Shmuplations has translated a 2003 interview between Nintendo mastermind Shigeru Miyamoto and game designer/producer Yasumi Matsuno (Final Fantasy Tactics, Final Fantasy XII). The two discuss the challenges of video game development and of how much direct feedback they should provide on games when they are the producer. The whole interview is worth reading, but there are some great highlights about Miyamoto’s philosophy toward the producer role. There is also talk of going on the occasional “rampage.”
When Miyamoto produces a game, he first just gives the team breathing room to develop and prototype ideas. If he sees a team go totally off track, he’ll spend several months helping them course-correct. Otherwise, Miyamoto says, “What I’m looking for in a development is, are they trying to do something new and original? When the originality reaches a certain level, that’s when I give my OK for the project to proceed.”
Miyamoto explains that Nintendo staff don’t argue with him, probably because of the age gap between them (implying that the younger staff feel obligated to obey his elder edicts). But he recognizes that there is some fear of him among staff — specifically, the fear that he’ll hate a project and demand changes. There have even been times where he would jokingly tell staff to add strange things, and then staff would actually build those things, not realizing it was a joke. However, on the whole, Miyamoto believes the idea of him demanding changes is more a staff in-joke than a reality:
I know I have a reputation for ordering massive revisions and “flipping tables”, as it were, but in reality that’s more of a joke we’re all in on. I mean, there have been times when I’ve actually made them re-do everything, but in truth it’s really more of an established ritual now, that I will come by at some point and critically evaluate the project. (laughs) I feel it’s a way to lighten the mood—no one wants to have their work scrapped, but having this joke about how I go on rampages helps ease the pain for the developers who do end up having to make major revisions. It’s sort of a clever way to try and keep things positive, and I’m in on it too. (laughs) It’s a delicate, subtle relationship.
Later on in the talk, Miyamoto gives an especially fascinating fact about how he approaches good game design in Mario games:
With Mario, each new gameplay element you want to add should be used 4 times in a stage: a place where players are introduced to and can safely learn the new element; a place where they get to play around with it; a place where they apply what they know about it in some novel way; and finally, a place where the idea is taken to an extreme. I ask designers to try thinking about it that way.
He adds that, if the team struggles to come up with all four instances, he just encourages the team to move on to something else for a while. Miyamoto believes that building experience on something else and coming back to the problem later with fresh eyes is often enough to solve such development challenges.
In the full interview, there’s even more where that came from, including of course Yasumi Matsuno’s own philosophy to producing. Definitely check it out if you have some time.