Close-Up: Shigeru Miyamoto  

Revolutionizing an Industry
by Elliot Guisinger

   In the history of the art of developing video games, no one has come close to the status that Nintendo's Shigeru Miyamoto has attained. Often called "the godfather of video games," it's clear to anyone familiar with his work that Mr. Miyamoto knows how to make a game, and a darn good one at that. With virtually every game he touches turning to gold, Miyamoto's success is almost surreal. Constant hits in his Zelda, Mario, and Donkey Kong series provide only glimpse at the power Miyamoto commands in the continued growth and success of not only Nintendo and RPGs, but also of the entire video game industry. Needless to say, this industry wouldn't be what it is today if not for Miyamoto's influence. Thus, it is with great honor that RPGamer's Currents devotes its first Close-Up feature to the man himself, Mr. Shigeru Miyamoto.

   The best place to start when talking about someone's life and rise to success is at the beginning. Shigeru Miyamoto was born just outside Kyoto in Sonebe, Japan, on November 16, 1952. As a young boy, he grew up in a rural countryside with rolling hills and lush, green fields. Spending his childhood in a household without a television, the young Miyamoto developed a vivid imagination and a strong sense of adventure. Often going out to explore the many landforms surrounding his home town, he one day made a discovery that would come back in the future to influence his work in video games and more specifically, help set some important RPG standards -- a hole in the ground. Curious, he examined the hole only to find that this large hole was actually the mouth of a cave leading deep underground, though he didn't go in quite yet.

Goof ball

   Apprehensive about the discovery, Miyamoto kept the cave to himself, visiting it often, until he could find the courage to venture within. One day, carrying only a homemade lantern, Miyamoto finally set off for the cave and entered it. While looking through the cave, he came across yet another hole leading to yet another cave. The exhilaration from the second discovery was something the young boy never forgot, and it remains with him to this day.

   As he continued to grow older, the young Miyamoto knew that he wanted to create something that he would be remembered for. Anything would do, really, the only requirement being that he could share his accomplishments with others. He considered puppeteering and painting at first, as he loved to draw and watch cartoons at school, but he later went on to make toys as a creative outlet. When he was 18, Miyamoto entered Kanazawa Munici College of Industrial Arts and Crafts. Only attending class about half the time, Mr. Miyamoto preferred to spend his time drawing comics, listening to music, and playing in a band, and as a result, it took him five years to graduate.

   In 1977, the recently-graduated young man was ready to start work. Starting close to home, he asked his father to contact an old friend, Hiroshi Yamauchi, to see if could work for his toy company, Nintendo. All though the Nintendo toy company was in no need of painters, Yamauchi agreed to meet with Miyamoto as a fulfillment of a favor to Miyamoto's father. Yamauchi was so impressed with Miyamoto, however, that he asked him to come back for another meeting.


   For this second meeting, Miyamoto showed up bearing a portfolio which included some ideas for toys. Impressed yet again, Yamauchi hired Miyamoto to be Nintendo's first staff artist. The newly employed young man was to be an apprentice in the planning department. There, his job consisted of evaluating new ideas that were to go into production.

   After one of Nintendo's first video games, a simple shooter called Radarscope, sold miserably in 1980 due to the slowing of the U.S. arcade industry, Minoru Arakawa, president of Nintendo of America, needed another new game quickly. He pleaded with Yamauchi until he agreed to staff a new project. Unfortunately, all of Nintendo's top designers, engineers, and programmers were predisposed to other projects at the time; and because Nintendo had a relatively small portion of the U.S. market share, Yamauchi couldn't justify taking one of them out of their important projects. So instead, Yamauchi decided to give the project to his newly-hired apprentice in the planning department, Shigeru Miyamoto.

   Miyamoto set out right away and came up with some interesting ideas about how he felt video games should be designed. He felt that games like shooters were boring and unimaginitive; he felt that games should have good stories behind them. Stories would give the player a purpose for playing and a greater satisfaction and reward for completing the game. Thus, he completely scrapped the idea of simply developing another Radarscope game and decided to create a brand new game.

   For this first game, Miyamoto wanted a story similar to that of Beauty and the Beast, only much simpler. In Miyamoto's version, the beast was a giant gorilla who was the pet of a cruel master. The master was a carpenter named Jumpman who was always mean to the gorilla; so at his first chance, the gorilla kidnapped his master's girlfriend. The player of the game controlled the carpenter, whose mission was to climb up a building to get to his girlfriend whom the gorilla was holding captive at the top. Not only did Miyamoto design the game, but he also designed the characters and composed the soundtrack. Once the game was completed, Miyamoto consulted the Nintendo export manager to decide on a name. After much deliberation, they both decided to name the game Donkey Kong. When the game was released in 1981, it became an instant phenomenon, catapulting Nintendo into stardom.

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Currents - News Column: 03.29.2005

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