GDC - Nintendo legend outlines development philosophy

Miyamoto reveals plans for a new Wii channel and more games

Nintendo legend Shigeru Miyamoto spoke to an audience at a packed convention room at San Francisco's Game Developers Conference last week.

In a keynote address that was delayed for at least a half an hour due to a shortage of seating for developers, journalists, and self-proclaimed fans alike, the entirety of the gaming world stared intently towards the stage, Nintendo's stage, awaiting news of an introduction of a feature, new footage from a game, or just any sort of exciting announcement. Pessimist insiders within the industry predicted beforehand that the event would be a little humdrum, considering that Nintendo didn't have much in the way of significant news to announce at this time. Optimists, on the other hand, were of the belief that the keynote would contain a few bombshells. Unfortunately for the optimists, the pessimists were right.

A few key issues were addressed, however. Miyamoto stated that the company is currently developing a new Wii channel that would allow users to enter their Miis in contests. Towards the end of the presentation, he also announced that Super Mario Galaxy for the Wii is planned for release sometime within the 2007 calendar year. But apart from these snippets, not much else was revealed. Still, one thing was made clear, as it has been made clear many times in the past: Miyamoto certainly knows how to put on a show.

His speech had a few essential points, given as advice to the aspiring game developer. The first point was the idea which has become Nintendo's mantra ever since the announcement of the Nintendo DS: the creation of games for a broader audience. It has been his interest throughout much of his career to make games with an appeal so broad that even his wife, a strict non-gamer, would develop a genuine interest in them. Although he experienced a minor victory when he assured her that there were no enemies to fight in Animal Crossing, true success came with Nintendogs, followed closely by Brain Age. And with the release of the Wii, she fancies herself to be a "true" gamer now, having made Mii avatars for the entire extended family and even all of their neighbors.

The second point Miyamoto emphasized was the importance of balance and teamwork. Using the design of the Wii controller as an example, he illustrated that Nintendo went through a number of prototypes before finally resting on the idea of a remote control, but he states that the final design only came through a group collaboration on the part of many of Nintendo's design teams.

Which brought him to the topic of the importance of taking risks. When confronted by producers about the number of functionalities that would be lost in the development of such a radically different controller, Miyamoto instead stressed about the amount of functions that would be gained. He claims that he's always willing to take a chance in the development of a game because what ultimately motivates him is the potential smiles on the faces of those who will play his games. Miyamoto is of the opinion that, if he stays true to himself and believes that the risks he takes will result in more happiness for gamers, then he feels that those are acceptable risks.

One other important trait in a developer, he claims, is tenacity. Ever since the Famicom (NES) generation, Miyamoto had his heart set on producing a visual face-making program, but the corporate heads failed to see how a marketable game could be created from it. Even after failed attempts to revive the idea for the N64's disk drive and the GameCube, he never gave up trying. He eventually discovered, however, that another Nintendo development team had been working on a similar project for the DS only recently, so he jumped at the chance to work with them for a few months. However, in the process, he berated himself and his team for failing in what others had successfully accomplished.

Following this point, Miyamoto then made the only two announcements in the presentation: that of the new Wii channel devoted to Mii contests and Super Mario Galaxy's 2007 release. In the case of Galaxy, he made mention of the fact that numerous gamers have approached him, asking whatever happened to Super Mario 128. His usual response is that, what originally started off as Super Mario 128 became the framework for what eventually became Pikmin. So, mystery solved. With that having been said, he took his leave, sparking a standing ovation.

So that, in a nutshell, was pretty much it. In Nintendo's defense, however, critics must keep in mind that this is the Game Developers Conference, and not a trade show. But as some have pointed out previously, with E3's shrinkage this year, GDC will have to shoulder some of the burden eventually.

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Eugene Huang

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