This short-but-sweet interview with producer Shigeru Miyamoto provides some rare insight into the development of Yoshi’s Island. I’m not sure why, but other than this interview, Nintendo never gave any developer interviews in either game magazines or strategy guides. My best guess is that Nintendo’s tightly controlled PR decided it was best to leave some room for the soon-to-be-released N64.

In any event, this interview has some good info about the design choices in Yoshi’s Island, as well as some commentary from Miyamoto on the previous Mario games.

Mario 20th Anniversary Interview
Super Mario World Interview
Shigeru Miyamoto 1998 Interview

Yoshi’s Island – 1995 Developer Interview

originally featured in the September edition of Haou magazine

—So this is the 5th game in the Mario series… and all of a sudden Yoshi is the hero!

Miyamoto: After we finished Super Mario World, it looked to us like Yoshi had a lot of room to grow as a character, and we started thinking about making a game with him. It was all decided pretty quickly from there.

—In Yoshi’s Island the player controls Yoshi… but did you consider keeping Mario in the game as usual, and having Yoshi be able to get power-ups?

Miyamoto: Well, a basic feature of the Mario games is that they’re easy to pick up and play, right? If we had two different control schemes—one for Mario, and another for Yoshi—it would quickly become too confusing.

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Shigeru Miyamoto in 1995.

—Still, from a sales point-of-view, a game where you control Mario would likely sell more, wouldn’t it?

Miyamoto: Yes, and that’s why we added the ability to transform into Super Baby Mario when you pick up a star. In fact, our first idea was that the baby would transform into fully-grown, mustachioed1 Mario when you got the star, but another staff member pointed out how that would be weird with the story, so we kept him as Super Baby Mario. Personally, I still think the idea of adult Mario running around is better. (laughs)

—Did you create the story for Yoshi’s Island yourself?

Miyamoto: It was something we came up with together, as a team. For Yoshi’s Island, the basic concept for the game system—the idea of the Yoshis carrying Baby Mario relay-race style—was decided fairly early. We added the story on top of that afterwards. At Nintendo, all our developments focus around the gameplay system first. The story usually comes later.

—How long did the development take?

Miyamoto: The staff members who have been working on it the longest started around the time Super Mario World was released, so about 5 years. The first two years were mainly spent experimenting with different ideas. We had one idea where Yoshi would move around freely, and he’d support Baby Mario and lead him through the stage. Almost all of those early ideas came to naught, but the one that really stuck and bore fruit for us was the idea of a game where even though you hit enemies, you don’t die.

—There’s so many gameplay ideas packed into Yoshi’s Island.

Miyamoto: It was surprising, but once the development was really underway, there were very few ideas that we had to jettison. We knew this would be the last Mario game we made for the Super Famicom, so we wanted to go out with a bang and include all we could.

If it was a simpler game, one that you just beat once and are done, then you could probably get rid of half of these mechanics, but we designed Yoshi’s Island so players would be able to replay the stages many times. That ended up giving us a lot of leeway for all the things we wanted to include.

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Had Miyamoto had his druthers, this might have been adult Mario running instead!

—And yet, a game where you aim to get “100%” on every stage… something about that seems very un-Miyamoto. You don’t usually go for the whole “scoring” thing.

Miyamoto: Well, it might pain me a little to say, but you’re exactly right: it isn’t my style. One of the reasons is that I wasn’t the designer for Yoshi’s Island. But when I watched people playtesting the game, it looked like they were having fun, and it occurred to me that what people enjoy in games varies from person to person, and there was nothing wrong with having this element in the game, too. So I gave the go-ahead.

—As this is the 10-year anniversary of Super Mario Bros., can you say something about each game in the series?

Miyamoto: Sure. During the development of Super Mario Bros., I was extremely worried and stressed out. But when I finally saw it up on the monitor, and saw how everyone was crowded around the screen, unable to pull themselves away, waiting patiently for their next turn… that was the first time I realized, “this game is going to be a hit!” And it was the first time since Donkey Kong that I had felt like something big was about to happen for me.

Super Mario Bros. 2 was a real maniac’s game. It started with our staff making a really hard Super Mario Bros. map just for fun, but when they played it, they actually enjoyed it, and decided to make a whole game like that. I think the whole messy situation with all the Super Mario bootlegs floating around Taiwan was another motivation.

As for Super Mario Bros. 3, this was where I switched over to the role of Director. I consider this the “real” sequel to Super Mario Bros. When most people think of a sequel, for movies and whatnot, I think they usually imagine a simple rehash of the original with the visuals and presentation upped a notch. Our point of departure for Mario 3, however, was to make something distinct from what we’d done before.

With Super Mario World we were dealing with the new Super Famicom hardware, so there we did endeavor to create a more impressive, upgraded Mario game in comparison with the Famicom titles. Joining the land and water levels together into one stage, was one such idea. I was very happy with how the graphics and the three-directional scrolling (vertical plus left/right) came out.

—I understand that the next Mario game will be for your new 64-bit machine.

Miyamoto: In the new Mario, I want to leave behind traditional-but-absurd gameplay notions, like bumping into an enemy==death. I want to try and make it a game that can appeal a little more broadly to players. The other staff members at Nintendo are still caught up in the pursuit of “tension”, but I think that if you include enough enjoyable elements in a game, it’s ok for it not to be tense in that same old way.

—It sounds like your conflict with the staff will continue for awhile yet…

Miyamoto: Actually, I really enjoy the sessions we have, when we get a bunch of staff together and discuss our ideas. A producer isn’t supposed to always just be on the defensive… I have to let some of their ideas through! Plus, I don’t want to be seen as the kind of manager where, when I say something, people just glaze over “Oh, the old man is going on again.” (laughs)

Basically, within the limits we establish, I want to give the player as much freedom as I can in a game. What exactly is “freedom” in a game, and how do we create it? For both Mario and Zelda, that has actually been the main development theme.

—To close, please tell us about your plans and dreams for the future.

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The Ten Billion Barrel, Gunpei Yokoi’s own homage to the Rubik’s Cube. Miyamoto’s remarks here are very reminiscent of Yokoi’s ideas, yet tempered with an interest in the new possibilities for gameplay freedom which Mario 64 would exhibit.

Miyamoto: I’m interested in things like Rubik’s Cubes… a toy that you can hold in the palm of your hand, yet as a game it’s complete, deep, and full of endless variation. To create something like that would be ideal. If you put something like that down somewhere, and people walk by and see it, it grabs their attention and they can’t help but check it out. As they’re standing there wondering aloud, “who made this…?”, I want to be able to raise my hand and say, “I did!” (laughs)

I don’t know, maybe that’s not the kind of thing I can make as a video game. Even now, I don’t have the utmost confidence that I can create an innovative, timely, relevant product through the medium of video games. And yet, making video games is what fits me, and I actually know how to design them, so in that sense it’s comfortable for me.

I know the way I’m talking sounds like my head is in the clouds, but I joined Nintendo because I wanted to create a product that people would talk about and remember. And that’s what I want to do in the future, too: create something that will make an impact on the world.

Takashi Tezuka Interview

From the 9/95 issue of Dengeki Super Famicom

I’ve been asked before why we made a game with Yoshi as the main character. The main reason is that that wanted to make a Mario-style action game that even young children would be able to play. For that, the friendly character of Yoshi seemed perfect to us. I’ve also been wanting to make a pure action game that used Yoshi for a long time now.

We chose this gameplay system because we wanted to make a game where you could play the same course again and again: beginners should be able to go for a simple clear, while more advanced players can go back and try and get 100%. The actual development took about 3 years. Probably the most difficult part, I think, was getting the distinct look of the graphics right. Actually there may have been more painful things, but now that the development is over and I’m more relaxed, I’ve conveniently forgotten all that. (laughs)

We deliberately chose not to go for realistic graphics like Donkey Kong Country: we wanted take a chance and do the opposite. Probably every game from here on out is going to look more like Donkey Kong Country… that being the case, we decided to go against the trend one last time and make something with a heartwarming, handmade visual style.

The one thing I really want players to see in Yoshi’s Island? All the different enemy sprites and little gimmicks we added. A great deal of effort and care was put into each one! My final message for readers, likewise, would be: don’t give up! Play through to the end. We spent many months and years on Yoshi’s Island, so please treat it with care. And if possible, don’t just sell it back to a used game store when you’re done (laughs). I hope you can cherish it forever as a treasure.