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GDC: Nintendo explains Miyamoto's method

March 25, 2009 |  1:52 pm
Shigeru Miyamoto
Shigeru Miyamoto, creator of such Nintendo games as Donkey Kong and Wii Fit. Credit: Nintendo

Video games guru Shigeru Miyamoto, who created Nintendo's Wii Sports, Wii Fit, Mario and Donkey Kong, has a track record for doling out hit after hit. How does he do it?

At the Nintendo keynote during the Game Developer Conference in San Francisco today, Chief Executive Satoru Iwata shed some light on Miyamoto's methods:

As with all developers, Miyamoto develops a core concept for a game. But unlike many developers, he likes to watch people having fun. Whether it's gardening, sharing photos or playing music, Miyamoto tries to find out what makes things compelling or delightful.

Often, the 56-year-old game designer finds inspiration in the unlikeliest places. His idea for Wii Fit, which has sold more than 14 million units in less than a year, came from weighing himself on a bathroom scale. Pikmin, a GameCube title that recently relaunched on the Wii, was inspired by Miyamoto's love of gardening. And Nintendogs, one of the bestselling games for the company's hand-held DS console, came after he brought home a puppy and watched how his children played with it.

For Miyamoto, "ideas are everywhere," said Iwata.

The idea gets shaped into a game concept during what Miyamoto calls the prototyping stage, which can last up to two years. At this point, Miyamoto has a team of half a dozen developers working to create the game mechanics, through lots of trial and error.

When Miyamoto sees an acceptable prototype, only then does he present it to Iwata and discuss a timeframe. Then Nintendo deploys its armies of designers, artists and programmers to bring the game to life. When the game is closer to completion, Miyamoto launches onto the final stage, which Iwata calls "random employee kidnapping" at Nintendo.

"The victim is handed a controller and told to enjoy himself," Iwata explained. Miyamoto watches as the person plays the game, or tries to. He takes note of when they are delighted, frustrated or bored. He makes it a point never to provide directions, instead observing to see if any part of the game stumps players.

"If the game is not fun," Iwata said, "he sees it as a failure of the developers."

-- Alex Pham

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