario 128?" In fact, the title, of which Miyamoto explained: "We showed off a technical demo in 2000 at SpaceWorld," wasn't ever officially scrapped, but he revealed: "Actually most of you have already played it - but you played it in a game called Pikmin."

But even more so - "Another element of Mario 128 [was placed] in Super Mario Galaxy - multiple spherical galaxies." He then showed a new trailer for Super Mario Galaxy, showing a semi-mindblowing galactic romp through small worlds and bouncing classic Mario enemies, confirming: "You will be able to play Super Mario Galaxy this year."

His conclusion? "We are human, and our job is to entertain humans. And to do that we must always remember the human touch."

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