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Mon, May 27, 2002 - Page 19 News List

Designer opts for the cutesy over gritty


With his boyish grin, tousled black hair and Donkey Kong T-shirt, Shigeru Miyamoto looks like any other video gaming enthusiast at this year's Electronic Entertainment Expo.

But with hundreds of millions of dollars at stake, Nintendo is counting on his imagination to boost sales of its second-place GameCube console against Sony's leading PlayStation2 and Microsoft's third-place Xbox.

Miyamoto, 49, may be unknown to many, but hardcore gaming fans revere him as an icon -- a man who has created a multitude of memorable video game titles working quietly from Nintendo headquarters in Kyoto, Japan.

His creations -- from Donkey Kong in 1981 to the Mario Bros., The Legend of Zelda and last year's Pikmin -- are not only among the most popular games of all time. They helped make video gaming itself popular.

The combination of an unlikely mix of rotund cartoon creatures and adventure action are Miyamoto's hallmark. He thinks games should appeal to the inner child in adults -- and seeks to keep them simple so they attract first-time players.

"I don't necessarily focus on making characters for children," he said through an interpreter. "But every adult has a kind of a childlike core to them and a bit of their childhood still in there. So really, what I'm trying to do is draw out the child in the adult while still entertaining younger kids as well."

Miyamoto's games have produced sequel after sequel, each one taking advantage of the latest technological advancements. The first of them featured complex single-screen adventuring at the advent of video gaming.

Then came the innovative scrolling screen format of Super Mario Bros. on the original Nintendo Entertainment System console, along with the rolling overhead view of The Legend of Zelda in 1986. The next-generation Super Nintendo console allowed for the combination of both formats with improved graphics, seen in the Zelda follow-up A Link to the Past.

The first PlayStation console topped the Super Nintendo with graphic realism in games such as Mortal Kombat, but Miyamoto helped Nintendo lead the industry again by moving in the opposite direction.

With the Nintendo 64 console, he put even more cartooniness in the 3-D games Mario Kart 64 and The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time.

With PlayStation2 and Xbox again tempting designers with the possibilities of ultra-realism, Miyamoto is still defying the industry trend by choosing cutesy over gritty. Miyamoto says too many designers are focused on taking video games to the Internet, rendering the most realistic images possible and creating increasingly complex game play.

"One of the big problems is that people making games now are making them for gamers," Miyamoto said. "The further you take a game for hardcore gamers and focus on them, the less inviting it becomes and loses people who don't normally play."

His games usually start simply -- a player barely needs to read the instructions to begin.

With Pikmin, in which a spaceman directs scores of ant-like alien plant creatures to help gather parts of his damaged spacecraft, the missions begin with easy tasks that gradually lead to more complex puzzles.

With that philosophy in place, newcomers get acclimated to the game slowly, while advanced gamers just speed through the easy parts to the more difficult levels.

"It really becomes an issue of innovation and creativity to open the doors to people who don't play games," said Miyamoto.

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