Born November 16, 1952, in Sonebe, Japan; son of Hideo (an English teacher) and Yasuko Miyamoto; married; wife's name, Yasuko; children: Ray, Lui. Education: Kanazawa Municipal College of Industrial Arts and Crafts (studied industrial design), graduated 1977. Hobbies and other interests: Gardening, playing the banjo.
Home—Kyoto, Japan. Office—Nintendo Co. Ltd., 11-1 Kamitoba-Hokodate-cho, Minami-ku, Kyoto, 601-8501, Japan.
Video game designer. Nintendo, staff artist, video game development, and general manager, 1977—. Developed games, including Donkey Kong, Super Mario Brothers, and Legend of Zelda.
STORY DEVELOPER AND DESIGNER; VIDEO GAMES
Donkey Kong, Nintendo (Kyoto, Japan), 1981.
Mario Brothers, Nintendo (Kyoto, Japan), 1983.
Super Mario Brothers, Nintendo (Kyoto, Japan), 1985.
The Legend of Zelda, Nintendo (Kyoto, Japan), 1987.
StarFox, Nintendo (Kyoto, Japan), 1994.
Super Mario 64, Nintendo (Kyoto, Japan), 1996.
StarFox 64, Nintendo (Kyoto, Japan), 1997.
The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time, Nintendo (Kyoto, Japan), 1998.
(With Yoshiaki Koizumi) Super Mario Sunshine, Nintendo (Kyoto, Japan), 2002.
Pikmin, Nintendo (Kyoto, Japan), 2002.
Pikmin 2, Nintendo (Kyoto, Japan), 2004.
Designer of other video games, including Adventures of Link, The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Walker, Metroid Prime, Luigi's Island, and Yoshi's Island, produced by Nintendo.
Called the "Steven Spielberg of video games" by Time magazine's David S. Jackson, Japanese artist and designer Shigeru Miyamoto is the originator of such gaming classics as Donkey Kong, Super Mario Brothers, The Legend of Zelda, and Pikmin. "In a business where a one-hit wonder can be considered an unqualified success," wrote Zev Borow in Wired online, "Miyamoto has created not only a tall stack of videogame hits but a handful of global pop-culture franchises." In the 1980s and 1990s Miyamoto helped turn the gaming industry into a multi-billion dollar business, his "Mario" series alone earning more than $7 billion, twice the box office for the combined Star Wars movies. He also helped build the Japanese firm Nintendo from a small toy and novelty company into one of the major video game companies, along with Sony, Sega, and Microsoft. "And his success hasn't been merely financial," Borow continued. Miyamoto has been responsible for creating what Borow referred to as an "instantly recognizable aesthetic" in the game industry, a look that is at once "colorful, cartoonish, whimsical." Additionally, he helped to pioneer the use of original sound tracks in Nintendo video games, the development of nonlinear or total-universe-type games, and the move from two-dimensional to 3-D effects, all of which serve, as Borow further noted, "as a kind of DNA for today's titles." According to Chris Gaither, writing in the New York Times, "no designer has won more fame than Mr. Miyamoto. Many of the young lions of game creation grew up playing Nintendo games." And as Sharon R. King noted in the New York Times, the Japanese video game designer "has almost single-handedly made Nintendo the largest seller of video games in the world . . . . In an industry full of 20-something geniuses with day-glo orange hair, earrings and ponytails, Mr. Miyamoto's creative longevity is unmatched."
Most amazingly, Miyamoto managed to create such a renaissance with video games that are basically geared toward children of all ages. He eschews obvious violence, chattering machine guns, and edgy dungeons. While other competitors advanced gaming into dark fantasy regions or into the macho worlds represented by the popular game Grand Theft Auto, Miyamoto greeted the new millennium with Pikmin, a game in which an astronaut, with the help of carrot-like aliens, must reassemble his space craft after crashing. Such iconoclastic behavior is typical for Miyamoto, who, in the button-down culture of corporate Japan, has always been a quiet rebel. In addition to once riding a bicycle to the Nintendo headquarters, he "wears a Mickey Mouse tie and chills out by plucking bluegrass tunes on his Dobro," as Jackson observed. For all the billions of dollars he earned for his parent company, Miyamoto continued to earn the equivalent of a manager's salary, and has no royalty claims on his creations. "As is the way with Japanese corporate employees," explained People contributor Tom Gliatto, "Miyamoto does not receive so much as an extra pinch of pixie dust from the Mario games, the movie [Super Mario Brothers, from Disney Productions], the lunch boxes, sheets, toys and fast-food tie-ins." But for Miyamoto, considered something of a superhero in the trade, this is just fine. "'Nintendo allows me to create,'" he told Gliatto. "'I do not need anything other than that.'"
From Puppets to Animation
Born in 1952, in the village of Sonebe near Kyoto, Japan, Miyamoto grew up, one of three children, in a world free of television and close to nature. Bicycling was one of his favorite pastimes; another was puppeteering. Drawing came later, and by the time he was eleven he was "obsessed with animation," according to Gliatto. As noted on Miyamoto's Web site, Miyamoto Shrine, his bicycle expeditions into the surrounding countryside deeply affected his future career; on one such outing he discovered and investigated a series of linking caves that later inspired his approach to video game construction. By his teenage years, Miyamoto's father, an English teacher, had purchased the family's first television; thereafter Miyamoto became "hooked on Japanese superheroes," as Gliatto further commented.
Miyamoto attended the Kanazawa Municipal College of Industrial Arts and Crafts, studying industrial design and graduating in 1977. Looking around for appropriate employment, he hit on the playing-card company Nintendo, which was run, at the time, by Hiroshi Yamauchi, a friend of Miyamoto's father. Asked to present a portfolio of possible toys for development, Miyamoto did just that, including in his portfolio a design for children's clothing hangers in the shape of animal heads, and won a job as Nintendo's first staff design artist. The arrival of Miyamoto was fortuitous; Nintendo had just entered the coin-operated arcade game market, but their 1978 release, Radarscope, was a failure. Now the company had thousands of cabinets for this arcade game on their hands. Miyamoto's first major assignment for Nintendo was thus to design a new game for these cabinets, and something that would sell.
King Kong Meets Beauty and the Beast
Miyamoto, an inveterate arcade game player in college, took to his assignment with a passion. Already such games were full of explosions and car chases; Miyamoto took a different direction with his new game, blending themes from two of his favorite stories, King Kong and Beauty and the Beast, to come up with a "chubby, mustachioed Japanese fantasy of an Italian plumber," as Borow described game star Mario. When Mario's pet gorilla falls for its owner's girlfriend and kidnaps her, Mario must track them down to a huge construction site and maneuver over girders, dodge barrels tossed at him by the gorilla, and generally mix it up to get his true love back. A joystick and a button that makes Mario jump were the simple controls to this game, which became known as Donkey Kong. As Borow noted, this "ridiculously simple premise" became a "transcendentally addictive game," and within a couple of years Nintendo had marketed nearly 70,000 units. Because of as-yet-undeveloped graphics technology, much of Mario's distinctive look was a result of saving pixels; there weren't enough pixels, for example, to depict the movement of hairs while Mario was jumping, so Miyamoto gave Mario a cap to cover the hairs; similarly, Mario has a big nose and a moustache because Miyamoto wanted people to notice that Mario had a nose. Interestingly, Mario was not named when the game was first released; Miyamoto dubbed him Jumpman, but the staff of Nintendo's New York office noticed a similarity between Jumpman and the Italian landlord of their office, who was named Mario. By the time he appeared in the 1983 arcade game Mario Brothers, he had become a plumber and teamed up with brother Luigi to do battle with all manner of critters who come out of pipes. This game scored another success for Miyamoto and Nintendo.
With these successes, Nintendo executives began to look for new markets for video games, and by the early 1980s it was clear where such a market lay: in home computers. In 1985 the company came out with the NES console, hardware that would allow video games to be played at home. And Miyamoto came up with Super Mario Brothers, using the same hero from Donkey Kong but in a game so "complex and extensive it had to be mapped out to be understood," according to Borow. The script for this new game has Mario exploring the Mushroom Kingdom in search of Bowser, who has kidnaped Princess Toadstool. Miyamoto also added an original musical score to accompany the action, the first time this was done in video games. Influenced by the experience he had as a youth wriggling in and out of caves, as well as by the sliding doors in his parents' home, Miyamoto created a game in which new passages unfolded in seemingly endless fashion. His highly addictive creation captivated players and in the process created an overnight sensation.
"Because of the darkness you have fear," Miyamoto explained to Gliatto in discussing the popularity of Super Mario Brothers, "and this heightens your feelings, and the fear becomes part of your joy of discovery. Discovering things brings a certain kind of high." Whether its creator was correct or not, Super Mario Brothers became a worldwide sensation, selling over forty million copies and inspiring numerous titles in the "Mario" series, including Super Mario Brothers 2, Super Mario Brothers 3, Super Mario Land, Super Mario World, and the 3-D 1996 installment, Super Mario 64, in which Mario frolics through a 3-D mushroom kingdom to save the kidnaped Peach, a video game which some players consider the best ever devised.
Meanwhile, Miyamoto married a Nintendo coworker and had two children, a son and daughter—he explained that he allows both children to play video games, but only for a limited time each day, and not if it is sunny outside. In 1987 Miyamoto introduced yet another popular video character with The Legend of Zelda. In this game, Ganon, the king of evil, has broken free from the Dark World and captured Hyrule's beloved Princess Zelda. Before she was captured, however, Zelda managed to shatter the Triforce of Wisdom and scatter its eight pieces throughout Hyrule. Link swears to recover the Triforce pieces and rescue Princess Zelda from Ganon's clutches. Various quests of varying degrees of difficulty face players of The Legend of Zelda.
By 1996 Nintendo engineers had developed a sixty-four-bit system that allowed for much more sophisticated graphics. Miyamoto rose to the occasion, breaking through with 3-D effects on Super Mario 64. In this game Mario searches for the kidnaped Peach with the aid of all-around vision provided by the selection of different camera angles available to players. "This means Mario is not confined to a linear path, but instead can fully explore the courses," explained a contributor for The Mushroom Kingdom. "As you're climbing trees, running circles around enemies, or admiring the view from a tall mountain, it's easy to forget about why you were there in the first place: to find Power Stars." Borow likened the changeover from 2-D to 3-D to "film's progression from silents to talkies." Navigation controls had to be more sophisticated on Super Mario 64, and by developing a new range of movements for Mario, Miyamoto was also able to include an amazing array of skill levels to the game. This complex and complicated game scored another homerun for Miyamoto and Nintendo; Mario became an iconic international character and his adventures were turned into a feature film starring Bob Hoskins.
With the capabilities of 3-D providing new creative opportunities, Miyamoto also updated his popular "Zelda" series for Nintendo 64. The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time continues the quest in a 3-D realm. The story serves as a prequel to the original Zelda game, taking players back to the youth of Link when he was tricked by Ganondorf, the king of the Gerudo thieves, who in turn used Link to gain access to the Sacred Realm. Here Link acquired Triforce and despoiled the beautiful Hyrulian landscape. Determined to rectify matters, Luke, with the help of Rauru, travels through time gathering the powers of the Seven Sages. Quest follows quest until finally Link and Ganondorf face one another, and the evil one transforms himself into Ganon. When the battle is over, Link successfully seals Ganon in the Dark World. "From the moment you put the game in, you know you're in for a stirring experience," Tom Ham wrote in a Newsweek review of Ocarina of Time, while Todd Mowatt, writing in USA Today Online dubbed the 1998 game Miyamoto's "masterpiece." Speaking with Ham, Miyamoto confessed that at the time, The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time "was the most challenging video game I have ever worked on"; while Super Mario 64 used about sixty percent of the capacity of the new technology, The Legend of Zelda employed upwards of ninety percent capacity. "Graphically speaking," Ham observed, the game is "truly wondrous," with real-time 3-D sequences that "will leave you speechless." A reviewer for the Tampa Tribune had additional praise for the 1998 addition to the "Zelda" series, noting that "the father of Donkey Kong and the Mario titles has surpassed all expectations with The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time, arguably the best adventure of all time."
Miyamoto has continued the "Zelda" series through many additional titles and has also employed Nintendo 64 technology on StarFox 64, a video game that would, in the opinion of Laura Evenson writing in the San Francisco Chronicle, make gamers "shake, rattle and barrel-roll . . . in a 3-D aerial dogfight that has shot to the top of the electronic game charts."
In 2001 Nintendo introduced GameCube, a new platform with even more power than Nintendo 64. Once again Miyamoto was there to furnish sophisticated games to be used on it. Among the most popular of these were Super Mario Sunshine and Pikmin, both released in 2002. "Whenever we create a new Mario game, even though it's a sequel in a series, we always try to offer some new challenge," Miyamoto explained in an interview with Electronic Gaming Monthly. "We want to incorporate everything that the existing technology makes possible." According to many critics, Miyamoto succeeded in this quest. As Matt Kelly noted in the London Mirror, Super Mario Sunshine "remains one of the prime reasons for owning a GameCube," and provides gamers with a "gloriously surreal" experience. Mike Bradley, writing for the London Guardian, agreed, praising Super Mario Sunshine as "enormous, entertaining game which provides a rewarding addition to the Mario legend." And Gloria Goodale, writing in the Christian Science Monitor, maintained that "this colorful and fun game is a winner."
Miyamoto plowed new ground—quite literally, with Pikmin—the game was inspired by his own gardening efforts. In Pikmin Captain Olimar crash lands on an alien world and the only way he can get back home is by gathering the thirty pieces of his craft and reassembling them, racing against time and the planet's toxins, which will kill him. Olimar is not alone in his endeavors, however; he discovers a carrot-like race of aliens, the Pikmin, who appear eager to help him out. Critically, Pikmin was well received by the gaming press and has spawned a sequel in Pikmin 2, although its sales were relatively lackluster for a Nintendo release. Dubbed "one of the most addictive games ever" by Amy Vickers in the Mirror, it was also described as a game with "breathtakingly beautiful environments, full of imaginative creatures and lots of nooks and crannies to explore" by a reviewer for the Tampa Tribune. The same contributor found Pikmin to be "one of the most creative, original console games we've ever played." For Chris Snider, writing in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, "the graphics are wonderful" and the "soundtrack is light and soothing." Snider called it "another sure-to-be-epic game."
With all his successes, Miyamoto has continued to dedicate himself to his work, continuing to create games that he himself would like to play. "All of my games are special to me," he admitted to Michael McGehee in the Buffalo News. "Obviously I have a fondness for both Mario and Donkey Kong, since they were my first popular characters." Miyamoto also identified the source of his creativity: "All of my ideas come from my imagination," he told McGehee. "For example, the inspiration for Mario and Link's adventures was pretty much based on my own childhood experiences and fantastical dreams and role-playing. I create the game-play elements based on what I think would be challenging and fun to play. That's the most important part of a great gaming experience—that it's fun."
If you enjoy the works of Shigeru Miyamoto
If you enjoy the works of Shigeru Miyamoto, you might want to check out the following:
Sid Meier's Pirates!, 2004.
Satoshi Tajiri's Pokemon, 1996.
Will Wright's SimCity3000, 2002.
Speaking with Alex Pham of the Los Angeles Times, Miyamoto looked ahead to the future of video game design. "I think for a long time we've looked at technology and at how we can make use of it in games." During the late 1990s there was "a lot of focus on what can be done with cutting-edge technology. Now we're getting to the point where the technology can only do so much more. People are focusing too much on what you can do with technology, and not enough on creativity. I'm not certain that a high level of technology will necessarily make games fun and interesting." During an interview with Joseph Szadkowski for the Washington Times, he also commented on the intellectual value of gaming, while noting that, like most things, playing video games should not be done in excess. Players of his games, Miyamoto noted, "really think about the world they are playing in. When . . . presented with a problem or a puzzle, then they try different ways of solving it. They can then predict results very quickly, bringing out the creative side . . . and encouraging them to think in different ways."
Biographical and Critical Sources
Buffalo News (Buffalo, NY), July 21, 1998, Michael McGehee, "Mario & Me."
Christian Science Monitor, September 20, 2002, Gloria Goodale, review of Pikmin, p. 25.
Denver Post (Denver, CO), June 12, 1998, "New Chapter Coming from Zelda's Creator," p. E12.
Electronic Gaming Monthly, November 1, 2002, "Mario Sunshine"; February 1, 2003, "Metroid Prime."
Entertainment Weekly, December 18, 1998, Mark G. Brooks, "The Hit Man: Nintendo's Top Designer," p. 96.
Guardian (London, England), June 23, 2002, Robin McKie, review of Pikmin, p. 46; November 10, 2002, Mike Bradley, review of Super Mario Sunshine, p. 46.
Los Angeles Times, August 16, 1992, Richard Stayton, "The Bros. Mario Get Super Large Take," p. 3; July 12, 2001, David Colker, "The King of Donkey Kong; Nintendo's Star Video Game Designer Prefers to Stay out of the Game of Mobile Access," p. T2; March 11, 2002, Alex Pham, "A New Nintendo?," p. C8.
Mirror (London, England), May 4, 2002, Amy Vickers, review of Pikmin, p. 52; January 4, 2003, Matt Kelly, review of Super Mario Sunshine, p. 46.
Newsweek, November 23, 1998, Tom Ham, review of The Legend of Zelda, p. C1.
New York Times, December 21, 1998, Edward Rothstein, "After Mastering the Universe, Back to the Homework," p. E2; April 25, 1999, Sharon R. King, "Off-Screen Hero of the Video Game," p. 3; March 7, 2002, Chris Gaither, "Far from the Market, Game Designers Dissect What Fizzles," p. G6.
People, June 14, 1993, Tom Gliatto, "Master of the Game," pp. 129-130.
St. Louis Post-Dispatch, December 19, 2001, Chris Snider, review of Pikmin, p. D3.
San Francisco Chronicle, July 14, 1997, Laura Evenson, review of StarFox 64, p. E1; August 30, 1998, Laura Evenson, "High-Tech Entertainment Scales New Heights," p. 55.
Seattle Times, June 2 2002, Melanie McFarland, "Look, Ma! No Wires the Next Thing," p. K4.
Tampa Tribune, December 4, 1998, "Latest 'Zelda' a Masterpiece," p. 46; January 4, 2002, review of Pikmin, p. 36.
Time, May 20, 1996, David S. Jackson, "The Spielberg of Video Games," p. 53.
Time for Kids, April 12, 2002, Laura C. Girardi, "He's Got Game: For Shigeru Miyamoto, Work Is All about Fun," p. 7.
Wall Street Journal, January 25, 2002, "Success of Nintendo GameCube May Rest on Pikmin," p. A13.
Washington Post, May 17, 2001, Mike Musgrove, "Video-Game Rivals Square off Early; Microsoft, Nintendo to Launch Consoles in Fall to Challenge Sony," p. E1; January 11, 2002, Tom Ham, review of Pikmin, p. E12.
Miyamoto Shrine,http://www.miyamotoshrine.com/ (June 29, 2004).
Mushroom Kingdom,http://www.classicgaming.com/ (March 2, 2004).
Nintendo of America Web site,http://www.nintendo.com/ (June 29, 2004).
Nintendo Web site,http://www.nintendo.co.jp/ (June 29, 2004).
Washington Times,http://www.washingtontimes.com/ (June 17, 2004), Joseph Szadkowski, "Creativity over Gimmicks at Nintendo."
Wired Online,http://www.wired.com/wired/archive/ (January, 2003), Zev Borow, "Why Nintendo Won't Grow Up."
Zelda.com,http://www.zelda.com/ (March 1, 2004).*