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Nintendo Designer Mutates Music Games

Wii Music adds new elements, interactivity

November 13, 2008 7:55 AM ET
With the proliferation of music games on the market and the ongoing arms race between Rock Band and Guitar Hero, it was only a matter of time before Nintendo checked in with their own version. Wii Music, released two weeks ago, turns the music game genre on its ear by turning Nintendo's Wii into a vessel for musical composition and experimentation, allowing players to play around with dozens of instruments and musical styles. In fact, game designer Shigeru Miyamoto — whose legendary resumé includes Donkey Kong, Super Mario Bros. and The Legend Of Zelda — thinks it goes beyond the type of gaming established by other music-based titles. "I don't know if we should even be calling Wii Music a video game," says Miyamoto. "I have been likening Wii Music to something that's more along the lines of a musical instrument than it is a video game."

What was the idea behing Wii Music?
When we first began development of the Wii we really wanted that to be a console that played a very central role in the living room as kind of a social hub. We felt that in order for that to happen, one of the subjects that we really needed in order for everyone in the house to be able to relate to it was music. It wasn't that we wanted to create a music game at a time when music games were very popular — in fact I'm almost a little frustrated because I feel that if we had released Wii Music when music games weren't popular then people would perhaps be able to look at Wii Music from the perspective of what it is rather than from the perspective of what their definition of a music game is.

Without a real competition element, what is the optimum Wii Music experience?
I feel that one of the things that really can make a video game good is not necessarily giving the player a defined goal that they have to achieve, but instead inspiring the player to creatively define their own objectives and determine what they want to do in the game and how they want to get there. In that sense I think Wii Music has really managed to achieve that because we've provided people with really a tool or a creative system that allows them to tap in to that sense and attachment to music that's really innate to us as humans. Typically if you bring a musical instrument into the home people will interact with it and they'll figure out how to make sound with it but just being able to make sound with an instrument doesn't mean that you're able to make music. With Wii Music, within five minutes everybody in the house is immediately able to play the instrument and because of the way it is designed, playing that instrument isn't just playing sounds — it's actually playing music.

Do you have any musical background yourself?
I first started playing in a band back in college and for thirty years have been practicing instruments and trying to perform in bands. I'm actually not very good at playing instruments, but the sound team is actually a group of individuals who, not only are they good composers, but they are also great performers and they play a lot of different instruments.

The song list is a strange mix of traditional tunes, children's songs and pop tracks. What was the logic behind the selection?
The song list was handled mostly by Koji Kondo. He's a composer that I've worked with for years — he composed the Super Mario Bros. theme song. Wii Music is a game that is centered around improvisation and the ability to rearrange songs in a variety of different genres, so two of the fundamental points that we had to stick to was that we needed the songs to be songs that everybody would know and they needed to have the type of chord progression that makes improvising and rearranging easy.

There are a lot of fantastically strange instruments in the game, like the cat suit. What was the inspiration behind those?
The typical pattern when we're developing our games is that the development teams will work very diligently to make the game and I'll take a look at it and say "why does this game feel so serious? You need some more silly things in there." But this time around I didn't actually have to do that because the team was creating all of those strange instruments of their own accord. Even the cheerleader, which is another instrument in Wii Music, is something that I didn't even have to suggest to them; I just turned the game on one day and all of a sudden there was a cheerleader. From that sense I would say that Wii Music was a relatively easy development project for me.

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