Nearly everything we know about video games we learned from Shigeru Miyamoto. As a pioneer in the video game industry his influence has shaped so much of our vernacular and our approach to gaming. He is after all the man who created Donkey Kong, Excitebike, Super Mario Bros., Zelda, and a vast, ever-growing list of other popular titles. His influence on gaming culture and the whole of pop culture is legendary.
Since 1977, when he joined Nintendo, Miyamoto has remained a pillar in the video game community. At that time the small company was still very much in its infancy; focusing on the realm of board games and playing cards.
Inevitably Miyamoto’s creative influence led to him being often referred to as the father of modern video gaming. In 1996 Time magazine referred to Miyamoto as “the Spielberg of video games” and in 1998 he became the very first inductee into the Academy of Interactive Arts & Sciences Hall of Fame.
His attention to detail and his signature love of playful fantasy have carried his career from his early innovative titles through to his critically acclaimed, more polished games and franchises. The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild is yet another step forward for Miyamoto and his team, for Nintendo, and for the Zelda franchise as a whole.
The New Yorker once described him as Nintendo’s guiding spirit. Miyamoto is without question Nintendo’s greatest creative contributor, however it could be argued that he is the same for the entire gaming community.
Tiff had the opportunity and the privilege to sit down with Miyamoto at E3 to discuss The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, and a career that has inspired countless gamers and game designers.
[we asked Shigeru to fill in the blanks] My name is Shigeru Miyamoto, I am a game producer. I am 50% dreamer and 50% doer. I would describe myself as a provider of entertainment and I am most inspired by the Japanese manga-comics. I dream of creating something that can make people surprised in pleasant ways and I will do that by making Nintendo the group of people who can do it.
Tiff: You’ve been a part of the gaming community for quite some time. How do you feel about gaming culture becoming such a huge part of mainstream entertainment?
Shigeru Miyamoto: When I started creating video games, it was in the arcade — the ones where you put the coin in. Back in the day, I wanted to become a manga artist, but I gave that up and decided to go into toys. And now, to see that video games and toys and movies are all kind of considered that same media is really great and really surprising. And also, in elementary school, I wanted to get into puppeteering! [laughs]
T: When you first made your way into gaming, was your family supportive of you joining Nintendo? Did you ever get any scrutiny or did they think you were silly for joining the gaming industry?
SM: You’re referring to my parents probably more so, and actually my father was a teacher. When you think about toys or games, it’s kind of in the realm of “play” and maybe a little bit different, and I thought he would be strict against me getting into the field, but I actually started with engineering design, and he was very supportive of that.
My mother was always interested in things like calligraphy or dancing, and so she was very supportive of me going into design as well.
T: At what age did you make the transition and decision to take on gaming?
SM: When I first entered Nintendo, it was as an engineering designer to make toys, and that’s the first time that I encountered video games — at Nintendo. With video games, there is a lot of picture drawing and also planning, whereas engineering design is a lot of planning. And as I got into video games, I started to realize that it’s almost like becoming a manga artist, so it was kind of a strange and mysterious feeling.
T: Did you ever imagine that Zelda would become such a phenomenon?
SM: When we first started making Zelda, it was at the same time as when we started making Super Mario as well. Back in the day, I didn’t know much about American or European culture, so I didn’t know how to create kind of like an ancient fantasy story, so I kind of went off of what I had in my head as folktales from Europe and things like that, so that’s how it all started.
With the advancement of technology, we have games like Breath of the Wild, where we’re calling it this open air game, where we’re creating this nature as is and everything is so seamlessly connected in real time. To be able to see that come to reality this time is incredible.
T: What are your favorite aspects of the new Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild?
SM: So, going back to Super Mario, that’s something that I kind of started to envision as I was on the train and watching, looking out the window and seeing the scenery pass by and I, you know, it just occurred to me how kind of interesting or fun would it be if someone was kind of jumping and hopping, and so that’s Super Mario. But with Zelda it came from my experience camping, going hiking, things like that, and discovering. That became kind of the access of what we based the game on. So to see that come to even more of a reality, even more vivid reality, in this new Zelda is really incredible. That’s the thing I like about this the most is to be able to experience the orienteering, the survival aspect, and see it come to life.
T: I’d like to get a little more insight on your creative process. What does your ideal day of brainstorming and content development look like?
SM: What sparks the start of a game — idea for a game — is really dependent on that game. It could be from a meeting I had with someone, or a conversation I had, or as Nintendo also makes hardware — so it could start from also thinking about what kind, how can we use the features of this hardware to make a unique experience. So I don’t really know how some of this stuff starts, to be honest.
What I do after that is I get this one-sheet and put up all the kind of elements of what I want to do, so it could be any kind of limitation, like maybe here’s how much budget I have, or here’s the hardware we’re using, or here’s what I want to accomplish through this. And I usually use Post-its and just kind of slap it all together and then start rearranging it, and rearranging it in my mind too. And once we have this, once I have this image in my head then I throw that out and then I create a flowchart, basically a skeleton of what we want to do. And that helps me explain it to myself as well as help me ask others what I want them to do to make this possible. So really what I do all the time, every time, is to take this complex idea kind of simplify it and be able to explain it and share it with others.
So, you know, I’m always serious. [laughs]
So, yeah, I talk seriously. But initially it starts off with talking about this with three people. These are three people that I’ve worked with since the Super Mario days. It’s a programmer and a designer. We just kind of go back and forth, maybe over dinner, and that’s how we talk.
T: What are some of your favorite books, movies, and non-related media?
SM: In terms of what I grew up with, I grew up with manga artists like Fujio Akatsuka and Osamu Tezuka. In terms of what has influenced what I do now, I look at Raiders of the Lost Ark — the first Indiana Jones — to look at the great production value and how to put all of those ideas into one cohesive product.
T: What advice would you give to young entrepreneurial game developers looking to make it in the gaming industry?
SM: One is like I mentioned, it’s really important to share what you’re attracted to and what you’re envisioning specifically. It’s important to share what your vision is, but I think the key element is to do that with specifics.
The second thing is, I think it’s very important to experience many things outside of video games as well. You could read a book, you could run, you could trip, I don’t know, maybe scuba diving is important [laughs], fighting with a friend, all these different experiences are very important.