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Feature: Shigeru Miyamoto - The Father of Modern Video Games

Posted by Thomas Whitehead

An era unlike any other

Today is Shigeru Miyamoto's 60th birthday, a key personal landmark but also one that should be celebrated in broader terms by the gaming industry. Miyamoto's well-known description as the "father of modern video games" isn't just casually applied praise, it's a title that's deserved and has genuine significance. Nintendo's most famous developer is also now at an age where he's been adjusting his role to a more hands-off position, allowing younger developers to flourish; eventually his mind will shift to retirement. It says much that when rumours of retirement swirled last year, Nintendo's share-price dropped and a hasty clarification was issued by the famous gaming company. Life without Miyamoto seemed inconceivable.

What's perhaps most remarkable about Shigeru Miyamoto is that his entire career, since graduating from Art College, has been spent at Nintendo. When he joined in 1976 as an apprentice in the Planning department, Nintendo was a toy company interested in dabbling with arcade units, rather than a games industry behemoth that works as a product manufacturer, developer and publisher. Yet as an artist Miyamoto was given the opportunity to design a game to salvage a failing arcade unit in North America, Radar Scope. Of course, Donkey Kong was born, a game that pushed boundaries and showed a different design approach. That may seem like a peculiar statement, but in 1981 it was somewhat unique for a game to actively portray characters, humour and a story, even if that story was remarkably simple. Miyamoto's titles often appear to follow the same design principle: a game needs to be fun but also charm and engage the player, with characterisation and motive contributing their part to the experience.

Referring to story and motive may seem like unlikely areas for praise, as Miyamoto's also been quoted to say that core concepts come first and story can be added later, and so many subsequent Mario games — since the industry-defining Super Mario Bros. — revolve around the "rescue Princess Peach" storyline. Yet motivating gamers with an easily defined core objective is one part of what Shigeru Miyamoto often targets with his franchises. One of the other major series for which he's famous, apart from Mario, is The Legend of Zelda, which does go into a deeper narrative. Despite all of the characters and nuances, however, the goal with games in this series is often just as simple: save the world from evil. There's little room for grey areas or moral doubt — you're the Hero, and your destiny is to defeat malevolent forces.

This simplicity in outlook perhaps helps to explain Miyamoto's success, and why he's continually leading his field. In an extensive article written by Nick Paumgarten for The New Yorker, it's highlighted that a 2009 poll of video game developers made Miyamoto the runaway winner as the "ultimate development hero". Will Wright, creator of The Sims and one of very few games developers that Shigeru Miyamoto has named as industry figures he admires, explained why Miyamoto is held in such esteem.

At the end of the day, most of the designers out there now grew up playing his games. He approaches the games playfully, which seems kind of obvious, but most people don’t. And he approaches things from the players’ point of view, which is part of his magic.

It's the playful side of Miyamoto that's also on view to the public, as he'll still happily bound onto the E3 stage and pretend to be Link, or introduce Pikmin 3 while accompanied by a plush toy. Plenty of gamer's favourite memories of Miyamoto will be related to these light-hearted public appearances, such as dressing up in a tuxedo to conduct an orchestra of Mii characters. Games are supposed to be an enjoyable pastime, above all else, and Miyamoto is a strong advocate for that argument.

An important philosophy for Miyamoto, whether for a new Mario, Zelda, Pikmin or concept game such as Wii Sports, is balancing the new with the familiar, while offering challenge that motivates without demoralising the player. These are rather obvious qualities for games to have, but are perhaps amongst the hardest to master. In his current role as the senior development figure in Nintendo, and supervisor over so many of its biggest games, it's a message that he reinforces.

A lot of the so-called ‘action games’ are not made that way. All the time, players are forced to do their utmost. If they are challenged to the limit, is it really fun for them? You are constantly providing the players with a new challenge, but at the same time providing them with some stages or some occasions where they can simply, repeatedly, do something again and again. And that itself can be a joy.

...I always remind myself, when it comes to a game I’m developing, that I am the perfect, skilful player. I can manipulate all this controller stuff. So sometimes I ask the younger game creators to try playing the games they are making by switching their left and right hands. In that way, they can understand how inexperienced the first-timer is.

So much of his latest work, either games directly attributed to him or hardware development projects such as Wii, where he was a senior figure working on the concept, show that Miyamoto continually strives to provide experiences that can be enjoyed by gamers of all levels. It's a sign that his thinking has evolved from the era of NES to GameCube, as Wii and, potentially, Wii U, serve a role to introduce new people to gaming and ultimately draw them into the hobby; that doesn't even account for Nintendo's innovations in the handheld space. Balance is everything.

We always use the term ‘difficulty’ when we talk about gameplay. If a game is too difficult, people may not want to play it again. With the appropriate level of difficulty, people may feel like challenging it again and again. As they repeat it, the amount of information they can acquire naturally increases. I always try to be conscious about that kind of gradual improvement.

...To what extent are you going to hide the secrets? In order for a mystery or a joke to work, we have to provide the necessary amount of information. Not too much, not too little, but the perfect balance, so that in the end people can feel, how come I didn’t realize that? The difficulty with video games, unlike movies or novels, where the authors themselves can lead the audience to the end, is that in games it’s the players who have to find their own road to the end.

Perhaps Miyamoto's finest qualities, beyond his exhaustive list of game credits, are his humility and work ethic. It's easy to forget that he's not only evolved with the gaming industry over an exceptionally long period, but he's also stayed in its upper echelons throughout that time. Many other big-name developers have moved companies, or relied on games a decade or more old to give them weight with gamers and the gaming press, but Miyamoto is an embodiment of continued excellence and prolific output. He's been a Nintendo man for his whole professional career, and can legitimately claim to be one of an elite group that has successfully driven trends not only in Nintendo's development as a company, but within gaming as a whole.

Yet he seemingly does it all without an inflated ego, or a desire to chase attention and get his name on everyone's lips. He'll be a spokesman when required, but he equally spends a lot of time diligently working in Nintendo HQ in Kyoto. Beyond iconic tales such as cave exploration in childhood that inspired the Zelda series, shrine arches that influenced environments in Star Fox or origin tales of the Mario name, Miyamoto's private life is his own. While the world sees Miyamoto showcasing the fun side of video games, he's also undoubtedly achieved his career-goals not exclusively by maintaining a perspective of the player's perspective and enjoying every minute of the day, but through determination and immense hard-work. Dylan Cuthbert said the following about the Miyamoto that's found in the workplace.

(Miyamoto's) private face is different to his public face, and his style of chasing ideas and cutting through bull**** is brilliant – internally he’s kind of like a slightly more friendly Steve Jobs, but just as cutting.

He's also likely to be someone that would rather Nintendo gamers didn't make a fuss of his Birthday, and that writers wouldn't blather on about his influence and importance to the video game industry. Very much a proponent of a company-wide culture of humility, Miyamoto's recent acceptance speech for the Spanish cultural Prince of Asturias Award for Communication and Humanities eloquently summarises his outlook on his role.

Creating video games is very much a team effort, which is why I feel so humbled to be chosen for this honourable award. I would therefore like to receive the award on behalf of all of my friends and colleagues with whom I have been creating video games over the years.

I will continue my efforts so that video games will continuously be able to offer fun and joy to people of all generations all around the world.

And yet, such is his level of achievement that it'd require days of research and thousands upon thousands of words to even touch upon his achievements and level of influence. While he wouldn't be where he is without wonderful people to work with, it can be said with confidence that he elevates the abilities of those around him with his basic understanding of what gaming is supposed to represent. The modern video game industry will always owe a great deal to Shigeru Miyamoto, and will do well to heed the philosophies that have made him its foremost figure.

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User Comments (66)

Shiryu

#1

Shiryu said:

I own so much to this man and his work. The word "Thanks" just isn't enough.

ivanmata

#4

ivanmata said:

We owe many thanks to Mr. Miyamoto, he's taken us to wonderful places in the games he has created.

OracleOfTruth

#7

OracleOfTruth said:

I dare anyone to say that he's too old and should retire now. This guy has essentially created gaming as we know it and is still providing fun and innovation today. I hope to one day be able to do the same.

CorbsAdmin

#10

Corbs said:

I often wonder what Nintendo would have been like if not for Miyamoto. Scary thought! LOL :D He's the best.

Dashtag

#11

Dashtag said:

If Miyamoto didn't exist, just think of what else wouldn't have existed. Mario, Zelda, Smash Bros... He's truly the best video game developer of all time.

Although Sakurai is a close #2...

Lunapplebloom

#12

Lunapplebloom said:

This guy is the best of the best. He was responsible for all the great games I have played in the past and continue to play to this day. All I can say is thank you, Miyamoto. And may you continue to make games for more years to come.

One must say though that I hope he has been training the young developers well there at Nintendo HQ. They are the people who must carry the torch once he's no longer there.

Tsuchiya

#13

Tsuchiya said:

@3Dash Metroid, F-Zero, Pikmin, Star Fox, Donkey Kong!

I'd even go as far to say that for me, had Zelda not have been made then I wouldn't have gotten into gaming at all.

PinkSpider

#14

PinkSpider said:

Is he a big a player as he used to be coz it always seem iwata and reggie are the main guys at Nintendo these days

Capt_N

#15

Capt_N said:

He made the game, that got me interested in (playing games/)gaming: Super Mario Bros. He does make some weird decisions, & statements every so often(I still think the Koopalings should be considered Bowser's children.), but overall he has some good ideas about games, & their designs. Happy birthday, Miyamoto! I agree w/ @Applejacklove: that I hope he is training his eventual replacement(s), When, & if I ever have children, they will definitely play some of the games he's done, or helped w/. That is, of course, if they end up interested in games, as I am.

OracleOfTruth

#16

OracleOfTruth said:

@PinkSpider
I don't think Miyamoto was ever much of a spotlight guy. As for Reggie, he represents NoA, while Iwata is the President. Miyamoto would work more behind the scenes with designing, so we would see less of him.

Wonder_Ideal

#18

Wonder_Ideal said:

I know this sounds cliche', but one of the first video games I played was A Link to the Past. I was new to gaming, and I was amazed by the story and adventure. One of my favorite memories I have of that game was one time when I was just wandering around. I happened upon a tuft of grass which I promptly sliced to smitereens. I was shocked when I found a secret cave under the grass! I hopped down and found a fairy fountain. I guess his cave spelunking childhood memory became mine too. Thanks Mr. Miyamoto. :)

SCAR392

#19

SCAR392 said:

Awesome guy. Never met him in person, but he really has made alot of games millions of people enjoy, and has opened new possibilities to other game devs. Devs. that exist now, and many soon to come I'm sure. Nintendo has definately been part of the mass media domination. My brother looks at all the animations in every type of media you can think of, and tells me whether or not it is good. It's not like I can't tell, but he has a different sense to things... He's currently playing Paper Mario: Sticker Star., even as I speak, and he loves the game. He's going to school for suff like this, and is actually learning stuff that could help him make plenty of great stuff that I'm looking forward to if he ever decides to do so, possibly through this console for all I know. All I got to say is, I'm really excited for the new console, and will be aving alot of my family over when it comes out, because they are all as excited as me. Happy birthday!

Varia01

#24

Varia01 said:

Happy 60th birthday Miyamoto! His games are just plain awesome.... Mario,Zelda, it's all more than good! I hope he continues his winning streak!

NintyMan

#26

NintyMan said:

He's the Walt Disney of video games in my eyes. What I like about him is that even though he is a top developer who has made such a influence in the gaming industry, he's humble. Not only that, but while he doesn't shy away from taking care of business, he can have fun doing it. The video game business shouldn't be all that serious. When he puts a lot of fun and passion into his game rather than just hard work, the game is much better as a result.

Boo_Buster

#29

Boo_Buster said:

This man has helped shape each and every one of us here, more than likely. I wish I could give him something in return for everything he has done. It'd be cool to play him a song from Zelda or Mario on the piano. I bet he'd think that was cool actually. This man is a genius in every sense of the word. I gave him a Happy Birthday shout out on my show this morning and I wondered if anyone out there knew who he was when I first said his name haha

Boo_Buster

#30

Boo_Buster said:

@PinkSpider He is more the creative mind behind Nintendo, Iwata has created some games as well but he doesn't really do that anymore now that he is global president. I don't know much about Reggie but I believe he comes from a more business type background, although he seems to love games.

redclow

#32

redclow said:

I just can't bear to think what would happen to the LoZ series without him!
He is my #1 idol and he will always be.

Syntax

#36

Syntax said:

May you have a great 60th birthday and live a happy life! Im glad that you and everyone at Nintendo where able to provide and revolutionize this great little hobby of ours and I thank you for the fun we gotten all this years and more to come!
The first game for my wiiu would be pikmin 3.

triforcepower73

#38

triforcepower73 said:

This guy made me realize how incredible video games are. Back when I was 10 and played twilight princess for the first time, I hadn't had very much experience with games. After that, I never was the same. And also I think nintendo will survive without him. The ONLY thing I would ask of him would be to add a difficulty selection(mainly for zelda).

JebbyDeringer

#40

JebbyDeringer said:

What do you mean by father of modern video games? His career spans pretty much all of video gaming with only a handful of games being released before he started.

While his early titles were amazingly solid it was Super Mario Bros that really offered the depth that made my Atari look like a 50 year old piece of trash.

sinalefa

#41

sinalefa said:

A pretty nice piece of writing. Cool that you remembered his 60th birthday. The picture is just another example of his perennial smile.

I do admire not only his imagination but his boldness and his common sense. He knows people are not born knowing how to play games so he makes them appealing and welcoming.

And of course I admire his humbleness too. I am pretty sure he knows his place in videogame history but he does not make a big deal about it. Thanks for helping me build my childhood and helping me keep my inner child alive.

Gallimastro

#44

Gallimastro said:

This guy is the man, I dare say I owe my sanity to his creations. In a time where my youth was filled with misery, there was always his world I could just escape to for a few hours a day, among other worlds.

Happy 60 Shiggy! Thank you for your continued vision and worlds of fun.

Radbot42

#46

Radbot42 said:

I love how everyone has been *****ing about how he is pulling the strings to recent games, making them worse, and how he should retire. And now that it is his birthday he is receiving all the praise again

Zombie_Barioth

#47

Zombie_Barioth said:

NintyFan wrote:

He's the Walt Disney of video games in my eyes. What I like about him is that even though he is a top developer who has made such a influence in the gaming industry, he's humble. Not only that, but while he doesn't shy away from taking care of business, he can have fun doing it. The video game business shouldn't be all that serious. When he puts a lot of fun and passion into his game rather than just hard work, the game is much better as a result.

Same here, he knows hes famous and well respected but he isn't in it for that, and doesn't let it go to his head. He puts in the same level of hard work and dedication as any great craftsman but still knows how to crack a smile and have fun, and thats something worth a great deal of respect.

NImH

#48

NImH said:

@StarDust:
For all anyone knows, that image may be more accurate than Michelangelo's (rendition of his boyfriend Caesar of Borgia.)
Shiggy is my homeboy!

DarkNinja9

#49

DarkNinja9 said:

i just randomly thought about this i remember someone bring up a convo of ppl who would be good to clone.... wouldnt he be one of those ppl? :P

Urbanhispanic

#51

Urbanhispanic said:

The man is gifted beyond belief when it comes to video games. He enjoys what he does for a living and gamers everywhere are grateful for it.

Long live, Mr. Miyamoto!

Taceus

#52

Taceus said:

Happy Birthday Mr Miyamoto. You truly are a living legend. Great article too.

KneehighPark

#54

KneehighPark said:

I can safely say he's the reason I got into the games industry, and the reason I will (hopefully) be developing them down the line.

Happy birthday Miyamoto!

mudjo

#55

mudjo said:

I hope he outlives me. I won't be able to cope with his cessation.

ecco6t9

#56

ecco6t9 said:

A true living legend. We should all be lucky to be around during this time.

chiptoon

#57

chiptoon said:

Its strange to feel such a personal debt to someone who will never know I'm alive. He really has made such a difference to the world.

good to see just how much people love him

Ichiban

#59

Ichiban said:

The Thom Yorke of gaming. brilliant and humble. I'd love to meet the man.

Sun

#61

Sun said:

Videogames would not be the same without him. Nintendo would not be Nintendo without him. But most importantly, Mario and Zelda games are not going to be the same without him. The further he is from the new entries of these series, the worse these games are.

Miyamoto is simply the best in the industry. Why do people talk about his retirement? He must be someone at Nintendo until the very end. And after that, everybody is going to miss him. Nothing will be the same.

Tsuchiya

#62

Tsuchiya said:

All this talk about Walt Disney makes me wonder about people mentioning his retirement.

Will Nintendo put Miyamoto in a fWiizer to help keep him going?
Sorry... :D

triforcepower73

#63

triforcepower73 said:

@Sun I wouldn't say that those games keep getting worse the further he gets away from them. Just different. Anyway this guy needs to be in the hall of fame.

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