Posted by: Chris | December 6, 2009

The Cult of Miyamoto

Here are three post-mortems on three of the best Nintendo games of the past decade: Majora’s Mask, Metroid Prime, and Mario Galaxy.  They are all interesting reads in and of themselves, but one bizarre trend is the designers reflexively attribute major game design choices to one man: Shigeru Miyamoto.  Not only that, but they act as if they interpretted clues from an oracle, like with Metroid Prime’s visor system, which originated from a Miyamoto suggestion about Samus’ decapitation or Majora’s Mask’s three day scheme, which stemmed from a challenge Miyamoto gave to Eiji Aonuma.  When they manage to eke something usable from the man’s vague utterances, they all act as if it was because they could only marginally understand his brilliance, as this quote amply shows:

Over time, as all of these broad ideas get a little more narrowly defined, the feedback becomes a little more subtle, until finally it gets to the point where Miyamoto will give us feedback, and the only person who has any idea what it means is me. And everyone else who is CC’ed on these emails from Miyamoto have absolutely no idea what he is talking about. So I’ll translate for everyone else, “I think he’s trying to say this.” Having that sort of information gap is sort of like a puzzle or a riddle. It’s like playing Brain Age

Certainly, it seems like Miyamoto has a reason for this level of abstraction. I feel like he’s making us work to solve these puzzles on purpose, because it’s a process that unlocks the creativity on our side. So even though Miyamoto might have some unformed ideas, the very fact that he would put all these challenges in front of us makes me feel very grateful, because it helps the process.

Only Yoshiaki Koizumi (the author of that quote) ever seems egotistical enough to credit himself with ideas in defiance of Miyamoto, and even then gives the guy pretty siginificant deference.  Nintendo makes good games, but it seems like a shitty place to work.


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