Miyamoto Talks Zelda, Pikmin, and Wii U Development

by Matt Helgeson on Jul 05, 2013 at 08:00 AM

Nintendo's Shigeru Miyamoto is the most famous and acclaimed game developer in history. By now, you know his resume, which includes creating such storied franchises and Super Mario Bros. and The Legend of Zelda. At E3, we had a chance to talk to Mr. Miyamoto about Wii U development, the Mario and Zelda franchises, and Pikmin 3.

I know that your role within Nintendo has changed in recent years. I was curious, what's your day-to-day role with Nintendo?

Shigeru Miyamoto: So I guess the only real change is that I'm probably working fewer hours. But that's just because I used to work a lot of hours before. I still oversee a number of different projects. The two projects that I'm most equally involved in right now are Pikmin 3 and The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds on Nintendo 3DS. But in addition to working directly and deeply on those two games, I'm also overseeing several of the other projects we're working on.

You have a new hardware system; how has the adjustment period for your teams dealing with new technology been? Do you feel that there's still a lot more, in terms of horsepower, that you can get out of the unit as you learn more about the system and its architecture and technological capabilities?

Of course, any time that we shift from one generation to another there are things for people to learn in terms of development and when it comes to developing the software itself. But when it comes to the hardware at Nintendo, we're a little bit unique because we're developing a new hardware system, we're doing that in conjunction with the software teams and there's communication going on about what types of games the software development teams want to create. So the hardware development and software development early on go pretty hand in hand. But certainly, as you spend more time with the hardware itself, and you get better at leveraging the hardware, you learn ways to draw out more of its power. So certainly I think that there's still more possibilities in terms of what we'll be able to do with the Wii U.

So far, what's been the experience with your engineers and programmers? Have they found that the Wii U is, in comparison to past systems, easier to develop for or more challenging to develop for?

I don't think it's a difficult system to develop for. Certainly, because it's Nintendo's first HD system and we're using a lot of shaders and things like that there's certainly things to learn from that perspective. Overall, in comparison to previous hardware I think it's actually pretty easy to develop for.

A lot of Nintendo's new Wii U games don't seem to use the touch screen in a very integral way. With Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze, they encourage you to play with the remote and nunchuk and Pikmin 3 is actually better with the original Wii controllers. they actually had me play with the Wii remote and nunchuk. Do you have games in development that use the touch screen as a more important part of the game or is it just a side feature?

Well certainly I think that when it comes to touchscreens- and obviously not just gaming but a lot of other devices, are taking advantage of touch screen technology- and from an intuitive use standpoint, I think it's very integral to video gaming just because of the ease with which you're able to design the games in a way that anybody can play with just the touch of a finger in terms of menu selections and things like that. But, really for Wii U where we look at the benefit of the gamepad screen, is we really look at it as sort of a requirement in terms of how we're handling menus and sub-screens within the games. Just to make the games more convenient and easier to play.

Wind Waker HD looks very good. Why was that a game you felt you wanted to back and re-address and remaster?

It was actually the idea of Eiji Aunoma, the producer, to do this. But really what it stemmed from was that when we brought the cartoon shading of the original Wind Waker over and were testing it on Wii U to take a look at it, we really felt that, visually, it brought the game to life in ways that just weren't there on the GameCube - particularly with the way that you see the air and the wind in the game as you play with that. It really sort of breathed new life into the project and we wanted to show that to the viewers.

Could you talk about some of the other changes and gameplay additions or things that you've done for Wind Waker just beyond the graphics?

Well we've actually made a number of different improvements. I think the previous game, the length and the player pacing of it was something we thought we could improve on. For example, this time we've added an additional sail, that allows the boat to travel faster this time than it did in the original GameCube game. And when you're dropping your crane down in the ocean to hunt for sunken treasure, the length of the chain on the crane is shorter so you spend less time on that. So it basically helps to speed up the gameplay a little bit. So the pacing has really been improved upon.

What's the status of the Metroid franchise? Are there any Metroid games in development? Whether it's 3D or two dimensional?

We don't have anything that we're working on that we can discuss probably. But we've always- just as we do with all of our franchises- have people who are looking at what they can do next, even with the Metroid franchise as well. So hopefully, at some point, we'll be able to announce it.

This may be the same answer, but I need to ask. Some people are wondering will we see a new Zelda - a new 3D Zelda for Wii U. Is there any new Zelda news?

We're also working on a new Wii U Zelda game. That's coming along; work on that is progressing fairly concretely. In fact, we were thinking of showing it here at E3 but decided to wait just a little bit longer before showing it to everyone.

Let's talk about Pikmin 3. It had been gone for a while. When you re-examined the project, what were some of your goals in bringing Pikmin to a new generation and the more powerful Wii U?

When it comes to Pikmin, first and foremost we just felt that the things we were trying to achieve in the original Pikmin we weren't able to fully accomplish on GameCube. So with Wii U, we finally feel like we have the power to be able to do that. The other thing about Pikmin is, it is sort of an action game. And whenever we create action style games we always have a real struggle. How do you design that in a way that people who are veterans of these types of games and people who are new to these types of games both feel satisfied with how the game begins? How we go through the tutorial and teach you how to play? And that's the scenario where, we think in Pikmin 3, we did a good job of both allowing newcomers to learn the game while simultaneously giving the veterans the capability to really dive in and do what they want to do from a very early stage.

So the thing about Pikmin is that the style of play is actually sort of like cooking. If you think of cooking, cooking is a process and in that process you're simultaneously doing different things. You're working on this set of ingredients while you're cooking that and then over here you've gotta start preparing the next thing. So it's a matter of managing these different processes together. The gameplay in Pikmin is very much like that. And what's interesting is that that style of play isn't something that's actually necessary challenging from a difficulty level standpoint. But it's managing it all sort of takes time to learn how to do that. And what's interesting particularly about that is the way that the more that you play the game and understand those processes and how it all works. You can actually speed up that time very quickly. The longer you play, the better you get and the more that you feel like you've grown in this process of playing Pikmin.

It sounds like one of your big goals was to do some structural things with the game to ease frustrations that some players may have and make the progression in the game a more smooth process.

One thing that we wanted to do with the original Pikmin was try to build in that replayability to it. But what we found was that, once people got to the end of the 30-day time limit in that game, they didn't really go back and play it again they were done with it at that point. So something we've done this time is really try to focus on how can we design the game in a way that really invites replayability so people can really immerse themselves in the game and play it over and over again. And we've done that both in terms of some of the modes we talked about this morning but also in terms of designing the story mode in a way that people would want to come back and play that later, even after they've finished it. Additionally we wanted to design it in a way that by playing longer and longer, you do get to understand the depth of the game and why that's fun and that that as well will kind of help you wanna keep coming back and playing as well.

For fans that have played a lot of Pikmin 1 and Pikmin 2, talk about  some of the new gameplay features with the Pikmin and their abilities; some of the more hardcore gameplay for the real fans of the game.

One of the things that's probably most important from that standpoint is the fact that because you're using the pointer now to aim, it gives you the ability to be more precise and aim at specific parts of the enemies' bodies. So, for example, when you're fighting a Bulborb, if you throw Pikmin specifically on its eyes, what happens is it will close its eyes and it will stop moving for a moment. That gives you an advantage. So you're able to aim at specific body parts so you have some enemies who maybe it's the eyes that are beneficial to attack and others, maybe it's better to attack softer portions or towards the rear. And then the other thing along those same lines, with the rock Pikmin in particular, with them they do a larger amount of damage with specific points they hit. Which you weren't able to do in previous Pikmin games. And so, by carefully aiming with the rock Pikmin at specific points on the enemy's body, you can damage the enemy in that way. Because you've got much more precision in terms of your aiming in the battles it essentially just opens up a lot more strategic possibilities in the game.

And then, of course, [there is] the addition of the wing Pikmin, the wing Pikmin are very adept creatures that fly in the air, but also they're able to pick up objects and carry them through the air over obstacles. The addition of these new abilities opens up a great deal of strategy, so a lot of the gameplay then becomes you really thinking deeply about, "Ok, how many different Pikmin do I want to bring with me of each type?" when you're breaking up your teams.

Could you talk a little bit about 2-player co-op?

The multiplayer is local only. We wanted to make it online, but partly, one of the reasons we didn't is we really wanted to use the full CPU power to really create this natural world. But also, the other thing that is important about the cooperative play in this game is that it's important for the players to really be able to communicate. So that's why local play is much better, because of the speed and the patience in which you're communicating about going after the apple or the other different items, and trying to approach the level in that sense.

Obviously the game is compatible with widescreen televisions. Breaking down having split screen multiplayer in full HD on larger widescreen televisions is much better than the old split-screen that we used to have.

The game seems to be designed to mostly use the Wii Remote and nunchuk. Is it playable with the GamePad?

As I mentioned before, with the added strategic elements with the aiming from the Wii Remote pointer, that's the control style that we recommend the most. But also, because the map is so important in this game, while you're playing with the pointer you'll want to have access to the map and be able to use the touchscreen. We designed it with those two interactions initially in mind. But then, also, because of the touchscreen interaction with the map, we also thought there may be cases where people would prefer just to play on the GamePad and have button control with the map interaction. So you can do that, where you're playing on the TV, you have the GamePad in your hands, you're playing with button control. But there's also people who maybe just want to sit back, so we've also got Wii Remote controller support for people who want to play that way.

And when you're playing with the button control, it's fairly close to the Nintendo GameCube control style. So as people perhaps get better, they may graduate from the Wii Remote and Nunchuck to just the GamePad. And, of course, you can also play only on the GamePad off TV, where you have the TV turned off or turned on something else, and you're just switching back and forth between the gameplay and the map.

Would you lose a little precision if you play with the GamePad compared to the nunchuk or remote?

It's true that playing with the Wii Remote pointer is a little bit more precise and easier to aim than playing with the second control stick.

The original Pikmin was designed in a way to make it very easy to navigate in a 3D space. If you recall, in that game when you had the control stick control, you were controlling essentially both the cursor for aiming as well as the character. With the addition now of the analog stick on the nunchuk plus the ability to aim with the pointer, what that does is it basically makes it so that you can be running away from something but still aiming and pointing and throwing Pikmin at it, which is going to be very handy for boss battles and things like that. So, certainly, the Wii Remote and nunchuk style is something that's probably going to be a little bit better for people who are more novice players, but maybe more advanced players might go for just the button controls.

Can we touch on Mario briefly? Super Mario 3D World is a successor to 3D Land. What was it about 3D Land that was a good model for Wii U now?

I think there may an impression that Mario 3D Land did well, so that's why we decided to bring that to Wii U. But, in fact, what we really try to do is look at, "What is the easiest way for people to play the Mario games?" And certainly we have the new Super Mario Bros. series, which is the new sidescrolling games, and those are particularly easy to play for people who are more novice gamers. You've got four-player multiplayer. And then we have games like the Galaxy series.

What we tried to do with Super Mario 3D Land, was try to create a Mario game that was set in a 3D world that fell somewhere between the openness of the Galaxy games and the sidescrolling of the new Super Mario Bros. games to create a 3D Mario game that a wider array of people could play. And we felt that, with Super Mario 3D Land, we managed to achieve that. So, what we wanted to do was extend that broader appealing 3D Mario game to Wii U in a way that allow more people to experience it. That's what we chose for Super Mario 3D World this time. But we still have, obviously, the Galaxy series, and there's a possibility that in the future we may look to explore what else we can do with the Galaxy series. For us, it was really about trying to find the right 3D Mario space in which we're going to allow the widest audience to play.

It seems to place an emphasis on pipes. Was that intentional?

Well, of course, I worked on the original Mario games with my team, but [Yoshiaki] Koizumi and [Koichi] Hayashida were the producer and director of this game, and they started working on Mario games later. Apparently, they had always wondered what happens to Mario when he's gone inside those green pipes from before. And so, wondering that, they came up with the idea of, "Why don't create a clear pipe where we can see what Mario is doing, and then create this fun gameplay around that?" When they brought that and showed it to me, I actually thought it was pretty fun, so I approved that and let them move forward.

What's really fun is, when you have the fire flower, you can actually throw fireballs into the pipes, and they go bouncing through the pipes and shooting out at the other end.

The New Super Mario Bros. series emphasizes multiplayer and the new Mario 3D World on Wii U emphasizes multiplayer. Do you see multiplayer being a core part of the Mario franchise moving forward, or would you still consider doing a Mario game that was single-player only?

Before there was the Super Mario Bros. series, there was just the Mario Bros. game, and that was a 2-player multiplayer game. So, even from those very early days, we always wanted to include some type of multiplayer. When the new Super Mario Bros. team on Wii was able to do that and include the four-player multiplayer in the side-scrolling fashion, we very quickly found that our team really liked that, and they immediately said, "Well, we want to do the same thing in a 3D Mario space." They've had a lot of fun exploring that. But definitely with the single-player Mario experience, there's still a lot of possibilities that we can explore, so I think we'll probably go back to that again at some point.

This is more of an industry question. Nintendo pioneered touchscreen gaming on the DS. I'm curious what your opinion is about other mobile games. Do you ever check out phone games or tablet games?

Every once in awhile I'll try out an Android game, but not just because I want to go check it out, just to relax. What I think is an honor for me, is the fact that you've noticed that touchscreen gaming has become so widely accepted, and also simultaneously noticed that Nintendo was one of the earliest ones to introduce, so I'm very happy that you noticed that.

The one thing that we don't do is take a posture of requiring people to develop their games in particular ways. For example, with regard to touchscreen gaming, we think it's great if people want to design their games for our systems in ways that take advantage of the touch screen, but we're not going to require it. We don't think necessarily that developers should be required to have something unique that leverages the 3D visuals in their gameplay.

And also, even with regard to something like the GamePad, we really look at it more in terms of providing a consistent environment for the game developers so that it's easy for them to take advantage of the creation tools that are available to them, knowing that whoever buys the software is going to have access to all these different features. So rather than taking a posture of, we definitely want to push one particular direction, instead what we say is, "These are the tools that are available for you to choose from, and we hope that you'll design your games in a way that is as broadly appealing as possible.

The game's that you're showing today - Pikmin, Mario Kart, the Zelda games, Mario 3D World - they're all definitely part of your core franchises that have always carried Nintendo forward. Internally, do you guys feel the need or have the desire to create new franchises and new characters to add to that stable of the Marios, Links, and Donkey Kongs?

Certainly within Nintendo, we have people internally who are saying, "Well, we have our old characters from our old games, and that's old IP, and we should think about creating new IP." But the question that we always ask is: "Does a new character really make it a new game?" And to me, the answer to that is, "No." What makes it a new game is new gameplay and new interactions. So when we're creating a game, we're always looking at it from, "What is the gameplay, and how are making that gameplay new?" And then, "Who is the character that is best suited to that gameplay?"

By taking this approach, for us, we feel like even when we're creating new installments in existing series, we're creating new experiences, because the gameplay that's in there is something that's entirely new. And in some cases, we may even end up creating new characters. Pikmin was an example of how we ended up creating new IP, because we created this new style of gameplay, and it really needed a new character in order to have that gameplay work, and that was the approach we took. We created the gameplay mechanic first, and then created the characters afterwards.

What we always stress, when we're working with our development teams is, "Focus first on creating fun and new gameplay, and then we'll figure out what the character is or what the IP is that's going to go with it." In the future, we may see that that will bring us some new characters and new IP, but what's important to me is that, even with the existing IP that we're releasing games for, they're all new gameplay experiences.