To his fans he’s a knight in shining armour; a creator of fantastic worlds where plumbers rescue princesses and young boys become sword-wielding heroes. But now Shigeru Miyamoto has become a real life knight himself, of the “Order of Arts and Letters”.
The title (which doesn’t make him “Sir Shigeru”, sadly) was bestowed upon Mr Miyamoto in Paris this week by the French Ministry of Culture. Miyamoto, along with Michel “Rayman” Ancel and Frederick “Alone in the Dark” Raynal, became the first videogame designers in the world to receive such an award.
The accolade is further recognition for Miyamoto’s lifetime of work that has brought pleasure to millions (and led Time Magazine to call him “The Spielberg of Video Games”). Also, for a game designer to be honoured for his contribution to the arts is great news for the whole games industry. Read the full interview by clicking on “more…”.
Helped by his interpreter Miyamoto was asked how it feels to be given such a prestigious award, and in his trademark style he remains as humble and down-to-earth as ever.
“My feeling is that I have received this on behalf of many other people who have been working together with me to create videogames,” he says. “And in a much broader sense I think it’s very important for the industry that we can receive this kind of award.”
So does Miyamoto think videogames are now becoming culturally acceptable, like movies and literature?
“Videogaming has only about 20-25 years of history; in comparison movies have over 100 years, and literature has a lot longer,” says Miyamoto. “We have just come to the stage where everybody recognises videogaming, so I think we have just passed the first phase. I think videogaming is going to go forward in an exciting way. We are expecting a number of different new technologies that affect our industry, and the ability of people to deal with new technologies is going to be a vital part of how the videogame industry is going to evolve.”
Listening to Miyamoto speak in his easy-going way, we forget for a second that we’re sitting in a posh Paris hotel, surrounded by journalists from across Europe who are clamouring to interview the legend himself. There’s no doubt Miyamoto is a massive star, but does he feel like one?
“Well, you know I used to commute to work by bicycle until recently,” he says, laughing. “But because I am now one of the executive board members, the company ordered me not to, for the sake of ‘risk management'”
So what is a typical “day in the life” of Shigeru Miyamoto?
“As for the morning, I’m afraid to tell you that I am not a very punctual person,” he laughs. “But every day I have to work until very late at night. People report to me via email the progress of software in development and I am always looking into whatâ€™s happening with each game and sometimes, if it’s necessary, I add my own opinions and advice. That takes up about half of my working time and as for the remainder of the time I visit each developer to see what kind of progress they are making. I often become a tester myself so that I can touch and get a feel for the project they are working on.”
So what about his latest project, New Super Mario Bros. (set for May 7th U.S. release & coming to Europe this summer)? Why did he decide to bring back Mario in the classic side-scrolling style?
“We are always challenging ourselves to make something really new and this new Super Mario Bros. game is going to be very important. Nintendo DS has been hugely successful, especially in Japan, and we owe a big part of the success to a software line-up called “Touch Generations”. People who have never played videogames before are purchasing Nintendo DS as their very first game machine.”
“When we launch New Super Mario Bros. for DS this could be the very first videogame these people play. Of course we already have Super Mario 64 DS but it is a more advanced version of Mario. With New Super Mario Bros. we are going back to the basics. It’s going to be simple enough to control but yet have sophisticated enough content. We have been working hard to make the best Super Mario game we can.”
We’re intrigued. Can he reveal what the game’s story will be, for instance?
“That’s rather interesting because a number of our staff members came up with a number of different stories,” says Miyamoto, smiling. “I told them that we really don’t need any story behind this new Super Mario Bros. at all. I have narrowed down the whole story to about half of what my team originally came up with. Peach is kidnapped, Mario has to go and rescue her from Bowser and the Koopa Kids. That’s about all you need to know for the story!” he laughs.
“But what you really need to know is that in the quest you are going to encounter some unprecedented play ideas.”
‘Can you give us some examples of these ideas?’ we ask.
“Well, we have drawn everything from 3D graphics,” explains Miyamoto “So that from time to time you are going to encounter something really astonishing visually but as far as the gameplay and control is concerned, that is going to be very simple.
“When it comes to Mario, sometimes you may be able to do an ultra super jump and you are going to see a very unique and unprecedented jumping style. In terms of Super Mario, everybody already expects him to become bigger but this time, with the help of a Super Giant Mushroom, Super Mario can become gigantic, taking up almost all the screen, and he can destroy everything.
“And Mario can also become very small, by using another type of mushroom, right?” we add.
“Right,” says Miyamoto, “and that’s not all. For example, two players can play as Mario and Luigi at the same time, in the multiplayer mode. Sometimes you have to compete with each other to reach the goal, and sometimes they can fight against each other. You remember the game Mario Bros.? In that, Mario and Luigi could sometimes cooperate, sometimes compete. I think it’s more fun to have two players play simultaneously in this New Super Mario Bros.
“And you remember in Super Mario 64 DS we incorporated a number of minigames? Each of these minigames is going to be available in New Super Mario Bros. In each minigame both Mario and Luigi can compete against each other. Some you can play in two-player or four-player mode with one cartridge.”
Sounds great! But hang on, didn’t Miyamoto mention Koopa Kids a second ago? We haven’t heard from them in a while. We inquire if the new game has the same kind of “Level, World, Fortress, Boss” structure as in Super Mario Bros. 3.
“Unfortunately I am not in a position to tell you anything further, sorry, but basically yes you are right!” says Miyamoto, chuckling.
OK, consider our appetites whetted! So New Mario Bros. is a classic style game, therefore, we want to know, are there going to be classic style cheats, like warp pipes and the old “walking along the top of the screen” trick?
“Well, there will be many people who play New Super Mario Bros. that have never played a Mario Bros. game before,” he tells us. “But at the same time we want to evoke a kind of nostalgic feeling in those people who used to play with the past series, so we are now trying to incorporate as many old tricks and tweaks as possible into this new DS version.”
OK, time to switch to Miyamoto’s other famous creation: Zelda. What’s the latest on Twilight Princess?
“I would say that we are progressing well with completing it,” says Miyamoto. “And one of the most important features is that, because Revolution can run GameCube software, when you play Twilight Princess on Revolution you can take advantage of the Revolution controller.”
We press further but Miyamoto is remaining tight-lipped on specifics. So, speaking of Revolution, what kind of cool software has he seen so far?
“You know, the DS is a very good example when we talk about Revolution software. Nobody would have expected brain training software or puppy communicating software when we were originally talking about the concept of the Nintendo DS. People would never have imagined that line-up of software could ever be as successful in the marketplace as it is now.
“In the case of Revolution, there is going to be a lot of software that are so-called ‘sequels’ to the existing type of games, however what is going to be the most attractive point about Revolution is the other applications. These kind of applications are going to make Revolution something really important for any ordinary household; more specifically catering for each type of family member in the house.”
So when can we expect to find out more about Revolution? For instance will everything be revealed at E3?
“Almost everything,” he laughs. “I don’t know about the pricing at the moment or anything like that but, yes, basically at E3.”
And with that tantalising answer hanging in the air, we’re told our time is up. Mr Miyamoto is about to be whisked off to catch the Eurostar to London, for more interviews and also to record a special webcast in which he answers questions sent in by you.
So if you fancy pumping him for more details about those Koopa Kids, or want to know what his Brain Training ‘brain age’ is (clue: it’s in the 20s) you can submit your question at www.webchats.tv. If it’s a good one, Miyamoto will answer it personally on the webcast this Friday.