When I sat in on Nintendo's Developer Roundtable event late today amongst a select few members of the press, there wasn't a single thought in my mind that could have predicted what happened next. As host Tim Leary, of the Nintendo Treehouse, announced who our guest would be and he walked through the door, I witnessed the sound of roughly 80 jaws hitting the concrete floor. Our guest developer was none other than the God of game development himself, Mr. Shigeru Miyamoto.
The following recap speaks for itself. It is essentially a somewhat paraphrased version of Miyamoto's words, as translated by Leary (even with the translation, these guys speak way too fast!). Throughout this roundtable, it was clear that the very charismatic Miyamoto was extremely enthusiastic about these game projects. An obvious gamer at heart, he giggled at the live competitive gameplay in New Mario Bros. Wii and took part in the gameplay to show us some of the parts he likes best. Mr. Miyamoto is truly an inspiration to the gaming community.
[Introductions and so forth]
As you know, I have been very involved with many of Nintendo's games, including those at this year's E3. However, I have also been working on a side project this year. At Nintendo, we have been thinking about different applications for the DS platform. Think of how interesting it would be if your DS were able to determine your geographic location and provide you with a variety of relevant information. Similarly, we have been testing the DS concept in a school program to help monitor individual students' progress.
[Impromptu transition onto the topic of New Mario Bros. Wii]
[New Mario Bros. Wii being played in the background]
I have been working on Mario titles for over 20 years now. One thing we had been wanting to do with the franchise for a long time is to recreate the single player feel of Mario for multiple simultaneous players. We have experimented with this idea before, but it always eventually fell off the table for various reasons. One of the reasons why we were finally able to accomplish this is because the Wii has the processing power to do it. Now, you will notice that we have recreated the familiar gameplay while introducing new tricks. For instance, Yoshi can now ingest fireballs and hammers and spit them back out. Also notice that the camera pans out as players get separated. The game will include about 80 courses. [Miyamoto starts playing his favorite level]. We'll cheat here to show you one of the new suits we have in the game: the penguin suit. This suit allows players to throw ice balls and freeze their enemies in blocks of ice, which can then be used as stepping blocks. The penguin can also glide quite easily across frozen surfaces. [End play]. This has been a really fun game to work on and it certainly is fun to play. One of the nice things about this game is that a novice player can join an advanced player in the same adventure and play together at the same level, thereby attracting new players to video games.
[Start Super Mario Galaxy 2]
A second Mario title was announced for the Wii earlier today. Nintendo doesn't typically create two similar franchises for a platform but this is a first. The original Mario Galaxy title was a first experiment with spherical worlds and gravity. We felt that there was a lot of ideas and potential there that we couldn't fit into the original game. So, we started on a soft of Galaxy 1.5. As we were working on this, the team got really excited and we ended up with a game that is 95% to 99% completely new content. In Galaxy 2, we have different goals, different item placement, the inclusion of Yoshi this time, and the use of a drill to get through solid spaces. The decision was made to delay Galaxy 2 until next year due to this year's release of New Mario Bros. Wii, and we will instead spend some time refining the game for the next year.
[Segway to Wii Fit Plus while they change game discs]
In this morning's briefing, some people probably thought: "Oh yay, another sequel" [sarcastically]. But we don't feel [Wii Fit Plus] is a true sequel because it changes the purpose and mechanics of the game. With this title, we really started thinking about how we could enhance the software to produce valuable feedback to the user.
[Wii Sports Resort - Sword fighting is played in the background]
We have been thinking about this for a long time, since the design of the Wii, to think about where we would go after Wii Sports. While we were looking at the sports we could reproduce, the MotionPlus controller came along. Wii Sports did a great job getting people off their couch but we felt there was a lot more we could do to improve players' skill in the game. For example, basketball throws have a very subtle release which could not be reproduced with the previous technology. In this game, we wanted sports that would benefit from the additional accuracy but that were also fun. The gauntlet challenge is one of sword fighting, which will pit you against all other Mii stored on your system. It looks simple, but there's a tricky defense to the game like countering your enemies' sword position and attacking your enemies' right spots. Clearing the ten stages of this game is quite a challenge.
[Switch to Golf]
Two of the events return from Wii Sports [Golf and Bowling] but they provide a very different experience in Wii Sports Resort with the MotionPlus controller. The typical "time it right on the meter" golf games don't really account for the strength of the swing or a twist of the wrist. In WSR, hit the ball too strong or twist your wrist too much and you'll end up hooking or slicing the ball. It's also easy to add some backspin to the ball. I don't even need to look at the meters; it just feels very natural. There's a tendency for games to have the player spend too much time in menus and interfaces. WSR focuses solely on the fun aspects of the game.
[Switch to Table Tennis]
In table tennis, it's easy to see how the speed of the ball changes depending on how you hit the ball, and you can easily put some spin to it with the right flick of the wrist. One of the modes in table tennis is the "return" where a computer player keeps serving balls and you have to keep returning them.
Another part of the game is the stamps, which reward players for achievements in the game. For instance, you might get a badge for clearing three targets in a row in the archery game.
[Back to the menu]
One thing you'll notice is that the island on which this takes place is similar to the same location on the Wii Fit. We call it Woohoo Island. What we wanted to try was to start using a place and treat it as a character. We may end up reusing Woohoo Island in other types of games. We could have a hotel on the island and have players solve a murder mystery. Players would think "hey, I've been on this island before." The archery challenges take place all around the island and you can spot those locations when you're skydiving above it.
[Transition to The Legend of Zelda: Spirit Tracks for DS]
We'll be covering the dungeon mode in today's demo. In this game, we use the phantom to help us navigate the dungeon, instead of running from them like we did before. We have some very traditional puzzles but we have new ones as well. We have moved off the oceans and onto land, so the train is how you navigate between areas. In Japan, trains are a young man's fantasy element and the kinds of things you can imagine happening on a train happen in this game. In the last DS Zelda game, there was a multiplayer mode where players had to retrieve triforce pieces, but I heard that it was kind of hard. We've changed it a little bit and it will be in the game, but it's not in the floor demo.
Zelda's been around for a while and we'd been discussing how to move forward with the franchise and how we can improve the gameplay. Personally, I'd like the player to get an impactful experience where they'd feel like they had travelled to those lands and have memories of the people they met. And these would be very personal memories based on how you experienced dungeons and how you process the problems and find solutions. We're currently experimenting with the gameplay and level design. I was hoping to introduce Zelda on Wii this E3, but we already had one for DS and we focussed on game development this year. But we do have an image that shows key story elements.
[Fade in blockish-stylized image of a young adult Link with a very faded-white female figure in front of him]
I hope this shows you that we're deep into the development of the next Zelda game for Wii, hopefully set for next year. It will most certainly support the MotionPlus and maybe even require it. It certainly depends on the success of Wii Sports Resort. Think of that when you're playing the swordplay and archery in WSR.
Q: What did you think of Microsoft and Sony's motion control presentations?
A: Our philosophy is to get the hardware real and working before we make announcements. MotionPlus had long been an idea but we realized early on the challenge we faced. Nintendo works hard at making these things user friendly. Until we see that kind of commitment, it's hard to comment on these ideas. I don't know what the perfect approach is, but there's certainly some value in getting whole body involvement in games. But it's key to have something that's intuitive, and that's where we feel we're at with the MotionPlus.
Q: What are you thoughts on the Wii Vitality peripheral?
A: It's an interesting idea that further involves the player in the virtual world. So far, we'd been in control of everything, but your pulse is not something you can control, just like breathing. These are things we might be able to train. When you're going to sleep at night, are you really relaxed? You know, we have this device at Nintendo that measures the level of compatibility between two individuals [a love tester machine]. A few years ago, I was able to experience a mind-controlled robot. New devices just open the door to creativity and it really depends on the people you introduce to these things to come up with interesting ways to use them.
Q: Difficulty levels have typically been somewhat easy in the North American market. The Japanese versions are sometimes more challenging. Is there any chance some of the differences will come to North America?
A: That's a really tough challenge when trying to make games that are accessible to everyone. But that's something we keep thinking about. We definitely have some ideas there, we can guarantee that, but we can't talk about those yet.
Q: There's a stamp system in WSR, but Wii is the one console missing an achievement/trophy system.
A: We think it made sense to have this in WSR but I don't typically like brandishing carrots in front of players to have them keep playing. The stamps are an incentive to play differently and to try different things rather than trying to prolong the game.
Q: Are there any plans to support the Wii Speak in games showcased today?
A: We certainly would like to include it in more games, but we usually have such divergent ideas about how to use it that it usually ends up dropping off. In New Mario Bros. Wii for example, we suck up all the processing power already so there's nothing left for this peripheral. But it's certainly always in the back of our minds and we always look for opportunities where we could use the Wii Speak appropriately.
Q: Do you feel that you're often limited by the hardware?
A: That's certainly always something we have to deal with, and it has been since the first 8-bit system. Dealing with the hardware limitations is a recurrent theme throughout game development. With new technological breakthroughs, we'll always have more room to breathe. But when we get too comfortable with a system, we know it's time for a new one.
Q: How do you feel about last year's briefing and showing compared to this year's?
A: Last year, I didn't do my share of playing instruments on stage and I find I get lost there. This year, I found my place again doing more of the planning. In relation to last year, we had so many new features we wanted to talk about but we're bound by time. We find our games are better explained by hands-on demos. Our products don't always fit with these on-stage presentations and even hands-on demos of 10 minutes at a time are sometimes insufficient. We addressed a few of those explanations in this developer roundtable, but it's still not quite there. A lot of our titles are ones you need to play to fully understand.
Q: Is there any game or material in particular that inspires you?
A: I did work on Will Wright's SimCity for DS and that had a big impact on me. Outside the game world, the traditional Japanese comics are always an inspiration.
[Closing thanks and such]