Troy’s full interview with Nintendo’s Miyamoto

Nintendo's Shigeru Miyamoto

Nintendo's Shigeru Miyamoto

On Saturday, the Merc ran an edited version of my interview with Shigeru Miyamoto, Nintendo’s chief game designer. Below you’ll find the full text of my interview, which took place at the E3 video game conference in early June.

(Note, although this is the raw interview transcript, a translator was in the room with Miyamoto and me. The answers were actually the translator’s English translations of what Miyamoto said.

Q: What was interesting to me … It really seems that Microsoft and Sony have started to zero in on what has distinguished the Wii and why the Wii has become such a popular game device, and that is the natural movements that you can do with the Wii remote. The question I have is what Nintendo thinks about this new interest from Sony and Microsoft in trying to duplicate and possibly improve upon what you’ve done with the Wii remote and Motion Plus?

A: I believe that any sort of changes to interface that allows people to get into games and enjoy games is a great trend.

With Wii, we have that history of using that motion control and now with Plus, we’ve gone above that, more precision, more accuracy. And I think we’re very confident in the way we have continued to develop our product along this line. And it’s our job, then, to go ahead and as soon as possible bring this technology and these improvements into software and get them to our consumers.

I think one of the points we like to emphasize at this time is with Wii Sports, we brought movement into games. Now with Wii Motion Plus and “Wii Sports Resort,” what we’re doing is, we have the same movement, but we’re also introducing more precision, more skill. And what we think we’ve done is brought — we bring an element to the gameplay that focuses on practice and improvement.

Q: To what extent do you or does Nintendo see a threat from these types of natural controllers that your competitors are working on? If they can marry a natural controller, a motion-sensing controller with their high-powered platforms, multimedia platforms that offer things that the Wii doesn’t offer — and potentially offer them at a competitive price — doesn’t that represent some kind of threat to Nintendo and to what you’ve achieved with the Wii?

A: I guess I’ll just answer that in terms of what we’ve done. And really one of the challenges is not just to create the sort of — as you would call it, a natural controller — but how do you get it into the hands of the people. How do you do that cost effectively? And I think we’ve accomplished that.

We have sold — [and we both laughed, because he couldn’t come up with a number and I don’t know it off the top of my head] — millions of controllers at a good price point. And we have that delivery system successfully already implemented. So, I think, you know, for other companies starting from zero and trying to figure out, again, how to get it out there at a decent price point is a big challenge.

And another thing is, it’s not just creating it, but how to use it, how to implement it. And we have proven that we can implement. We have implemented it. We have product that is using this technology right now that’s available. And that is just something that we have been able to do.

Q: Iwata-san showed off the Vitality Sensor or talked about the vitality Sensor at the press event today. You guys obvious, and you kind of alluded to this in your response just now, but Nintendo has taken these innovative controllers, the Wii remotes, the nunchuck, the balance board, and you have demonstrated new types of games that people can do with these things. I was wondering what kind of ideas you had for the Vitality Sensor. Anything you can share?

A: Obviously, ideally we would have been able to talk about this in terms of the software implementation along with just the sensor itself, and I don’t have any indication for you other than to say that we have lots of very creative ideas.

We’ve done lots of different experiments with different types of sensors. You talk about using brain-wave sensors to move things around, we’ve done all kinds of fun experiments. So we’re pretty big fans of different types of sensors.

Q: I’ve learned that one should not be too skeptical of late of Nintendo, but there seemed to be a lot of skepticism in the audience and among people I’ve talk to about the vitality sensor. How would you respond to that?

A: Obviously, the ultimate goal is to show it along with the corresponding software and unfortunately, we’re not able to do that right now. We would just ask people to look at — we understand the challenge before us, and we have met these challenges in the past. And we just ask that people have confidence in us.

Q: To what extent is Nintendo concerned about what’s going on in the broader economy, and how is that affecting — I guess the question for you is not necessarily marketing but more along the lines of game development? Does that encourage you to throttle back on game development? Does it encourage you to spend more on game development? Do you leave things in the incubator longer? What does that do to game development, given the economic circumstances?

A: Well, I think, obviously, the recession is bad for everybody and it does have impact in certain areas, but one of the things we look at when we look at entertainment is if you want something bad enough, you’re going to save your money for it, right? And if you don’t have — and if you’re flush with cash, but you don’t want something, you’re not going to use that cash.

I think, obviously, if you have a lot of investors who suddenly decide not to invest anymore, it could kind of make an impact on your development costs, your development funding. Nintendo has all its own funding. We’re not reliant or dependent upon all that sort of outside funding. So that is not really a big issue for us. And we’re really just concentrating on creating something that people want.

And I think that’s one of Nintendo’s strong points, that ability to focus on that next challenge.

And thinking of how a family spends their budgeted entertainment money, rather than a dad going out and buying something that he wants, creating something that we can present to them as something the whole family will use that’s — more bang for the buck, but really something that produces — for the cost, you get a lot out of it. And so creating something that appeals to that sense of the budget or that portion of the budget is something that we always are focused upon.

Q: But does it encourage you to release fewer titles or to keep titles baking longer until the economy improves, thinking that they might sell better if you release them later, or they might benefit from more time in the development studio?

A:  You know, not really. We have so many ideas that we want to pursue, that we’re really just focused on, “let’s finish this idea that we have now so that we can get on to that next idea.” I mean it’s not like something we want to do; it’s something we have to do. It’s our jobs. So, that’s not an issue for us in the way that you described it.

Q: Nintendo has tended to dominate the market share in games for its own platforms. And you guys have come out with some of the platform defining games so far, whether its Wii Sports or Wii Fit for the Balance Board. I was just wondering, as an eminent game developer, if you are looking at the third-party titles that are out there for the Wii — or the DS — what do you think has come out so far that you think really stands out? What do you think’s coming out soon — in the near future — that you think really stands out?

A: I’m not really familiar with games that are coming out that we’re not developing. But I do think companies are getting better at making use of the (motion) sensor and the Wii remote. And a game that’s coming out very shortly, of course, is the new “Tiger Woods” by EA, which uses the Wii Motion Plus. I think they’ve done a really good job of implementing that.

Q: I was wondering how you as a developer see the development of digital distribution and how you see that influencing where game development is going.

A: I think from the business end, of course — the hope for business departments always is how they can reduce costs. So if you look at digital distribution with the fact that you don’t need money for packaging and things like that, of course it’s great. As a developer, it’s not changing how much money you’re bringing in. But it really doesn’t change what we’re focused on. However, I think it creates a whole — a lot of opportunity for a lot of different developers.

Personally, I’m one of those guys who even if I have all the songs from iTunes, I want the CD as well. It’s something that makes me — I feel more reassured with that physical media.

Q: I want to press that point a bit though. What seems to be happening from a high level with digital distribution is that — you highlighted one of the benefits, that it reduces costs. And what that makes available is that it allows a lot more people to get involved. You don’t have to worry about coming up with a packaged product and physically distributing it to stores, and so you don’t have to worry about fighting for shelf space. And that means that small one or two or five person teams can start making games.

But if the iTunes application store is any indication and if what happened in music is any indication and if what’s happening to newspapers — my business — is any indication, it’s driving down the purchase price for the digital content that’s being distributed. Which seems to be having an influence that means that the games that are developed — if we get back to gaming — are less ambitious and more episodic, rather than some big blow out game that you can sell for $50 or $60 at retail.

Do you see that trend, and is that something for gamers and the game industry to worry about?

A: Well, I think that entertainment is something that will not just become digital. If I look at Wii Motion Plus, this is something that you’re not doing via digital distribution.

So, the thing for us is we really don’t see the future of video games being merely or being confined only to digital distribution. Or moving solely or even to a majority of our products being distributed that way. And part of our job is to create products that you can — Again, we’re not confining our development in those terms. So, it’s really something that we haven’t thought of as maybe as something restricting what we’re doing. We want to use it to the best of our advantage and to just take full advantage of what digital distribution offers, but not limit ourselves to that realm. We’re always looking at all facets of video game creation.

And entertainment is for everyone. It’s not just merely confined to what people can experience via, say, the Internet. Nintendo really wants to and really needs to take advantage of all the different media avenues that are available to us.

Q: Of the games that are coming out in the near future from Nintendo, what are you most excited about?

A: Well, obviously, I’m very excited about (the) new “Super Mario Brothers” and “Wii Sports Resort.” But on a theme base, what I’m really excited about, again, is that continued challenge to create things that gamers of all experiences can play.

And another thing I’m involved with now is creating this system whereby people can use their DSs — their Nintendo DSs — in public spaces. And what I mean by that is there’s no cartridge involved, but we’re involved with creating these systems, or working with people to create these systems, where they would take their DS with no cartridge, download something from the area that they’re visiting that is beneficial and useful to them while they’re in that area.

And for example, near Tokyo Disneyland, there is an Experia shopping area. And if you take your DS there, you can download store guides, a map of the area. And at the Kyoto Cultural History Museum, you can take your DS there and receive an audio guide of the things on display.

Q: And it just pops in via Wi-Fi?

A: There’s a hybrid system MP to Wi-Fi — I don’t know the technology myself. It’s a very simple system. I think it’s something like — we’ve been working on implementation of it, and I think it’s something that’s going to be so easy to use, we’re going to see it become more widespread.

Q: Reggie mentioned the “Metroid” project. To what extent is Nintendo directly involved with that project or are you involved in that project, and are we going to see Nintendo develop its own adult-themed or more mature or violent games by itself?

A: (I am) not directly involved with “Metroid” project. (I) have had (my) hands in the mix up till now. But Nintendo, whenever any of our franchises are being developed by other teams, we’re always involved in that basic planning stages, always involved in the direction or themes behind the game, and so that’s true with this project as well.

(I) want to create all kinds of games. So, yes (I) would definitely love to — is interested in making mature games as well as the games that we traditionally make.

Mr. Sakamoto from Nintendo, the original “Metroid” designer, is working on this project very, very closely. And he’s here at E3 as well.

 

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