In the Game: Nintendo's Shigeru Miyamoto

The legendary game designer tells of his past (spelunking), his inspiration (F. Scott Fitzgerald), and our future (GameCube)

by Todd Mowatt

Spielberg, Lucas... Miyamoto? While all three have had an immeasurable impact on popular culture, only the first two register on a one-name basis in our national consciousness.


Shigeru Miyamoto has been designing video games for the last 22 years. Children, adults, and video game players of all ages have been taken on many quests to save the princess or an imaginary world from the clutches of a number of evil antagonists. If you've ever entered an arcade or watched someone play a video game, chances are you've seen his work. His most notable accomplishments are the Donkey Kong, Mario, and Zelda series, including the recent blockbuster Legend of Zelda: Majora's Mask.

Born in Japan, Miyamoto was an explorer as a child. He would explore the caves, mountains, and wooded areas that surrounded him. These childhood exploits would serve as the foundation for his limitless imagination and incredible storytelling capabilities.

"As with the Mario series, I came up with the concept for the Zelda series from my adventures as a child exploring the wide variety of places around my home," Miyamoto says through an interpreter. "There were plenty of caves and mountains. We didn't have that many toys to play with, so I would make slingshots or use sticks and twigs to make puppets and keep myself amused."

Miyamoto got the name for the Zelda series--which has spanned four video game platforms--from a most unlikely source.

"Zelda was the name of the wife of the famous novelist Francis Scott Fitzgerald. She was a famous and beautiful woman from all accounts, and I liked the sound of her name. So I took the liberty of using her name for the very first Zelda title," Miyamoto explained.

Making a video game as epic in scope as Majora's Mask required a team of more than 100 programmers, designers, artists, and testers. They developed the game over a three-year time frame, costing Nintendo nearly the $10 million it spent developing the last Zelda game, 1998's Ocarina of Time.

Why a Hollywood-size budget for a video game? Nintendo expected to sell more than 2.5 million copies of the game in North America by the end of 2000, and more than 5 million copies of the game worldwide by April, 2001. That translates into more than $300 million in revenue--a number that rivals the biggest blockbuster movies.

Each time he makes a game, Miyamoto raises the bar on the way games are designed and played. In May of 1997, the Academy of Interactive Arts and Sciences recognized him and his contributions to the craft in the field of interactive entertainment by inducting him into its Hall of Fame.

Nintendo has recognized his contributions, too. He was recently brought on to Nintendo Co. Ltd.'s board of directors, and was named general manager of entertainment analysis and development.

And though Majora's Mask is poised for blockbuster success, Miyamoto and his team members surely are not sitting down on the job. They are currently working on the next installment of the series, which will debut on Nintendo's next-generation console GameCube, with some added functionality handled by the upcoming handheld game system Game Boy Advance. Although the final details haven't been worked out, Miyamoto foresees the Game Boy Advance as playing minigames and as a controller for future Zelda games.

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