Shigeru Miyamoto – the man responsible for creating Mario back in 1981– has been in the United States promoting the December 15th release of Super Mario Run for iPhone and iPad, keeping a brutal schedule that has included playing guitar with the Roots on The Tonight Show and speaking to a packed crowd at the SoHo Apple Store in New York. His new game marks a massive change of approach for the pioneering company he’s worked at for more than 30 years, as it sees its crown jewel property appearing on devices not made by Nintendo.
We caught up with Miyamoto at the end of his big publicity tour and spoke to him about his creative process, his feelings about getting older, whether he’s thinking of retiring any time soon and how he sees himself as a creator. He also reveals that he’s been able to find the time to work on ideas for Nintendo’s theme park partnership with Universal by not leading the charge on the company’s upcoming Switch console.
You mentioned in your presentation at the Apple Store this week that your core team has been together for 30 years. How do you keep that relationship together and keep it working?
It’s interesting, because people often ask me what I’m most proud of and for the longest time it was a question I always really struggled with. A few years ago, I realized that the thing that I’m really the most proud of is that I’ve been working with the same core group of people for the last 30 years – and really it’s because you just don’t see that happen very often.
There’s myself, Takeshi Tezuka, Toshihiko Nakago and there’s actually a fourth member of our group too: Koji Kondo. Usually it’s the four of us that work on things together. There are probably a few reasons for it. I think we’re actually somewhat special because we’re all Nintendo employees, and that’s unique compared to what you’ll sometimes see with other creative groups. The other is that in working together over the past 30 years, we’ve all fallen into these very specific roles in the development process and that’s enabled us to work really well.
What are those roles?
Well, I’m the boss. Because I’m the oldest.
What’s key is that all that we do is work very closely together to make sure the thing we’re doing is really fun. That’s what we’re always striving for. One of the things we’ve done to maintain the relationship is that we spend a lot of time together. Japan is a country where people really work a lot, so every day we always eat lunch together and go to dinner together.
When there’s an idea for a game or something that we think is just going to be fun, generally the four of us share a similar opinion. We all kind of agree on the fundamentals. The other thing I’ve noticed is that although we have this strange convergence of opinions, when other people come into the group and see what we’re getting all excited about, people will often question us and say “oh, does that really seem that fun?”
We just really trust each other, and that came into play with Super Mario Run because it was easy for us to drill down and know what we should and shouldn’t do on mobile. We aligned very quickly.
So what did that look like?
This time from the very beginning we decided that we wanted to make the very simplest Mario game that we possibly could. When we first made Super Mario Bros. 30 years ago, obviously a lot of people played it and part of the reason they liked it was that all you did was move to the right and jump. It was pretty simple. Gradually Mario games have become more complex and it’s harder for people to control now. This time we started off with the idea of: “What if we made a Mario game where all you do is jump and everything else is handled automatically?” Then we had to think about how we could take that basic structure and make it fun.