The Life Of Shigeru Miyamoto

Shigeru Miyamoto was born on November 16, 1952 in the town of Sonobe, Kyoto. As a child Miyamoto loved to explore the wilderness around Sonobe. Several of his adventures would inspire him in the future when developing video games for Nintendo. A dark and mysterious cave secluded from the rest of the world was a prime spot for him. He would venture inside the cave with a lantern he had personally constructed and be invigorated when he found that one hole inside would almost always lead to another. It was such a critical moment in his life that he drew from his experiences when he shaped The Legend of Zelda franchise. The wilderness surrounding his family's small yet memorable home was an essential aspect of his childhood. When not seeking out new adventures, Miyamoto could typically be found partaking in puppet shows, watching plays and playing baseball in the rice field close to his house after the yearly harvest with friends. His family did not own a vehicle, but this did not prevent them from traveling to Kyoto to see the sights and watch movies. Traveling by train, Miyamoto and his family loved to go to the theater where they would always try to catch the newest Disney movie. They didn't have a television, but when Miyamoto turned eleven his father brought one home as a surprise. He would consequently become obsessed with Japanese animation. In high school he would develop his own manga and even joined a club. His fascination with the topic lead to his desire to become an artist. He would be able to attain his goal when he and his family moved out of Sonobe and into Kyoto.

To get started on his goal, Miyamoto decided to attend Kanazawa Munici College of Industrial Arts and Crafts in Kanazawa, Japan. There Miyamoto was more interested in activities other than school and became heavily interested in music. He made an odd instrument choice in the Banjo but was good enough to perform at several venues. His inspirations, mainly Western, included the The Beatles, The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, and Doc Watson. Five years after enrolling at Kanazawa, Miyamoto graduated and soon after was given a proposal to work at Nintendo, then a toy and playing card company, in 1977. Hiroshi Yamauchi, then the president of the company, was a close friend of Miyamoto's father, who had managed to get him the interview. Miyamoto brought with him several devices, toys and concepts he had developed. His ideas consisted of a three-way seesaw, children's clothes hangers with animal designs on them (including a chicken, elephant, and a bird), and a clock that was primarily intended to be used at an amusement park. Yamauchi hired Miyamoto as an artist designing new products for Nintendo. The company, known at the time for not focusing on a single type of product, was perfect for Miyamoto who claimed that he wanted to join because they would let him do exactly what he wanted to. Little did Yamauchi know that he had hired the man who would become the company's most important asset.

By the time Miyamoto was hired, Nintendo was already in the process of developing video games. Miyamoto's first video game was titled Color TV Racing 112. He didn't design any of the gameplay mechanics but rather was tasked with creating the housing unit that would embody the internal structure. Miyamoto saw the flaws present in Color TV Racing 112's predecessors, the Color TV Game 6 and Color TV Game 15. He decided that, in order to appeal to the masses, a wheel would have to be included in the hardware. When creating the mold for the blockbusting title Blockbuster Color TV Game, he decided to make it even more accessible than his previous game. Yamauchi liked his work and put him on future video game projects designing characters for Space Fever, a Space Invaders clone; Sheriff, an original Nintendo hit; and Space Firebird. These were largely insignificant video games that earned Nintendo very little money. Shortly after these games Miyamoto began work on RadarScope, an unsuccessful bomb that led to one of the industry's most beloved arcade games of all time.

RadarScope was intended to appeal to the space-loving game fans of the United States. Featuring intense battles illustrated on the machine, Nintendo was sure they had a hit to infiltrate the American market. Nintendo of America had just opened their doors and Yamauchi's son-in-law, Minoru Arakawa, was tasked with making it a success. There was nothing necessarily wrong with RadarScope, but the company, and Arakawa, became too overzealous and ordered far too many units (well into the thousands). Assembled in Japan, it took several months for the machines to make the long trek across the pacific ocean. By the time they reached North America, the industry had advanced to a point where RadarScope was viewed as an insignificant, underpowered bore to arcade-owners and consumers alike. Arakawa was now sitting on around two thousand machines that he could not sell. Seemingly without a hope in the world, Arakawa was forced to take action and called his father in-law, pleading for a new game to keep the company afloat. A new game would have to be built from the ground up and the chips would have to fit in the preexisting machines. Yamauchi tasked Miyamoto with designing the game. The game he created would be called Donkey Kong, and it would be the start of a new era for Nintendo.

Donkey Kong was unlike anything before it, a sharp contrast to the very conventional yet derivative RadarScope. Upon hearing the concept of the game, Nintendo of America employees were understandably worried. Pac-Man had made a huge splash in the United States, as has various advanced space shooter games. They wondered what their coworkers in Japan were thinking developing a game where the main concept was climbing up ladders and jumping over barrels thrown by a monkey. Rather than looking heroic the characters looked like they emerged from a Walt Disney cartoon. In most cases their gloomy predictions would be realized, but Donkey Kong was different. Despite their fears, they placed a unit in a single bar within Washington state. A week later the machine was filled to the brim with quarters. Nintendo of America had a sudden change of heart, and Miyamoto would now be on his way to becoming one of the company's greatest blessings. They would now jump from obscurity and become a household name, all because of an angry ape and a pudgy jumping man (whose name was appropriately Jumpman).

Prior to starting Donkey Kong, Nintendo veteran Gunpei Yokoi would bring Miyamoto under his wing and teach him everything he knew in regards to video game development. Yokoi had previously created the Game & Watch franchise and knew several keys to making a successful, accessible video game. Before video games Yokoi was an engineer turned toy designer at Nintendo who became prominent within the company when Yamauchi saw an extending arm contraption he had made. The extending arm, or the Ultra Hand as it would be called, was a huge success during Christmas, selling over one million units. Perhaps Yokoi's greatest achievement was the Game Boy, which he conceptualized. Donkey Kong, while primarily the product of Miyamoto, was so well crafted in part because of Yokoi's assistance. During the restructuring of Nintendo, the two would be given their own teams and would rarely work together again. In 1997 Yokoi unfortunately died due to a car accident after departing from Nintendo.

Upon starting Donkey Kong, Miyamoto's superiors assumed that he was simply going to upgrade RadarScope. It definitely had potential to become better and with the new technology available it probably could have been a minor success. Miyamoto, however, didn't much care for shooting video games and wanted to craft something unique. He felt that shooting games had saturated the market and found that it would be too much a of a challenge to develop something that would be successful. He admired what Tōru Iwatani had done with ''Pac-Man'', but likewise did not want to create something that would be viewed as a "copy" of a preexisting product. He had several ideas in mind, but ultimately knew that he wanted his game to have a story. At first he wanted to craft a game around the lucrative Popeye franchise, but Nintendo was unable to get the licensing rights from King Features Syndicate in America despite the fact that they had already obtained them for Nintendo playing cards. In the original plan, Bluto would have played the role of the villain, Olive Oly the damsel in distress and Popeye the hero. Since his proposition didn't appeal to KFS, he constructed his own characters which he would call Donkey Kong, Pauline and Jumpman. One might wonder how different the video game industry would be had KFS granted Nintendo the rights to Popeye. Regardless of their decision then, KFS eventually allowed Miyamoto to make Popeye games years later for the Famicom. According to Miyamoto, the developers were lucky that there was a single button and a joystick on the arcade cabinets for RadarScope, otherwise the main character would not have been able to jump.

Upon completion, Nintendo sent the new chips to America. Arakawa, his wife and his employees, only a few at the time, tirelessly spent several hours replacing the chips to the old RadarScope machines. The game was successful at one bar but this was hardly enough proof that it would be the massive achievement they had hoped for (though it was a good indication: several other popular arcade games were testdrived at bars and had similar results). It didn't take long for Donkey Kong to become successful, and soon became the biggest arcade game ever made. Miyamoto's product had made Nintendo's name known in what would eventually become their biggest market: North America. It was only the beginning, and the company had to be sure to calculate what they should do going forward. They had a diamond in the rough working at the company and they would inevitably use him as much as possible. Their first order of business, predictably, was creating a sequel to Donkey Kong. Miyamoto liked the ape quite a lot and decided that the sequel, titled Donkey Kong Jr., would focus on his son. He would also make the original title's protagonist, now named Mario, the game's villain.

Following Donkey Kong Jr. Miyamoto worked on developing the Mario character more. He gave him a brother, Luigi, and set his next game in the sewers of Brooklyn, New York. Mario's next adventure, Mario Bros., was released in arcades in 1983. Shortly thereafter Miyamoto worked on his first Famicom video game, Devil World. The constant stream of successes landed Miyamoto a new role at Nintendo where he would be in charge of a whole sector within the company that would develop video games for Nintendo's home systems. Miyamoto's new team would go on to develop hit after hit from ExciteBike to Ice Climber. The biggest game Miyamoto's team developed, however, was Super Mario Bros. Released well after the launch of the Famicom in Japan and at the launch of the Nintendo Entertainment System in America, Super Mario Bros. would go on to become the most successful video game of its time. Miyamoto said that at the time of Super Mario Bros.' release, several competitors had already started creating their own "jumping" games, and he feared of being one-upped by them. He started performing tests where a large character would run along a plain with a blue background behind him. At the time this was unusual, as most arcade and home console games had black backgrounds as it was supposedly less tiring on the player's eyes. From the beginning of this project Miyamoto wanted the player to be able to travel on the land, in the air and in the sea. The final product had Mario travelling underground as well as above ground in the night and day too (Apparently the designers implemented the controls from Balloon Fight for the underwater portions of the game. Indeed the game's water stages play almost identically to it.). The only reason Mario is able to turn from small to big is because Miyamoto wanted a large character on the screen. They found that, when larger, Mario was more satisfying to control and chose to include both sizes in the final product. The player will start out small but increase in size upon consuming a mushroom. Mushrooms were chosen to increase Mario's size because Miyamoto felt that the fungi always had a connection to magical realms.

Miyamoto's team encountered a problem when developing Super Mario Bros. and their solution to it is considered among the community as quite brilliant. Basically they were able to train the player within seconds of starting the game, without having any button indications pop up on the screen. This was mainly implemented for the players who hadn't resorted to looking at their manual beforehand. Mario is automatically facing right when the game starts, and naturally the player will feel inclined to move in that direction. If they don't know how to move, a brief glance at the directional pad on the controller and the arrows engraved in them will hopefully give them a better understanding. Once moving they soon encounter their first enemy - the Goomba. The Goomba is moving at a slow pace under a set of blocks above. It has a slightly menacing appearance and if the Goomba comes into contact with Mario he will lose a life and have to start over. At this point the player will realize they have to use a new tactic, and by pressing the buttons they will learn that they possess the ability to jump. So, when they approach the Goomba this time, they decide to either jump over or on the enemy to progress. If timed correctly, Mario will hit the ? block above the Goomba and a mushroom will come out. The Mushroom automatically starts moving right, falls down to the ground and hits a blockade and starts moving at a rapid pace towards Mario. Because the Goomba looked similar to a mushroom (and was actually modeled after one), the player may instinctively try to jump over it again. If they jump they will hit another block above their head, thus causing them to come back to the ground where they will hit the mushroom, thus learning that they can become bigger. Basically Miyamoto designed it so that new players almost always get the mushroom within a few tries. The standard blocks that are above Mario when he enlarges are placed there so that the player realizes that, when large, Mario can smash through them.

Miyamoto's second big NES title was The Legend of Zelda. Wanting to create a game centered around player's choices, Zelda allowed the player to choose which dungeons to complete first. There was no clear route on how to beat the game, and after they did so they would be presented with the illusive second quest. The Legend of Zelda was actually developed alongside Super Mario Bros., and several ideas that didn't fit in one game would be moved to another. The rotating fire pillars of Super Mario Bros. that are found within King Koopa's castles, for example, were initially an element found in The Legend of Zelda. Miyamoto, Takashi Tezuka and Toshihiko Nakago all worked on both games as a team, with [[Koji Kondo]] providing the iconic music. The Legend of Zelda received a sequel, The Adventure of Link on the NES while Super Mario Bros. technically had three sequels: Super Mario Bros. 2 (Japanese version), Super Mario Bros. 2 (American version, remake of Miyamoto title Doki Doki Panic), and the acclaimed Super Mario Bros. 3, not counting all of the spinoffs. On the Famicom Miyamoto was also the producer of Mother.

In order to take on their competitors, Nintendo started development on the Famicom's successor, the Super Famicom (Super Nintendo Entertainment System in Western countries). Shigeru Miyamoto was typically not involved in the creation of hardware, but instead was entrusted with the launch titles of the system. The most important was the newest Mario game, which would be titled Super Mario World. Utilizing all of the Super Famicom's features such as rotating, scaling and transparent objects, enhanced graphics and sound and other capabilities, Super Mario World was leagues ahead of any Mario game preceding it. Yoshi the dinosaur was introduced in this game as a mount for Mario to ride on. Initially the designers wanted something akin to Yoshi in Super Mario Bros. 3 but were unable to do it for technical reasons. Yoshi was modeled after a dinosaur for purely functional reasons; the SNES didn't allow a lot of sprites to be displayed at a single time and Yoshi, with his long and thin structure, enabled him to be included. F-Zero and Pilotwings were also released for the launch, and utilized the rotating powers of the Super Famicom extensively (even more-so than Super Mario World). Perhaps one of the Super Famicom's best known games is Star Fox. Released in 1993 and backed by a huge marketing campaign, players preordered it in the millions. Star Fox was the first game Miyamoto developed in conjunction with a foreign company (British developer Argonaut Games). Featuring advanced graphics, the game is not possible on typical SNES hardware. Instead, Argonaut and Nintendo worked together in developing the Super FX Chip, the first 3D graphics accelerator sold to consumers. Several Argonaut employees, including famed game designers Dylan Cuthbert and Giles Goddard, flew to Kyoto where they built the game alongside Nintendo personnel. Miyamoto helped design the game and conceptualized the four main characters. The game did so well, breaking records in the US and allowing Nintendo to establish a branch in the UK, that it cemented the game as an instant classic.

The Nintendo 64 offered brand new possibilities. Its hardware allowed developers to create fantastic 3D worlds. Mario was the first game to make the leap from 2D to 3D, and Miyamoto headed the project which became the console's best selling title, Super Mario 64 (it was the only game on the system to sell over 10 million units worldwide). Miyamoto at the time was involved in the four games that EAD was developing, but was focused almost entirely on the development of the Nintendo 64's most important title. The camera of the game, revolutionary for its time, went through several stages of development before its current incarnation. At first the game had a fixed, almost isometric viewpoint, though the developers didn't feel it accurately demonstrated the capabilities of the console and wasn't much of a leap from the 2D games. Miyamoto was reportedly more concerned with the movement of Mario and the camera system than anything else. While Super Mario 64's camera system was considered brilliant at the time, Nintendo managed to enhance it even more with their next big release, The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time. Ocarina of Time is notable in that it was the last game Shigeru Miyamoto ever directed; all future titles would simply be produced or supervised by him. Ocarina of Time to this day is the most critically acclaimed video game in the West according to game review aggregators such as GameRankings. At the time of developing the game Miyamoto viewed it as not only the most challenging experience he's ever had but that the resulting product was the best he had ever been involved with up to that point.

The GameCube and Game Boy Advance featured several new titles made in conjunction with Miyamoto. Since Ocarina of Time was the last game he directed, he would never be as deeply rooted in a game's development again. Instead, as a producer he would take more of a backseat role and oversee the development of a greater variety of titles, providing input and advice when needed. Pikmin, the launch title on the GameCube, is largely attributed to Miyamoto. A very unique real time strategy game involving a captain and up to a hundred tiny creatures called Pikmin that serve him, Pikmin and its sequel, Pikmin 2, were critically acclaimed but not as commercially successful as Miyamoto's other classics. Miyamoto supposedly came up with the idea for Pikmin when he was outside gardening at his home. An untrue rumor circulated around the community that Miyamoto had actually set up miniature Pikmin figurines in his garden, but he has confirmed this to be untrue. The Wii and Nintendo DS was a gateway for more casual gamers into the industry. Miyamoto provided these new consumers with a wide array of classic titles, most notably Wii Fit for the Wii and Nintendogs for the Nintendo DS. These games are dramatically different from Miyamoto's other titles in that they don't feature a prominent character and are aimed almost exclusively at the broader gaming audience. Because of this, they were much more successful than Pikmin and received sequels.

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