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In the past 3 decades if you’ve played video games you’ve probably experienced the magic he creates. Donkey Kong, Zelda, Star Fox and probably the most famous, Mario. When Miyamoto builds games, he always tries to do things differently than most designers. In a 1998 interview when he was asked why he wasn’t designing online games, he was quoted saying, “It’s a trend. And I try to avoid all trends.” Even in 2016, when most apps had an in-game purchase feature, he refused to add one to Mario for iPhone, His reason? “Everyone told me it had to be done. But I am that kind of a person who doesn’t want to be told to do something because “That’s the way one does it.’”? As I read about design and discover great designers in their respective fields, I have come across several visionaries who have completely changed the game (pun intended) and redefined the rules. Miyamoto has helped define a LOT of what makes a good video game great.
So how does he do what he does? “The first thing a game needs is a sense of accomplishment, and one needs to have a sense that they have done something.” In 1981, one of Miyamoto’s first assignments at Nintendo was to re-design a game called Radar Scope; it had performed really poorly in the U.S. leaving the company with 2,000 unsold arcade units? This led to what we now know as Donkey Kong.
He based the story on the love triangle from Popeye, between a bad guy, a hero, and a damsel in distress. But since Nintendo couldn’t secure the rights to use those characters, Miyamoto replace them, with a gorilla, a carpenter, and his girlfriend. In later games, this carpenter became a plumber and his name changed from Mr Video to Jump man and then to Mario. This was one of the first time that a videogame’s plot and characters were designed before programming. Early on, the people who made video games were technologists; they were programmers, and hardware engineers, but not Miyamoto. He was a designer; he studied industrial design, and was an artist who loved to sketch
. This change in approach came at a key time for video games. When Donkey Kong was first released in 1981, the video game market in North America was on the verge of collapse. It was saturated with a lot of different consoles, and the booming home computer made a lot of people question why they would want a separate device just to play games. But the storytelling in games like Super Mario Brothers, and The Legend of Zelda, which, you could only play on Nintendo’s own hardware, helped set them apart as bestsellers. “When I approach the design of my games, what I have to think about is how I’m showing a situation to a player, conveying to them what they’re supposed to do. ”In Mario, the player keeps moving to the right to reach the end goal. In Donkey Kong, the player keeps climbing up to rescue the captured princess. A good deal of Miyamoto’s genius can be seen in the first level of Super Mario Brothers.
This is probably THE most iconic level in videogame history. The mark of a good design is that it does not need a user’s guide and this is exactly how Miyamoto functions. This level is designed to naturally teach you the game mechanics while you play. If you look at a breakdown, there is a lot of really subtle design work going on here; though Mario is usually at the center of the screen, in this first scene he starts at the far left, all the empty space to the right of him gives you a sense of where to go. Then comes a mushroom like character (A Goomba) that looks and moves in a way that suggests it’s harmful. But don’t worry; if you run into it, you’ll just start the game over without much of a penalty. Next you see gold blocks with question marks, these are meant to look intriguing, and once you hit one you’re rewarded with coins! This encourages you to hit the second block which releases a mushroom, even if you’re scared now of what this might be, the positioning of the first obstacle just about guarantees that you’re going to run into this thing. Once you do, Mario gets bigger and stronger.
And just like that, you’ve learned all the basic rules of the game without having to read a single word! “The last is the immersive quality of the game, being able to feel like it’s a world you’re immersed in, that you’ve become a hero. That you’ve become brave even if you’re actually crying.” As an ardent video game buff, who is familiar with several gaming platforms, I understand that immersiveness in a video game has a lot to do with the controls. The more precisely you can move your character, the more you feel like you’re part of the story.
Nintendo has always been a pioneer of controllers; it was the first to have the classic setup of the directional pad on the left and the buttons on the right, the first to have left and right shoulder buttons, the first to have a 360-degree thumb stick, and the first to bring motion control to the mass-market. But with 2016 Super Mario run, Nintendo, for the first time, made a game for a controller it didn’t design, the iPhone. The number of American gamers playing on mobile phones has doubled, to more than 164 million between 2011 and 2015. And like any genius, Miyamoto adapted to the change. Miyamoto is the original hipster, refusing to conform to the norm. He has been a storyteller, a brilliant designer, and a “hero-maker” for several generations. “I think the end result is a game anyone can play, from first-time players to the most experienced ones.” And that’s kind of been Miyamoto’s design philosophy from the very start – make fun games that everybody can play. The rest is in the players hands! (literally).And THIS is the Miyamoto Moto.
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