This short interview from 1998 with Shigeru Miyamoto was originally featured in the excellent game criticism magazine, game hihyou. It is a somewhat abstract discussion about the problems Miyamoto sees with the prevalent game design of the day. The lasting influence of Gunpei Yokoi is also apparent in the comments on realism.

Gunpei Yokoi 1997 interview
Miyamoto 2001 interview

Shigeru Miyamoto talks Game Design

1998 Developer Interview, originally featured in game hiyou

—What kind of “fun” are you trying to convey to players through your games?

Miyamoto: For me, it’s simply whether it feels right, whether it makes you happy, when you pick up the controller and play it. Through that controller and monitor, you can freely explore the different experiences of life.

—Do you mean experiences that players have actually had already, in their own lives?

Miyamoto: Yes, maybe sports or something frightening you experienced. Zelda has an epic story and all, but the truth is, to me it’s all about hiking. (laughs)

—And your games let players experience that, with the computer’s assistance.

Miyamoto: Well, the original “virtual reality” is the make-believe worlds and games that children create. And those games are played with very lenient rules; as games created by humans, they’re steeped in that spirit of human kindness. But now with computers, you suddenly have games that are overseen by a judge capable of strict accuracy. However, while that precision does allow us to do new interesting things, on the other hand, it’s possible for the judge to be too clinical, too severe. It’s now the magnaminity of the game developers themselves which will determine whether the games we all play are generous and lenient or clinical and severe.

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Shigeru Miyamoto in 1998.

—Speaking of precision, hardware today is forcing developers to create and show things to players that wasn’t necessary with earlier technology.

Miyamoto: Yes, it is true, that now with 3D and the like, there’s a lot more to create in these worlds. But no matter how advanced the technology gets, we won’t be trying to make 100% real visuals.

—Intentionally?

Miyamoto: Yes, intentionally. And if the technology does end up progressing to that level, then developers won’t be able to make something unless it’s perfect, will they? And that’s one reason why we use a representational style, like the deformed polygons, for instance.

—Right. Even if the scope for expression increases, there will always be a need for humans to act as intermediaries.

Miyamoto: If you say you’re creating something “real”, then suddenly everything becomes a technical contest: and the winner is the one who can create the most “realistic” depiction, right? Except that I don’t think that’s true. Because here is where one’s individuality as a creator, one’s style, really comes out.

—You mean the actual nuances of a game depend on the personality of each creator?

Miyamoto: That’s right. Just by changing the director in a game, a great deal will end up coming out differently. If you really do try to create some “ultimate” realistic thing, no matter how much time and memory/space you have, it eventually won’t be enough. Then you’ll have to decide where to draw the line on different things, and that’s where you can see a director’s personality come through.

You’re starting to see developers ask whether interesting, satisfying game development really lies in this march towards ever-increasingly precise and realistic technology. Take the popular Tamagotchi, for instance. It doesn’t have any powerful technology. Its appeal and fun lies in a whole other realm. There’s something there that can make games richer, and I think that will be a theme for developers in the future.

—Along with “realism”, I think the other big standard by which a game is judged today is it’s difficulty.

Miyamoto: Difficulty will forever be a topic of contention. (laughs) Lowering the difficulty gives more players access, but it completely ignores the dedicated players—particularly those that played previous games, if it’s a series. It’s best to balance these two sides’ interests, but that doesn’t always happen.

You know, you often hear people say that video games are just for killing time, but if that’s really all they were, there’s no way their popularity would have lasted this long. Video games have endured because of their immersive quality. Up till now, the main way games have immersed players is by having a high degree of replayability. And using a high difficulty level to raise the replayability has been what nearly all games have done.

And the other way has been to give players that feeling of “I want to see what’s next,” by adding content to the game. But what if you take away these two pillars and ask, how many games are there that make you want to come back again and again simply because it feels fun just playing them, without any emphasis on challenges or new content? Although this is something I’ve always aimed for, I’d have to say that there’s been very few games you could say that about.

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Out for a hike. This interview took place
right before the release of Ocarina of Time.

It really isn’t hard to stop using difficulty and content as the backbone of your game design. But because these are the things in which games have grown and developed thus far, I know it’s difficult for developers to let them go. Yet we find ourselves at a juncture where, if those ideas are never challenged, then games cannot grow. For those who think deeply about such things, this is a real dilemma! And it’s been a big issue for us at Nintendo for awhile now, too.

—Then let me close by asking: what would be your ideal game?

Miyamoto: Now that I can answer very clearly: it’s an experience I’ve never had before. Which is to say, I can’t be any more specific than that. If I could, I’d be making that game right now! That’s really the stance I’m always trying to hold to as a developer, but my work is still mostly dominated by the clamoring for “more replayability” and “more content” that I alluded to above. It’s a real problem for me.

—Thank you for your time today.