Nintendo Discussing Ways To Make Its New Games More Like Its Old Ones

There was something magical about Nintendo's earliest Mario and Zelda games. Something simple. Something pure. Something Nintendo has gotten away from.

Shigeru Miyamoto, the man who led the creation of those first games and is still the chief game design force at Nintendo knows this.

He's noticed that Nintendo's big games have been slow-starters, that it takes ages now for a good Zelda game to become really fun. He knows Nintendo's games are now often gummed up with tutorials. He's not exactly down on Nintendo's games, but if you thought he hadn't noticed what longtime Nintendo fans have noticed, you're wrong.

Miyamoto and I discussed some of this last week in Los Angeles at E3 after I told him that I didn't care much for the little bit I've played of New Super Mario Bros. U, one of the launch window games for this fall's Wii U and a thoroughly traditional Mario side-scroller. I told him that the game felt "unusually safe and conservative for you guys."

I asked Miyamoto if he noticed that Nintendo's franchise games feel formulaic and how his teams are dealing with the problem of being too formulaic with their longest-running series.

"This is a hard question," he said. "Specifically with regards to the New Super Mario games, Takashi Tezuka is the producer on both of the new Mario games, and is working on the Mario series and New Super Mario series for quite a while now, and he is the main developer on those games and is in fact the one you would want to ask specifically about that."

Fair enough. I was unable to interview Tezuka, who has been helping lead the creation of Marios since he worked with Miyamoto on Super Mario Bros.

But on the formulaic problem thing, I was talking to the right man.

"With something like Zelda," Miyamoto said, "we're in the process of now of discussing what is the right form for the next Zelda game. What should that be?

"One thing I should point out is that the New Super Mario Bros. series in particular exists as a way for the traditional Super Mario Bros. game style to remain in a relatively traditional state. And that's done specifically because there are certain players for whom that style of games is really what's best suited for them. So that sort of series is designed to retain those traits and retain that safeness that you described.

"But at the same time we're continuing to look at different ideas and different ways we can bring Mario to new experiences, for example, with something like Super Mario 3D Land we'll continue to look at new ideas and maybe as a new experiment or idea comes up maybe we'll find that Mario is the right character to pair with that."

The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword (2011)

Earlier this year, the website Gamasutra published a fascinating comparison between old Zelda games and new ones. I told Miyamoto about it, though I mis-remembered its exact contents. The actual article compared the amount of time it took to reach and complete the first dungeon in the old Zelda games to the new ones (2 minutes, 20 minutes for the first one on the Nintendo Entertainment System; 70 minutes, 100 minutes for the most recent one, Skyward Sword). I mistakenly described it to Miyamoto as a comparison of how long it takes to get your sword in these games, but the point still stood. And he got it.

Basically, I asked him… well I'll just quote my own question: "The theory that began to be developed in this particular article was that these games can become a lot of fun — I finished Skyward Sword and thought it was fantastic — but there might be an issue there that a lot of video games from Nintendo and others take much longer to be fun and to get into than a lot of others. And then I think about Angry Birds. That's fun within seconds. Have you noticed that is at all an issue? Is that something you've noticed that some games take a long time to become fun? Is that a problem with modern games?"

Super Mario Galaxy (2007)

"This is actually a topic that has been a big discussion internally for us lately," he said. "I think there a couple of things going on. One is that, often times we're creating games where your'e doing a lot of different actions. Zelda is an example of one of those. And, particularly with these types of games, you have to first learn the action and then you have to master the action and then you have to have more actions added in and master those. Then, when you have a lot of actions you can do all at once is when the game really becomes fun. And with a game like Zelda, on top of that, you have the story elements that also take additional time to tell.

"So one of the things we're talking about internally is how can we get people to that point of fun more quickly, and 'How do we balance the need to teach them how to do something with the need for them to be able to master it and feel they can do it well?' — and also tell the story — and 'What is that overall balance and how we approach it?' That's one of the key things we're talking about with Zelda right now."

This made sense to me, but there was just one problem. The first Super Mario Bros. and the first Zelda had no tutorial text. Their fun started right away. "Is it something that was more natural back then that you guys got away from?" I asked. "Is that what you're saying that you want to go back to that?"

"That's the exact topic that we're discussing," Miyamoto said. "It used to be that actions [in older games] were very simple and you could do them very quickly and easily. Now we're making games that have so many more actions that you have to learn how to do them.

Super Mario World (1990)

"I think back and actually was discussing Super Mario World with Tezuka-san and how that was a game where, for the first time, you would run along and hit blocks and these text messages would pop up and they would have a little bit of tutorial information in them. That worked very well for that game and we thought that was a great idea, and then, gradually, that type of tutorial sort of became rather commonplace and now we're starting to have these games where it is taking longer and longer to sort of get to that core fun. So that's precisely what we've been having discussions about."

One more thing, he added, playfully: "Even Angry Birds has quite a bit of messaging" in it. They do tutorials, too.

But forget Angry Birds. The good news here is that Nintendo hasn't forgotten its first games. And maybe, just maybe, they've recognised that they've gone down a path too far. Their games used to show; now their games often tell. Their games used to leave you more free to discover and learn on your own. Their games are now full of helping hands and friendly lectures.

Their oldest games were magical and phenomenal (and also some of the best-selling things they ever created). It seems that they are discussing that. I look forward to playing the results.


Comments

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    Maybe because the games are about 50x easier? Mario 3D Land was a joke.

      Yeah, I'd agree there. More recent Mario games seem to be getting easier and easier, on top of that the player gets more and more lives thrown at them. You have to be pretty bad in any recent mario game to actually lose all your lives and have to start over but you look at the original mario game where lives were much more scarce and the game itself was harder, it feels much more rewarding to finish.

        Yeah, the early parts of Mario games ARE easy, but getting the last thirty of so stars in the Galaxy series (hell, even Sunshine) is still very difficult. The games are accessible, but the challenge is still there if you look for it.
        Particularly with the Galaxy series, I liked having no end of lives, because it made the challenge about clearing exactly what's in front of you, without worrying about having to navigate the menus again - because, for a series which auto-saves after every act of progression, the idea of "lives" is kind of arbitrary anyway..
        Mario 3D Land I got to the "end" of, but not to the harder coins and challenges so I'm not sure as to it's overall difficulty. But the main game was a doddle for any long-term Mario player, as I'd expect it to be.

          The coins and stuff were very easy too, it wasn't challenging.

          Rayman Origins and Super Meat Boy are the best way to approach difficulty. Lives are pointless, and Nintendo is stupid for keeping them in their games.

          I disagree. What your describing applies to the best of the games. The recent 2D ones are easy all the way through (I also hate that they've been using the same visual design for like 5 games, they used to mix it up on the SNES). Mario Galaxy was also cake walk from start to finish. Mario Galaxy 2 was challenging towards the end (good), but still not as hard as the end game of Mario 64. Sunshine was real hard towards the end.

            Sunshine was only hard because of those goddamn Blue Coins. 20 of them in a level nets you a star, but they were hidden in objects, in hard-to-reach places, etc but there was no consistency between where they'd pop up. In the end the only thing to do to find all the bastards was to run around squirting everything in the level and hoping one might appear. It was the most frustrating part of any Mario game, incredibly menial and unfun, and only hard because of its obscurity and inconsistency.
            Challenge isn't desirable if it comes at the expense of fun - which is what Nintendo games are all about.

          Fair enough, I was referring more to the recent side scrolling mario games more than the three dimensional ones, I know Mario 3D land is technically "3D" but really it's more of a hybrid of the side scrollers and 3d versions. I agree Sunshine was really quite difficult in places though, I've not played the Galaxy games simply because I find it hard to get motivated to play anything that requires the WiiMote (so that includes the Wii Zelda games as well), I know they were incredibly well recieved games and I'm probably missing out by not playing that, I'll get around to them eventually.

    I can give them their first snippet of advice, even if this is ALL they do. Stop treating your players like idiots. It is completely unnecessary to have a companion whose only task is to repeat everything the player has just heard incase you're too stupid to absorb it the first time around.

      if games are art, buying a game is like buying a painting you can’t see in it’s entirety. if an artist promised you the painting was one thing, took your money, uncovered it and it was something else, you would have to be a coward not to speak up about it. if i advertised a music album as heavy metal, but all of the songs were sing along kids’ songs, that’d be false advertising. what bioware did was no different. this ruling won’t change anyone’s mind. no one is going to take a long hard look at themselves. we’ll just say ‘the asa is clueless and got it wrong’

      i can’t believe some of you folks are still tossing around the ‘entitled’ word. if an artist told me he had a painting of a unicorn and sold it to me, and when i uncovered it, it was a bad drawing of a hedgehog, you bet i’d complain. bioware promised wildly different endings. they didn’t deliver. they said my actions would affect the outcome, but a player who played through all three games and made choices opposite of mine, has the same exact endings as me. so they didn’t deliver. they lied.

      eh, people quieted down because we’re waiting for the dlc bioware promised would bring clarification.

      before anyone objects to my painting analogy, keep in mind, you do not know the entire story and endings of a game until you buy it and play through it. you normally see an entire painting before buying it.

    Agree with Quirkhall.
    Also, Rather than looking to the past for solutions to fixing their games, how about they look to the future? Check out some of their competitors. Games like Uncharted, Assasins Creed, Skyrim, Batman Arkham City etc
    Nintendo can't continue to live in a bubble. If their only source of inspiration is from their 20 year past, what's the point?
    I'd love to see a Zelda with a strong story, chracter development, fantastic stylised graphics, arge open world, combat choice etc. But after 10 years of waiting, I know it isn't going to happen.

    I also really hope Nintendo grow up with their audience a little bit, too. But it's like the Harry Potter series - "adults" complain the books are badly written, too childish, etc. But they've grown up with it and their tastes have changed - the target audience hasn't changed.
    Now I'm not saying "Nintendo only make childish games" because, obviously, they don't. But their choice to pursue "accessibility" is to pursue a market which definitely exists, and unfortunately may not include us any more.
    But something as mature as Eternal Darkness, for example, developed entirely in-house for older, mature gamers? I think it's something they should explore - not just thematically, but gameplay-wise as well. They just may not, is all.

    A great article and fun to read. It's great to get some insight from an iconic game creater!

    Nintendo (more so than other devs) treat gamers like retards these days. The reason the old games were fun was they threw you in the deep end and figuring stuff out and discovering was part of the fun. Now you have none of that because your hand is being held all the way. Combine that with a million lives, bubbles to float through entire levels and regenerating health and it's no wonder we don't feel the same about the games. More titles like Dark Souls please.

    Sign me up for a hardcore Zelda. Less shitty gadgets and more swordplay and magic. Like Terranigma was on the SNES.

    I'm kind of scared for a reboot of F-Zero and Star Fox. I think they're going to fluff it up.

      I find the gadgets of Zelda exciting, personally. While the spinner wasn't the coolest thing, the Dominion Rod in TP was probably one of my favourite items (both in look and use). To each their own, I suppose.

    I was actually thinking if Nintendo made a hardcore Mario series of games (i guess in parallel to the dumbed down wider audience series of games), that would be awesome, something based around the original Super Mario Bros 2, the one that never made it out of Japan until it got turned into the Lost Levels in All Stars on the SNES.

    I remember playing Zelda for the first time on a friend from Hong Kong's console (that would have been in 1987). They had some weird console with a huge thingumy plugged into the cartridge slot which adapted it to play NES games.

    "Nintendo hasn't forgotten it's first games"

    How could they when they keep re-releasing them every other week!

    The first Zelda was glorious, A few months back I was playing it on my phone and despite the touch controlling being a pain in the butt (as it tended to fail), I managed to go straight from completing dungeon 1 to dungeon 8, and after an hour and a half, managed to force my way to the master key and get back out again (those iron knights in the room with the energy balls was dread), so now I didn't have to worry about keys for the rest of the game, I found it pointless to get the master key at practically the end of the game when you'd barely have a use for it, but it was great that they gave us the capability to choose.

    Also, using save states allowed me to cheat myself all the rupees I'd ever need from the old man's money game, I finally got my revenge haha!

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