July 14, 2003
I received an email the other day from a person writing a book on Nintendo and expressing a bit of surprise that Miyamoto referred to himself as the maker of Radar Scope, the Galaxian-ish arcade game that was later scrapped and replaced with Shigeru Miyamoto's Donkey Kong. This was actually my error. I typed "I" when I meant "we". Sorry about that.
While I know I can't make up for this error that easily, I'd like to tell the full story behind the development of Radar Scope and Donkey Kong as a form of apology. This story is culled from net sources and from the greatest Nintendo history book ever written, Hikaru Mizusaki's "TV Game no Sekai 3":
Shigeru Miyamoto graduated from the Kanazawa Daigaku university's engineering design department in 1977 without having much of an idea of what kind of work he wanted to do. "At the time, Nintendo was a maker of hanafuda and playing cards, and they also made arcade games, as well as things like Disney-themed board games. But they also worked in other weird genres--home light-gun games, home copying machines, baby carriages, stationery... all sorts of weird things. As a result, I figured that if they're making all their money off playing cards, they must be using their remaining power on all this weird stuff. I thought they'd be the sort of company that would take anything weird I designed and make it into a product for me."
A friend of Miyamoto's father knew Hiroshi Yamauchi, so Shigeru decided to ask the company whether they would let someone like him (a 24-year-old engineer with long hair) into the company. Although Yamauchi was hesitant at first ("If he's a technician I want him, but I don't need any artists"), he decided to interview Miyamoto to repay a favor for his friend.
Although he looked like a haggard college dropout, Miyamoto had the sense to wear nice clothes to his interview, and he appeared to be a polite young man to Yamauchi. During the meeting, Miyamoto showed Yamauchi several designs for products, including an automatic baby cradle, a novelty clock for an amusement park, and a seesaw eqipped with a swing so that three kids could ride on it at once. Perhaps Yamauchi looked at these designs and saw the genius behind these free-ranging ideas--either way, Miyamoto became Nintendo's first artist, even though he wasn't strictly necessary for the company.
Miyamoto entered Nintendo in 1977, but he didn't do anything particularly cutting-edge at first--his first duties included pamplet creation, drawing the block pattern for Nintendo's cards, and designing the cabinets for their games. (The plastic casing of Nintendo's "Block Kuzushi" standalone Breakout console was designed by Miyamoto.) "Once I entered the company, I realized that playing cards don't make that much money, and instead they had multiple money losers over on the 'weird stuff' side," he later said with a laugh. "It was actually a pretty dangerous situation."
In 1980/81, the whole Radar Scope/Donkey Kong miracle took place. Here's the real story behind Radar Scope:
[Donkey Kong's] design was handled by Miyamoto, while game production was handled by Ikegami Electronics, the outfit that created Radar Scope.
The name Ikegami springs up here mainly thanks to a lawsuit that took place between Nintendo and this company. Donkey Kong was released to arcades in Japan and the United States in July of 1981; it went on to sell over 85,000 units and (along with the Game & Watch line) raised Nintendo's profits fourteenfold by 1983. However, following a separate Japan suit that established the ability to copyright computer programs, Ikegami sent a warning to Nintendo on January 1983 that it was violating its copyright on the Donkey Kong code by selling its arcade machines without permission. Nintendo responded by taking Ikegami to court, claiming the supplier had no rights to the code in question.
This was a thorny case, because Nintendo and Ikegami had no official contract that linked the two together--they had fallen into disaccord over the manufacturing price of Donkey Kong after 1981, so the companies were working off purely verbal agreements. As a result, Ikegami claimed copyright infringement on its Donkey Kong product, while Nintendo claimed that the rights to the program were transfered to them after they had paid the 10 million yen Ikegami charged for product development.
The final result of the lawsuit is unknown, since later documents were never released.
So that's the basic idea--all Nintendo video games up to Donkey Kong were designed, coded and produced by Ikegami Electronics. Donkey Kong (and probably DK Jr. as well) was designed by Miyamoto and programmed by Ikegami.
And that's your video-game history lesson for this evening. Good night!Posted by fenegi- at July 14, 2003 11:33 PM