Thursday, December 16, 2004

Mr Miyamoto's Smile [10th December Issue]

Article by Hirokazu Hamamura. He writes a column every week in Famitsu; this is No. 147. It is not noted when the article was written, but since it was published shortly after the DS was released, it can be assumed to have been written within the past month or so. There are references to preorders but not sales figures, and some "revelations" that are fairly well known by now, such as the instant sleep mode. It's a good read nonetheless.

I went to Nintendo to meet with Shigeru Miyamoto. He seemed to be in high spirits, and his smiling face left a lasting impression on me.

The Nintendo DS is doing very well. Nintendo first planned to sell one million units by the end of the year, in a period of about a month. But preorders for the machine have reached two million units already! That's a great start for a new console. But Mr Miyamoto wasn't smiling because of numbers like these. Rather, as a creator, he was experiencing the joy of knowing that a new idea of his has been realised.

"Most games these days get six or eight out of ten, don't they?", Mr Miyamoto says, lamenting the state of the industry. This is the so-called typical score. Games that are fully formed and well made, with few bad points, but nothing that stands out either. Players try them, play them for a while, but are soon finished with them.

There weren't many games like this in the heyday of the Famicom [NES] and Super Famicom [SNES]. At one time there was a wide range of quality in games, from three points up to ten out of ten. There were badly made games that would result in angry comments like "This isn't even finished!", and there were superb games that surprised you and made you feel like your eyes had been opened to something new. Good and bad alike, most games had lots of ideas and surprises.

"I want to make games that surprise you from the moment you touch them." Mr Miyamoto's eyes light up as he says this.

The DS puts a new face on game control. By choosing to dispose of the "D-Pad/A/B" gaming language that it made, Nintendo is trying to create a new gaming world. Dual screens, touch panel, voice control, wireless communication: with these, Nintendo aims to return both developers' ideas and gamers' skills to zero. By resetting everything, a new landscape unfolds before us. Hearing this, Mr Miyamoto says that he feels as if he can see innumerable blank canvases spread in front of him. What kind of masterpieces will he draw on them? This itself is a worry to him.

"With every console until now, players had their own predictions of the way things would be, and our job was mostly to meet their expectations," says Mr Miyamoto. "But now we have many things they couldn't have possibly predicted in store, and when I think about which one to make first, I get a big grin on my face!"

Band Brothers [Jam With The Band]. Nintendogs. Pictochat. We have already seen some of the games from Mr Miyamoto's new "store", but his creations don't stop with games. For example, the strap attached to the DS is a Miyamoto creation.

On first glance, it appears to be an ordinary carrying strap, but look closer and there's a rounded piece of plastic on the end. Slip your thumb into the loop and the plastic is held tightly against it. "This is actually a stylus," Mr Miyamoto explains. Touching the screen, I was able to control the action very smoothly. It's less hassle than taking out the pen stylus, and the screen doesn't get dirty [like when you use a finger].

"Handy, isn't it? It's another of my inventions." You make this kind of thing by yourself?

"Ah, there's something else I'd like you to see before you go," Miyamoto says, producing a unit running Super Mario 64 DS. Yes, I know about this game already. "Try closing the lid on the DS." What? You don't want me to play it?

I close the lid and straight away a voice says "Bye bye!". It's Mario. Open it again and he says "It's-a me, Mario!". Wow! What is this?

"When you close the lid, it automatically goes into sleep mode. Leave it like that and the battery lasts for two whole weeks." Hey, that's amazing! "There's something more amazing," he replies.

"It's called 'pass-by communication'. If you're walking down the street and you pass by someone else with a DS [in sleep mode], the two machines communicate with each other. The data in the game you're playing changes, and fun things happen." Wow! I had no idea this was possible!

"Ah, but there's something even better. You see, …"

My conversation with Mr Miyamoto, who seems to be enjoying himself, goes on like this for quite some time.

Nintendo's Famicom brought video games into the world. What spread games across the globe and created a now huge industry, was Mario, and other Miyamoto games since then. You could say that Shigeru Miyamoto is the father of games. In fact, it wouldn't be an over-statement to say that he is the God of Games. We haven't yet grasped what kind of new pleasures await us in this new world he has created from scratch.

You see, the God of Games is happy. And the Earth that is created from that happiness will surely be a world filled with wonder and joy.


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