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Shigeru Miyamoto Profile in NY Times

Shigeru Miyamoto

Better late than never: this weekend’s NY Times offers a profile of Shigeru Miyamoto, the prolific Nintendo game designer responsible for Donkey Kong, Mario and Zelda. The article’s belabored point–that Nintendo is like Disney–is driven home by no less than eight mentions of the Disney name. There is perhaps a prophetic idea buried in that comparison though. If Mario serves as any example, it would be safe to predict that in the coming decades, the next batch of classic cartoon characters will emerge not out of traditional film or TV, but rather out of video games and other forms of interactive media.

Speaking of Miyamoto, here’s a recent short featuring him–A Really Really Brief History Of Donkey Kong directed by Gabe Swarr.

  • Esn

    “If Mario serves as any example, it would be safe to predict that in the coming decades, the next batch of classic cartoon characters will emerge not out of traditional film or TV, but rather out of video games and other forms of interactive media.”

    You’re behind the times, Amid. In a way, this is already the case, and has been for at least a decade. Video games are providing the raw material for the “folk art” of this generation, as can be seen by the dominance of video-game-related submissions on websites like Newgrounds:

    Forget the fact that they’re all copyrighted; it seems that certain classic video game characters are now acting as the sort of archetypes that used to be reserved for characters from folk tales.

  • amid

    For a video game character to endear itself to audiences, it needs to be more than iconic. It needs to have a flesh-and-blood personality, as any great character, cartoon or otherwise, has had historically.

    In the past, the technology has not allowed characters like Mario, Pac-Man or Sonic to have fully fleshed out in-game personalities. Their personalities have evolved only after the characters branched out into more traditional media.

    Today, however, the technology has evolved such that it allows characters within games to have complex nuanced personalities, a fact that most game developers have not yet taken advantage of. As they do though, I believe we’re going to see the emergence of characters that could succeed on the heretofore unachieved scale of past classic figures like Bugs, Mickey, Goofy and Daffy.

  • You should have posted Gabe Swarr’s “What the Shell” mario cartoon as well. It is so cute. :>

  • Video game characters have been evolving at pretty much the same rate animated characters have. The 1970s and first half of the 1980’s were like the early experimental days where animation was mainly just seen as a magic camera trick. The later 80’s and early 90’s were a whole lot like the 1930’s character boom: lots of characters that show expression and basic acting, but still mainly playing off the gimmick of them being animated and nothing more. (every game company had their own ‘animal with attitude’ mascot in the 90s). Much in the same way Felix the Cat spawned off a slew of copy cats, the same happened when Sonic the Hedgehog hit the game scene.

    The similarities pretty much end there though, because as soon as 3D technology kicked off it became a race to see who could make the most life like, realistic game experiences and I think that’s sadly why we haven’t had many iconic video game characters since that “golden age” that was the late 80s / early 90s.

  • Oops, I meant “similarities” there in the start of the 2nd paragraph.

  • I liked the observation on the linked blog that Rare’s official redesign of the Donkey Kong character in the 1990s (so that his head now resembles a Sof-Serv ice cream cone) is awful compared to the character’s classic look. I don’t think I’ve read anyone come out and say that before, but I immediately said “Hey, yeah.”

    In 1981, for all his maybe twelve total frames of animation, Donkey Kong was one of the most immediately expressive characters in all contemporary video games.

  • It’s great that Miyamoto has gotten a profile in NY times, considering his staggering contributions to the art form.

    And complex personalities aren’t needed for a game like Pac-Man or Mario. Save that for the RPG’s

  • ridgecity

    It doesn’t need personality. Personality is more of a pull towards somebody. Why sometimes like someone, just from their looks, and sometimes you hate the people even if they have great personality…

    The Video game characters are likeable because of their design, you bring your personality to them… that’s why Nintendo says their characters don’t talk, because once you give them enough personality you can start liking them more, but you can also hate them… The only main character that they have that talks is Wario, a bizarro Mario Bros, and of course, you will hate him, because they gave him a personality, he loves money and is funny because things go wrong…

    When you play something like Final Fantasy, the characters speak and cry, but most of the time, you can’t identify yourself with that character, you just may want to know what’s his story and how he will turn out.

    Sonic the Hedgehog is another great example, when it was introduced in the early 90’s he was just too cool for Super Mario, not because he was cool , but it looked cool, the problem started when he started speaking and showed how cool he was… and turned into Poochy The Dog…

    The best video game characters will be those that are just a shell you can put your own personality in, unlike cartoons and movies, here you are the main character, you can’t just watch a story unfold as a hero’s invisible sidekick…

  • Hit the nail on the head there, ridge. As mentioned in the article, Miyamoto has taken the whole putting-your-personality into a game thing and created the Mii’s, so a stylized simple caricature of yourself can be the character in a game. Creating your own avatar in a game is nothing new, but the way they have done it with the Wii is very clever.

  • P.C. Unfunny

    Amid: You are right about that. I actually prefer Wario over Mario because he has more of a distinctive personality and it have been refined even more in the “WarioWare” series.

    Jmac: I agree. In general, I loved the character designs of video game characters when they were hand drawn.

    Donkey Kong in the mid 1980’s:

    Fun and cartoony.

    Donkey Kong now:


    Bland and boring.

  • “For a video game character to endear itself to audiences, it needs to be more than iconic. It needs to have a flesh-and-blood personality”

    Alot of times Iconic Status has nothing to do with being endearing or having personality. Consider Hello Kitty. All style no substance. For that matter Mickey Mouse, his Iconic Status is much more interesting then his personality.

  • … and as a follow up to that awesome brief history, might I recommend “King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters”. You can stream it through Netflix!

  • Let’s not forget, the games have to be good, too! Part of the reason Sonic is currently in what I call the “Fat Elvis” phase is that his last few games have not been up to par.

    I recently completed Super Mario Galaxy, and I must say; Miyamoto’s still got it, the game was loads of fun.

  • Esn

    Actually, Amid, I think the whole “no-personality” thing (or rather, very SIMPLIFIED personality) is the whole charm, and the reason for the appeal. It makes those characters almost blank slate upon which an artist can draw, oftentimes changing them radically. That’s why I say that they are the basis for much of today’s folk art. They’re easily-recognizable archetypes (guaranteeing high viewership) with enough breathing room to change in all kinds of ways. A safe artistic crutch for those who’re not confident enough to create entirely their own world.

  • red pill junkie

    Well, that short failed to mention that when the Nintendo execs looked at DK the first time, they were enraged and thought it was gonna be a major dud—some managers went to look for a new job. The only one who stood for Shigeru was the CEO of Nintendo.

    And I do believe some video-game characters have trascended and have become “persons” with substance & personality. I think the very first game-based movie that will be an economic success & be praised by the critics will be “Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time”. Well, at least I hope so! Because otherwise the Halo movie will not come out until 2010 or later.

  • Shmorky

    I love Miyamoto not just as a video game designer, but a creative cartoonist. I still wish they’d show more of his doodles. Some of them are really fun to look at! In one documentary on video games Miyamoto actually holds up the original storyboard panels he made for the Donkey Kong game.

  • It’s great to see some game-related topics on the brew, and I’d love to see more, as a game animator myself. There’s really not a lot of discussion about artistry in video games out there. I see the question “Are video games art?” a lot, but rarely are games critiqued on the basis that they are.

  • Charles

    Wario has “personality”, for sure, but Luigi is the Brother that cracks me up. He’s the perfect “straight man”, Costello-esque and slap-sticky. His antics in the Haunted Mansion game carried it, whereas Mario just woudn’t muster up the comedy. Check out the new Smash Bros. to see his newest shenanigans.

  • Some Guy

    Shigeru Miyamoto isn’t the Walt Disney of video games, he’s the Chuck Jones of video games.

    Both of them were creative hands-on pioneers who dislike what video games do best.

  • I agree Shigeru Miyamoto is the Chuck Jones of video games for these reasons:

    1) They both have similar drawing and designing styles (just compare Koopa Troopa, Yoshi, Birdo and Blurp’s eyes to Daffy Duck and Roadrunner’s eyes)

    2) Similar type of violence (Compare the Bob-ombs to the Wile E Coyote acme bombs)

    3) Comparable humor (see Paper Mario Games and Mario and Luigi Games for examples)

    4) The characters acts in a similar manor.

    I would go on but I’m too lazy hehehehe