Tom Chick at the Miyamoto interview
The guy introducing Shigeru Miyamoto was a little
too effusive. "There's always a lot of good energy in the room
where Mr. Miyamoto is," he gushed as if he were talking about
some bagwan rajneesh Himalayan yogi sort of guy, "he has a
really great aura." Although Miyamoto does seem to radiate
humility and talent, a lot of the 'aura' was just the quiet awe
of the crowd assembled to hear him interviewed. Surprisingly, many
of them weren't old enough to have had first-hand experience wtih
most of Miyamoto's games.
Will Wright got up and gave a more official, and personal, introduction.
Wright called him 'Miyamoto-san' and said he had a unique gift for
building fun into the games he designs. "You can't specify
or engineer fun. It's an ephemeral mist. The more you try to grab
at it, the more diffuse it is."
Wright's right. There's something very zen in the art of game design:
those who say don't know and those who know can't say. Miyamoto
himself later suggested it as a quasi-Buddhist parable. Game design
is like casting out a net to catch fun, he said, but when you're
casting a net, there have to be fish to catch. I'm not sure I know
what that means, but it's the voice of someone keenly aware that
his line of work is fraught with intangibles.
The interview was conducted by Newsweek's N'Gai Croal, a paunchy
man in a suit. Leaning back in a tall chair with a swath of dreadlocks
pushing out of the top of his head, he looked like a cross between
Jabba the Hutt and a predator gone to seed. He leisurely read questions
from his Palm Pilot and then mugged like he was listening attentively
while Miyamoto's translator spoke. He threw a lot of dull softballs
("What did your parents think of you wanting to become a game
designer?") and some absolute duds ("Will you be making
any educational games?"). But it didn't really matter; Miyamoto
is a man who doesn't really need to be prompted.
Someone in the audience asked how important it is to have a good
story in a game. Miyamoto confessed that he just focuses on gameplay.
When asked what games he has liked recently, Miyamoto said he doesn't
play many games these days. When he has free time he likes to make
things with his hands, he said, pressing his fingers on the solid
table in front of him. The inspiration for his latest game, Pikmin,
came from working in his garden. In Pikmin, you play an astronaut
cultivating a crop of brightly colored aliens. You plant them in
the ground and they develop certain ablities, represented by a variety
of leaves, buds, and flowers on their heads. You then lead your
florid floral swarm to explore an alien world and gather trophies.
Your little creatures lift their spoils like native bearers hoisting
treasures, which are spirited back to your flying saucer. I don't
know what the point of it is, but Pikmin is one of those rare games
that I'm truly eager to play.
Miyamoto also spoke a little about Luigi's Castle, a far more conventional
offering. Mario's brother runs around a haunted mansion with a flashlight/vacuum
cleaner combo, shining his beam into dark corners and sucking up
the ghosts he finds. Miyamoto says his team was getting tired of
doing Mario games, so they decided to give Luigi a turn as a ghostbuster.
Who you gonna call? The other Italian plumber...
Luigi's Castle doesn't show Miyamoto's distinctive touch quite
so much as Pikmin. But Miyamoto confessed that he doesn't do much
actual design these days, preferring to take a supervisory role
over various projects (at one point, he fumbled for a moment trying
to remember the name of the Gamecube). When asked which designers
he admire, he was quick to choose the people doing games under his
A bit of trivia: I asked Miyamoto where the names 'Donkey Kong'
and 'Zelda' came from. 'Kong' obviously implies a big ape, so that's
easy enough. But 'Donkey'? Miyamoto said he had confused the word
with 'ass', thinking it meant someone stupid. He assumed to an American
audience, 'Donkey Kong' would clearly mean 'big stupid ape'. He
said Nintendo laughed when he suggested the name, but it ultimately
stuck. As for Zelda, I had wondered if it was perhaps a childhood
sweetheart or maybe someone in his family. It was neither. Miyamoto
said the development team was trying to give their heroine a name
that sounded timeless and eternal. One of his writers came up with
'Zelda' as a nod to F. Scott Fitzgerald's wife. The rest, as they
say, is history.
There were several questions about the new Metroid title and what's
next for Mario, but Miyamoto deferred to whatever announcements
will be made this summer at Spaceworld in Japan. He did hint that
the next Mario title won't be geared quite so much towards children.
The Gamecube was warmly received at this year's E3 -- CGW editor
George Jones likened Nintendo's press conference to a revival meeting
-- and Miyamoto is obviously buoyed by the enthusiasm. But he was
quick to point out that he is not synonymous with Nintendo; there
are many other titles and developers behind the Gamecube. Fair enough.
But credit some of the enthusiasm for the contribution of Miyamoto's
talent and insight. One of Microsoft's greatest challenge in their
holiday showdown with Nintendo will be providing must-have titles
for the Xbox along the lines of what Miyamoto is doing for the Gamecube.