Former Nintendo dev on working at the company, Miyamoto wanting Pikmin to be the next Mario, Mario 64 DS, scrapped Wii Play games
Today, Gamasutra published a big interview with Motoi Okamoto. Okamoto spent a decade at Nintendo beginning in 1998, and contributed to games like Pikmin, Super Mario 64 DS, Wii Play, and Wii Fit.
Gamasutra spoke with Okamoto about his experiences at the company in its interview. He touched on Shigeru Miyamoto’s high aspirations for Pikmin, rejected Wii Play games, and more.
Head past the break for notable excerpts from the interview. You can read the full thing here.
On initial impressions working at Nintendo…
My first impression after entering Nintendo was that the company was, surprisingly, a big traditional Japanese company. There were many elderly employees who had been working there before they had ever launched their first video game console. All employees had to submit a daily report on paper every day, in 1999, when each of us had a PC on our desk!
… A few years after I joined, our president Hiroshi Yamauchi stepped down in favor of the young president Satoru Iwata. He would dramatically reform the old Nintendo, analyzing the problems of the company one by one.
… Like the great warlord Oda Nobunaga, Yamauchi wanted his vassals to compete with each other. Nintendo once had three hardware development departments plus EAD. Each of these three departments had its own game development team, and Yamauchi made the leaders of these departments compete with each other. This resulted in successes like the Nintendo Entertainment System and Game Boy, but the departments never shared information with each other.
EAD occupied a special position in the company. If one of our game consoles didn’t sell well, the divisions would criticize EAD, saying that the failure was because it couldn’t create a home-run hit piece of software. My old boss Miyamoto has continued to bear the responsibility of home-run hitter, especially since the days of the Nintendo 64.
Iwata reformed many parts of Nintendo, but tried to utilize and activate the good old parts as well. This was a good decision. One of the reasons is that he was originally an employee of another company, and had not worked at Nintendo before. Old-fashioned Japanese firms trust and love the members who have worked there for many years. “Who is Iwata?” the older members would ask.
However, he had his comrades in the game development teams, who had worked together with him for a much longer time since he was an excellent programmer at HAL Laboratories, which had worked closely with Nintendo on game designs. As president, he needed to increase the number of comrades who agreed with him and calm those who didn’t.
This was the hardest game Iwata ever played, but he beat it. I think that Yamauchi had a great genius for picking up talents. Remember that it was him who discovered both Gunpei Yokoi and Shigeru Miyamoto.
On working on Pikmin…
When developing Pikmin, Miyamoto said “The next Mario is Pikmin.”
… When he was developing Pikmin, Miyamoto was facing two problems, ones that arose with the success of certain titles on the Sony PlayStation. First: should his studio make games that felt like movies, or included pre-rendered movie scenes? At the time, his answer was basically “No.” (But in 2014, he created the Pikmin animated shorts.)
Second, how to deal with the phenomenon of “interactive art”? As he’s mentioned in many interviews, Miyamoto has long been interested in interactive play and creation tools, not just pure videogames. When game consoles like PlayStation and Nintendo 64 introduced 3D visuals, he considered that perhaps these consoles could also introduce fun interactive art that players could continue to touch and play without a clear goal, or creative tools.
… I understand what Miyamoto meant when he said “the next Mario is Pikmin.” Pikmin was his launch title for GameCube, and is now seen as one of his masterpieces. He’d created a great game with Mario, and was trying to again create the next big thing in games.
… I think that the great maestro will continue to consider where his work will go. Due to the advancement of the technology and growth of the staff, his balance could lean towards something other than traditional video games. If he were to introduce the Physics Engine and Chemistry Engine of Zelda: Breath of the Wild into Pikmin, it could be reborn into a completely different game.
Miyamoto’s involvement with Pikmin 2 was less than with the first Pikmin, since he had to work on other titles. Two directors, Shigefumi Hino and Masamichi Abe, greatly reformed Pikmin’s game design, eliminating the 30-day time limit and adding the new Purple and White colors of Pikmin. They also added many dungeons to explore, and a large amount of collectible objects.
… The development team experienced a postponement due to lack of quality, but the experience of reforming a game was valuable. It was a good experience.
On working on Super Mario 64 DS…
I also added funny mini-games that were not pure games. I thought the touch screen, being easy to play with one hand, would broaden the gaming audience. I added Loves Me…?, in which a player pulled petals off a flower for fortune-telling, and Psyche Out! based on Zener ESP cards. I arranged the variety of gameplay carefully, planning the ratio of casino games to action games to puzzle games to cognitive test games, and so on.
My experience during this game’s development made me want to create a Mario platformer played only with a stylus. But I never got the chance.
In those days, Miyamoto would come to us at 11 PM, after he finished all of his board-member work, and say, “It’s Mario time.” At that point, we’d start a planning meeting that would run until 2 AM. At that point, Miyamoto would go home, leaving us with the words, “You should return home soon, for your health.” Over the next two or three hours, we’d write the game design documents and summarize the instructions for our artists and programmers.
It was the craziest crunch time that I’ve ever experienced in my development career. But if the God of Games was working so much, could we give up? Miyamoto had incredible stamina.
Lacking an analog stick, Super Mario 64 DS was an incomplete 3D Mario game, so Miyamoto wanted to try to improve it. We added three extra stages and the ability to play as four characters: Mario, Luigi, Yoshi, and Wario. Yoshi could hover in the air, which helped to relax the difficulty of jumping around in the 3D world.
On whether there were any rejected Wii Play games…
Yes, there were two. Both were side-view scrollers. One was called Obstacle Course, which was seen at the 2006 E3. Another was a side-view flight action game called Bird. My team didn’t have enough time to brush them up. The team was very small, and the Wii Play team shared artists and system programmers with the Wii Sports team. As the working time of artists for Wii Sports increased, the work time for Wii Play decreased. And it was clear that the company should give priority to Wii Sports.
Later, I adopted the level design of Obstacle Course into Wii Fit’s Balance Bubble. I turned the course layout for the side scroll 90 degrees, making it a course that went lengthwise. As the team was small, I tried not to waste anything. Later, I found Bird in another form in the Wii U game Nintendo Land, as Balloon Trip Breeze.