The Engadget & Joystiq Interview: Nintendo's Shigeru Miyamoto (again!)

When we found out Shigeru Miyamoto wanted to give us a second round to ask him about the latest in the world of Nintendo here at E3, I found that same inner-child fanboy Peter reminisced about when we last interviewed him start to emerge. Suddenly I wanted to play all those games I grew up on again, but we had to know how he thinks the Wii is going to change the future of gaming. Vlad Cole and I somehow managed to pull ourselves together long enough to ask him about whether the sedentary gaming world is ready for full-body frenetic gameplay, how he's influencing the next generation of Nintendo games and game designers, the media agendas of the 360 and PlayStation 3, and even a little on HD gaming.

So, thank you very much for meeting with us, I really appreciate it. The Wii represents a major step forward for Nintendo in terms of functionality and capabilities. One of the things we're really curious to know is what Wii is going to enable you as a game maker to create that you've never been able to create before.

Well, I think the greatest strength of the Wii is that it allows you to create games that are very intuitive and very easy to pick up and play, such that people who've never played a video game before can easily pick up the controller and start playing. And that's kind of the concept behind the games like Tennis and Golf and Baseball and the Wii Sports Series, and these are really kind of the very basic games that we're looking at doing.

And then of course thinking about the types of games that the gamers have come to know and play over the years, the unique features of the Wii controller, such as the direct pointing device on the Wii Remote will allow gamers to now more directly interact with the types of game screens that they've seen, where they're pointing directly at a place on screen to interact with it.

Is there a type of game that even now you still can't or for whatever reason create?

I can't think of any off the top of my head. I don't really have any ideas that stew in my brain for long periods of time. I really just focus on what I'm working on at the moment.

The one thing that I have been thinking about for a long time is this problem we've had with 3D games, where as we've been making 3D games, 3D worlds and the control schemes have becomes so complicated. People who don't play games can't easily jump into those interactive worlds and experience them. And I think we've been able to overcome some of that difficulty with the functionality of the Wii controller. So now as we go forward and create software I have to continue to think of ideas of how to take advantage of that to overcome that barrier.

When it comes to designing these games, specifically with regard to the Wii controller, what kind of role is it that you play now within Nintendo, and how do you oversee the process of game design?

Well, I am overseeing a large number of games at one time. But at the same time, out of that large number I always try to choose maybe two or three games that I focus on, and that I try to involve myself directly in.

So then that would beg the question, which games specifically bear your mark? Which two or three of the most recent spate of games show your signature on them?

Well, obviously I have to kind of take responsibility for Super Mario Galaxy, and Zelda: Twilight Princess, as those are two of my most important franchises, so I'm always involved in any new development on those. On top of that I'm also working on the Wii Sports games. We have a number of very young directors, about six of them, each of whom is responsible for one of these sports games. So they're all working underneath me, and I'm giving them quite a bit of direction as well.

Being that there's some delegation of game design to other people, what is it that you think is really the hallmark of your contribution to these games?

Well, game development takes a very long period of time to complete. And over that period of time you experience any number of elements that you devote a lot of time to -- and maybe you make some mistakes on and you have to go back and redo. So I think my biggest contribution is to be able to step in and try to pinpoint where those types of errors might occur before a lot of work is done on them; to keep that type of effort at a minimum. It would be best have those young directors kind of experience those mistakes for themselves and learn from them, but at the same time, in the idea of trying to keep the development time lines down it's also important for me to step in and kind of point them out, and help them overcome those mistakes.

And then on top of that, I think something else that's very important is bringing all those directors together and communicating with them in a group, so that the other directors can also learn from the experiences that everyone else has had, and learn from the mistakes that they have made.

I would love to have a specific example of a mistake that was corrected by you; you stepped in and you made some changes, and you taught others what not to do in that situation. Can you think of a good example?

This is a kind of a slightly different case then what I just explained, but one example I can give would be with The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess, which as you know takes advantage of the Wii remote for aiming with the bow. Some people found that when they were aiming with the bow, as they release the button to fire the arrow your aim would move slightly, and that would make it more difficult to hit the enemy. So the natural thinking was that maybe on the software and programming side we could make it so that even if your aim moves just a little bit as you release you'll still hit the target, kind of almost like an auto-aim type of feature. That was kind of the natural thinking in terms of how we could improve that.

But I went back to the team and I said, well, you know, if you think about it though aiming a bow is not something that's very easy to do. So the fact that you have to be very precise adds reality, it adds realism to the game. So rather than try and take that type of aiming system and change it into something that's more along the lines of a shooting game, it's better to retain that type of realism and challenge the player to really kind of get into the feeling of shooting a bow. I think often times people kind of have these old habits in creating games, that they always tend to try and resolve issues in the same way, even though resolving that issue may not be the best solution for that particular piece of software.

It's interesting that you talk about the experience of actually using a bow and this kind of kinetic movement, because one of the things we wanted to know was how essential to the experience of using the Nintendo Wii is this full body motion that we've been seeing with a lot of the titles that are on display here?

I think what's really important is to think of how the player feels while they're playing. For instance, with the Tennis games, you don't necessarily have to do big swinging motions to play it, you can actually make just very simple motions; you could even just tap the controller back and forth on your hand and still execute the actions on the screen. But in fact for most players getting a good swing in and actually playing the game with those sweeping motions is a lot more fun. Simultaneously, something else that we've tried to think of is, as we're creating the games is does the game look like it's fun to play when you see someone else playing it? I think that's very important, this idea of when other people are looking at the player are they being encouraged to actually try and play the game as well. And so really it's a balance between these two, and I think that's something we'll be working on going forward.

So yeah, there's a plane demo out on the show floor that you can control just holding your controller like that and tilting a little bit, but we find that holding it like an airplane and doing the dives yourself and pulling up and doing loopty-loops is much more fun.

This more active gaming style is a departure from today's gaming, which tends to be sedentary. What's the backup plan if gamers aren't willing to follow into that more active sort of gaming? Do you see more games being made for the classic controller?

Of course we will have games that will be functional with the classic controller as well. And in fact if you try Zelda in the living room setting on the show floor you'll see that you can actually sit back and with very little motions play Zelda and have a very good time with it. Those gamers who aren't interested in doing those very sweeping motions, they don't have to. But in fact, I think, they're going to find as they're playing that they're gradually going to start doing those motions because it's so much more fun to actually be that involved in what is going on the screen and it adds that much more realism and I think there a large number of players out there that are really excited for that type of control scheme.

Even when you're just sitting there with this more laid back style of gameplay, I think everyone's going to find that just using the pointer in and of itself is very convenient and a very good addition to the control experience as well.

Your chief competitors are adding multimedia experience to their consoles -- movies, downloads -- a lot of different experiences that aren't gaming related, and yet they plan to mix those with gaming. How do you plan to address if the gamer thinks this is important? Will the Wii console, by comparison, look less attractive to the gamer?

As we see the other consoles get more and more PC like in their nature, it's only natural to try and use more PC-like functions in terms of downloads and things like that. You know, Nintendo really focuses on entertainment and we've really created the Wii to be this entertainment device that couples with your television set that anyone in the household can find entertainment value in. So in that sense we're not focusing so much on extemporaneous functionality so much as what kind of core entertainment value we can include in the hardware that everyone in the household will be able to enjoy.

One of the functions that we've added to the hardware that we think will really add to this is the Wii Connect24 feature, where Wii is the only hardware system that is connected to the internet 24 hours a day, that also means your television will then be connected to the internet 24 hours a day and that would allow for different types of functionality and different types of entertainment for everyone in the household. Additionally, we're not looking at including unnecessary types of functionality that would unnecessarily increase the cost of the system, we want it to be very affordable so everyone can really enjoy it and then will take advantage of these functionalities. Wii Connect24 will not necessarily allow for the downloading of massive content, but rather using that functionality allowing for packets of data to be traded back and forth between different players, and having that give birth to different styles of gameplay.

How do you think high definition will change gaming?

I think at some point there will be a point down the road where most everyone does have an HD TV. But right now I don't think that what gaming needs is more high definition graphics, I think what's more important is the interface for how you interact with your games, how your games connect to the internet and take advantage of that functionality, and even more simply just how everyone in the household is able to interact with the hardware itself and find entertainment value in that, thereby allowing us to increase the people who are engaging the game. I think these are far more important issues for us to be thinking about rather than simply prettier graphics for the same games that people have seen.

As a possible counterpoint to that, what about the idea that the DS itself is an portable HD device? You had just one screen initially and then you add another screen and look at all the gameplay possibilities that extra screen real estate opened up to you. And that's what HD gaming can do to an extent: it gives you all this extra area to display other information, so it's not necessarily prettier graphics, but extra space for more of the same fidelity graphics.

I think that in the future there is definitely a possibility to take advantage of that type of functionality, but what I think is more important right now is reinventing the interface. The reason that I say that is because if we continue to do the same type of things we've been doing with gaming with the same interface, and we simply take advantage of the new capabilities that HD would allow us to take advantage of, that's not going to expand the audience, it's just going to be the same people playing video games that have always played video games. And if we continue to go down that path, we're just going to see the video game audience shrink, as we've seen elsewhere. Really, what we need to do is take advantage of this opportunity to reinvent the interface, use that opportunity to welcome more people into gaming, expanding that audience, and then later on perhaps going down that road and taking advantage of the types of advances that HD technology would allow at a time when everyone has an HDTV.

I think what was more important to the DS' success was the implementation of these new interfaces like the touch screen -- being able to interact directly with the game simply by touching the screen – or the voice input using the built-in DS microphone. Or being able to display larger fonts on the screen so that people who haven't been playing video games before can actually pick up the DS, make it feel like a book, and feel more natural interacting with this technology device that normally they wouldn't. Coupled with that is the idea that the software is very appealing as well to people who haven't played video games before: things like Nintendogs and the Brain Training games. I think it's this combination that has really contributed to the success of the DS rather than just the improvements in graphics or the area of the screen.

So what non-Nintendo-platform games are you most looking forward to playing on either the Xbox 360 or PS3? I assume as a gamer and designer you play all sorts of games.

I actually haven't had a chance to even be out on the show floor so I don't even know what's available to play. Although I do want to see how Sony's little sensor is working. (Laughs)

What do you like better: E3 or the Tokyo Games Show?

(Laughs) I haven't been to Tokyo Games Show in many years and we haven't shown any software at Tokyo Games Show in many years, so I actually prefer E3.

Thank you for your time, Miyamoto-san!

You're welcome!