Feature

Miyamoto On Mario Galaxy 2, More

by Jeff Cork on Mar 26, 2010 at 08:05 AM

Last week, Nintendo’s Shigeru Miyamoto received a BAFTA fellowship award from the British Academy of Film and Television Arts. Miyamoto, as you’re certainly aware, has created some of gaming’s most iconic characters and franchises, including Super Mario Bros. and the Legend of Zelda. We had a chance to speak with the legendary designer and producer while he was in London. In addition to talking about his latest project, Super Mario Galaxy 2, we discussed subjects such as expanding the definition of gaming, his thoughts on social networking and more.

The Nintendo 3DS hadn’t yet been revealed at the time of our conversation, but he did touch on the subject of 3D televisions. “Right now we’re at the stage where it’s very hard for us to determine whether it’s very good or bad,” he said just days before Nintendo announced that it was working on a portable system with glasses-free 3D technology.

Read on for the full interview.

You don’t typically revisit games in straight-up sequels, so Super Mario Galaxy 2 came as a surprise. What was it about Super Mario Galaxy that made you want to return to it?

The main reason is that as soon as we completed Super Mario Galaxy we thought we weren’t able to include a lot of the new ideas that we really wanted to. As soon as the project was over we started making something that we might call version 1.5. We did things like moving or adding stars to levels that were already available. As we made progress with this 1.5, we realized that there were too many things to fit into a version 1.5. That made us realize we should start from scratch and make Super Mario Galaxy 2. That’s how we started working on the game. As you were surprised, it’s actually quite unusual for us to make two different games in the same series on one platform. Usually we wait until the advent of new hardware, but for this time around because there were so many ideas we were not able to include in the first volume, we thought we should make a sequel to that.

Was the premise of worlds made up of tiny little planets something that lent itself to creating all of those ideas?

Well, you know for this time around we’re going to have Yoshi available, and that was not possible with the prequel. Also, we thought there are many ideas left undone about taking advantage of the pointer. Also, in Mario Galaxy 1 we made very unusual terrain, and we thought that there were many other ideas that could possibly be implemented.

Can you talk more about that expanded pointer functionality?

One thing I should identify with that is the introduction of Yoshi. More exactly, aiming the pointer at specific enemies makes Yoshi swallow that enemy. We used to have the gem-capture functionality, and that helped decide where Mario was going to move ahead. With Super Mario Galaxy 2, you can actually identify and point at things that Yoshi can grab with his tongue and then grab that point in order to reach additional points.

Did your team learn anything about moving Yoshi in 3D from Super Mario Sunshine that you were able to apply while in Super Mario Galaxy 2? Was there anything in particular you thought worked well in that first example or things that you thought could be improved?

Some of the staff that worked on Super Mario Sunshine are working on Super Mario Galaxy 2. Naturally, the know-how has already been inherited. Having said that, however, the biggest notable difference has to be the use of the pointer. Basically, by taking advantage of the pointer functionality, all you have to do is to point out some specific area and Yoshi is going to swallow the object that has been pinpointed. Then, by pointing out an enemy character, Yoshi can spit out the object and hit that character.

Is there a hub world in Mario Galaxy 2, or will players move from level to level through an overworld map, like with Super Mario Bros. 3 or New Super Mario Bros. Wii?

You can think of it in terms of something similar to Super Mario World or New Super Mario Bros. Wii, where you will have a rather convenient map to navigate.

Is there a particular reason behind that decision? Did you want people to be able to get into the action faster?

We want players to focus on the joy of the action instead of getting to each game course. We wanted to make it as accessible as possible and as easy as possible for the players. Also because we’re going to incorporate a number of different stars and conquering all the stars is going to be one of the most challenging missions for the player, we want them to understand as easy as possible where they should go next and which places they should go back to in order to get access to the remaining stars. Also, for this time around we are incorporating the starship in order to navigate around the different planets, and the map is actually catering to the need to make access as easy as possible.

Speaking of difficulty, we’ve heard that the game is tougher overall than Super Mario Galaxy 1. Is that true?

Exactly. The game has been developed and designed so that those who have conquered the prequel, Super Mario Galaxy 1, can feel as if it’s a continuation from the ending of that first game. In other words, the difficulty level is set in that kind of sense, so that it’s more difficult for the beginner, and especially more difficult for the beginner who has never played the first game. I believe that there are a lot of things that they have to learn in the first one. Anybody can start Super Mario Galaxy 1 and Super Mario Galaxy 2 and conquer the first world very quickly. Just to elaborate, in case someone thinks, “OK, this is going to be very difficult,” that’s simply one aspect. It’s not all true about Super Mario Galaxy 2. We are also putting in an enormous effort to make an accessible game that is easy to play when it comes to the intriguing gameplay control mechanisms. We are putting a lot of effort into making it as easy to manipulate as possible. In other words, yes, it is a challenging game, and it is worthwhile to challenge yourself with Super Mario Galaxy 2. For fans of action games and hardcore gamers, it’s a challenging enough game, but we’re trying to make an easy to control mechanism as possible.

For players who haven’t played Super Mario Galaxy who are good at games, would you recommend they pick up the game before Galaxy 2 comes out?

It would be ideal if those players have already conquered Super Mario Galaxy 1 before playing Super Mario Galaxy 2. However, I just cannot ask everybody to do so. Also, as I said before, we are pouring a lot of energy into the controls so that we are hopeful that it will be easy to control for even beginners from the outset. So I am having a struggle within myself when it comes to that kind of question, whether I should encourage everybody to first finish with Mario Galaxy 1 or should I have them also start from Super Mario galaxy 2.

For players who are seeking that extra challenge, you have harder bonus levels. Can you talk about how they are made more difficult?

Well, ordinarily, just to go to the end you’re supposed to obtain 70 stars, which is already challenging but not very difficult. If you’re really trying to get all the stars, you’re supposed to go to someplace extra. Those extra places are very challenging. When I say challenging, I mean as long as you can conquer them it’s going to give you a great sense of satisfaction and entertainment. In the end, we are going to have more than 240 stars for you to obtain, and we think it’s going to be challenging for any and all gamers.

Have you come to a decision as to whether or not to include Super Guide in Super Mario Galaxy 2 for players who might not be as skilled?

I don’t know if we can call it Super Guide or not, but we are thinking about incorporating something similar to that. That is not going to be included in all the courses, but rather for the limited amount of the area within somewhere in order for you to be able to obtain 70 stars. We want to try to get rid of some of the hardship that novice players may encounter. We are going to implement something similar to the Super Guide. In addition, we are going to once again have the assist play. It’s not exactly a multiplayer mode, but as with Super Mario Galaxy 1, somebody else is going to be able to aid the main player. For this time around, the role of the support player is going to be more important and more helpful in order for the main player to conquer the stage. Also, for the support player we understand that their sense of involvement is going to be much more so they can enjoy being more involved than in the first game.

Mario’s image has remained fairly similar throughout the years, but he’s changed a bit. Disney is reinventing Mickey Mouse in Epic Mickey, going back to the character’s older style. Is that something that you’ve ever considered doing with Mario?

As far as I’m concerned, the image that I’ve had with Mario as a character has always been changing, since I’ve been involved with him as a character since being born in Donkey Kong and through the Game and Watch days and Mario Bros. and Super Mario Bros. Another big difference was found in Super Mario World, and a big, big difference appeared with the advent of 3D in Super Mario 64. You say that the image of Mario has not been changed so drastically for years, because ever since Mario 64 the 3D model characters have been somewhat fixed, I guess. For the years to come I don’t think any notable change will be made as long as we are making 3D Mario games.

So we don’t have to worry about Mario shaving off his mustache or anything?

You don’t have to worry about that at all.

Can you tell me what games are being played in the Miyamoto household?

Up until quite recently, the most played game would be the fourth edition of the Professor Layton series. Because my two children have already left home, unfortunately nobody was kind enough to play New Super Mario Bros. Wii with me.

In the past you’ve talked about your concerns with violent content in games. I’m curious to hear your opinions on the current gaming landscape.

My thinking about the game industry has not changed so much. Even in the past I have never criticized how many people have been making violent video games. My only concern was if everybody was trying to make similar, excessively violent games, that’s not good. That’s why I was always saying that there are a number of ways to entertain people and we’ve been opting to take other ways than using excessive violence to entertain people. Once again, I have never criticized the games per se, and when I look around the current situation nothing so drastic has changed, except that not everybody is trying to take the same approach. They’re trying to make something new. One thing I have to notice is that a lot of the games are trying to focus just upon the visual and audio experiences that people are going to be able to have rather than how people can experience the game as if they are inside the game. It’s actually a good thing for people to be entertained with such performances with beautiful and dramatic graphics and sound, but to me it’s more important to be able to make people feel as if they’re within the game and they are the ones who are controlling everything out of their will. Take Mario Galaxy, for example. While I’m trying to complete the development of the game, I’m more interested in applying my energies into a game that is going to let the player think for themselves what they really want to do.

What are your thoughts on 3D televisions and displays? Do you think they’re just a gimmick?

It’s rather difficult to tell. We’re at the stage right now where it’s very difficult to tell whether 3D televisions are going to cater to our needs to make better 3D experiences. For one thing, our video games are made for as many people as possible, and the number of people who can play those types of games, who can afford to buy the 3D televisions at home, aren’t going to be very good. It is also true that certain types of three-dimensional games utilize 3D televisions might help people navigate more freely. Right now we’re at the stage where it’s very hard for us to determine whether it’s very good or bad.

One of the things that stood out from the first Mario Galaxy game was how well the camera works. With that much movement and rotation, it must have been challenging to optimize a camera that seems to move so freely in 3D space.

We think about coming up with the best camera possible whenever we make games that take place in three-dimensional game worlds, and we have come to realize that there are two main types of cameras, depending on what kind of software we are making. Specifically, one camera is trying to emphasize the atmosphere of the three-dimensional world. In other words, how people are going to see the three-dimensional world. For that need, specific camera work is needed. On the other hand, some kinds of games require specific cameras for movement, so that the people have the easiest way to play around in a three-dimensional world. The Legend of Zelda is the type of game where the camera work is needed in order for the player to see the three-dimensional world and understand when they’re playing inside of that three-dimensional world. On the other hand, Mario is the type of a game that requires the easiest play control in the three-dimensional world. So Galaxy 2 belongs to the latter half when it comes to how we should set up the camerawork. Even compared with Mario Galaxy 1, some people pointed out that the camera in 2 has better camera work. For example, people who tend to have the 3D sickness have less frequency of that sickness with Mario Galaxy 2. Basically, Mario Galaxy 2 is inheriting the same camera system of Mario Galaxy 1, but how and where to use the camerawork are going to be more tweaked and more improved. The people who have been working on the maps have a better understanding and knowhow in terms of what to do so that people are going to be able to freely explore the world.

There are fewer things more frustrating thaN falling off the edge of a platform because the camera was stuck in a wall or was positioned in the wrong place.

You’re right. That’s one part in particular that we’ve been paying much attention to. You’ll feel less frustration in Super Mario Galaxy 2 and hopefully you’ll enjoy the end result.

Nintendo has been expanding gameplay beyond simply sitting on the couch with a controller. With the Balance Board, you can adopt a healthier lifestyle and chart your progress by connecting with the console. With the Pokewalker, you can progress in Pokemon by simply walking around. What do you find particularly interesting about those expanded experiences?

That’s simply because I’ve always been interested in video games, or at least the structure of video games. There is more potential with video games, and I really want to explore more subjects. The subjects are always things that I’m interested in in my daily life. Naturally, I try to take advantage of video game systems to explore more possibilities. I always try to encourage communication through video games, particularly with home video consoles. If they are hooked to the television in the living room, they can be strong vehicles to encourage communication between all of the family members. From that perspective, I can encourage them to look at their daily lives from other perspectives through the means of video games. That may be the reason why the games that I’ve been working on lately have been beyond the traditional [scope of] video games. But the fact of the matter is that what I’m trying to do is stretch or expand the genre called video games all the time. Having said that, however, talking about the latest iteration of Mario in Super Mario Galaxy 2, I think it is actually the traditional type of video games, and we’re trying to come up with the best result in a traditional video game.

When you talk about expanding games, the Wii is in many, many households, and the DS has been a phenomenal success. Since both of those systems are just about everywhere, will we see more games from Nintendo that feature connectivity between them?

Of course, that connectivity is nothing new. It’s something we were trying to emphasize between the GameCube and the Game Boy Advance, so we’ve been trying to do that kind of connectivity between Wii and DS. We’ve been doing a lot of the research, but the fact of the matter is that we’ve yet to come up with a great idea that’s going to excite people by connecting Wii and DS. As soon as we can come up with some great proposal, we’d like to make that proposal to the world. But already we’ve started some things. For example, you’re now able to receive the trial version of DS software by connecting it to Wii when the Wii is connected online. Also, we haven’t launched Friend Connection outside of Japan yet, but if you have it as a DS game and you have the Wii you can actually transmit your Wii between the two systems. Some efforts are being made.

What are your thoughts on the popularity of social networking games, such as the games that are popping up on Facebook?

First, I have to explain that my personal view might not necessarily be identical with the corporate Nintendo view on the subject. My personal opinion is that I’ve been interested in the communication and what kind of communication is done between these new devices and media. Also, I’m interested in learning what kind of creative activities are done by other people who take advantage of these newly emerging mediums. But that’s my personal interest. As a game designer, the question is to what extent and in what format we should be interested in taking advantage of or using these kinds of mechanisms already available. By now I should say that we’re still in the experimental stage. Taking for example we already have Flipnote Studio for our DS systems and then we are collaborating with the Hatena Company Ltd. in Kyoto, Japan, so that Flipnote Studio can be utilized by their website, so that Flipnote Studio can be the vehicle to encourage people to communicate more and exchange their creativity by way of these short flip animations. In the United States we have already started a system that you can already utilize the DSi as a sort of viewer to see what kind of creations have been made by other people through the internet site of the Hatena Company. Still, we should say that we are still in an experimental stage when it comes to that kind of topic.

It seems that at Nintendo you are able to experiment and think things through before releasing software. There are a lot of games on the Wii that you can tell haven’t been designed with the same amount of care. Does that frustrate you and Nintendo? Do you wish people would take more time and take game development more seriously?

Unfortunately, I’m not in a position to talk about the other companies at all. As far as Nintendo is concerned, and I myself, my criteria in games is how I feel about it. Within my mind if I have some disagreement, some uneasiness, then that’s when I have to insist that we have to work more on that. The point in which we have room for improvement varies. For example, sometimes it’s just a matter of the final polishing up. We might need to do a little more work, and it will be perfect. If it’s something like the machine-user interface, sometimes I might not understand why creators of games or developers are making games in that fashion at all. When I cannot understand the game itself, they need to work on them. In other words, I’m trying to speak from the user’s perspective. If I do not understand something about the game that is near the completion, that kind of question must be made by the users eventually if it’s released without any further improvements. And then eventually if that kind of product is going out, that’s not going to do anything good for the company itself. So even though it’s finally going to be the company’s decision, but sometimes it does make sense for the company to give a little bit of extra time in order to improve things. That can lead to higher quality software.