I’ve interviewed a number of game developers and other personalities over the years. Of them all, two stand out as personal favourites: Suda 51 and Shigeru Miyamoto.
I’ll cover my first Suda 51 interview in a later article, but for now let me focus on Miyamoto.
If you’ve got any sort of gaming knowledge, you know that Miyamoto is, quite simply, the man. If you don’t have any sort of gaming knowledge, I think you’ve ended up here by mistake, probably because you were searching for “Emma Watson upskirt” and Google brought you here because of this sentence. In which case stick around, you sick bastard, you might learn something.
Miyamoto is the single most influential video game creator and developer of all time. People will argue with this. Those people are wrong. Don’t fight them, pity them.
I’ve actually interviewed Miyamoto twice, and both were special for different reasons. The second time was in person, and led to the photo you see above, so naturally it was special for that reason alone: a one-on-one chat with the man whose work shaped my childhood and, ultimately, my career and life.
The only problem with that interview was that it was part of a promotional tour for Wii Music and, as such, the PR in the room made it clear that most of the questions should focus on that. And we all know what happens when an interviewer doesn’t stick to what they’re supposed to be promoting.
I’ve described it in the past like this: being face-to-face with Shigeru Miyamoto and only being allowed to ask him about Wii Music is like being face-to-face with Robert De Niro and only being allowed to ask him about his role in The Adventures Of Rocky & Bullwinkle.
My most rewarding Miyamoto interview in terms of the actual quality of the article that resulted from it, then, was my first interview, which was conducted over email. It may not have been face-to-face, but the subject was the magnificent Super Mario Galaxy.
Email interviews are fairly straightforward stuff, even when conducting them with Japanese developers. You write up a list of questions and email them to your friendly PR (in this case it was one from Nintendo UK). The PR then sends the questions to the developer or, if necessary, their translator, who then answers and sends them back. Simple.
Obviously, there are upsides and downsides to email interviews. Here’s a brief summary in a convenient listy style:
- Convenient – you don’t need to leave your desk and travel to meet up with your interviewee
- Accurate – since it’s coming to you in text form instead of transcribed from your dictaphone there’s no risk of mishearing and misquoting them
- Detailed – since the interviewee has time to think of a response you often get more detailed, well thought-out answers
- Linear – you can’t adapt mid-interview and throw in a new question to address something your interviewee says that may be interesting or controversial
- Unpredictable – you can set a deadline for your answers but often, depending on how busy (or lazy) they are, you may get them late
- Too safe – it’s much easier for an interviewee to flat out ignore a difficult question over email than when confronted with it face-to-face
Like I said, my email interview with Miyamoto was based on Super Mario Galaxy, which had recently been released and was wowing gamers the world over.
Although much of it involved discussing the development of the game itself, it was Miyamoto’s answer to another question that stole the show.
Insomniac Games marketing director Ryan Schneider had recently claimed that the spherical worlds in Super Mario Galaxy had been inspired by those in the Ratchet & Clank games. As he put it at the time:
“One [concept] that we’re extremely flattered by is Super Mario Galaxy, with their spherical worlds: we did spherical worlds in Going Commando, and Up Your Arsenal. It would be amazing to think that Miyamoto-san thought that was so cool that he wanted to incorporate it into Mario Galaxy. Granted, he’s doing it in a different way, but it’s still a spherical world, so it’s flattering to see those sorts of things.”
I asked Miyamoto about it, and his response… well, it was widely reported by other sites at the time and can be found in the interview below.
It’s very rare that an interview is printed in its entirety in a magazine article. Often they’re too long so some answers are either trimmed or outright removed. This interview was no different, and only part of it was printed in Official Nintendo Magazine, so for the first time here’s the full transcript of the interview: my questions and Miyamoto’s full answers.
Note: Often when receiving answers from Japanese developers the translated answers are grammatically dodgy and have to be cleaned up by the journalist so they read better. That was the case here, so for the sake of completion I’ll give Miyamoto’s translated answers exactly as I received them, weird sentences and all, including the unfortunate use of “60 flames per second”.
CHRIS SCULLION (ME) – With Nintendo’s player demographic changing dramatically due to the success of the DS and Wii, how important is it to keep the dedicated fans happy with the likes of Super Mario Galaxy while developing games that will appeal to new gamers such as Wii Fit?
SHIGERU MIYAMOTO – 当然のことですが、両方とも重要です。私たちがもっとも得意で経験を積んできたジャンルを簡単に止めるつもりはありませんし、今でも作ることを楽しんでいます。Ｗｉｉではユーザー層の拡大で新しくゲーム機のユーザーになった人達が大勢おられます。その人達がマリオギャラクシーを遊んで、ゲームの魅力に気が付く可能性もあるので、幅広い人が気軽に始められるシンプルさを持ちながら、チャレンジできる要素に溢れた作りを目指してきました。
Naturally, making both dedicated fans and new players, both of them, happy are very important to us. We have no intention to easily quit developing new games in the genres where we have been building up our experiences, and we have been continuously enjoying making gamers in these arenas. Now that Wii is expanding the use base, many people are just starting to play video games with this new console. Because we are hopeful that such people may be able to discover the joy of video games with Mario Galaxy, we were aiming to create the game which has the simplicity that a variety of people would be start playing with no hesitations and, yet, which has the rich elements that can burn up the challenging sprits.
CS – It has been said before that you have no problem resorting to “chabudai gaeshi” (upending the tea table) if you’re unhappy with the way a game is progressing. Was this an issue with Super Mario Galaxy, or was the final result similar to your original intention?
SM – 最終の形にまとまるまでは途中で何度かの改良がありましたが、大きなちゃぶ台返しは無く、計画に沿って開発が進められました。珍しいかもしれませんが、それだけ私が全体の期間中、関わり続けた結果でもあります。手塚さんとか誰かに私がちゃぶ台返しをしてもらったら、もっと良くなったかも知れませんね。
For the development of Mario Galaxy, although we have come through several improvement processes before we finalized the development, it went according to plan without major “chabudai gaeshi”. It resulted from the fact that I had been involved in the development to the considerable extent, which may be rather rare opportunity. If Tezuka-san or somebody else had done “chabudai gaeshi” to me, the game might have been even better.
CS – Was the decision to take Mario into outer space due to a personal fascination with space, or simply the fact that such a setting would place no limits on your imagination?
SM – 宇宙へ行くのは大変だと思うので挑戦しようとは思いませんが、手軽に宇宙から地球を眺めたり、無重力が体験できたらいいのになと思います。今回のゲームは宇宙の体験というより、マリオの遊びが重力要素を変化させることで新しい遊びにならないか？という思いと、自由な発想のステージを作れるんじゃないか？という考えで、宇宙をテーマにしました。
I can guess that it will not be a small deal to go into the place, so I will not challenge myself, but I wish I could look at the earth from the outer space or experience the zero gravity freely. With Mario Galaxy, we were not intending to reproduce the experiences in the outer space. Rather, we thought that we could create new play experiences if the gravity element could be altered in the Mario universe and, also, that we must be able to develop the unprecedented game stages with free imaginations.
CS – You and your team have shaped the whole gaming industry for over 25 years now. With such a highly-respected and influential history, did you feel pressure working on Super Mario Galaxy because you knew the world was eagerly anticipating it, or does it excite and encourage you to know that every long-time gamer eagerly awaits every game EAD produces?
SM – どちらかと言えば後者のほうでしょう。プレッシャーを感じていても新しい物は作れません。過去の人達が使っていない要素や手法をどれくらい生み出せるかを目指すと、作ることが楽しくなってきます。待ってくれているユーザーの皆さんをどんな意外な方法で驚かせるか？を考えるのは楽しいことです。
I would say it was rather the latter. Just feeling pressures will not take us anywhere when we are trying to create something new. When we try to produce more and more elements and methods that nobody have used before in the past, I will become more excited to make the stuff. It is enjoyable to think how we can surprise the users who are waiting for in which the ways they could not imagine.
CS – We loved the sections in Super Mario Galaxy where the game becomes 2D and turns into a side-scrolling game: it reminded us of New Super Mario Bros and the original Super Mario Bros games. Would you and your team ever consider making a whole game like this?
SM – ははは、将来のことはお話できませんが、こういう作り方をすれば２Ｄも３Ｄも遊びに応じて使い分ければいいのだということがわかりますね。マリオの基本となっているスーパーマリオスタイルの遊びには、いまだに安心感がありますね。面白いアイデアがたくさん溜まったら作ってみたいですね。
Haw-haw, I cannot talk about the future plan, but now that we have made the game in this way, it should show that 2D and 3D game styles can be rather freely chosen between them just when they are needed in a game. I understand that the play style on the original Super Mario Brothers, which has established how Mario games should be played, always provides the sense of ease to many people. I would like to make another one when I will have enough unique and interesting ideas.
Note: It could be argued that the Wii U’s Super Mario 3D World, released six years after this interview, was successful in merging Galaxy’s 3D visuals with the simplicity and ‘sense of ease’ of the 2D games.
CS – Was the decision to feature many favourite enemies from Mario’s history (such as the Goombas, Koopa Troopas, Monty Mole, Magikoopa etc) a reaction to the general lack of such characters in Super Mario Sunshine?
SM – そうでしたね・・・あまり考えていませんでした。サンシャインは小泉さんがマリオのバケーションのような新しい世界観を作りたいと思っていた企画でした。今回はマリオ６４の正統派進化版という考えで開発したので歴代の敵キャラクターをたくさん使いました。歴代のキャラクターを自由に３Ｄで登場させるには相応のハード性能が必要です。Ｗｉｉはそれには十分な性能が有りました。６０フレームで気持ちよく動いています。
I have not deeply thought about it until you asked me this question. Mario Sunshine was the project with which Mr. Koizumi wanted to create the brand new gaming universe for Mario, where he could be vacationing. As for Mario Galaxy, as we wanted it to be the history. Moving these traditional characters in 3D world requires fairly high hardware functionalities, and Wii has provided us with that more than sufficiently. They are moving comfortably at 60 flames per sec.
CS – The music in Mario Galaxy was sensational, due partly to the orchestral soundtrack and mostly to the genius of Koji Kondo. How important is Kondo-san’s music in helping shape the Mario experience? Could you imagine making a major Mario game without Kondo-san on board?
SM – 近藤さんの才能とマリオには新しいスタッフとして加わった横田さんの力がギャラクシーのオーケストラ音楽を生み出しました。宇宙へ行くマリオの壮大さを生むためにはオーケストラが重要でした。それでいてマリオらしいイメージを残すためには、近藤さんの協力も重要でした。横田さんもすっかりマリオらしい音作りをマスターしたと思います。
Orchestrated music of Mario Galaxy was made true by the talent of Kondo-san and by the effort of Yokota-san, who newly joined Mario team. Orchestral music was important to bring forth magnificence of Mario game going out of the space. And at the same time, Kondo-san’s cooperation was important in order to reserve Mario-like image. I think now Yokota-san has fully mastered the creation of Mario-like sound.
Note: Mahito Yokota eventually took over as lead composer on Super Mario Galaxy 2 and Super Mario 3D World.
CS – An aspect of Galaxy that particularly impressed us was the seeming lack of load times. Was it a challenge to essentially eliminate loading times in a game so graphically beautiful, and was it important to the team that the action was accessible as quickly as possible?
SM – とてもうれしい質問をしてくれてありがとう。我々のチームはＧＣのころからディスクメディアを使ってもカートリッジのように快適な起動と切り替えを意図して開発し続けてきました。ゲーム雑誌などではなかなか伝えられない要素なのですが、実際遊ぶと、特にアクションゲームではその切り替えが生み出すテンポはとても重要なんです。ロードの長いゲームで遊んでいる人は、ぜひ一度我々のゲームを遊んで体感してみてください。
I am really grateful for your asking this. Our team, ever since we started working on GameCube, has been challenging to develop games on optical discs that can realize smooth start-up and scene alterations that can be enjoyed with cartridge medium. This is the element that we cannot fully convey to game players through the interviews in gaming magazines, but when people plays video games, especially in the action games, changes in the game scenes must be taken place smoothly to not destroy the tempo at which players play the game. We want those who have been playing with games with long loading time to try out our games for once to see what I mean.
CS – When it came to Galaxy, where was the split between a hands-on and a hands-off approach for you in terms of idea creation and the evolution of the gameplay? Did you rely as much on input from the rest of the team for ideas as you did on yourself?
SM – 詳しくは、当社ホームページの社長が訊くを読んでみてください。最初のころのマリオやゼルダの伝説以降はたくさんお人のアイデアで作られるようになってきています。その中での私の大事な仕事は、全体のアイデアの基礎になる要素を考えたり、マリオの操作を含めていろんな人のアイデアをバランスをとってまとめたりすることです。今回も、アシストプレイも含めて全体の操作の調整や、敵の基本要素をまとめました。
Please take a look at the “Iwata Asks” feature on the Wii.com for the detail about the question. After the early titles of Mario and The Legend of Zelda, the games are made with ideas of many people. My important jobs in the development are to think about the element that will form basis of the whole idea, and organize various people’s ideas in a balanced way, including how Mario should be manipulated. This time, I was adjusting the overall manipulation systems including the Assist Play, and putting basic elements of the enemies into shape.
CS – Where did the original inspiration for the anti-gravity and spherical worlds of Galaxy come from? And, presuming that they’re wrong, are you slightly annoyed that another developer (specifically, Insomniac Games, the people behind Ratchet And Clank) have tried to claim credit for being your inspiration?
SM – 始めて聞く話で驚きました。これもホームページを観ていただくと分かると思いますが、この基本アイデアはマリオ６４の終わったときから考え始め、６４上でも幾つもの実験をしてきた物なので、どこかからヒントを得たとかいう種類のアイデアではありません。申し訳ないですがその方たちが作られたゲームを見る機会もありませんでした。ＰＣのゲームでしょうか？
I am surprised as I have never heard of such a story. Once again, when you take a look at Iwata Asks interviews, you know that we had this original idea as soon as we finished the development of Mario 64 and that we had been experimenting this even on N64. This is not the idea that we got inspiration from anywhere else. I am sorry but I have to admit that I never seen the subject game in your question. Is it a PC game?
CS – Both Super Mario Galaxy and Zelda: Twilight Princess are massive action adventure games with tons to do, and yet Galaxy seems to be doing really well in Japan while Twilight Princess wasn’t that big a hit. Why do you think this is? What is it about Galaxy that’s captured the imagination of Japanese gamers more than Twilight Princess?
SM – 特別な理由はありません。日本では特定のＲＰＧゲーム以外 ファンタジーのアドベンチャーゲームでたくさん売れる物はありません。ゼルダはその中ではかなり売れるシリーズなのですが、アクション要素が強いので、ＲＰＧのファンもあまり遊ぼうとしないタイトルです。さらにＷｉｉはかなり幅広い人達に売れているので、マリオより広がりが狭いのだと思います。しかし、Ｗｉｉは新しいユーザーを広げているので、短期的に販売して、あと全く売れなくなる日本のＲＰＧ的な売れ方とは異なり、今後も少しずつ販売されていくと期待しています。
There is not a special reason. In Japan, except for certain RPG titles, there aren’t fantasy adventure games that can sell very many. Although Zelda is the series title that considerable quantities are sold among other titles, RPG fans do not necessarily have tendencies to play the game since it has strong action elements. Besides, Wii has been bought by fairly wider range of people, to those who appreciate Mario but not necessarily Zelda. On the other hand, as Wii is expanding the game users, the traditional RPG sales trend in Japan that new RPG can sell well at the short launch period but cannot sell at all immediately afterward will not be applied. We are expecting the gradual increase in the sales on ongoing basis.
CS – Just as Mario Sunshine took Mario to a whole new world, Galaxy introduces us to a number of new characters and locales on top of the more familiar ones. Is there an element of risk involved in trying to bring new people and places into the Mario universe (as you might put people off) or do you think it’s a necessity to keep the series moving forward?
SM – そうですね。ロゼッタやチコのように今回のタイトル専用に作られたキャラクターは、将来も新しいシリーズごとに必要だと思います。その中から長期的なキャラクターに育つかどうかは、皆さんの評価がおおきく影響するんじゃないでしょうか。
I think we need characters like “Rosetta” and “Chiko”, newly created for the new title, each time we develop new series title. And I think everybody’s assessment will strongly affect the possibility if these characters are grown up to the long-term characters or not.
TRANSLATOR’S NOTE TO PR – Could you check the official English terms of the characters’ names, Rosetta & Chiko. These are direct translations.
Note: Rosetta and Chiko are Rosalina and Luma respectively.
CS – There are plenty of innovations in Galaxy, but which element of the game are you most proud of and why?
SM – 自信というほどのことでもないですが、一つは初心者でも遊びやすい３Ｄアクションゲームだということ。もう一つは、競争ではなくて共同で遊べる２人プレイが実現できたことです。スクロールするのに２人が思いのままに遊べるゲームは過去に無かったんじゃないかと思います。
It may not be the sort of thing that I can be proud of, but one thing I think is that it is a 3D action game that even beginner can easily enjoy playing. And the other is that we have realized to incorporate the cooperative 2-person-play mode which is different from the competition play. I think there hasn’t been such a game that 2 players can freely play while scrolling.
CS – Obviously, it’s too soon to be talking about the next Mario game but in general terms, where can Mario go from here? Mario 64 was the definition of 3D platform adventuring, but you’ve managed to break the mould with Galaxy… how much further can the genre go, or has it reached a limit?
SM – おっしゃるように何もお話できませんね。いくつか基本になる要素は有るのですが、私は作りながら考えるほうなので、作りながら新しい技術を眺めて、出会いを待ちたいと思います。
As you mentioned, I cannot talk about it at all at this point in time. I have got several elements that can be basis of the new game so far. I am a kind of person who creates thing at while thinking about the ideas, so I would like to wait for some new encounter while I am making stuffs by looking at the new technologies.
This is a really good interview Chris !
I think I remember you talking about this on a few separate podcasts…
I think there may be a type as Miyamoto refers to ““60 flames per second”, instead of “60 frames a second” presumably.
Yup, the translator did indeed write “60 flames”, which is rather unfortunate. Like I say though, this is the unedited interview, warts and all!
Is it weird that I well up a bit at the thought of this? The idea of speaking to Miyamoto is really powerful to me, enough that just reading your thoughts and your interview is somewhat magical.