Get to Know Shigeru Miyamoto

The legendary video game designer talks to TFK Kid Reporter Yusuf Halabi

Mar 19, 2013 | By TFK Kid Reporter Yusuf Halabi
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TFK Kid Reporter Yusuf Halabi meets with legendary video game creator Shigeru Miyamoto at Nintendo of America's New York City offices.

Shigeru Miyamoto is the artist and designer behind video game titles including  Donkey Kong, Super Mario Brothers and Legend of Zelda.  Miyamoto has been creating video games for more than 30 years. He was recently in New York City to help launch “The Year of Luigi,” which includes the release of Luigi-themed games like Luigi’s Mansion: Dark Moon for Nintendo 3DS, available March 24.

Miyamoto grew up and works in Kyoto, Japan, at Nintendo’s headquarters, but he has always been a big fan of American culture. TFK Kid Reporter Yusuf Halabi interviewed Miyamoto, with the help of a translator, at Nintendo of America’s offices in New York City. Read on to find out how he got involved with video game design and to get more information about the new games featuring Mario’s timid brother, Luigi.

TFK:

What inspired you to become a video game engineer?

MIYAMOTO:

Actually, I am not an engineer. I started off as an artist drawing with brushes and things like that. When I was younger, I used to draw comics. I wasn’t very suited to working in digital media so I went to school and studied industrial design. After I went to school, I was able to join Nintendo and was hoping to help create fun and interesting toys. Shortly after I joined [Nintendo] video games started to become popular. I helped out with the video games by drawing the artwork and characters of the games. I quickly realized that drawing for video games was a lot like creating comics and toys. Even though I wasn’t initially interested in digital art, I decided to study and learn more about it so that I could create things in video games.  I started talking to the technical people and engineers at Nintendo and they were very excited to teach an artist like me how video games are created.

Shigeru Miyamoto draws Mario while Kid Reporter Yusuf Halabi looks on.
DON HEINY FOR TIME FOR KIDS
Kid Reporter Yusuf Halabi watches Shigeru Miyamoto draw Mario.

TFK:

What was the inspiration behind the first Super Mario Bros. game? 

MIYAMOTO:

Before the original Super Mario Bros., I had created games called Donkey Kong and Excitebike. After we created Donkey Kong where Mario was very small, we wanted to create a game with a bigger character that you could move around. The problem was that if you had a bigger character, there was less space to move around. In Excitebike, the screen scrolled so that there was more room to play. We used this screen scrolling technology to create a bigger Mario and allowing him more room to move. So we made Mario bigger and had him running across the screen, which turned out to be fun.  However, we made Mario smaller so that the space in the game seemed bigger.  We enjoyed the big and small Mario so we thought it would be more fun if Mario could change sizes during the game and that is when we introduced the super mushroom to allow Mario to change size. That is how Mario became Super Mario. 

TFK:

How did you come up with the idea of Mario and Luigi as brothers?

MIYAMOTO:

Before we made Super Mario Bros., we made a game that was just called Mario Brothers. In that game there were two characters that would knock over turtles that were dropping down from pipes and kick them off. The two characters would play at the same time. The problem was that when we were making that game, the amount of memory available in the computers at that time was very small. Even though we wanted to make two different players, there wasn’t enough memory in the computer to make two different characters. We had to use the same character design for each player. Also, there was a limit to the number of colors you could use in video games so we couldn’t add a new color to make a new character. We had to use colors that we were already using in the game. So, we took the green color from the turtle shells and applied that color to the same character design of Mario. We spoke to our colleagues in America and wanted help finding a name for the second character. They said that if you want Italian brothers and the first brother is called Mario, you should call the other brother Luigi. We noticed that ruiji, which means "similar" in the Japanese language, was very close to Luigi, so it became a joke in Japan that Mario is similar to Luigi. 

TFK:

How is Luigi different from Mario?

MIYAMOTO:

As I mentioned previously, Mario and Luigi were essentially the same character. Since they were brothers (and I have a brother and we have different personalities) we thought that they should have different personalities  So we made a game called Super Mario Brothers 2 where you could play both characters. We wanted Luigi to jump differently than Mario so we designed a higher and more “floatier” jump for Luigi. We also made Luigi a little taller and skinnier than Mario but we didn’t make Luigi as brave and bold as Mario.  In Luigi’s Mansion: Dark Moon you’ll notice that Luigi acts afraid when he is exploring the mansion for ghosts. 

TFK:

If you could be one of your characters, which would you choose?

MIYAMOTO:

I would choose Super Mario.

TFK:

Which character are you most proud of creating?

MIYAMOTO:

Donkey Kong was the first game I ever made. At the time I created that game, there weren’t video game designers like me. Video games were created by engineers and programmers. I was having a lot of fun creating video games so I spent a lot of time and energy making sure I did a good job so that I could continue making other video games. If the first game didn’t sell well, I probably wouldn’t get to make any more games. Since I put so much time and energy creating the game and character of Donkey Kong, that is the character I have the fondest memories of creating. 

TFK:

What was your favorite game to work on?

MIYAMOTO:

I’ve enjoyed making every game that I was a part of. When we started creating the hardware and games for the Nintendo 64, we were transitioning from 2D games to 3D worlds. This was the first time people were using 3D technology in an interactive way. There was nobody to tell us how to create these types of 3D games.  We were essentially creating our own rules of how 3D games should be designed. It was very exciting and fun for us. These rules and designs lead to many patents. While others may have found it difficult and challenging with the new technology and game designs, I had fun. 

TFK:

Do you help create any music for your games? 

MIYAMOTO:

When we were creating the original Donkey Kong game, I wrote out original sheet music and gave it to the programmer and asked them to put that music into the game. That was the last time I made music for a game. With the other games, I ask the musicians to provide me the music they are working on and I make a lot of requests about what I want them to change or what type of music I want them to create.  

TFK:

Why is 2013 “The Year of Luigi?”

MIYAMOTO:

This is the 30th anniversary from the release ofthe first Mario Bros. game. Also, by coincidence, we have a number of people at Nintendo who are Luigi fans and have been working on Luigi games. By chance, all of those games they were working on happen to be coming out this year. So we decided to make this year a “festival” celebrating the Luigi character and games. 

COURTESY NINTENDO OF AMERICA

TFK:

What is Luigi’s Mansion: Dark Moon based on?

MIYAMOTO:

For the Year of Luigi festival, we wanted to start off with something big. That is why we are going to start with Luigi’s Mansion: Dark Moon. We also have Mario and Luigi Super Team and a Mario golf game that also features Luigi. We also wanted to end the year in a big way and will be releasing Super Mario Bros. U, which will feature all new levels and the ability to play with the Luigi character. 

TFK:

Are any other characters going to star in future years?

MIYAMOTO:

We are going to have to think what we are going to do in future years.  Pikmin has been around for a little more than 10 years but maybe 10 years isn’t enough time to have a “Year of Pikmin,” so we’ll have to think about when we can do that. I’ll be 71 years old for the 20th year anniversary. 

TFK:

What is your favorite Legend of Zelda game and why?

MIYAMOTO:

My favorite is the original. However, when Nintendo 64 came out, I enjoyed working on Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time, because, as I mentioned before, we were redefining how video games were created and played. 

TFK:

Nintendo’s main headquarters are in Japan, where you work. What are some ways Japanese culture has influenced popular Nintendo games?

MIYAMOTO:

I don’t think of myself as being very Japanese. Ever since I was a kid I’ve always liked America and American culture. I’m a big fan of bluegrass music. What’s also interesting is that Nintendo’s headquarters is located in Kyoto. People typically focus on Japan’s capital city of Tokyo but the people of Kyoto don’t focus much on Tokyo. The people of Kyoto love their city and are somewhat more individualistic. That is probably why the games we created have a more universal appeal. 

TFK:

What would you say to children who are interested in video game design?

MIYAMOTO:

Today, a single video game is typically created by teams of 50-100 people.  Even though there are many people working on the video game, there is typically one person that is directing the project. For kids who are interested in creating video games, obviously you need to be able to play video games; however, what’s even more important is to have many other experiences outside of video games so you can imagine different possibilities in the games you are creating. Things like playing sports or communicating with friends, talking to them and sharing ideas are all important activities that will help you become a great video game designer. So, my advice is to go out and experience lots of different things. 

TFK:

What do you hope kids gain from playing your games?

MIYAMOTO:

The most important thing about interactive entertainment like video games is the way the player thinks about what they can do with the game. What’s important to the player is to think creatively, then try out what they’re thinking and then see it [come to life] in the game. For example, when playing a game like Super Mario Bros., the players hit blocks to find different items. I want that player to think about all of the possibilities of what they might find or new worlds that they might uncover. My hope is that kids will test their creativity and think of different fun and silly ways to interact with the game.