Shigeru Miyamoto x Yuji Horii – 1990 Developer Interview
Just weeks after the launch of the Super Famicom, Super Mario and The Legend of Zelda series producer Shigeru Miyamoto and Dragon Quest series producer Yuji Horii sat down for a breezy chat about Nintendo’s new hardware and the potential future of their respective franchises, including some chat about the new F-Zero.
Miyamoto: It’s been a year now since we last talked like this.
Horii: My apologies for not keeping in touch. (laughs)
—I hear it’s pretty hard to buy a Super Famicom right now, with the production shortages.
Miyamoto: It is. Even for our employees at Nintendo, we’ve had to do a lottery to see who gets one. Even I’ve only been able to purchase one system so far. (laughs)
Horii: Same here, I could only get my hands on one. I set it up at our office, but I want to play it with my family too, so I’ve been taking it home every night after work. (laughs) Has there also been a parts shortage for the SFC cables…?
Miyamoto: Yeah, and that’s very unusual. The RF cables that the Famicom uses are in wide circulation, and we did not anticipate a shortage there…
Horii: I used the RF cable at first, then switched to a mono AV cable, and finally yesterday I upgraded to a stereo AV cable. Next will be S-Video, I guess. (laughs)
Miyamoto: The reason we didn’t include AV cables with the system was because we wanted to keep the price down and be able to include two controllers.
—But there aren’t any games out yet that use both controllers…!
Miyamoto: I still think including two controllers was the right choice. It’s really about the game developers: if only some people own two controllers, it would ultimately change the kind of games that developers would be inclined to make.
—For F-Zero, why did you not go for a traditional F1 racing game?
Miyamoto: Well, that was really down to the director’s tastes. (laughs) There’s also the fact that not having to draw and animate tires made it so much easier to create.
Horii: So that’s the reason why..!
Miyamoto: The cornering in F-Zero is a little different from cars in the real world. Also, if we had drawn tires on the cars, when you drift, we’d have wanted to show all four wheels, which wasn’t very feasible. So for that, and a variety of other reasons, we went with this design.
—That’s very surprising to hear.
Miyamoto: Up to now, I think most racing games have been somewhat restricted by the tires. In F-Zero, the way we were able to easily show the distinction between the direction the car is moving and the direction the car is facing, is all thanks to the cars not having tires. And it made this style of drifting possible, too.
—F-Zero also feels very accessible to new players and beginners.
Miyamoto: The first Super Mario Bros. was designed so that even old guys who were playing video games for the first time could enjoy it. Each successive sequel has gotten a little more complicated, though, and I’m worried Super Mario World may be a little tough for brand new players. That being the case, we wanted to make sure F-Zero was also a game that was friendly to beginners: simple, easy controls, and a refreshing new style that hasn’t been seen before in a racing game.
In that sense, F-Zero is more like the first Super Mario Bros., while Super Mario World actually has a more Gradius-like aspect to it.
—Speaking of which, by dividing the game into five chapters, Dragon Quest IV does a nice job of appealing to both beginners and veterans.
Miyamoto: Yeah, I’m impressed by Horii’s work there. We had to split our efforts into two separate games in order to solve the beginner / veteran problem.
Horii: The larger the audience gets for video games, the harder it becomes to target specific demographics. There’s really no such thing as a game which can satisfy everyone.
—Let’s turn to Super Mario World, then.
Horii: Yeah, I am loving it so far!
Miyamoto: Thank you very much. (laughs)
Horii: You can really rack up the lives in Super Mario World. It’s nice because then you’re free to play however you want!
Miyamoto: Yes. For the first hour you play, as you get the ropes, you’ll probably have that typical focused “gamer” face, but afterwards you can really relax and run wild. Players can explore and try whatever they like.
—There’s a place where you can get over 50 lives…1
Miyamoto: That was a little past what we calculated. (laughs)
Horii: Being able to save anywhere also makes it easy to enjoy.
Miyamoto: I hear Shigesato Itoi made it to Bowser on his own. If a 43-year-old man like him can do it, anyone can!
—I actually heard some rumors that you were disatisfied with certain things about Super Mario World, and that you were going to fix it for the US release next year. Will the American version be different from the Japanese…?
Miyamoto: No, nothing more than the text being translated to English, I believe. We did change Mario 3 for the American release a little.
Miyamoto: In the American version, if you take damage while you’re Racoon Mario, you’ll go back to being big Mario. In the Japanese version, you go all the way back to little Mario. Before the Japanese release, we really wavered back and forth on that issue… ultimately, we reconsidered the Japanese tradition and ended up revising it for the American release.
—And for Super Mario World?
Miyamoto: When you take damage with the cape, you only lose the cape, right?
Horii: No, you go all the way back to little Mario. Though any mushroom or power-up you’ve stocked up does come down from the top of the screen, in that event.
Miyamoto: Ah, right, right. Since we added that, it’s ok. (laughs)
Horii: But I sometimes die when I’m trying to get that falling mushroom! It would have been nice if it moved along the ground like a normal mushroom when it lands, but it just goes straight through the terrain.
Miyamoto: Yeah, we struggled with that. We tried a few different approaches, including having the mushroom fall from the top and then just stay frozen there. Ultimately we tinkered with the hitbox, and came up with the way it is now.
Horii: I noticed in Super Mario World that you can scroll the screen horizontally with the L and R buttons.
Miyamoto: Yeah, that was another point of contention. During the development, people had various opinions about the controls. “Let’s try to avoid having any redundant or unnecessary controls”, was something I heard a lot. There were a number of controls and moves that we ended up getting rid of after extensive testing.
—Yeah, there’s a lot of buttons on the Super Famicom controller, and it’s easy to get confused. I had that happen to me in F-Zero a few times.
Miyamoto: Compared to the Famicom, it’s definitely a lot. (laughs) With the Famicom, we were very lucky in that developers ended up finding uses for the start and select buttons beyond what we had originally envisioned. The Legend of Zelda was like that, in particular. But this time, the four buttons of the SFC have a very different meaning from the Famicom.
Horii: When I play the SFC, it feels to me like the B button on the SFC is like the A button on the Famicom (for affirming things), and the Y button is like the old B button (for cancelling).
Miyamoto: You could also have X and Y be the cancel buttons, and give some other function to A and B. That would be an elegant solution, maybe.
—And if you keep your thumb on A and X, there might be times when you can’t reach B and Y quickly enough.
Miyamoto: Right. Maybe they’re better as cancel buttons? That way you wouldn’t end up pressing them unless you meant to.
—A, B, X, Y… the naming is a little hard to remember!
Miyamoto: We chose those names because, with A and B together as a group, we wanted another name that would be easily groupable, like X and Y. We have certainly heard some Japanese users say they are hard to remember, and during the development there were other suggestions, like “12 o’clock, 3 o’clock, 6 o’clock, and 9 o’clock. (laughs)
Horii: What about naming them after colors, like Red/Blue/Yellow/Green? That’s how they’re shown in-game, in Super Mario World.
Miyamoto: That would be good, but there’s just one problem: during the game it’s easy to look down at the controller and see what colors are being referred to, but if you don’t have the controller with you, it would be easy to get lost and not know which color matches which button. It’s a little bit of a quandry.2
Horii: Is the new Legend of Zelda your main project right now?
Miyamoto: I’m working on several games concurrently, today it might be Zelda, tomorrow something else.
Horii: I got totally obsessed with the first Legend of Zelda. A friend of mine was playing it at the same time as me, and I’d call him up in the middle of the night, practically yelling as I relayed some new discovery: “I figured it out!!! You blow the whistle in the graveyard!”
Miyamoto: I wonder what that sounded like to your neighbors, or someone who didn’t know what Zelda was. (laughs)
Horii: Well, suffice it to say I’m beyond excited for the new Zelda!
Miyamoto: When you say it that way, I really feel the pressure. (laughs)
Horii: I was very happy when I heard the new Zelda was going to use the old top-down perspective. I loved that view. Zelda II: The Adventure of Link was also very fun in its own right, but the action was difficult, you know? I liked how with the original Zelda, you might go to a difficult dungeon, but so long as you collected the items from the previous dungeons, you should be able to clear it easily enough.
—Is it true then, that the new Zelda will be top-down view?
Miyamoto: Yes, it will be.
—And the hero is Link, of course?
Miyamoto: Something like that. (laughs)
Horii: Will the maps and dungeons have the same screen-by-screen scrolling?
Miyamoto: Um, something like that. (laughs)
—Hey, throw us a bone here! We need to know more!
Miyamoto: The theme for this one is a “real-time action-adventure game.”
—I noticed you didn’t say ‘RPG’.
Miyamoto: The Zelda series has never used the word “RPG”. The way I see it, there are some light RPG elements to Zelda—like the fact that your character grows in power as the game progresses—but that’s it. If we expanded on those elements, my sense is that it would be taking the game in the wrong direction.
—How do you mean?
Miyamoto: In the Zelda series, Link does get stronger as you progress through the game, but that was done in order to to help players who are bad at action games. We wanted the game to get easier as Link gets stronger. In particular, in Zelda II: The Adventure of Link, you can increase your attack, magic, and life to level 8, but I actually wanted to make it go to level 16. I wanted it to be easier.
Horii: The first time I played The Legend of Zelda, I remember thinking “Now this is what an action RPG is supposed to be!” In a pure RPG, you level up via the experience you gain in battles. In The Adventure of Link you level up each time you clear a dungeon, I believe? I admired that choice.
—I wonder what the new Zelda for the Super Famicom will be like.
Miyamoto: The SFC is a big step up from the Famicom in terms of power and expressiveness, so there are some things we can no longer fudge. For example, on the Famicom people would accept not being shown certain things because it simply wasn’t possible with that hardware, but on the SFC, that’s no longer the case.
—I see. Along the same lines, is Dragon Quest V going to have graphics showing all the items/armor/weapons now?
Horii: I think it’s a little difficult… you see, we also have to consider that by not showing them, it better stimulates the player’s imagination… but, yeah, on that point I’m going to have to keep everything a secret for now.
Miyamoto: One of my goals for the new SFC Zelda is to make the environment so attractive that players will enjoy just running around in it.
—It sounds like we’ve got a lot to look forward to on the visual front, then. I have to say, because the first Zelda and Zelda II were so different, it’s really hard to predict what this game is going to be like.
Miyamoto: My basic policy is: if it will make the game fun, I’ll try anything. Maybe I’ll ask Horii here to write the scenario. (laughs)
Horii: I have always wanted to try writing an action RPG scenario.
—Uh oh, if you keep talking like that, you’re going to get yourself hired! (laughs) But that would surely be a sight to behold: “produced by Shigeru Miyamoto, written by Yuji Horii.”
Horii: How many years has it been since the first Zelda came out, by the way?
Miyamoto: It came out the same year as the first Dragon Quest.
—The Legend of Zelda was released in February 1986, and Dragon Quest was release in May.
Horii: Because I was just thinking how the youngest, newest Famicom players today may have never had a chance to experience The Legend of Zelda.
Miyamoto: The thing about The Legend of Zelda, though, is that it had a long run with the Famicom Disk System and the Disk Writer, so I don’t think there’s too many people who are entirely unaware of it. Of course, the new Zelda won’t require you to have played the previous games.
—Miyamoto, have you played all four Dragon Quest games?
Miyamoto: I have, but… it’s hard for me to play for long periods of time. In DQIV, I stopped at chapter 3 with Torneko. (laughs) But I can say without any exaggeration that I think it’s a great game, Dragon Quest IV.
—What’s your opinion of the series?
Miyamoto: They’re simply amazing. In the DQ1/DQ2 era, I think everyone was looking for a way to make a game feel like a real adventure, despite only having numbers and stats to deal with. Then with DQ3 and DQ4, the dialogue really made the characters feel real and alive, and along with all the other improvements, it’s like enjoying an excellent, refined wine.
—It’s interesting… you’ve played all the games without clearing any of them, and yet I bet you’ll almost certainly play the next installment, won’t you? That’s kind of rare for a person, I think.
Miyamoto: Yeah, I definitely don’t finish a lot of video games, even Mario and Zelda. Making it to the end does give you a whole new appreciation for the game, though. By the way, Horii, have you played Tetris?
Horii: I have. I thought it was interesting, to be sure, but I didn’t get sucked into it.
Miyamoto: I got obsessed with it for awhile. But then I stopped and realized to myself, “Wait, I don’t want to become the kind of person who does this obsessively.” (laughs) Right now some of our developers are addicted to Doctor Mario. I tell them, hey, you might die tomorrow, and in that moment, do you really want to be thinking “if only… if only I’d been able to rotate that capsule one more time…!” (laughs)
Horii: Games like that are best for klling time. I’m not sure they’re the best way to spend all your free time though… I will say though, beating a human opponnent gives a certain sense of accomplishment.
Miyamoto: Yeah, versus play has its own charms. Don’t you find it a little odd though—if everyone loves versus play so much, why they aren’t out there arm wrestling or doing other competitive stuff! (laughs)
Horii: I guess that’s because in arm wrestling, the person who is stronger will always win.
—Will Dragon Quest V be different from previous entries, now that it’s on the Super Famicom?
Horii: The storytelling part will be the same as the Famicom. But naturally, we’re going to put a lot of effort into the presentation.
—Could you give some examples?
Horii: With more RAM, we can now do a lot of things that weren’t possible before due to memory limitations.
Miyamoto: Indeed, the large working RAM on the SFC is, in fact, its biggest allure to developers. Effects like sprite rotation, shrinking, enlarging are all possible now.
Horii: The improvements to the graphics and RAM have opened up a lot of new possibilities. It’s what’s so great about the SFC. I also appreciate the additional background layers, the way scrolling is handled, and the ability to do transparencies. The question for us is how to utiliaze all that and tie it into interesting events for the players.
Miyamoto: How about the audio side? I think sound is very important for games. Even in Super Mario World, I think the reverb and spatial quality of the sound help define a stage more than the pretty graphics.
Horii: That’s very true. However, there is the problem of how much memory sampling takes up. To test it out, at Chunsoft we sampled the sound of breaking glass, and it ate up 6kb of memory on the SFC. We could fit 5 or 6 towns into that space…!
Miyamoto: Yeah, memory is still a real issue. I think you can use those sounds in a variety of interesting ways though. In a dungeon, for instance, if players hear a bell chime off to the right, it could be a nice hint.
Horii: The Legend of Zelda did something like that, where you could hear the sound of the boss when you were in an adjacent room.
Miyamoto: And much more should be possible now with the Super Famicom. Games aren’t just things you play with your eyes and hands: they should also involve your ears, and even your whole body.
—Geez, now you’ve got me hyped beyond belief for the new Legend of Zelda and Dragon Quest V!
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