Shigeru Miyamoto's 1999 GDC Keynote →

August 07, 2017 •

I am pleased beyond words to have found that the GDC (Game Developers Conference) re-posted the 1999 Keynote from Nintendo’s own Shigeru Miyamoto. Miyamoto’s game design ethos has been an inspiration to me and I’ve subsequently been trying to apply some of these insights to my own web and software development.

When talking about how he approaches design and the role of a game designer, Miyamoto says this:

“I have at last come to the conclusion that the role of a game designer is to design a complete game system by first comprehending the technologies that will enable and realize that system. I believe that one of the jobs of the designer is design itself. How will the ideas that I have in my mind be reproduced by the computer? How can the power of the CPU be best allotted in order for the computer to convey those ideas to the user? How can I bring my own constructions and expression of ideas together with the technology that creates that new level of enjoyment within the hardware and budget limitations placed upon me. This is what I mean by design. I consider games to be an entertainment commodities and therefore I place great importance on user reaction.”

There are two things I love about this.

First, Miyamoto is continually reiterates that design should not be divorced from the technical limitations of the CPU. Design and Engineering must be close together. In the talk he explains that at Nintendo graphic designers are required to learn RAM maps. This allows them to squeeze the most out of their games. The goal is to get to a “new level of enjoyment within the hardware and budget limitations”. He refers to his art as “being realized by the CPU”. This speaks magnitudes to me.

Second, Miyamoto has this beautiful –almost child-like– view that games exist to convey an idea. To Miyamoto, those ideas should be fun. You hear this core value throughout the talk. He continually re-enforces that the idea is the most important aspect of the game and that the interaction between the user and computer must feel good in order to support the idea.

In the keynote we even get a rare glimpse at a prototype of one of Miyamoto’s ideas, a game called “Talent Maker” which went on to become “Mario Artist: Talent Studio” for the Nintendo 64DD. This looks like a super weird game that’s a shade creepy, but IGN gave it an 8.2. While I have my reservations, it is a fun concept that clearly went on to inform the lovable Mii avatars on the Wii. This is inspiring as well. Prototypes can go nowhere and ideas can be iterative. Sometimes an idea’s sole purpose is to inform future ideas a decade later.

One more part that struck me is when Miyamoto goes on to reflect some remorse that development tools might be “diluting” ideas.

“Recently I’ve been very sorry to see that for a number of titles the technology and the specialty development tools have taken the lead role in the game uniqueness and the personalities of the designers has been diluted.”

This sounds like a Web Design conversation. Miyamoto goes on to explain that even he finds himself explaining the technology when he’s insecure about the idea. This sounds familiar as well and it’s a good check and balance for “new shiny” syndrome. I hope I can be filled with the self-awareness to see when I’m focused on the technology rather than the idea.

Summing all this up presents a bit of a interesting challenge: Design for the technical limitations of the CPU, express an idea, but try not to let your tools dilute it.