Thursday, June 19, 2008

Legend of the Last Toymaker - backposted...

Shigeru Miyamoto - Legend of the Last Toy-Maker

His tale is told much like a fairie tale (note even the titles), and its tone is given higher precedence than the actual content that it is sharing, though it does give us that content. The authors seem most interested in imbuing this store with a kind of mythic weight. Shigeru Miyamoto isn't just the man that brought us Mario, he is an artist, he is the ever-wide-eyed toymaker, the man who can imbue childlike joy and imagination into his games.
Clearly, the way that the authors tell us this story wants to impress this upon us. We are given an omniscient narrator (who also tells us of Miyamoto's many handlers - have those handlers, perhaps, had their fingers in the telling of this story?), we shares with us the journey of Miyamoto from childhood into early adulthood and then through the adventure that is there in Nintendo.
Miyamoto goes to Nintendo during an era of change - the video game is just being ushered in and the current patriarch of the company Yamauchi, really wants to leave a legacy on the company's history. In this time, Miyamoto is hired, and given the task of packaging Radarscope for a US Market.
A (supposed) conversation between the two highlights Miyamoto's general philosophy:
- memorable characters
- artistic products
- less reliance on violence and more on larger themes.

In Radarscopes place, he creates Donkey Kong, much to the skepticisim of Nintendo's sales force. It ends up being a smash hit. In follow up, he creates Super Mario Brothers, to be bundled in with the Nintendo Entertainment System (the American version of Japan's Famicom). Super Mario has several interesting developments: a boss, a world to explore (giving it epic scale), easy skill hurdle to enter the game, high hurdle to master the skill.
As we follow Miyamoto in the aftermath of this we see a little more of his philosophy. Rather than start with a monster/weapon/spectacle, Miyamoto's game often start with a location, and then the idea: "Where is the fun here?". Philosophy matters, here. Like an old-fashioned toy, many Miyamoto games are largely open-ended, and can just be played ad infinitum, to the hearts content of the player, much like a toy soldier. Who cares about realism, Miyamoto asks, if the fun isn't there to be found. In the modern era, it is interesting to see how current designers have begun to view this as an "old-fashioned" outlook, even though they owe much of the ways that they explore this space TO Miyamoto. In the end, it is very similar to Miyamoto's conflict with Nintendo's early salespeople, looking for the tangible, and Miyamoto, championing the intangible: fun.

8 comments:

Sarah. R. said...

One of my favorite parts of this article was when they discussed Miyamoto's wandering through a cave system as a kid. Talk about introducing a mythic/mystic element to his persona. I think you were right to pick up on that; this chapter is obviously from a longer work that is weaving a narrative from the historical facts around the rise of video games. It was an entertaining read, nonetheless, though it's good to think about it in critical terms, too. Could one person possibly be so benevolent and fun-loving, seriously?

Eric M said...

I wondered the same about why we are given a 3+ page narrative about Miyamoto as a kid and what his interests were, etc. It is really irrelevant to the article and discussing the history of video games as a whole, but you're right it does add a mystique to Miyamoto. I think it's also important to be critical about how Miyamoto came up with his game ideas. The author portrays it as they were just ideas he came up with off the top of his head, without developing and molding them, they were already perfect. I would seriously doubt this.

Nick S said...

I really enjoyed how this article was written. Its easier for me to get caught up in an article if it is in a story form. One thing that is irrelevant to the class but for some reason stood out to me was that Miyamoto's dad was an English teacher, but when he was interviewed in the video he didn't speak English at all. You'd think as a young kid he would have been taught by his father, anyway...

This may be blasphemy to you guys, but I didn't realize that Miyamoto also created Zelda. Its amazing that his ideas have affected so many people and basically saved the video game industry.

Jon72585 said...

I also loved this article, mainly because Miyamoto has been one of my personal heroes for a long time. I find his view of video games and the video game industry to be one that remains refreshing and original. His ideas manage to feel both old school and current, constantly staying true to "fun" but willing to shift with the ever changing level of video game technology.

I remember as we were messing around with Spore yesterday thinking about this. Not to say that games like The Sims or Spore wouldn't exist without Miyamoto, but I believe that he serves as a beacon (or lighthouse, if you will) for the innovations in games that focus on fun rather than violence. This is not to say that I don't enjoy playing games like Call of Duty, GTA, Doom, or Resident Evil. However, I feel that even these violent videogames (particularly the puzzles in Resident Evil) keep in mind some of Miyamoto's forms of fun.

Jasun said...

Reading this article I found it most interesting to examine what was not mentioned about the interplay between Miyamoto's vision and the realities of the business of video games. One prominent example, at least to me, exists in the form of Super Mario Bros. 2. As anyone who has played this can tell you, the graphics and gameplay are completely different from the world created by Miyamoto for Mario & Luigi to inhabit. That's because the game was originally called Yume K�j�: Doki Doki Panic, but was reskinned to include Mario and friends for the sake of marketing. To me, that is where the interesting story lies, between the artistic vision and the corporate drive.

rtaylor said...

I remember talking to my friend within the last year and asking him, "Who the hell thinks up a plumber named Mario that gets more powerful off mushrooms?". After reading this article, my curiosity has been relieved. Miyamoto's personality, though sort of fairytale-esque, definitely explains the originality and success of his video games. It is apparent that he puts much time and though into his characters and basic narrative of the game. The side scrolling screen was revolutionary as well and he perfected it. It is impossible to think of the video game world without Miyamoto's influence.

Marlon Heimerl said...

I particularly like the special attention paid to the imagination and the narrative involved in the video game writing process and in the overall conceptualization of any character or game idea. The article, I agree, also dealt in a unique voice that border lined on a journalistic style which is much less painful to read.

I like what we were talking about in class in relation to this article. The idea that there exists a middle ground in relation to the necessity and presence of narrative in a game. I agree that running around in Gran Theft Auto just killing people would only sustain the senseless of creature for a few days at very best. People need intrigue and suspense, they need narrative and imagination, they need escape from the world and I like the way this article addressed this issue.

Adrian said...

Sarah:

I think it IS possible for that kind of benevolence. Especially for a guy who makes games like Mario. :;)