© 2024 WEMU
Serving Ypsilanti, Ann Arbor and Washtenaw County, MI
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Nintendo's Miyamoto says inspiration comes from his childhood experiences in nature


A new experience at Universal Studios Hollywood takes you inside one of the world's most beloved video game franchises, Mario Brothers. During a sneak preview of Super Nintendo World, I took a spin on the new Mario Kart ride.

So the steering wheel has little buttons. I'm just shooting randomly, trying to score as many points as possible. And now it looks like we're going to really enter Mario Kart. We are.

The ride whirls you through vibrant Mario Brothers landscapes and propels you toward adversaries that are all very familiar to gamers.

All right. Now we're entering - could this be a castle of some kind? It looks like it. Ooh, is that Bowser? I whizzed past symbols of the game, such as coins, stars and mushrooms.

I remember the plant with the teeth, like a Venus flytrap, inside the video game. And that's what we're trying to avoid. Yep.

The colors and textures are meant to make riders feel like they're inside an animated video game.

Mario Kart at Universal Studios definitely attacks your senses, but it is fun.

The person who made it possible is Nintendo's game director, Shigeru Miyamoto. He's the creator of some of the most influential and bestselling games in the industry. In addition to Mario Brothers, you got Donkey Kong and the Legend of Zelda. He joined Nintendo straight out of art school in 1977 and says a lot of his inspiration comes from his childhood experiences in nature. I sat down with Miyamoto to learn more about why his characters and games have had such a lasting impact.

When it comes to Mario, what do you think accounts for his ability to just be in the hearts of so many people?

SHIGERU MIYAMOTO: (Through interpreter) You know, before, when I was asked this question, I thought that it's perhaps because the game sold well. And a lot of people have this experience of playing this game and playing it over and over, that it becomes commonplace for them. But now I feel that it's a little bit different in that Mario is kind of like a - your avatar or the person that represents you in this world. And that experience is, you know, because it's been around for so long, an experience that can be shared multi-generations, you know? A father and their children can share that experience.

And I really think another factor is the fact that Mario was created as a character within an interactive medium. So for example, if I maybe, you know, drew Mario as a comic book character, I don't think he would have had this much staying power. You know, there was a time when people might have compared Mario with Mickey Mouse. And, you know, Mickey Mouse is a character that was born, you know, 50 years before my time and was obviously still around in my generation. And I really felt like Mickey Mouse as a character grew alongside the medium of animation. And in that same vein, I feel that Mario is growing alongside this digital medium.

MARTÍNEZ: My granddaughter is 13 years old. She's half-Japanese. And she told me about a word that she wanted me to ask you about, kyokan - feel one with is what she told me. She wanted me to ask you how that feeling and that word is integrated in the things you create.

MIYAMOTO: (Through interpreter) So that is actually a very important word for me as well. So as creators, we have an image of what we want to create. But at the same time, I also make sure that I try to put myself in the player's shoes or the other person's shoes and try to kind of really understand - what would they want to do, what would they feel in this situation? - and to be able to understand it. I think the idea to be understood really goes a long way in helping the player or the person experiencing this kind of have their imagination take over a big part of this. And so that's why I think doing those monitor tests and really getting the reaction of people who are experiencing things for the first time is really important.

MARTÍNEZ: Is that why your games have had so much staying power?

MIYAMOTO: (Through interpreter) Yes, I think that's true. I think that it's important to be - to make a game such that it's really simple to start and enter. But then, for people who are really looking for depth, we provide that depth if they are searching for that. That's something that's really important for us.

MARTÍNEZ: Whether it's an adult or a child, is too much video game playing bad?

MIYAMOTO: (Through interpreter) I don't think it's bad. But only doing video games I don't think is a very good idea. I've been seeing this before, too, you know? So I always say, if it's really nice outside, you should go play outside. And I tell that to people who want to be game designers as well, you know? If it's a nice day, you know, go experience outside, because really, I think there's an important factor that it's your personal experience. Then when it links with the experience you're having with this virtual entertainment, that's when the joy, the fun factor, really explodes exponentially. And so I think it's really important to get a lot of different life experiences for both the people who are creating the games as well as people who are playing the games so they can really be able to fully enjoy the whole experience.

MARTÍNEZ: One day, Nintendo will be existing without you. What do you think Nintendo will be like without you?

MIYAMOTO: (Through interpreter) You know, I really feel like it's not going to change. It's probably going to be the same. There's, you know, people on the executive team, creators within the company and also people who create Mario, they all have this sense of what it means to be Nintendo. And so it's not like there's a lot of different opinions that go back and forth. Everyone has an understanding, this kind of shared understanding, of what it is to be Nintendo. And so even when there's new ideas that come up, there's always the fact that it's a new idea, but also the fact that, is it a new idea that really has the essence of Nintendo or not? And I think that's something that, you know - we have this incredible shared vision, almost a little scary shared vision, about this. So I think there won't - it's not going to change.

MARTÍNEZ: Let me bring up a scenario. If the time comes where you are leaving this Earth but you could choose any one of the worlds that you have created to live in for eternity, which world do you choose?

MIYAMOTO: (Through interpreter) So I really love the work environment that I'm in because I get to engage in so many different things. So it'd be great if, you know, I could be in an environment where I can change the kind of work I do all the time. So I think it might just be my desk or my bathtub.


MARTÍNEZ: Well, thank you very much for your time. Thanks for having us out here.

MIYAMOTO: Thank you very much.


MARTÍNEZ: Nintendo game director Shigeru Miyamoto.


MARTÍNEZ: So Leila, when Miyamoto was making Mario's face, did you know that he had to draw a moustache because otherwise you couldn't tell where his nose ended?


Oh, no. Really?

MARTÍNEZ: Oh, yeah. Absolutely. There's a reason not to shave your mustache.

FADEL: This explains a lot. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.