Japanese developer Nintendo is one of the most well-respected game developers in the industry today. While the company shifted to gaming consoles in the 70s, they found mainstream status in the 80s with games like Donkey Kong and Super Mario Bros.
With these IPs seeing new installments even to this day, it is undeniable that their games have a level of polish and immediate appeal that caters to all kinds of audiences. The talented brain behind such success stories is none other than the company’s own iconic game designer, Shigeru Miyamoto.
The legend is responsible for not just the titles that kicked off Nintendo’s foray into the gaming scene, but also subsequent equally acclaimed efforts like Metroid and The Legend of Zelda. Miyamoto-san also acted as a mentor across various teams under Nintendo, including Retro Studios of Metroid Prime fame.
Recently, YouTube channel KIWI TALKZ hosted detailed interviews with ex-developers, who had nothing but good words to say about the designer of Mario.
Nintendo’s Shigeru Miyamoto is an inspiration to both gamers and game developers around the globe
Ex-members Zoid, Clark Wen, Bryan Walker and Mike Wikan were each individually interviewed about their time at Nintendo’s Retro Studios, the games developed, their work culture and many similarly intriguing things.
All were questioned about their interactions with Miyamoto-san, who oversaw the development of the studios’ installments in two of his beloved franchises: Metroid and Donkey Kong.
The team is most renowned for the universally acclaimed first-person shooter Metroid Prime, which was the first 3D as well as first-person outing for the iconic sci-fi 2D platformer franchise. Zoid worked on Prime 1 and 2 as a senior engineer and described Miyamoto’s first play-testing hands-on with the original Prime’s prototype. Zoid said:
“And I remember him, in the first 5 minutes, he named a dozen things that should be fixed – and they were all right. You know, the scale feeling of Samus and some of the control stuff. You could just tell that he knew exactly what he was talking about. Brilliant, brilliant designer.”
He then described how Miyamoto-san came in with a fixed perception of how bounty hunter Samus should fit into the game for immersion, including scale to the surroundings. Adjustments were made to the female protagonists’ height by increasing it as per Miyamoto’s request to properly reflect Samus’ stature in her Power Suit.
“It’s like working with Yoda. He was very sage-like in his wisdom. He had this ability to play through a demo level in a short time and key in on things that stuck out to him or could be done better.”
Wen recollects Retro’s debut vertical slice reveal to Nintendo’s head honchos for for Prime 1. Although his role does not primarily concern audio, Miyamoto-san commented on the intro hangar level’s ambient music, giving it a thumbs up. The atmosphere has always been a highlight of the Metroid games after all.
Retro Studios revived the Donkey Kong Country saga in 2010 with Donkey Kong Country Returns for the Nintendo Wii. Bryan Walker was the senior director for the challenging 2.5D sidescroller. He sat down with Miyamoto-san during early development about the game designers’ vision and expectations for the game. Miyamoto’s approach surprised him, describing it as:
“He never, at any time, stood up and said ‘This is what it will have, this is your check-list, this is what I want, period’. He just offered feedback and guidance and mentorship. That’s one of the things that made Mr. Miyamoto so valuable as a resource.”
Walker also painted a “demanding” side to the Donkey Kong creator, pointing out that numerous pitches were outright rejected by Miyamoto-san and the director was told to “start over”. But behind this strictness lay a passion and love for the franchise as his own creation, his own child. Walker elaborated:
“As we were wrapping up our conversation in Kyoto, he said in English ‘Please take care of DK (Donkey Kong), he is my friend’. No pressure, when the guy who invented the video game industry as we know passes that along. That was just like a beam from heaven came and hit us in the forehead.”
Mike Wikan was one of the leading designers behind DKC Returns and was behind the Metroid Prime Trilogy collection for the Nintendo Wii as well. He showered Miyamoto-san with praise, saying:
“He’s really smart, he understands the (game) design in a way like I’ve seen. (And) I learned a lot, you know, from over the years.”
Wikan recollected one scenario with Miyamoto-san playtesting DKC Returns. The oddity here was that the acclaimed designer did little more than trigger the dust animation, as the gorilla protagonist was made to run back and forth in a corner. This continued for 20 minutes with the team members visibly baffled, wondering if they were missing something or had made a design mistake.
The Zelda creator finally satiated their curiosity by requesting extra animation-work for the chunky gorilla’s traversal. It was specifically a facial “blowing” animation which added a “playful sense” to the powerful ape’s expressions. Wikan added:
“He had his finger on the pulse immediately. He knew what he wanted. He wanted a little bit of flavor added to DK that was a little bit whimsical. And it just did perfectly, it was a perfect call.”
Miyamoto-san’s unique approach to game design and development has resulted in some of the most memorable games of all time from Nintendo.