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Miyamoto Talks Wii U, Zelda, And Nintendo's Past

Last week at E3 2011 I had the fortunate opportunity to sit down and chat with Nintendo's Shigeru Miyamoto, creator of Donkey Kong, Super Mario, The Legend of Zelda, and countless other magical projects. We mined Miyamoto's mind for information on the Wii U, Nintendo's history, and the 25th anniversary of Zelda.

Why is now the right time for Nintendo to release a high definition console?

Shigeru Miyamoto: It was something we were considering even when we were first working on the original Wii. For a variety of reasons at the time we opted not to include the HD functionality. In the years since we’ve seen the penetration rate of HD increase much more rapidly than we had anticipated. Probably because some of the TV manufacturers thought they could sell TVs without needing to make a profit. We’ve seen the increase in HD TVs be very dramatic, so we felt this time is was important for us to include HD functionality in the system.

Nintendo attempted handheld/console connectivity in 2001 with the GBA/Gamecube link cable. Sony is going for something similar with the Vita. Why is Nintendo now choosing to make the highlight of its console a controller with a screen built in?

We’ve tried connectivity in the past, and we have a lot of different game ideas based on the experiments that we’ve done before. Even looking at the connectivity that we did back then -- even if all you needed was a single cable to connect -- you’d have people who had that cable, but you’d have people who didn’t have it. Of course, we were looking at connectivity in the sense of having a home console and then a portable, and having to have both of those. What that ends up doing is limiting the audience that you’re able to reach with the content that you’re providing because you have to own both and not everybody would.

So really what we were looking at this time was more how can we create this stable environment both for Nintendo itself and for third-party developers so that there’s one target environment that they’re developing for that allows them to create an experience that leverages the full capacity of that environment without having to worry about whether or not everybody has everything they need in order to enjoy that experience. So that’s why when you look at Wii U we’re offering that as a set structure where you have the new controller with the screen, you have the console, and everybody who buys the console is going to have that. It makes it easier for development teams to ensure that they’re creating content that everyone can enjoy.

Speaking of third-party development teams, with the Wii it seemed very few games were released for the console which included no motion control. Will Nintendo set a standard that requires all games on the Wii U to use the controller’s screen functionality?

We’re not going to set any requirements in terms of how developers have to adapt the functionality of the controller to their games. I think what we saw most with Wii was that because the number of buttons on the controller was somewhat limited compared to what developers were used to developing for, that they felt that they needed to implement motion controls to allow for the variety of gameplay and the variety of actions that they would normally want. This time, if you take a look at the Wii U controller, what you’ll see is, yes, it does have motion control and it does have a touch screen, but it also has a full complement of buttons to go alongside that. So it’s really going to be up to the development teams to decide if they want to take advantage of button control, motion control, the touch screen, and they’ll be able to leverage their own creativity and find the gameplay style that’s going to be best suited to the games they’re developing.

The original design of Super Mario World 2: Yoshi’s Island was originally rejected by Nintendo and sent back for revision, which prompted you to overhaul the game with it’s trademark pastel, crayon art style. Do you, a video game luminary, still ever have ideas that are sent back to the drawing board?

Yes, that’s pretty common, actually. Part of the development research process is running different experiments and looking at them and trying to decide which ones are strong enough to be turned into retail products. The ones that aren’t are shelved and we may come back to them later and look at ways to bring them to life. It’s not just limited to art styles, but entire gameplay structures and gameplay systems.

Skyward Sword is another good example of that. That’s a game where we started the experiment based on the Twilight Princess game that really focused in on what the new gameplay styles are going to be, and those new interactions that we’re going to focus on in this game. We worked on a number of those and figured out which are the ones that we’re going to bring to life in a new game. In that process the games evolved. It wasn’t until we got to the point where we were able to evaluate those and really make a final decision. I was a little nervous about the game early on, but now it’s come along quite nicely.

Do you own an iPad or iPhone? It seems like quick, digestible games like Angry Birds would be a good fit for the Wii U controller. Are there plans to offer those popular, smaller types of games via the Wii U?

Unfortunately, I don’t have an iPad or an iPhone myself. But at work I am often checking out what’s going on on those platforms.

Essentially when Nintendo is looking at creating games we’re really looking at it from that final quality standpoint and what that entertainment experience is. I think where one of the challenges lies is now sometimes we’ll look at a system and try to figure out the best game that we can create within that interface. Sometimes we may have an idea that we want to bring to life and we may build a piece of hardware around it that allows us to turn that idea into a true entertainment experience. I think where the challenge then lies is in terms of looking at games that have appeared on other platforms, finding any that when you bring them to a new platform, or to our platform, are there ways that the new platform can make them more intuitive or bring a new element of fun to them that can make them more unique? If there were examples of that then we would have no qualms about bringing them to the platform. That would be regardless of whether they where deeper experiences or even the more simple, intuitive, but very short experiences that you mentioned.

What I think is very appealing about Wii U is that you have this controller, and I guess to some people’s eyes it looks somewhat like a tablet, but really it’s not about just what that experience is with that individual controller, but really it’s about how you interact with that controller and the TV together, and the dynamic that can occur between those two devices that I think opens up a lot of possibilities.

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