Last year, The Legend of Zelda celebrated its 25th anniversary with the release of Skyward Sword, a critical success that is also the fastest-selling Zelda game in franchise history. It’s impressive enough for any franchise to last that long — all the more so in the videogame industry, which has seen whole empires rise and fall in just a few decades of existence. But even more intriguing is that Zelda was merely the second franchise to hit that benchmark: The previous year, Super Mario turned 25 with the release of Super Mario Galaxy 2, another critical success that became one of the Wii’s top-selling titles.
And although every videogame is a massive undertaking — requiring hundreds of people working thousands of overtime hours — it’s fair to say that one man hovers over both franchises. Shigeru Miyamoto has been a major creative force at Nintendo since the dawn of the videogame era, and his achievements run from the primordial 8-bit era through the steady graphics evolution of the ’90s right up to the modern era of mobile gaming. Miyamoto got on the phone (via translator) with EW to talk about recent Nintendo releases. When asked about any upcoming projects he might (or might not) be working on, Miyamoto said — with what sounded like a smile on his face — “I’m sorry. I need to refrain from saying anything.”
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: I just completed Skyward Sword, which really makes good use of the Motion Plus controller. Can you talk a little bit about how existence of Motion Control changes the development process of these videogames?
SHIGERU MIYAMOTO: First of all, thank you for completing Skyward Sword. You probably know more than I do when it comes to the game, because the version I played was actually the prototype. The version I played through was more challenging than the version you did.
The very first Legend of Zelda game for Wii was Twilight Princess. At the time when we were designing the Wii remote, we were thinking about incorporating the pointer functionality into the new Legend of Zelda game. I think, to some extent, our efforts worked out. For example: When players were trying to aim at some objects in order to shoot an arrow, or fire the hookshot, we came up with something really handy. Unfortunately, when the player was required to take a sudden and immediate action, and aim at something with a pointer, it took some time. And Link could not perfectly reproduce whatever you were doing.
We really wanted to do that. With the Wii Motion Sensing technology, it became possible. So we were able to incorporate the real sword-fight feature. It’s not like you’re just fighting by freely waving your sword. [In Skyward Sword], you need to see how your opponent is acting. You’re taking into consideration your opponent’s movements. It’s actually a real sword fight!
You said that you had played an earlier version of Skyward Sword that was more challenging. How much more difficult was it?
As the development period goes on, we get accustomed to the content and the gameplay and the riddles and whatnot. The developer is almost always thinking, “It’s too easy for me. It must be too easy for the player, as well.” The same with designing bosses: Because the developers are supposed to be very, very skillful in challenging these tough enemies, they often make the boss too tough. It’s a dilemma we always have as developers.
In Skyward Sword, there’s a magic stone that will give the player hints if he gets lost. It reminds me of the Super Guide/Cosmic Guide function in New Super Mario Bros. Wii and Mario Galaxy 2. Now, when I was a kid, I spent days trying to beat some of the difficult levels in Super Mario Bros. 3. If you could go back in time, would you create similar guide functions in those games?
Back in those days, the ways in which we could entertain people in the videogame world were rather limited. And because of that, [having the gamers] find out any and all the solutions themselves was one of the most important elements. Today, there are many, many ways to entertain people in one single videogame. And the Internet has made it so easy for people to ask for clues. We are mindful of that changing circumstance. Whenever we are making the game, we are making it for those who really need and want to know about a solution or a hint. But there are those who do not want to ask for those kind of hints. They really want to solve any riddles or challenges for himself, for herself. We are mindful of both of these types of people whenever we are making these games today.
If I understand the ending of Skyward Sword correctly, it’s supposed to be the prequel of the entire Legend of Zelda franchise. Is the chronology and story of the franchise something that interests you, or are you more focused on gameplay?
Story is very important for Zelda. In terms of the priority order, first of all, of course, is making the best possible game ever over anything else. Second, we are doing best to make the story consistent throughout the entire series. Hopefully people won’t point out any contradictions.
Both Mario and Zelda have celebrated their 25th anniversary. What’s it like to still be working on these franchises so many years later?
When I first worked on the very first Mario game, I thought I would make Mario again and again, so that it would grow in conjunction with the technology. Mickey Mouse is a character that grew with the evolution of animation technology and motion picture technology. I thought that maybe I could do the same thing with Mario — he would be the character who grew with the evolution of digital technology. But I didn’t know if Mario could really be appealing to fans. The fact that Super Mario could celebrate the 25th anniversary last year might be the testament that people are appreciating it.
What is a typical day for you like when you’re working on big games like this? Or are you working on several different games at once?
At any given time, I am overseeing approximately seven titles at once. When one game is coming to the final tune-up period — the final development completion period — I I need to concentrate on one game, regardless sof how many other titles I am overseeing. Other than that period, I’m often involved in taking care of the basic control system of any software titles. Usually, my day goes by seeing a lot of the data. I play the prototype myself, and give the feedback to developers via e-mail.
Looking ahead, as part of the release of the Wii U, you’ll be working on Pikmin 3. Are you excited to bring that back as part of the new console?
Originally, I was making Pikmin 3 would be launched on the Wii platform. Because the Wii U is capable of HD quality pictures, and will be accompanied by the subscreen on your hand. I thought that I would be able to make a Pikmin that was closer to my ideal. I am now actually enjoying myself, working on the game.
I have an important question. Nintendo has also just released Mariokart 7 for the 3DS. In every iteration of Mariokart, I’ve always preferred to play as Toad. Who’s your favorite character?
That’s the most challenging question! I’m sorry that I cannot come up with an interesting answer. Somehow, it’s habit to me, but I play with Mario. He’s a very balanced character.
Who’s your least favorite character?
My favorite character is your least favorite character?
I understand that he has some popularity. Somehow.
Last question: In a couple of different Zelda games, there’s a mysterious hand that appears that’s never really explained. In Skyward Sword, the hand appears in a toilet. Can you explain to me what that hand is?
In the original Legend of Zelda game, a gigantic hand appears and grabs you at the entrance to a dungeon. Actually, that has nothing to do with Skyward Sword. [Laughs] It’s actually something from a Japanese ghost story. Not a specific ghost story. There are some ghost stories in Japan where — when you are sitting in the bathroom in the traditional style of the Japanese toilet — a hand is actually starting to grab you from beneath. It’s a very scary story.
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