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Mozgus
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My lil' Miyamoto research paper

by Mozgus Thu Nov 30, 2006 5:40 am

I'm forced to write 4 artists research papers for a class, so to spare myself the torture of writing about another dead painter, I decided to go with Miyamoto on one. There may be some extreme generalizations here, and perhaps an error or two, but hell, the teacher won't care. Read if you want to.

There are other forms of art outside of drawing, composing, and writing. When you break them all down, you are left with a basic function; the expression of an idea. Whether you are visualizing a painting, composing music, or writing a story, you are essentially bringing your idea to the physical realm. If these things are what constitute art, then what happens when you combine aspects of all three mediums in a new way?

Shigeru Miyamoto is one man who has been capable of such. For 25 years, he’s been working in the field of video games, and there has been no one else so successful at bringing art, imagination, and innovation to this very young industry. There is a reason why he is considered the ‘Walt Disney’ of games. There is a reason why the titles he has been credited for are often considered the greatest video games ever made. The reason is because the public knows a quality, timeless product when they see it.

Born on November 16th 1952, young Shigeru grew up in the small town of Sonebe, which lies on the outskirts of Kyoto, Japan. Being a rural countryside area, young Miyamoto was often left with little entertainment other than his own imagination. The pleasures of film and music were a rarity, only savored when the family made trips into the city every few months.

Fortunately, the vast framework of fields, forests, and rivers surrounding their home served as the ideal tool to alleviate the boy’s thirst for excitement and adventure. During his evenings after school, Shigeru loved to explore the vast region, inspecting everything he found. He once spoke of a time when he discovered a small hole which led to full grown cavern. He was too scared to enter that day, but he returned later with a lantern in his hand, and courage in his heart. He found nothing newsworthy, but the experience understandably stuck with him, like select childhood memories do.

In school, Miyamoto loved and excelled at many art classes as well as theater and music. He was determined to make it big in one of these fields. Even in his off-time, he was sketching landscapes from home, or designing and constructing various toys and other contraptions, just for the sake of fun. He was also a big fan of animation, especially Disney feature films, and would absorb as much as possible while visiting the city.

After high school, he enrolled in Kanazawa Munici College of Industrial Arts and Crafts. He admits to slacking a little around this point, which is what extended his stay at the college to 5 years in order to graduate. He found it so difficult to pull himself away from his other activities of drawing comics, and listening and performing music with his part-time band. Through this, he became skilled with the guitar and banjo, and also familiar with other instruments.

After graduating, Shigeru was ready to give the working world an honest shot. Having dabbled in such a wide array of abilities, he was confident that he would find his opening somewhere. An idea sparked, and he asked his father to request a meeting with an old friend by the name of Hiroshi Yamauchi.

Hiroshi was running a small company called Nintendo, at the time. Nintendo was merely known for producing some collectable trading cards, toys, and other nick-nacks, with a much older history in the areas of TV, transportation, and food. Miyamoto arrived with many ideas, sketches and prototypes of a variety of novelty household tools and low-tech gadgets, most of which were geared towards children. Hiroshi was intrigued by this young man’s ingenuity, and so he was hired.

By 1980, Nintendo had expanded little, and its American division was in trouble. During this year, the video arcade industry seemed to have past it’s peak. Aside from the newly imported Pac-Man, few machines were turning much of a profit. Nintendo saw this as a ripe time, and wanted to capitalize on it. The company only had little experience in the field, but they were aware that the core ingredient that could revive the field was innovation. For years, developers had been copying each other left and right, until arcades were getting stale in the public’s eye. Because of this, Miyamoto was asked to step up to the plate.

Miyamoto understood the potential of games, and it was his opinion that it was being wasted by having the player accomplish pointless, bland tasks. Pong was fine and all, but what was your motive to repel the ball back? With this in mind, he knew that he needed to incorporate two key aspects into his project; character and story.

He came up with Donkey Kong. It involved a caged gorilla who was being mistreated by his owner, a little man in red. The gorilla becomes angry and escapes from the cage, captures the man’s girlfriend, and scales a tall, unfinished building. Playing as the man, you must climb to the top, make your way past the obstacles the ape creates for you, and rescue the girl. This all may seem generic today, but 25 years ago, a game with a full blown story was quite unheard of.

Miyamoto served as more than the writer. He designed the characters and stages, envisioned all the game-play mechanics, and even composed the music on an electronic keyboard. He even sketched all the designs in large pixilated form on paper, to make sure the end product looked exactly like he imagined, once it past through the technical department. Miyamoto oversaw the entire process and constantly provided his input. Despite the graphical limitations of the time, the game conveyed an amazing amount of personality in its inhabitants. Miyamoto’s artistic skills were perfectly applied to this pixel environment in ways that made it seem ahead of it’s time.

The machines sold out instantly, and remained in production for many months to come. It put Nintendo in the spotlight in America, and fans demanded more. Miyamoto was given a huge increase of resources and manpower, and went on to do two sequels soon after. During this time, Miyamoto was planning an entirely new franchise for the little man in red...

Demand for 2-player games was rising, so Shigeru took the main character from Donkey Kong, gave him a brother, and placed them in the sewers of New York. They were given the names Mario & Luigi. Their mission was to collect golden coins which fell from the pipes above, while avoiding and defeating various exaggerated sewer monsters. Once again, due to the visual design and control concepts, the game was a smash hit.

By 1984, Nintendo was gearing up to release its home console, the NES. The public was demanding products to bring the arcades to their comfortable homes, and while Atari and others had been attempting to answer their demands for the previous 5 years, the public was finding their products to get old much too fast. Nintendo was entering this market right when it was dying, and with the help of Miyamoto, they revived the market almost entirely on their own. Miyamoto headed the development of a vast library of titles, including the multi-million seller Super Mario Bros.

This was great, but Miyamoto had a true masterpiece in mind; The Legend of Zelda. The title alone created the Action Adventure genre. All of his childhood experiences in his homeland were applied to the game. You played as a boy cast out in a field. You were surrounded by nature of all kinds. You could rely on no tools or items but what you found along the way. The landscape was gigantic. You could go anywhere and do anything. In this one game, you could spend 100 hours and still not see everything there is to see. And thanks to an innovative save feature, you could stop and resume your progress at any time. It sold millions, and helped give Nintendo’s console a share of over 90% of the industry until 1991.

Miyamoto has worked for Nintendo ever since, and has been credited for over a hundred games in some way, shape or form, while his original franchises continue to evolve and stand strong. At any given time, he is overseeing dozens of long-term projects. Often times, he is given complete authority over the project, and is known to heavily delay or cancel a game near its completion, if he feels that it does not meet his standards. This strategy seems to work, because Nintendo has been making a profit every year since Miyamoto’s arrival, and remains the oldest and wisest in the business.

Shigeru lives as a humble man. He refuses to let too much credit come his way, and insists on being paid less than what would be expected to someone in his position. He dresses casually and lives in a respectable small home with his wife and two kids. He even walks or rides a bike to work each day. He says that he finds his work joyous, and feels reward in bringing his fans games, which inspire creativity and brighten up their lives just a little bit.

He has done this by always focusing on the creation of games which work the mind through puzzles and other decisive actions, while retaining colorful, fantasy elements that anyone of any age can understand and enjoy. Overall, his games are as universal as music.

Chances are, when you are playing any title from the company, and you find a particular aspect intriguing or ingenious, Miyamoto probably had something to do with it.

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by racketboy Sat Dec 02, 2006 11:05 am

Great read!

It's interesting to read the story in a traditional homework assignment format, but it still is fascinating :)
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by Mozgus Sat Dec 02, 2006 11:13 am

racketboy wrote:It's interesting to read the story in a traditional homework assignment format

Thats the only reason why I shared it. Might give a different flavor to the old legend.
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by racketboy Sat Dec 02, 2006 12:02 pm

Mozgus wrote:
racketboy wrote:It's interesting to read the story in a traditional homework assignment format

Thats the only reason why I shared it. Might give a different flavor to the old legend.


I don't think that should be the ONLY reason. It's a great informational piece as well.
It gives some great background.

If you get bored someday, you should flesh it out more :)
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Mozgus
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by Mozgus Sat Dec 02, 2006 12:31 pm

racketboy wrote:I don't think that should be the ONLY reason. It's a great informational piece as well.
It gives some great background.

If you get bored someday, you should flesh it out more :)

Maybe. I have been lazy since this snow storm hit. I still need to write two more artist papers. Know of anyone interesting?
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by racketboy Sat Dec 02, 2006 1:42 pm

Mozgus wrote:
racketboy wrote:I don't think that should be the ONLY reason. It's a great informational piece as well.
It gives some great background.

If you get bored someday, you should flesh it out more :)

Maybe. I have been lazy since this snow storm hit. I still need to write two more artist papers. Know of anyone interesting?


Any artist stuff? or just gaming-related?
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by Mozgus Sat Dec 02, 2006 1:53 pm

racketboy wrote:Any artist stuff? or just gaming-related?

Yeah any artist. I did one on Dante Alighieri, who's tales are often referenced in some way by devil may cry and castlevania, and other games and film. But obviously, I don't mention that in the paper.
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by racketboy Sat Dec 02, 2006 2:44 pm

Don't know if it fits under your "artist" umbrella, but how 'bout Jonathan Ive:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jonathan_Ive
One of the best industrial designers ever, IMO
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Mozgus
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by Mozgus Sun Dec 03, 2006 4:29 pm

racketboy wrote:Don't know if it fits under your "artist" umbrella, but how 'bout Jonathan Ive:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jonathan_Ive
One of the best industrial designers ever, IMO

Not bad dude. I think I can work with this. Interesting stuff. If you got one more idea, let me know.

Edit: Finished it.
Last edited by Mozgus on Tue Dec 05, 2006 4:51 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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by philipofmacedon Sun Dec 03, 2006 11:47 pm

If you're interested Mozgus you could look into Gustave Dore. I'd wager most people recognize his art even they don't know the name. He illustrated all kinds of wild things like the Rime of the Ancient Mariner, the Divine Comedy, Don Quixote, and the Bible. I think his engravings were pretty sweet.

Frank Frazetta might be another unique choice. I got into him through my interest in Conan the Barbarian book covers. I've got a poster of this Beserker on my wall.

http://www.frazettaartgallery.com/galle ... erker.jpeg

Good luck.
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