The Legend of Miyamoto

This interview is a reprint from Volume 111 of Nintendo Power, published in August 1998.

Nintendo Power invites you to pull up a chair and listen in on an exclusive converation with Nintendo’s master of game development, Shigeru Miyamoto.

Nintendo Power spent several hours at E3 talking to Shigeru Miyamoto and members of Nintendo’s EAD development group. Miyamoto hardly needs an introduction to readers of Power. His status as the best video game designer in the world has become virtually a legend within the industry. As the producer and guiding spirit of The Legend of Zelda: The Ocarina of Time, his insight into this upcoming game and other gaming topics are of particular interest as we await the release of Zelda this fall.

Power: Congratulations on being chosen as the first member of the Academy of Interactive Arts & Sciences Hall of Fame.  How does it feel?

Miyamoto: It’s an honor to be the first. I also think the awards are good for the industry.

Power: What’s the secret to a great game?

Miyamoto: I think it has to do with balance. My formula for success is that 70% of the game should have to do with objectives and the rest should be secrets and exploration – things such as burning trees to find a hidden dungeon entrance like in the first Zelda game.

Power: What is the biggest difference between developing Zelda and Mario 64?

Miyamoto: I was director for the development of Mario 64, but I’m the producer this time. There are four different directors for Zelda. [Toru Osawa, Yoshiaki Koizumi, Yoichi Yamada, and Onozuka.] I have to listen to the opinions and ideas of each of them. It’s a touch job coordinating all of their efforts, and I have my own ideas, too. I suppose it’s just as tough for them (laughing).

Power: How big is Zelda? Or how long will it take for a player to finish?

Miyamoto: That’s hard to say since not everything has been combined. It’s at least as big as A Link to the Past, and there’s more freedom to roam about the overworld. I think it will take at least 40 hours to complete.

Power: Will there be a lot of 3-D cinema scenes in Zelda?

Miyamoto: Perhaps more than 40 minutes worth of scenes. I think it’s important to have cinema scenes in order to keep people actively involved in the game.

Power: Who’s in charge of creating the story?

Miyamoto: There’s one scenario writer. He wrote drafts and I made comments and changes.

Power: What’s the greatest technical challenge of this game?

Miyamoto: I think the challenge is to create visual expressiveness using lighting and textures – for instance, the smooth skin of the horse and the realistic movements of Link’s hood. How much realistic expression we can make is the biggest challenge for me. But I would like to see less emphasis on the technical aspects. I’m hoping to make a “minature world” where people can play, the same idea as in Mario 64 but more realistic. Meeting a variety of characters is more important than the story line. And action is very important, things like simplifying the button controls for complex actions. In Zelda, players will be able to customize their (C Button) controls and use weapons and items on whatever button they choose.

Power: Is Link able to go back and forth through time?

Miyamoto: yes, he can and he must.

Power: How about magic?

Miyamoto: The magic system is one of the few things that isn’t finished yet. You’ll be able to apply different types of magic to weapons on the item screen. If you apply fire magic to the bow, you can use a fire bow. That’s the basic magic system. I’d also like to talk a bit more about a technical issue. I think the use of real time cinema scens is something we really haven’t seen much of before.

Giles: FMCG

Power: What’s that stand for?

Giles: Full Motion Computer Graphics. I named it.

Miyamoto: We used motion capture technology for the FMCG to capture more realistic movements such as Link mounting his horse. We had to make a mock horse in our studio.

Power: So you had to creat a motion capture studio?

Miyamoto: Yes. Actually, we rebuilt and expanded it several times. Did you see the treasure box in the demo game? We also motion captured the box opening sequence using a real treasure box.

Power: Who performed as Link?

Miyamoto: It was a professional actor, although not a famous one. We also hired a professional stunt men to capture Link’s sword fighting. There is a famous Universal-Studio-type amusement facility in Kyoto called Eiga Mura. [Movie Village.] We hired a professional Samurai sword stunt actor from there.

Power: The horse action looks great.

Miyamoto: Thanks, but we still have more work to do on the details.

Power: What is the role of “Voice” in this game, and will Link speak?

Miyamoto: Basically, I think enviromental sound is the most important. For example, we need some sound effect indicating when Link was surprised, like in a movie. I place our highest priority on that type of use of sound. As for Link, he doesn’t speak.

Power: In the show demo, we heard Link yell when he fell a long way.

Miyamoto: Yes, that’s the type of sound effect we want to use.

Power: How about facial expressions?

Miyamoto: We have several types of expression: Link showing surprise, blinking his eyes, that sort of thing.

Power: What is your favorite thing in this game?

Miyamoto: What I’d like to do is to create a totally realistic atmosphere. For example, if you went to a dungeon, you could almost smell it (laughing.) Or even within the same body of water, you could see differences between cold water and hot water. That would be my dream (laughing). With the N64 I’ve tried to do that kind of thing.

Tezuka: I like the play control of this game. We tried to come up with a system for 3-D action and simple play control. I hope it becomes a standard for 3-D action games.

Power: The attention mode using the Z Button is one of those things? We felt it was very impressive.

Miyamoto: Yes, we spent a long time on it even after we came up with the basic idea. It took a lot of fine-tuning in order to find the easiest control for players.

Power: How many people are working on Zelda now?

Miyamoto: Forty of fifty. It’s the biggest development group I’ve ever had. We also have a programming company working closely with us. If I include those people, maybe 120 people are working on Zelda altogether.

Power: Here’s a question for Giles. Who is your favorite character in 1080(degrees)?

Giles: The Panda!

Power: Are you working on a sequel?

Giles: I’ve been discussing that with Mr. Miyamoto. I’d like to make another game with a similar style but with some differences. It should be easier this time around since we built some great tools for making small adjustments to the physics of the control. We’ll use the same engine in the sequel. The production system that Mr. Miyamoto and I designed worked very smoothly too, so the whole development of 1080(degrees) was much faster than anyone expected.

Power: Will we see anything on a sequel this year?

Miyamoto: If we have a show this fall, perhaps we can show a little bit, but it might only be a video. It might be a problem to have a sequel ready for the next snowboarding season this fall, which is when we’d like to release a new game.

Power: Mr. Konno, are there any plans to make a Mario Kart 64 sequel?

Konno: Maybe when we introduce a new piece of hardware.

Miyamoto: He’s just upset that he didn’t win the award for best racing game (laughing).

Konno: No. (Big laugh.)

Power: Let’s get back to Zelda. You said the game’s “System” is more important than its “Story” when you develope a game. Is that true for Zelda this time?

Miyamoto: Yes, but since I have an excellent staff that is stron in every area, I think you’ll find that the story-telling is a real strength in this game.

Power: But the “System” is still the most important part of the game?

Miyamoto: Yes. I don’t think that a story alone can make a game exciting. I’m afraid that people think that I ignore story lines or that I don’t feel that the story has any value. My first priority is whether the game play is interesting. What I mean by that is that a player is actively involved in the game. The story is just one of the ways to get players interested, like the enemies or puzzles. If you just want a good story, you should pick up a novel or see a movie. The difference is in the participation. In a game, you might meet a character, but you don’t find out his story until later, after you do something that reveals the truth about him. It’s all up to the player. You only get that sort of experience with the interactive entertainment. Of course, the scenario, characters and graphics are all important, but its this active attitude that is the most important element.

Power: Will this Zelda be the end of the saga?

Miyamoto: No. Not at all. The action system of this Zelda is completely different from previous games. To me, Zelda games are a always about the concept of the system rather than about a particular story.

Power: So how did planning of this Zelda begin? What was the “System” that you had in mind?

Tezuka: In the beginning of the development process, we were thinking about several different approaches. One was a system similar to that used in GoldenEye. It was more of a 3-D shooting style system.

Miyamoto: We also had an idea for a style similar to Mario 64. We combined ideas from both system, but in the end the Mario elements became the major part of the game. Perhaps we could have created a whole new system if we chose the GoldenEye style, but we went in a direction that the entire team agreed upon. What was important was creating the sense of the player being Link.

Tezuka: I think we can produrce a completely new type of Zelda game in the future.

Miyamoto: Yes. We’ve already talked about a network Zelda as an interesting idea. The assistance of other players in the network could motivate a player’s active participation instead of the traps or secrets that I create.

Power: So what is your next game going to be be?

Miyamoto: I’m working on a new project right now where I’d like to spend most of my time. But I’m also responsible for several titles including Mario Artist and Mario RPG. This new project is very interesting. The development time should be only about six months, and it doesn’t require a big team. The game itself could keep players busy for more than a year. This is an ideal scenario, but if our idea works, it will be a reality.

Power: When will we see something of this new game?

Miyamoto: There’s still the possibility that it won’t be a game. I’m challenging Giles to develop the basic ideas. It will be a completely new way to enjoy the N64 system. The N64 is a great machine that can be used to do things that no one has even thought up yet.