Donkey Kong is arguably one of the most important games in Nintendo's history. Prior to its release the firm was struggling for attention with coin-op rivals like Taito and Namco, and it is often stated that it was a 'make or break' release for the Japanese company after a string of costly failures in North America, the world's biggest market for arcade machines at that time.
The commonly accepted story of how Donkey Kong came to be is etched in the memories of gamers the world over; when Nintendo president Hiroshi Yamauchi heard that the company's latest US export, Radar Scope, had failed to make an impact, he ordered that the cabinets be re-used for a new game. The story goes that a young Shigeru Miyamoto was approached directly to create this new game, and was supervised by the late Gunpei Yokoi.
However, former UK Official Nintendo Magazine staff writer Chris Scullion has cast doubt over this series of events in a series of tweets, which are reproduced here in slightly edited form to make them flow a little more naturally:
Here's an interesting wee bit of Nintendo trivia I was once told which seemingly goes against the commonly accepted Miyamoto lore.
I once wrote a thing for ONM's news section discussing the history of Donkey Kong. It might have been an anniversary, can't quite remember. In this article I explained the well-known story of how Donkey Kong was created, namely that Radar Scope was failing and so Miyamoto was approached to come up with something that would replace it, which became Donkey Kong.
At ONM, the only section we sent to Nintendo for approval was News. Contrary to popular belief, Nintendo had no control over our reviews. But every month we had to send them our news section, purely so they could make sure we weren't announcing anything factually inaccurate.
Anyway, we submitted the news section and got a response from Japan a few days later saying the Donkey Kong story was incorrect. It turns out that, apparently, the commonly accepted story that Miyamoto was simply approached to come up with something wasn't true. It makes sense, after all – at that point in his career Miyamoto was an illustrator and not a designer, so why would he be asked to do that?
Our fact-checker at NCL (Nintendo Japan) went on to tell me the correct story, rather than the version that was widely accepted as fact. He told me what really happened was Nintendo launched a company-wide contest to all staff.
Everyone was asked to come up with an idea that would solve the Radar Scope situation, and Miyamoto's entry was the one chosen as the best. Now, could be that our fact checker at NCL was misinformed but that was still an official Nintendo spokesperson telling me how it happened.
Just thought it was quite interesting, that rather than Miyamoto being approached directly he was actually in competition with his co-workers.
It certainly seems like a more logical series of events; prior to working on Donkey Kong Miyamoto had little under his belt which would have suggested he could create a smash-hit, and putting a project like this in the hands of an untested staffer sounds very risky. The idea that Nintendo would task its entire workforce to come up with a new concept and pick the best one makes much more sense, at least with hindsight.
Which version of events do you think is most likely? Do you think that Yamauchi and Yokoi were impressed with Miyamoto's untapped talent and took a risk, or do you feel the idea of him having to compete with other Nintendo staffers is more believable? Sound off in the comments below.