Shigeru Miyamoto [she-gay-roo mee-yah-moe-toe] (b. 1952) is a Japanese game designer and creator of ‘Donkey Kong,’ ‘Mario,’ and ‘The Legend of Zelda’ series for Nintendo. He is one of the most famous game designers in the world and is often called the father of modern video gaming.
His games give players many ways to play and explore, which was unique at the time. Miyamoto started working with Nintendo in 1977 as an artist when it was still a toy and playing-card company. In 1980, he designed ‘Donkey Kong,’ which was a big success. Miyamoto was born and raised in Kyoto Prefecture; the natural surroundings of Kyoto inspired much of his later work. His other creations for Nintendo include ‘Star Fox,’ ‘F-Zero,’ and ‘Pikmin.’
Although a game designer, Miyamoto spends little time playing video games, preferring to play the guitar, mandolin and banjo. He has a Shetland Sheepdog named Pikku that provided the inspiration for ‘Nintendogs.’ He is also a semi-professional dog breeder. He has been quoted as stating, ‘Video games are bad for you? That’s what they said about rock and roll.’ Miyamoto also has stated that he has a hobby of guessing the measurements of objects, then checking to see if he was correct, and apparently carries a tape measure with him everywhere.
When the Nintendo company began branching out, Miyamoto helped create the art for the company’s first original coin-operated arcade video game, ‘Sheriff.’ He first helped the company develop a game with the 1980 release ‘Radar Scope.’ The game achieved moderate success in Japan, but by 1981, Nintendo’s efforts to break into the North American video game market was deemed a complete failure, leaving the company with a large number of unsold units and on the verge of financial collapse.
In an effort to keep the company afloat, Nintendo president Hiroshi Yamauchi decided to convert unsold ‘Radar Scope’ units into a new arcade game. He tasked Miyamoto with the conversion, with Nintendo’s head engineer, Gunpei Yokoi supervising the project. Miyamoto imagined many characters and plot concepts, but eventually settled on a love triangle between a gorilla, a carpenter, and a girl. He meant to mirror the rivalry between comic characters Bluto and Popeye for the woman Olive Oyl. Bluto evolved into an ape, a form Miyamoto claimed was ‘nothing too evil or repulsive.’ This ape would be the pet of the main character, ‘a funny, hang-loose kind of guy.’ Miyamoto also named ‘Beauty and the Beast’ and ‘King Kong’ as influences. ‘
Donkey Kong’ marked the first time that the formulation of a video game’s storyline preceded the actual programming, rather than simply being appended as an afterthought. Miyamoto had high hopes for his new project, but lacked the technical skills to program it himself; instead, he conceived the game’s concepts, then consulted technicians on whether they were possible. He wanted to make the characters different sizes, move in different manners, and react in various ways. However, Yokoi viewed Miyamoto’s original design as too complex. Yokoi suggested using see-saws to catapult the hero across the screen; however, this proved too difficult to program.
Miyamoto next thought of using sloped platforms and ladders for travel, with barrels for obstacles. When he asked that the game have multiple stages, the four-man programming team complained that he was essentially asking them to make the game repeat, but the team eventually successfully programmed the game. When the game was sent to Nintendo of America for testing, the sales manager hated it for being too different from the maze and shooter games common at the time. When American staffers began naming the characters, they settled on ‘Pauline’ for the woman, after Polly James, wife of Nintendo’s Redmond, Washington, warehouse manager, Don James. The playable character, initially ‘Jumpman,’ was eventually named for Mario Segale, the warehouse landlord. These character names were printed on the American cabinet art and used in promotional materials. The staff also pushed for an English name, and thus it received the title ‘Donkey Kong.’
‘Donkey Kong’ was a success, leading Miyamoto to work on sequels ‘Donkey Kong Jr.’ and ‘Donkey Kong 3.’ His success earned him work on other Nintendo titles like ‘Excitebike’ and ‘Devil World.’ His next game was based on the character from ‘Donkey Kong.’ He reworked the character Jumpman into Mario, and gave him a brother: Luigi. He named the new game ‘Mario Bros.’ Yokoi convinced Miyamoto to give Mario some super human abilities, namely the ability to fall from any height unharmed. Mario’s appearance in ‘Donkey Kong’ – overalls, a hat, and a thick mustache – led Miyamoto to change aspects of the game to make Mario look like a plumber rather than a carpenter. Miyamoto felt that New York City provided the best setting for the game, with its ‘labyrinthine subterranean network of sewage pipes.’ The two-player mode and other aspects of gameplay were partially inspired by an earlier video game entitled ‘Joust.’ To date, Mario Bros. has been released for more than a dozen platforms.
After Mario Bros., Miyamoto worked on several different games, including ‘Ice Climber’ and ‘Kid Icarus’ alongside Yokoi. He soon made another Mario game titled ‘Super Mario Bros.’ and then began work on ‘The Legend of Zelda.’ In both the Mario and Zelda series, Miyamoto decided to focus more on gameplay than on high scores, unlike many games of the time. Miyamoto took a new direction with ‘The Legend of Zelda,’ using nonlinear gameplay that forced the player to think their way through riddles and puzzles.
Miyamoto sought to make an in-game world that players would identify, a ‘miniature garden that they can put inside their drawer.’ He drew his inspiration from his experiences as a boy around Kyoto, where he explored nearby fields, woods, and caves; each Zelda title embodies this sense of exploration. ‘When I was a child,’ Miyamoto said, ‘”I went hiking and found a lake. It was quite a surprise for me to stumble upon it. When I traveled around the country without a map, trying to find my way, stumbling on amazing things as I went, I realized how it felt to go on an adventure like this.’ He recreated his memories of becoming lost amid the maze of sliding doors in his family home in Zelda’s labyrinthine dungeons.
In 1986, Nintendo released the game as the launch title for the Nintendo Entertainment System’s new Disk System peripheral. This peripheral had 128 kilobytes of space, a vast increase over the cartridge format’s capacity. Due to the still-limited amount of space on the disk, however, the Japanese version of the game was only written in the alphabetic katakana, rather than using any pictographic kanji. Rewritable disks saved the game, rather than using a password system. The Japanese version used the extra sound channel provided by the Disk System for certain sound effects; most notable are the sounds of Link’s sword when his health is full, and enemy death sounds. The sound effects used the Nintendo Entertainment System’s PCM channel in the cartridge version. It also used the microphone built into the Japanese version of the controller that was not included in the international release of the Nintendo Entertainment System.
Miyamoto worked on the sequel for ‘Super Mario Bros’ and ‘The Legend of Zelda.’ ‘Super Mario Bros. 2’ (known as ‘Super Mario Bros.: The Lost Levels’ outside Japan) reuses gameplay elements from ‘Super Mario Bros.,’ though the game is considered much more difficult than its predecessor. Because of the perceived difficulty, the game did not see a North American release until much later. Instead, the game ‘Yume Kōjō: Doki Doki Panic’ was redone and labeled ‘Super Mario Bros. 2’ in that market. ‘Zelda II: The Adventure of Link’ bears little resemblance to the first game in the series; it features side-scrolling areas within a larger world map rather than the bird’s eye view of the previous title. The game incorporates a strategic combat system and more RPG elements, including an experience points system, magic spells, and more interaction with non-player characters.
Soon after, ‘Super Mario Bros. 3’ was developed by Nintendo Entertainment Analysis and Development; the game took more than two years to complete. An early idea changed Mario into a centaur, but was dropped in favor of a raccoon tail that allows limited flying ability. Other costumes with different abilities were added to his repertoire, and levels were designed to take advantage of these abilities. New enemies were included to add diversity to the game, along with variants of previous enemies, like Goombas, Hammer Bros., and Koopa Troopas. Bowser’s children were designed to be unique in appearance and personality; Miyamoto based the characters on seven of his programmers as a tribute to their work and efforts. The Koopaling’s names were later altered to mimic names of well-known, Western musicians in the English localization.
A merger between Nintendo’s various internal research and development teams led to the creation of Nintendo Entertainment Analysis and Development (Nintendo EAD), which was headed by Miyamoto. ‘F-Zero’ was one of the launch titles for the Super Nintendo Entertainment System; Nintendo EAD had approximately fifteen months to develop the game. Miyamoto worked through various games on the Super Nintendo Entertainment System including ‘Star Fox.’ For the game, programmer Jez San convinced Nintendo to develop an upgrade for the Super Nintendo, allowing it to handle three-dimensions better, the Super FX chip. Argonaut Games recommended using space ships in the new game, but Nintendo wanted a ‘arcade-style shooting’ video game.
With another Super Nintendo title, ‘Super Mario RPG: Legend of the Seven Stars’ Miyamoto led a team consisting of a partnership between Nintendo and Square Co.; it took nearly a year to develop the graphics. The story takes place in a newly rendered Mushroom Kingdom based on the ‘Super Mario Bros.’ series.
When the Nintendo 64 console was released, Miyamoto began making games for the new system, mostly from his previous franchises. His first game on the new system was ‘Super Mario 64’; he began with character design and the camera system. Miyamoto and the other designers were initially unsure of which direction the game should take, and months were spent selecting an appropriate camera view and layout. The original concept involved a fixed path much like an isometric type game, before the choice was made to settle on a free-roaming 3D design.The second game was ‘The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time.’
Miyamoto next worked on many Mario series spin-offs like ‘Mario Kart 64’ and ‘Mario Party.’ He also made ‘The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask,’ which he also produced. By re-using the game engine and graphics from ‘Ocarina of Time,’ a smaller team required only 18 months to finish ‘Majora’s Mask.’ According to director Eiji Aonuma, they were ‘faced with the very difficult question of just what kind of game could follow Ocarina of Time and its worldwide sales of seven million units,’ and as a solution, came up with the three-day system to ‘make the game data more compact while still providing deep gameplay.’
When the Nintendo GameCube was released Miyamoto made various games, including the launch title ‘Luigi’s Mansion.’ The game was first revealed at Nintendo Space World 2000 as a technical demo designed to show off the graphical capabilities of the GameCube. Miyamoto made an original short demo of the game concepts, and Nintendo decided to turn it into a full game. He also produced the 3D game series ‘Metroid Prime,’ after the original designer Yokoi, a friend and mentor of Miyamoto’s, died. In this time he developed ‘Pikmin’ and its sequel. He also worked on new games for the ‘Star Fox,’ ‘Donkey Kong,’ ‘F-Zero,’ and ‘Legend of Zelda’ series on the both the GameCube, the Game Boy Advance, and the Nintendo DS systems. He helped in many games on the DS, including the remake ‘Super Mario 64 DS,’ and the new game ‘Nintendogs.’
For the Wii, Miyamoto produced ‘The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess’ and three major Mario titles: ‘Super Mario Galaxy,’ ‘New Super Mario Bros. Wii,’ and ‘Super Mario Galaxy 2.’ Miyamoto is currently working on Wii U and Nintendo 3DS titles.