Shigeru Miyamoto interview

Shigeru Miyamoto

Welcome to our four-part translation of the Weekly Famitsu interview with Shigeru Miyamoto. Many thanks to BlackKite for translating this for Japanese Nintendo. Please credit if posting elsewhere. Buy physical copies of Weekly Famitsu magazine here (use the code JPNINTENDO for 5% off all physical orders above $20). Please consider buying me a coffee and to help support future translations.

Miyamoto as Culture Contributor

Shigeru Miyamoto’s comments on getting selected as a Culture Contributor “Games are not created by a single person, so I’m very sorry for receiving this honour personally. The members with whom I started developing games together from almost 40 years ago are still developing together with me even now, while cooperating with developers all around the world. I’m deeply grateful that this team – which has a sense of stability – is getting valued, and also for video games to be given spotlight as Japanese culture. I shall continue devoting myself to make people worldwide smile even from hereafter.”

(Famitsu noted that Japan’s video game culture has piled up much as of today exactly because the entire Nintendo company including Miyamoto himself created a large market almost 40 years ago, and Miyamoto’s name was mentioned for its symbol and representative, so he didn’t have to be sorry)

“If games could just be created alone, I would have said ‘Thank you’ in a bit more dignified way. But since games are like combined arts, that’s not really the case. However, I hadn’t really gotten a spotlight for a one-man job, so when I think about it… I feel like I met with an interesting job (laughs).”

“Rather than ‘We’re finally rewarded for what we’ve been working on’, the current lifestyle is getting filled with digital media. So when I think about the past, I feel like ‘I’m glad video games have now become so common.’”

Reminiscing on the past 

Miyamoto reminisces the past when there were still no media covering video games. For example, when Gunpei Yokoi created Game & Watch, Miyamoto had his illustrator friends bring the units to publications in hope that they would cover it. At first, he got told ‘What a strange company where PR is done by developers instead of promotion staff’, but eventually a computer magazine started covering video games, which made everyone at Nintendo very excited.

The even more pleasant times for them came when magazines dedicated to video games started showing up. But after that they had to change their mindsets that ‘Games are not a new thing in particular, there’s going to be an even newer thing’. Miyamoto personally had to change his own era mindsets from ‘If we create games, we can normally have them featured in media’ to ‘Somehow it doesn’t stand out. People aren’t going to look at it.’

“Games wouldn’t be able to be played on mobile phones”

Miyamoto boasted in the past that ‘Games wouldn’t be able to be played on mobile phones’. But as time goes on, everyone now owns high-performance phones, and games get distributed for free. “We have come to a point where we think ‘it’s unbearable if this thing is distributed for free’ no matter how cheap we sell game consoles.”

“We don’t just simply make sequels”

“[…] Even though Super Mario games make a series, we don’t just simply make sequels; we make one when a new technology shows up. For example, one when a Mega ROM with large capacity showed up, and then one when CPU processing speed has become 16-bit. Once we’ve seen new ideas and materials that can be realized with a new hardware, we make it. As a result of piling that up, I think it’s able to get valued continuously.”

“Why can’t games make parents relieved just like Disney?”

When Miyamoto looked at common parents in the past, he noticed how parents look worried when children play games, yet they look relieved when the children watched Disney videos. Even though watching videos is the same as playing games, this made him think “Why does this happen? It’s like there’s a wall.” “Why can’t games make parents relieved just like Disney?” That’s why he wanted to “make games can be used in living rooms”.

On the Nintendo DS and Wii era

Eventually, games became mainstream around the eras of Nintendo DS & Wii. “In the Wii era, I said something like ‘Looks like it has been received by most mothers. Now we should do something for grandfathers and grandmothers too’. When a child said ‘I made grandpa’s Mii’, the grandfather ought to be happy (laughs). That’s why I said ‘Let’s make such a thing.’ If a family starts talking about how the father and grandfather use the game console in the living room to measure their weights, that means everyone’s already enjoying games, and I strongly hoped it would continue to expand in that way.”

“But in the end, it became really ubiquitous when everyone has a mobile [device] that can play games in ordinary lives. It has accelerated ever since [people] start owning smartphones. There are also people who have smartphones but never played games at all.” “They already have the device, so the hurdle to deliver games to them is always lower than making them buy game consoles. So now I think ‘Ah, this keeps expanding the opportunities. This is fun’.”

Protecting the basics of the Super Mario series

The team had always protected the basics of Super Mario series, which is usually split into four courses with a castle, and if a player gets a Game Over in the middle they’d have to start over. While there are still customers who enjoy challenging that, there have been more customers that want “Let us go to the next one even if we made a mistake”. Making something that caters to both audiences have been a task to the team in the recent years, though Famitsu pointed out that the change in quality of customers is also the result of them expanding [the userbase].

Miyamoto is no longer satisfied with just adding new courses never seen before; he now prefers ‘wanting to make it more fun’. He won’t let game devs get content with ‘just adding something’. If it’s just ‘because it’s a video game’, the media may be not interested in covering them. Although Miyamoto’s team is lucky to be in a place where they always get spotlights in competitions against other entertainments. 

“[…] If we make something that has really new fun factors not seen anywhere else, it should continue to sell for many years instead of disappearing one month after its release. That’s why I made it to go that way.”

The only one who may be called a Creator would be God

Apparently Shigesato Itoi had once said “[Being called] Creators or Creations are absurd.” The only one who may be called a Creator would be God. Nobody is doing any Creations and what all of them are doing is Editing. Miyamoto agrees with this and considers himself as an Editor. People would just repeat editing things they had absorbed in the past, and the results will be different for each person.

The most important thing for Miyamoto to make games right now is the sensation that is similar to throwing a dart with one’s own style – without bothering with scientific approaches like angles or stances – and having it land exactly where one wants it to be.

Miyamoto’s involvement in Breath of the Wild

For any game that Miyamoto was involved in – including The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild – he would be the most fixated in the controls as he would join the team directly in making this particular part. While he was also involved in some other early phases like concepting or determining the game’s direction in its first 30 minutes, he would mostly leave the rest of the development to other staff and wishes them “Good luck”.

Being known for ‘flipping tables’

Miyamoto was also known for ‘flipping tables’ – a terminology used by developers when a check by Miyamoto caused a large part of the game to be changed. Although he would still do suggestions like stopping or going to another direction at the beginning, he no longer ‘flips it’ in the middle. “It’s not like I can ‘flip the table’ anytime as a hobby; it can’t be ‘flipped’ if I don’t know the whole picture.” “When I say ‘this is no good’, by changing the structure etc, we can change the values or the ways we look at it; when I can see it, that’s when ‘the table is flipped’. When I couldn’t see it, it doesn’t mean something will be changed just from me saying ‘no good’. In the end, people who don’t work as directors wouldn’t be able to look at all of the elements.”

What’s okay for Mario to do when developing a Mario-related game

When letting other people make a Mario-related game, someone has to set the basis of ‘what’s okay for Mario to do’ in order for the talks to proceed. So Miyamoto will definitely check the game’s development at some point. There may be an impression that Miyamoto is the only one who sets the standard, but Miyamoto said it’s because nobody else does it. “Rather than only myself, if nobody decides on it, ‘then I should do it to the best of my ability.’ As we repeated this, it gradually became like that. Well, I should at least get the privilege to say ‘I don’t want to’ (laughs).”

There are two ways Miyamoto takes a look at those games: Closely or Briefly. Super Mario Run falls under the former (Closely) as there were nobody else who had set ‘how far is okay to use Mario in mobile [devices]’. Famitsu also mentioned recent non-game projects such as Super Nintendo World with Universal Studios Japan and the animated film with Illumination Entertainment, to which Miyamoto noted that the Universal project would have a Mario world nobody has made in reality yet, so it’d be weird if [Nintendo] were to just supervise designs so there needs to be somebody who can say ‘how far things can be tolerated’.

Miyamoto added, however, that such creativity is something new made and done at ease by a person in the workplace. It’s not something born from instructions given with measures. That’s why the role is to say “Well, please do it at ease.” Miyamoto joked that it would be easier for everybody to start moving if there’s something like “If that person said it, then so it goes.”

‘Mario does not kill people’

Miyamoto would say “No Good” if ‘It’s not Mario-like’ or ‘It’s not Nintendo-like’, which brings a question to clarify those two terms starting with the former. ‘Mario-like’ can be expressed in one word as ‘Relief’. “[…] When I had Yoichi Kotabe draw a picture of Mario, I think I said a point that ‘Mario does not kill people’. When I think about it now, that basis may also be easy to understand. But it doesn’t mean ‘he doesn’t trample insects underfoot either’. That’s the moderate sense of Mario. Such a basis has also pretty much permeated on everyone even now.”

Is it okay for Mario to punch?

This brings up Mario’s appearance in Super Smash Bros. Some people got worried about Mario’s brand there, asking “Is it okay for Mario to punch?” Miyamoto would explain to them “Well, Mario also did things like pulling a turtle out of its shell…” They also did things like changing sound effects to be cuter to make it permissible. Miyamoto noted that if the release were to be stopped just because “Mario must not punch”, there would be no Super Smash Bros like it is today.

The word ‘Relief’ can also be similarly used to explain ‘Nintendo-like’. People in the company are striving to make objects that can be placed at the center of a family’s entertainment in the living room and makes parents relieved. Miyamoto hopes a Nintendo product can become one of those several “family games”.

Miyamoto drawing Bambi

Miyamoto then reminisced that on the year he just joined Nintendo, the company worked on a remake of Disney Home Games board game set, which Miyamoto had a set in his own house from his childhood, and he didn’t realise until then that the set was made by Nintendo. He also remembered when he had to draw pictures of Bambi and others and then visiting Disney Japan to have them approved. Those board games were just like playing cards; they got pulled from the drawer once a year when the family gathered during New Year.

Miyamoto personally had his image of Famicom very similar to above. He and also the whole company really hope a gathered family will pull out and play Nintendo games in the living room, because that has been Nintendo’s brand from the playing cards era. Miyamoto’s development team had a direction of making the Nintendo Switch “an item that wouldn’t look weird at the centre of a family”, so it should connect to the ‘Nintendo-like’ term.

N64 having more proficient interfaces than its competitors 

“During Nintendo 64’s times, when I look at other companies’ hardware, I got to think once again that ‘we’re the most proficient in the interfaces.’ And during Wii’s times, we became able to clearly say it’s a ‘tool at the centre of a family’.”

Miyamoto then remembered a couple of funny moments when he took a peek at what some people found so interesting while playing Famicom games. In one case, someone played Zelda just to do Rupee gambling all the time. In another more hilarious one, somebody played doubles on a Tennis game just to smack the ass of their partner.

Satoru Iwata wanting to bring back “Anything goes” ethos

That’s when Miyamoto noted there was a period where anyone could enjoy games in their own ways regardless of the [games’] intended presentations, just like the proverb “Anything goes”, but games around the Gamecube era became hardly anything like that, so Satoru Iwata said he wanted to bring back that “Anything goes” moment. 

He also reminisced when he was interviewed by an American journalist about the DS, where he said “You can also play on this game console with a single pen, so everyone can line up on the same start line” while thinking to himself “This is a good [catch] copy”.

Designing GameCube and Wii interfaces

Miyamoto’s team thoroughly made the interface for GameCube, but they redid the controller scheme from scratch as all of them wanted to start playing from zero again – that ended up becoming Wii’s concept. Some parts in the Wii U were also made with such a concept, but they had a task to make the usability good.

Miyamoto’s appreciation for Apple design

The Switch came at the timing when smartphones have become ubiquitous with everyone wielding similar devices and pack all information there. So Miyamoto thought a hardware made with a single architecture would be more easily acceptable, because with mobile devices one would have to make sure it works on all versions of various hardware, and one wouldn’t be sure either on what else are included there – including possibly malware. That’s why Miyamoto likes Apple for prioritising customers’ usability with well-set limitations.

Nintendo’s accessibility 

Going back to the past again when storage media for games just shifted from cassette ROMs to optical discs, Nintendo tried their best to protect customers’ comfort, but they were troubled when seeing some developers out there did not mind about load times for game data. There were also times where people said “Nintendo is childish”, but by setting their priorities straight and steadily following through them, customers were able to get a clearer image of Nintendo being ‘relieving’ from the Wii era, for example “It’s making us safe and relieved even when connected to the network”.

Talking to Apple regarding Super Mario Run 

When they were releasing Super Mario Run, Nintendo talked with Apple that they “want to make something that will make customers feel ‘I can safely play this because it’s a Nintendo game’ including the payment method”. Of course Nintendo is aware though that the gameplay method they proposed may not be desired by all of their customers.

The ‘Nintendo-like’ term

This brings us to what Nintendo thinks about the “Nintendo-like” term, which is to really think on consumer standards instead of market standards or current trends. They prioritised customers’ sensation on touching and using their hardware & games including the Switch. And as a result, it has been received broadly and used comfortably by a lot of people in general. Although Miyamoto and Famitsu agreed that their market is just a small portion of the worldwide market since nowadays it’s not just about America, Europe, and East Asia.

A lot of Nintendo TOKYO visitors don’t own a Switch

Miyamoto also noted that a lot of visitors to Nintendo TOKYO store at Shibuya PARCO still don’t have a Switch; they came only because they are interested in Nintendo. Miyamoto wonders if all of them can be persuaded to buy a Switch; it’s going to take a very long time to sell the Switch in the entire worldwide market. He hopes he can recommend people to buy Switch and its games before other character goods like figures.

“I want you to first buy two games instead of figures”

“In America, there is a strong demand for development of figure products like the one sold in dedicated stores. But if possible, I want you to first buy two games instead of those, like ‘we shouldn’t do too much licensing’ (laughs).” “There are also fans who buy both games and goods so it’s complicated (laughs).”

Miyamoto’s thoughts in people uploading gameplay videos

Miyamoto also shares his own comment on the recent trends of people uploading gameplay videos: “I think it’s good that there’s a variety of ways to enjoy things. In the ROM era, we preferred to have [customers] play for a long time with materials created with very miniscule memory without publicising them. At that time, it would be problematic if the whole game content were to be revealed. But it is now an era where customers that bought [the games] publish videos broadly, and I think that may pique interest about those games to other people who watch it. I think I would also watch walkthrough videos of [games] made by someone else.” “Honestly, I don’t want to watch my own [games], but if it’s made by someone else it should still be okay (laughs).”

Miyamoto on playing Pokémon GO

Miyamoto also reveals that he’s been playing Pokémon GO a lot recently. His grandchild and daughter-in-law started first last year, then his wife followed suit to catch up with their talks and eventually asked Miyamoto when he was going to Universal’s HQ in Orlando “If you visit Orlando, please catch a Heracross which is region-exclusive there.”

Thoughts on real life gatherings of game fans

He also noticed that there is a place nearby his house where middle-aged people would gather and trade information about games. Miyamoto sees that both gameplay videos and IRL gatherings let people have much fun in playing games while trading information, which he thinks is a good thing. He even joked that if there are so many videos, developers wouldn’t have to make tutorials anymore.

Wanting to give children Nintendo’s sense of ‘safety and relief’

Miyamoto noted that making large-scaled games recently take three to five years; that means children currently in the lower elementary grades would’ve already graduated by then. This is why Nintendo wants more opportunities to get in touch with them, to give them Nintendo’s sense of ‘safety and relief’, hence the creation of real-life venues like Nintendo Tokyo and the Super Nintendo World attraction in USJ Osaka.

Giving guidelines to Universal

Speaking of the latter, Miyamoto has been working closely with Universal to develop the attraction. Miyamoto would give guidelines on using the IP, while Universal would handle the safety details for attractions like equipment durability and daily handling thousands of visitors. When Miyamoto first discussed about the project with Universal at the latter’s HQ in Orlando, it was decided that the device structures would be made in Orlando and manufactured in Hollywood, but Universal suggested that it should be run in Japan first, especially since the Tokyo Olympics will be held soon.

Talking about the upcoming movie project

The talks then moved to the movie project. They used to think that Nintendo could make a movie on its own with the same amount of staff and materials needed to make a game, but Miyamoto was against it because it would be a rude thing against movie directors, and also because he feared Mario wouldn’t be used to his own liking in movies. But as Nintendo brought old games to be playable in newer hardware through the Virtual Console, Miyamoto gradually saw more similarities between games and movies and eventually opened up to the idea of making movies related to Nintendo and Mario.

On meeting Chris Meledandri from Illumination

When Miyamoto started working with Universal, he would eventually meet Chris Meledandri from Illumination. While they were talking, Chris revealed that he had gathered quotes from Miyamoto’s past interviews and noted that they have similar ways of making and thinking. When Chris opened up about his past failures, that’s when Miyamoto decided that he can be trusted to work together and thus entrusted him to make an animated movie.

Making something interesting before making ‘something to sell’

Chibi Robo

“If you’re trying to make ‘something to sell’, there will be various failures. Instead of making something to sell, the most important thing is to make something you believe will be interesting. If you’re trying to sell something to sell, it will definitely become something that already exists somewhere. Especially if you’re making it within a competition.”

“Why Nintendo makes something that’s never been seen before”

“I did a number of lectures at CEDEC, saying such a thing while also talked that operating staff and managers are the ones who restrain the stretched creative staff in the workplace. If you were to say ‘It will sell if we make it like this’ without relying on the stretched ideas in the workplace, the result would end up being something that might exist in society. But something that might already exist would not sell, would it? (laughs) That’s why Nintendo makes something that’s never been seen before.”

Yamauchi saying “Make something never seen before”

“Mr. Hiroshi Yamauchi was the one who said ‘Make something never seen before’. We came along that in a very stretched way. I think the difference is extremely big. That’s why I also said ‘To everyone in management, please tell people in the workplace to make things in a stretched way’ at CEDEC (laughs). [TN: The term ‘stretched’ here should mean to take your time and don’t be too hasty]

Hiroshi Yamauchi

Sharing Yamauchi’s philosophy after he was no longer president

The above philosophy also applied to the global market, as they never said “Make something that will sell globally”. Although there had been some talks of concerns like “Won’t there be any problems when bringing this overseas?”, everyone in the company makes things normally and naturally, and they found themselves really lucky that the things could expand worldwide. Miyamoto wanted to share this philosophy with newer staff that joined after Yamauchi was no longer the company’s president.

Miyamoto isn’t closely related to Nintendo Labo and Ring Fit Adventure

The newer titles like Nintendo Labo and Ring Fit Adventure are being perceived as new ideas coming just as expected from Nintendo, even though Miyamoto isn’t as closely related to them. He’s glad that he could safely watch the developers making them with a high degree of freedom.

Nintendo wanting to cooperate with more companies

Nintendo wants to expand and cooperate with various companies while taking great care of their own game characters. If it goes well, there would be more opportunities for people to get in touch with Nintendo characters in an even larger scope than the Nintendo company, and there should be more parents that can safely watch their children interact with Nintendo just like Disney movies.

Miyamoto wanting Nintendo to keep doing new things and become an entertainment office

Miyamoto wants Nintendo to keep doing new things. If things go that way, Nintendo would end up becoming not a game company, character company, or movie company, but an entertainment office that houses celebrity talents like Mario who perform worldwide. While many people may think development [of games, software etc] is an internal-only work, Miyamoto originally had lots of outside work.

Wanting to make something considered interesting

Currently he has been communicating with many people from outside the games industry. It’s fun for him to look at some chances getting generated, and he had seen his desires changing from ‘drawing manga’ to ‘making something that surprises everyone’ to ‘making something that would be considered interesting by everyone’.

A compact job ‘could be interesting’ but more other interesting things to do

But he doesn’t feel many changes when compared to the past; the only noticeable difference to him is on whether he’s doing things on his own or having other people do the jobs. He secretly thinks that “a compact job that can be done by a number of people would be interesting”, but right now there are many other interesting things to do.

Miyamoto’s hobbies!

People may think that Miyamoto has a hobby in gardening due to Pikmin, but his actual hobbies are doing DIY carpenter works on weekends and re-arranging his own room. His origin is from Industrial Design, so he would be restless if things he had made weren’t being preserved as-is. That’s why he thinks people who actually do gardening – like his own wife – are great because they can cut plants while imagining how it would look like in the future. When his wife does some gardening, he would provide some ‘hardware’ help like arranging wood frames and pouring cement into them.

Guessing a seat’s height!

Another proof that he came from Industrial Design is his ability to guess a seat’s height just by looking at it. He noted that the best seat height for Japanese people is around 38 to 42 centimetres, while people from Scandinavia would prefer 43 to 44 cm because they have longer legs and also wear shoes; that’s why most Scandinavian seats wouldn’t fit Japanese people well.

On enjoying Pokémon GO

Looking back at Pokémon GO, Miyamoto wonders why he has been enjoying it much with people around him like his family and the middle-aged people nearby his house. It’s been a long while since he last enjoyed a game made by somebody else. When enjoying something made by other people, one can learn the process of how customers can understand things, which in turn should impact a developer’s approach to convey the fun factors of their games to customers.

Miyamoto’s wife playing Pokémon GO

Even Miyamoto’s wife, who almost never plays any games let alone Miyamoto’s own games, gets very serious in playing Pokémon GO. She doesn’t hate games; she just doesn’t want to do bothersome things like that. Yet she’s memorising all the detailed gameplay features of Pokémon GO such as how Gyms work. She is also very keen on achieving the weekly rewards, for example wanting to walk outside a bit more in the night when she only had 2 km remaining from the 50 km reward.

Not being jealous of Pokémon GO

But Pokémon GO’s success doesn’t make Miyamoto jealous of it. In fact, he doesn’t want to be revered too much because he wants to be treated as a normal person in his household and neighbourhood. He wants people to focus on the games that he had made rather than himself. But Miyamoto is really enjoying his job because at his current age, he now thinks “If I’m not having fun, I’d be at a loss”. Anyone would be angry if a game they created gets criticized harshly by someone, but Miyamoto is making it more enjoyable by turning that criticism into energy for him to think how to overcome those critics.