Shigeru Miyamoto: The Person Who Gave Gaming a Storyline
From manga artist to game designer.
Shigeru Miyamoto was born on November 16th, 1952 in Sonobi Japan. A small village northwest of Kiyoto, there was plenty of nature to discover near his own home. Growing up in the 50’s, as a kid Miyamoto would pass the time exploring caves near his house. As he got older he became interested in Manga. He attended the Kanazawa Municipal College of Industrial Arts, where he graduated with a degree in Industrial Design. After he graduated he had little interest in becoming an industrial designer - instead, he aspired to become a professional manga artist. He didn’t know he would go on to save the gaming industry.
When Miyamoto applied to Nintendo in 1977, it was on the brink of financial collapse. A friend of Miyamoto’s father helped him to get an interview with then president Hiroshi Yamahuchi. A small company, Nintendo was the first gaming company to release a modern controller. At the time they were so small they still sold playing cards. The gaming market was small and struggling because the general public didn’t yet justify owning consoles when you could play games on the computer or at the arcade. Yamahuchi gave Miyamoto a position as an apprentice in the planning department. When he worked his way up, he became Nintendo’s first artist. When Nintendo was in big trouble, Yamahuchi approached Miyamoto to re-do their game that had failed completely - Radar Scope. This was because Miyamoto was the only one available, not because he appeared to have a lot of talent.
Standards and Approach to Making Games
Miyamoto saw in the beginning when he joined Nintendo that the game industry had programmers and hardware designers - technologists. What gaming needed were designers, and Miyamoto was influenced early on in Nintendo by Yamahuchi’s philosophy - to make something nobody has ever seen before. Never make something just for the purpose of selling it, because if you only intend to make money the game will never be successful. However, if you make something interesting then it may just take off. To this day Miyamoto encourages present Nintendo staff to follow Yamahuchi’s way of thinking. Yamahuchi said to take your time, don’t be hasty, and make good quality games.
As he designs games, Miyamoto considers it through the eyes of the player. He presents a situation that the player must navigate. In Mario games the player used to always progress right to reach a goal, while in Donkey Kong the player must climb up to reach a girl. The focus is on gameplay, not on getting high scores. In Mario, Miyamoto didn’t offer an official tutorial with verbal instruction. Rather, the player discovered what Mario could do in the first few seconds of the game organically. If the player jumps over an enemy, they learn to jump. As the player progresses they see floating blocks, some with question marks on them. The player jumps again to hit the question marks, releasing a mushroom. Mario runs into the mushroom, making him grow bigger, and it helps the player feel happy.
In his way of thinking, Miyamoto prioritizes helping the player to feel a part of the world they are in. The more precisely you can move your character the more you feel like you are in the story. People stop playing games when the controls become to difficult, or the games become inaccessible.
How Miyamoto Invented a Plot
When Miyamoto converted Radar Scope he was inspired by the idea of a love triangle where a bad guy kidnaps a princess and a hero rescues the damself in distress. He attempted to use Popeye characters, but couldn’t get the rights to them. Miyamoto settled instead on a love triangle between a Gorilla, a Carpenter, and his girlfriend. Inspiration for Donkey Kong came from King Kong and the Beauty and the Beast. Previously there hadn’t been a plot in gaming.
Miyamoto’s storyline was inspired by a Manga novel he had read growing up - Kishotenketsu. The narrative structure was one we are familiar with today - an Introduction, Development, Plot Twist, and Conclusion. In Donkey Kong, the introduction is where we meet the characters: Pauline, Donkey Kong, and Mario. The story continues with a plot twist when Donkey Kong kidnaps Pauline and Mario has to go and rescue her. Later, Donkey Kong 1, 2, and 3 led to creating the Mario Bros when they introduced Luigi.
In 1986, Miyamoto changed the gaming industry again when Nintendo released The Legend of Zelda. Taking inspiration from exploring caves as a child, Miyamoto invented the first Non-Linear video game. Link explores a world for the first time where the player can travel in just about any direction, rather than only one. Mario n64 and Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time both revolutionized gaming yet again, rendering the popular games in 3D. Miyamoto has reflected on his adventures through traveling. Themes from his exploration in real life arise in Zelda. Whether in caves as a child or going cross country as an adult, Miyamoto brings nature and discovery into his games.
“When I traveled around the country without a map, trying to find my way, stumbling on amazing things as I went, I realized how it felt to go on an adventure like this” - Shigeru Miyamoto
One of Miyamoto’s hobbies is being a DIY carpenter, rearranging his own room. One of his quirks is that he likes to guess heights just by looking at things, like chairs. For instance he knows how tall a chair will be for someone from Japan versus someone from Scandinavia. His wife gardens, and he admires gardeners ability to cut plants while imagining how the garden will look in the future.
It has been a long time since Miyamoto has enjoyed a game made by someone else. He loves Pokemon Go! because he can play it with his family and friends. He also doesn’t feel threatened or jealous of games made by other people. Instead, it is his preference to be treated as a normal person in his household and neighborhood. When he faces criticism in the industry, Miyamoto likes to think on how to overcome those critiques through problem solving.
In the beginning, Shigeru Miyamoto was given an interview at Nintendo because a friend of his fathers arranged it. He went on to become the company's first ever artist, and later a game designer who changed the gaming industry when it was at its lowest point. Today Miyamoto is a Representative Director at Nintendo, collaborating with other colleagues to create unique games. One of the most recent releases to the Zelda franchise was the Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, where Link and Zelda live in an open world for the first time. If you liked this article feel free to check out my blog for more.