Born in 1952 in Kyoto, Japan, Miyamoto was an aspiring cartoonist as a child, and drew deep inspiration from the original Walt Disney animated films. As a result, he was much more attached to drawing and exploring his environment than sitting and focusing in class. He also designed and built his own toys using his grandfathers' tools. His taste in music was eclectic for his age.
Much of Miyamoto's childhood was spent exploring the natural habitat that surrounded his home. These adventures had a profound effect on his later work, with a local chained-up barking dog leading to the creation of the Chain Chomp enemy from Super Mario Bros. 3, or his adventures in caves as inspiration for the Zelda series.
Work on Arcade Games (1977-1983)
Miyamoto graduated from the Kanazawa College of Art in 1975, and earned a degree in industrial design in 1977. He met his father's friend Hiroshi Yamauchi, head of Nintendo of Japan, soon after and was subsequently hired as a staff artist to paint cabinet panels for arcade machines. He then assisted the development of the arcade games Sheriff (1979) and Radar Scope (1980).
In 1980, Nintendo of America CEO Minoru Arakawa ordered units of the coin-operated arcade game Radar Scope to be produced and shipped abroad. However, by the time Nintendo of Japan could manufacture enough units to be shipped to the United States, interest in video games began to deflate and, in combination with its poor quality, the game sold poorly.
Hoping to re-cooperate from financial losses brought on by Radar Scope, Miyamoto was commissioned to design a popular arcade game, and to only make use of the unsold Radar Scope units. He had no formal education or experience in programming, and seldom played video games, both attributes that are consistent today.
Since whatever game Miyamoto designed would be technologically limited by using recommissioned Radar Scope cabinets, several concessions had to be made for the sake of programmability and graphical limitations. The game's main protagonist, then an Italian carpenter named "Jump Man," sported a red cap and moustache, as drawing hair and a mouth proved difficult. Blue overalls completed his attire to contrast with his hat, and elements of the environment. Miyamoto had to compose the three-song soundtrack himself, on synthesizer, and with consideration towards the audio limitations of the cabinets, as no composer was available at the time.
The resulting game was Donkey Kong, released in 1981, and loosely inspired by the 1933 film King Kong. Miyamoto had designed Donkey Kong to be accessible and visually arresting to spectators. By having players ascend upwards (rather than horizontally) towards Donkey Kong, the player's relative progress was immediately apparent. The core game concept contrasted greatly with arcade games at the time, which were invariably combat-oriented and did not feature a distinctly human protagonist. Furthermore, it was the first video game to tell, however crudely, a story. In the absence of text, cutscene were employed to narrate the kidnapping of Pauline, Jump Man's girlfriend.
Donkey Kong was extremely commercially successful, and was birthed into Nintendo's first video game franchise, spawning remakes, and spin-offs featuring the protagonist, who would later be named Mario, and his profession changed to plumber. Additionally, the game pioneered the platformer genre, which became the dominant genre of video games for the following two decades.
Miyamoto's contribution to arcades would continue through Mario Bros., a competitive multiplayer game released in 1983. It was the first official game in the Mario series, and the first to feature Mario's brother Luigi, the Pow Block, powerup Mushrooms, and Koopa Troopas (then called "Shell Creepers"). The game performed moderately commercially, and marked Miyamoto's last foray into arcade game design.
Following their successful venture into arcade game production, Nintendo soon headed into producing cartridge-based video games for home use. After failing to strike deals with any major console manufacturer, including Atari, Nintendo produced their own video game console, the Nintendo Family Computer or "Famicom" in 1983. The moderate success Nintendo enjoyed in Japan could not be found in America, where interest in video games had since deteriorated after the "Crash of 1983."
In order to invite American consumers back into home video games, several marketing adjustments were made to the Famicom. The device was renamed the Nintendo Entertainment System, or NES, and cosmetically redesigned to resemble a typical VCR player. In addition, every NES unit would come bundled with a free game to demonstrate the audio-visual capabilities of the console, for which Miyamoto was chosen to lead in development.
After a protracted development cycle that lasted over a year, Super Mario Bros. was produced alongside Duck Hunt, which was also bundled with each NES system, but of which Miyamoto had no personal involvement. The game's core design varied greatly throughout development, at one point considered to be a third-person shooter. General controls were also adjusted frequently, with the D-Pad originally handling jumping.
Super Mario Bros. introduced several game play conventions now commonly used within the franchise and abroad. It was the first game to have hidden "Warp Zones,"multiple powerup items (such as the Fireflower and Invisibility Star), and simulated momentum. Responsive controls, smooth-scrolling graphics, and a complex musical soundtrack - composed by long-time collaborator Koji Kondo - made Super Mario Bros., and the NES, critically and commercially successful. It has since been considered critically and popularly among the greatest and most influential video games of all time. Furthermore, the practice packing in a single game with a console would later be repeated in 1989 with the release of the Game Boy with Tetris, and in 1991 with the release of the Super Nintendo Entertainment System with Super Mario World (also designed by Miyamoto), thus making Super Mario Bros. the first "killer application."
Once the Nintendo Entertainment System settled comfortably in America, Miyamoto was again tasked with creating a game that would distinguish the home gaming experience from that of arcade games. Drawing inspiration from his backyard expeditions during his childhood (mentioned above), Miyamoto, together with co-designer Takashi Tezuka, set about designing a top-down combat adventure game, with a heavy emphasis on exploration and puzzle-solving. Unlike Super Mario Bros., the game was not to be completed in one sitting but rather through periodic play, a concept impossible to recreate in arcade machines. A high score counter would not be present, and the physical cartridge would employ a battery-cell operated save state flash memory chip (or simply memory card), the first of its kind. Miyamoto enlisted Kondo again to compose the score, as he has for nearly all of his games since.
The Legend of Zelda would be released in 1986, to overwhelming critical and worldwide praise. It was among the first free-roaming adventure games (a precursor to the sandbox genre), and has since spawned both a genre and franchise in its image. Along with its 1998 sequel The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time, it is consider one of Miyamoto's crowning achievements.
Following the release of the Nintendo 64, Nintendo entered into the three-dimensional gaming realm. Miyamoto was forced to recommission much of his early 3D Mario design documents he had intended for the Super Nintendo Entertainment System. Production time was very constrained, and the memory limitations of the cartridges the Nintendo 64 utilized restricted the complexity and variety of level environments. Miyamoto scrapped most of the linear level designs in favor of housing multiple objectives - Power Stars - in each of the game's fifteen environments. An interactive camera system would be manually controlled via the "C-Pad," and sensitivity levels on the joystick were used to affect Mario movement speed. Unused elements from prior Mario and Zelda games were implemented.
Super Mario 64 was released in June 1996 alongside the release of the Nintendo 64, albeit not bundled with the console itself. A direct sequel began development soon after, but never came to fruition. A three-dimensional translation of the Zelda series would be realized as The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time (1998).
Miyamoto also created the F-Zero (1991), Wave Race (1992), and Star Fox (1993) franchises during this time.
With the release of Ocarina of Time in November 1998, Miyamoto began to relinquish his directorial duties in favor of a more hands-off role as supervisor. The game was the first and only joint-venture between Miyamoto and Eiji Aonuma, who would go on to direct every major Zelda release since. It would also marked the last instance in which he officially served as the director of a video game project.
While developing Super Mario Sunshine (2002), Miyamoto began to distribute creative and directorial duties to a group of aspiring designers. Once the core game concept revolving around a waterpack was selected, Miyamoto relinquished nearly all directorial duties to Kenta Usui and Yoshiaki Koisumi, the latter of which has directed every major Mario release since. Later, after a year in development, Miyamoto scrapped nearly all his work on The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess, and substituted Eiji Aonuma in his place.
Miyamoto is currently the Senior Manager of all software released by Nintendo Entertainment & Analysis, and often serves as producer or executive producer for Mario and Zelda products. He is estimated to administrate over 400 employees, both in Japan and America. He oversaw Retro Studio's development of Metroid Prime, insisting that the game be re-purposed as a "first-person adventure" mid-way through development. He also serves as an advisor and concept design for many games, notably Super Mario Galaxy (2007), for which he was credited for providing the "Game Concept."
The Nintendo DS saw Miyamoto's first foray hardware development. His contributions to its ultimate design are not clear. He was considerably more invested in the creation of Wii. Several aspects of its design, from its unique control interface to the deliberate inferiority of the hardware, were of Miyamoto's invention. It is unknown what role he currently plays in the production of the Nintendo 3DS.
Miyamoto married Yasuko Miyamoto, a secretary working at Nintendo, despite her general distaste for video games. Shigeru claims to have used her disinterest to gauge his success in creating universally enjoyable products, in the form of a "Wife-O-Meter," which he coined during his presentation at the Game Developers Conference. He has two children, neither of whom wish to go into the video games industry. He has stated on many occasions that he and his wife have limited the amount of time that their children can play video games, and Miyamoto himself seldom plays games in his spare time.
Miyamoto is magnanimously considered an example of humility; despite his obvious value and status, he does not receive a substantial salary, and bikes to work every day. Collaborators, including composer Koji Kondo, describe him as reserved, serious, and focussed, but also patient and energetic.
Many of Miyamoto's hobbies have been translated into intellectual property. The Pikmin, Wii Sports, and Wii Fit franchises were inspired by his personal interest in pets, gardening, athletics, and physical fitness, respectively. He is contractually forbidden from divulging in his personal life without Nintendo's authorization for this reason.
The Nintendogs series was inspired by his pet Shetland Sheepdog. On September 25, 2005, Nintendo held a "Nintendogs Doggy Fashion Show" in Manhattan to promote the release Nintendogs for the DS. Miyamoto served as a judge.
More on Miyamoto
- He understands spoken English well, but can only speak a few words.
- Donkey Kong, Mario and Zelda games have collectively sold over 350 million copies. The Mario series has sold over 200 million copies alone, making it the single most successful franchise in gaming.
- When making a character, he designs the game play systems and mechanics first, and builds the character around the experience.
- Miyamoto grew up listening to Western Music like the Beatles and Lovin' Spoonful. He is a fan of bluegrass and plays the piano and banjo.
- He doesn't own a cell phone, nor has any intention to.
- He is ambidextrous and prefers using his left hand. He has designed Mario and Link with his left-hand.
- He does not play a lot of games in his free time. When he does play games, they are quick hand-held games that he plays with his family.
- When he started making games he didn't like computers and other electronics at all because they used electricity, which he didn't trust.
- He rides a bicycle to work every day.
- He is a former smoker.
- He swims regularly, and his fascination with exercise spawned Wii Fit (2008) and its balance board counter part, itself inspired by the dual-scale method Sumo-wrestlers use to measure their weight.
- He generally focuses on evoking broad emotions from players.
- Some consider him the "Walt Disney" or "Steven Spielberg" of video games.
- Cliff Bleszinski, lead designer of Gears of War and Unreal Tournament III, has cited Miyamoto as his primary influence.
- Both Hideo Kojima and Will Wright consider Miyamoto to be the greatest video game designer of all time.
- Miyamoto believes in delays in order to polish his craftsmanship. He attributed the quote," A delayed game is eventually good, but a rushed game is forever bad."
- He was a key personnel in designing of Wii.
- He claims to have designed many of his games for the intention of impressing and interesting his wife. During his GDC 2007 keynote, he revealed this to be measured by his personal "Wife-o-Meter." Should her interest blossom into designing a game of her very own, he says that he can finally retire.
- He says that the game Portal is "an excellent game", which is a much higher compliment than he has given to even most of his own best selling and popular game creations.
- Miyamoto made a guest appearance on a Mega64 skit titled " Mega64: New Super Mario Bros. Video" in which he played himself.
- Miyamoto once criticized Donkey Kong Country for using pre-rendered 3D graphics (Which was new at the time), stating that "Donkey Kong Country proves that players will put up with mediocre gameplay as long as the art is good." He later apologized, saying he had been harsh due to Nintendo pressuring him at the time to make Super Mario World 2: Yoshi's Island similar to Donkey Kong Country.
- In Nintendogs, one of the characters named "Shiggy" is presumably Miyamoto.
- When being interviewed by USA Today, Miyamoto said that his favorite Mario game of all time is Super Mario World.
Movies and Television Shows
Miyamoto has not been in movies or television shows, but he has had a number made based on his games and characters.
Super Mario Bros.
Release: May 28,1993
This movie took Mario and Luigi (Italian plumbers) and put them in a live action movie. The movie was made for $42,000,000 and had a gross revenue of $20,915,465. Bob Hoskins, the actor who played as Mario, had stated that Super Mario Bros. was the worst thing he ever did and "it was a f**king nightmare." Shigeru Miyamoto said that while "it was a very fun project that they (The filmmakers) put a lot of effort into," he regretted the film's creation.
The King of Kong: Fistful of Quarters
Release: August 17, 2007
"The King of Kong: Fistful of Quarters" is a movie about two people (Steve Wiebe and Billy Mitchell) battling for a world record in Donkey Kong (Miyamotos' first game). Walter Day is the founder of Twin Galaxies (an organization that was formed to keep track of high scores on arcade games). He is shown throughout the movie as a referee.
Super Mario Bros: Mario's Movie Madness
DVD Release: 2007
Mario and friends take some of the most famous movies (Road Warrior, Star Wars) to task in these five quirky parodies.
The Adventures of Super Mario Bros. 3: The Complete Series
DVD Release: June 26, 2007
Released to capitalize on Super Mario Bros 3, these thirteen episodes chronicle King Bowser (Koopa)'s attacks, along with his Koopa Kids, on both the Mushroom Kingdom, and the "real world." Then-president George H. W. Bush and first lady Laura Bush even get in on the action as Mario and Luigi must struggle to save two worlds from the forces of evil!
The Super Mario Bros. Super Show!
Release: September 23, 1991
Follow the animated adventures of Brooklyn Plumbers Mario and Luigi in their first American animated adventures! Interspersed with live-action sketches starring professional wrestler Captain Lou Albano as the titular plumber.
Fred Savage stars as a gaming prodigy who travels across America to get to the ultimate gaming tournament! Features the first look Americans got at Super Mario Bros. 3 in the climactic scenes.
Captain N and the New Super Mario World
NBC combined Captain N and Super Mario Bros to capitalize on Super Mario World, adding Yoshi to the mix of Mario's supporting cast.
Captain N The Game Master: The Complete Series
An animated show created around several different videogame characters teaming up to fight evil. The Forces of Chaos, led by Mother Brain of Metroid fame, are opposed by Princess Lana, Simon Belmont, Mega Man and Kid Icarus, are about to conquer the peaceful kingdom of Videoland. The forces of good must summon Captain N, in this case California teenager Kevin Keene, to tip the balance of power.
The Super Mario Bros: Once Upon a Koopa
DVD Release: 12/18/2007
This was a compilation of a few episodes.
Super Mario Bros: Air Koopa
DVD Release: Sept 18, 2008
This is a compilation of six episodes, many of which are based on villains and concepts from Super Mario Bros. 2:
The Bird: Birdo abducts Toad on an ice world, mistaking the Mushroom Kingdom's retainer as one of its children.
Mario's Magic Carpet: King Koopa kidnaps the Princess and Mario must rescue her with the aid of a magic carpet!
Stars in Their Eyes: The Mario Bros. are enslaved, along with the planet Quirk, by King Koopa!
Mario and the Red Baron Koopa: Mario returns to his magic carpet to battle King Bowser Koopa, who has teamed up with the cloud riding Laikitu!
Count Koopula: A parody of Dracula, Count Koopa is trying to lure Mario and Luigi into his creep castle so that he can convert the Princess into a spaghetti sauce drinking vampire...yes, that's really what this episode is about.
Legend of Zelda: Ganon's Evil Tower
DVD Release: July 22, 2003. Original Release: 1998
This was a compilation of the first three episodes of the Legend of Zelda cartoon and, for some reason, two episodes of Sonic Underground. In The Legend of Zelda, Link and Zelda must seek the Tri Force of Wisdom while battling the evil Ganon and defending the kingdom of Hyrule.
Legend of Zelda: Complete Animated Series
DVD Release: 2005
The legendary warrior Link, and the fairy Sprite, must defend the kingdom of Hyrule, along with Princess Zelda, against the evil machinations of Ganon. This series still features the complete Super Mario Bros. Super Show introduction, and even some Captain Lou Albano Sketches, since the show was originally featured as part of that show.
Legend of Zelda: Havoc in Hyrule
Release: September 27, 2005
This collected another five episodes of the Legend of Zelda cartoon after Ganon's Evil Tower.
Super Mario Bros. 3: The Ugly Mermaid
This actually contained two episodes: "The Ugly Mermaid" and "Do the Koopa." The Ugly Mermaid features Mario and company travelling to an underwater world, while donning their frog suits, to battle King Koopa and his Doomsub.
Super Mario Brothers: King Koopa Katastrophe
DVD Release: August 21, 2007
Another DVD Compilation, this one featuring six episodes! King Koopa has escaped from the Banishment Zone (which is legally distinct from the Phantom Zone) and has unleashed more terror upon the Mushroom Kingdom. The Mario Brothers spring into action against this new threat.
Super Mario Bros: Mario of the Deep
DVD Release: July 22, 2008
Five aquatic themed episodes of Super Mario Bros see the Brothers doing everything from disguising themselves as riverboat gamblers to pirates to rescue the Princess from the clutches of the evil King Koopa!
Rollin' Down the River: King Koopa has Princess Peach imprisoned on his riverboat, and the Brothers Mario must disguise themselves as slick gamblin' men to rescue her.
Pirates of the Koopa: Long John Koopa predates Captain Jack Sparrow by a decade in kidnapping the Princess, forcing the Mario Brothers to disguise themselves as pirates as well to attend the auction of the Princess.
Mario of the Deep: The titular episode sees King Koopa forcing King Neptune and the underwater Mermushrooms to loot a sunken ship of its horde of gold coins.
20,000 Koopas Under the Sea: Mario and Luigi travel to Oceanworld to foil King Koopa and his diabolical submarine!
The Koopas Are Coming!: George Washingtoad is aided in his rebellion against Redcoat Koopa's Army. The Mario Bros. must help this intrepid adventurer cross the Delawide River in an episode sure to make you flunk out of elementary school American History.
Video Game Industry Accolades
Some of Miyamoto's most notable awards from the gaming community are as follows:
- “I think I can make an entirely new game experience, and if I can't do it, some other game designer will.”
- “What comes next? Super Mario 128? Actually, that's what I want to do.”
- “Well, for over a year now at my desk, a prototype program of Luigi and Mario has been running on my monitor. We've been thinking about the game, and it may be something that could work on a completely new game system.”
- “We don't pay a whole lot of attention to the Internet until people have played the game - then we pay a lot of attention to whether people liked it. We read through it and see it, but we don't take it into consideration. ... [The Internet] is not going to dictate the direction of where the game goes.”
- “If it turns out that Mario doesn't really fit into the type of game I want, I wouldn't mind using Zelda as the basis of the new game.”
- “Throughout the Zelda series I've always tried to make players feel like they are in a kind of miniature garden. So, this time also, my challenge was how to make people feel comfortable and sometimes very scared at the same time. That is the big challenge.”
- “I think Zelda 64 is utilizing about 90 percent of the N64 potential, ... When we made Mario 64 we were simply utilizing 60 to 70 percent. So we have come a long way I believe.”
- “We had been making arcade games up until that point, ... Our objective with the Nintendo entertainment system was to create the ultimate family entertainment system for the home.”
- “I am not Link, but I do know him! Even after 18 years, the Legend of Zelda never stops changing and this game is no different. We are now taking you to a world where Link has grown up--a world where he will act different and look different. In order to grow, Link must not stand still and neither will I.”
- “There are big lines between those who play video games and those who do not. For those who don't, video games are irrelevant. They think all video games must be too difficult. We want to remove that barrier. It's very simple. There are dozens of different questions. It's a very unusual experience.”
When inquired about working for other video game companies
"Nintendo is the company which makes the most innovative products. I am not sure that I would be able to make games like that elsewhere. At Nintendo I can make the games which I want."
Responding to early claims that video games were detrimental to the youth
"Video Games are bad for you? That's what they said about Rock 'N' Roll."
How his games have changed over time.
“I would say that over the last five years or so, the types of games I create has changed somewhat,” he said. “Whereas before I could kind of use my own imagination to create these worlds or create these games, I would say that over the last five years I’ve had more of a tendency to take interests or topics in my life and try to draw the entertainment out of that.”
Miyamoto on Miis
“I see the Miis as the most recent character creation from Nintendo. What’s interesting is that regardless of the user’s age, if they’re looking at a Mii, it’s their Mii. Before, when you’re playing as another character, it’s more typical of more passive entertainment, and by creating a Mii you’re becoming more a part of the entertainment experience.”
Why delaying a game is good
"A delayed game is eventually good, a bad game is bad forever."