This short but insightful interview with Shigeru Miyamoto first appeared in an early seminal book of video game history, “terebi game denshi yuugi taizen” from 1989. The interview captures Miyamoto in the early limelight: not yet the legend he is today, but more of a bright star among other contemporary developers. What is interesting is how clear his vision was for open, toy-like game design even then.

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Shigeru Miyamoto – 1989 Developer Interview

originally featured in the book TV Game: denshi yuugi taizen

—Do you see yourself as an artist, or as an engineer?

Miyamoto: I can’t really say one way or the other—I think I’m somewhere in between the two. What I aspire to be, personally, is an entertainer with a lot of good ideas.

—How did you get into the work of designing video games?

Miyamoto: I had originally wanted to design toys. When I joined Nintendo, they were already making video and arcade games. Because of the huge popularity of Space Invaders, that became a much larger part of their business, and I got involved video game design.

—About how long does it take for you to finish a game?

Miyamoto: It can take anywhere from half a year to over a year, depending on the game. Some factors include how complete the design is when we start, and the overall volume of content. When you add in the amount of time we spend in pre-development planning, it can take 1-2 years for a game to be completed.

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Shigeru Miyamoto in 1989.

—How many people do you usually have on a development team?

Miyamoto: From 6-12 people. For our recent games with a lot of content, we need assistants, people to create the maps, etc… so the size of our teams is gradually increasing. For Super Mario Bros., I believe we had 8 people.

—If you were to compare your work to another artistic medium, what would it be?

Miyamoto: Miniature entertainment movies, maybe? Also, living toys.

—Outside of video games, what other kinds of media do you like, or otherwise find interesting?

Miyamoto: I don’t want to give away any ideas for our future developments, so I’ll have to say “no comment” to that one. Stepping away from media entertainment for a moment, though, I like athletic activities a lot. I really want to quit smoking, take a break from my job, and play some sports!

—Mario first appeared in the Donkey Kong arcade game, but where in the world did the idea for a character like that come from? Also, please tell us the origin of Mario and Luigi’s names.

Miyamoto: To your first question, it was just simple imagination. Also, because we had to work with small sprites and limited pixels, the mustache and overalls helped make his character seem more alive and individual. As for the names, those were added by Nintendo of America staff.

—What was your basic concept for Super Mario Bros? I’ve heard the basic idea was to make a platformer that used the Mario character.

Miyamoto: From a marketing standpoint, the idea was to make a game that anyone could enjoy, yet would also appeal to game maniacs. At the planning stage, we talked about wanting to make a game that would compile the best aspects of post-Donkey Kong platformers, and also set a new standard. We all thought it was going to be our final celebration of cartridge games… we had a lot of fun making it.

—The Legend of Zelda took the RPG genre from a place of relative obscurity and made it friendly and easy to understand. In that sense, it was a huge success for the gaming world. What are your thoughts on that?

Miyamoto: Thank you. For that one, I wanted to create a game world that conveyed the same feeling you get when you are exploring a new city for the first time. How fun would it be, I thought, if I could make the player identify with the main character in the game and get completely lost and immersed in that world?

The idea of a game in real-time, also, was something I’d been thinking about for awhile, but with such limited memory, it turned out to be a huge challenge to create enough satisfying content for players. I absolutely wanted to avoid half-baked ideas and gameplay. Since Zelda was released, I think the market has seen an increase in mean-spirited, petty games, and I still feel that sense of responsibility.

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Although the term isn’t in use now, early platformers in Japan were once called “athletic games”–a nod to a time when running and jumping were still novel actions for a video game.

—I’ve heard that Yume Kōjō: Doki Doki Panic used a lot of ideas that later ended up in Super Mario Bros. 3 and 4. Is that true? Also, are you planning to make more Super Mario Bros. games?

Miyamoto: Although the designs are different, Doki Doki Panic’s basic concept was the same as Super Mario Bros., so yes, it’s totally natural for people to think that. As for the Mario series, I don’t know: if we keep releasing them, will you keep playing them?

—Many people say you are a genius. What do you think of that?

Miyamoto: Really?! Hearing things like that makes me blush from ear-to-ear. I’m just a normal person.

—What is your ideal video game?

Miyamoto: Video Monitor + Computer + A Player + Friends + ???

—What kind of game(s) would you like to make in the future?

Miyamoto: I don’t want to make games where the player is just a puppet in the hands of the creator, playing exactly as scripted. Trying to get players to become better and better at your game is certainly one valid approach to making games, but for me, I want to present games to players that are more like pure toys: something you can use, explore, and play with freely.

—Are there any people you’d really like to work with (in the world of games or otherwise)?

Miyamoto: I’d like to work with a professional writer who had an interest in video games. Or a director.

—What do you think the future of video games looks like?

Miyamoto: I don’t know—that’s the kind of thing that if I try to think about it at night before bed, I’ll never get to sleep.

—What, in the end, are video games to you?

Miyamoto: In one sense, they’re just my job. But I am also just another player.