How the inventor of Mario designs a game

This is Shigeru Miyamoto.
If you’ve played video games any time in
the past 30 years, you’re probably familiar
with his work.
Donkey Kong. Zelda. Star Fox.
And then, of course, this guy:
It’s a me, Mario!
When Miyamoto makes games, he always tries
to do things differently than other designers.
Here he is — back in 1998 — explaining
why he wasn’t focused on online gaming.
And why he wasn’t adding small in-game purchases
to Mario for iPhone in 2016.
Miyamoto has helped define a lot of what makes
a game great.
So how does he do it?
In 1981, one of Miyamoto’s first assignments
at Nintendo was to design a replacement for
a game called Radar Scope.
It had performed poorly in the US,, leaving the company with 2,000
unsold arcade units.
This is what he came up with:
Miyamoto based the story on the love triangle
in Popeye between a bad guy, a hero, and a damsel
in distress.
But since Nintendo couldn’t secure the rights
to use those characters, Miyamoto replaced
them with a gorilla, a carpenter, and his
In later games, that carpenter became a plumber.
And his named changed, from Mr. Video, to
Jumpman, and then to Mario, after this guy,
the landlord of a Nintendo warehouse near
This was one of the first times that a video game’s
plot and characters were designed before the
That change in approach came at a key time
for video games.
When Donkey Kong was first released in 1981,
the video game market in North America was
on the verge of collapse.
It was saturated with a lot of different consoles,
and the boom in home computers made a lot of people
question why they’d want a separate device
just to play games.
But the storytelling in games like Super Mario
Bros. and The Legend of Zelda — which you
could only play on Nintendo’s own hardware — helped set them apart as best-sellers.
A lot of Miyamoto’s genius can be seen in
the first level of Super Mario Bros. — probably
the most iconic level in video game history.
It’s designed to naturally teach you the
game mechanics while you play.
If you look at a breakdown, there’s a lot
of really subtle design work going on here.
Though Mario is usually at the center of the
screen, in this first scene he starts at the
far left.
All the empty space to the right of him gives
you a sense of where to go.
This character’s look and movement suggest
it’s harmful.
But don’t worry.
If you run into it, you’ll just start the
game over without much of a penalty.
Next, you see gold blocks with question marks.
These are made to look intriguing — and
once you hit one, you’re rewarded.
That then encourages you to hit the second
block, which releases a mushroom.
Even if you’re now scared of mushrooms,
the positioning of the first obstacle
makes it just about guaranteed that you’re gonna run
into this thing.
When you do, Mario gets bigger and stronger.
And just like that, you’ve learned all the
basic rules in the game without having to
read a single word.
Immersiveness in a video game has a lot to
do with the controls — the more precisely
you can move your character, the more you
feel like you’re part of the story.
And Nintendo has always been a pioneer with
It was the first to have the classic setup of the directional pad on the left and buttons on the right,
the first to have left and right shoulder buttons,
the first to have a 360-degree thumbstick,
and the first to bring motion control to the
mass market.
But with 2016’s Super Mario Run, Nintendo,
for the first time, made a game for a controller
it didn’t design: the iPhone.
The Wii U flopped when it came out in 2012,
and Nintendo 3DS sales are far below those
of its predecessor.
But the number of American gamers playing
on mobile phones has doubled to more than
164 million between 2011 and 2015.
You can think of Super Mario Run as a shift
from immersiveness to accessibility.
And that’s kind of been Miyamoto’s design
philosophy from the very start: make fun games
that everybody can play.
The rest is in our hands.
“These controls direct the characters, the better your eye-hand coordination,
the better you do.”

Author Since: Mar 11, 2019

  1. "It's a trend and I try to avoid trends"
    Glances at Online Gaming
    Yeah… I am sure its just a Trend, Mr.Miyamoto.

  2. I'm so glad he gets to see the refound success of Nintendo through the switch, the wii u and 3ds flops must've been tough for such a prolific artist

  3. I don't like vox but wen I saw the father of gaming, the one who pretty much saved the gaming market, the one who gave us the basics of almost anything gaming, and the creator of some of the most beloved games, I had to watch. keep going miyamoto cant wait botw 2.

  4. "People stopped playing Mario because it was to difficult" Alright then, make the levels yourselves.


  5. Fun fact: mario mario is just his stage name. His real name is Leonard Jumpman. And "luigi" is his brother Abraham

  6. I remember opening my 1st NES after swim lessons. I remember when SMB 2 and 3 came out every store would be sold out. Thank you Daddy Shiggy ;_;

  7. Me: See's title
    How the inventor of Mario designs a game
    Also me: I know how. He copies and pastes the past 3 games and smacks the word "deluxe" on them

  8. If he dies, mark my words, Nintendo will become another EA, Ubisoft, literally every other shitbox game developer/publisher.

  9. I don’t even know this man personally, but he has shaped my life so much. He has given me endless childhood memories. In a sense, I feel connected to him. Thank you Miyamoto, for having such a huge impact on my life!

  10. Reality is: Those who only have one console always criticize the other two. I've got the 3 and enjoy them a lot. So Im not in the forums arguing which console is better with people I dont know

  11. This man is a legend. So much of my childhood was shaped because of this man. Zeldas such a big part of my life too. What a guy.

  12. Nintendo is still doing everything to save video game industry, they are trying to bring local offline multiplayer in videogames , with online multiplayer shooters gaming industry won't last long

  13. When I was 6, my friend had a NES with Super Mario Bros 1. I envied him so much. When I lie on the bed at night, I imagined playing Super Mario Bros 1. My father loved me so much and he bought me a Genesis with Tatsujin and Space Harrier 2. (for the record, the Genesis was the ahead version of video game than the NES.) I could play Super Mario by purchasing Gameboy with Super Mario Land later at 12.

  14. Too much is made of the console gaming crash in North America during the early 80's, like games were pulled from the brink of death. Internationally, home computers, indie game programming and the coin op markets were still in ascendency.
    Not to downplay Miyamoto's contribution to video games though. His legend will deservedly live on for generations well beyond our years.

  15. "So that you get that sense of satisfaction of completing something."

    He mentioned a boss fight though. Subs seem to not fully convey his message.

  16. I don't know what to feel about it. It seems that as the world progress, the 'sense of accomplishment' today transformed from hardwork to comfort.

  17. It would be a dream come true to meet this man. Like many others including myself. He made many childhoods wonderful

  18. As an aspiring video game programmer, the way the first level of SMB is designed to teach you the rules of the game in the first 5 seconds is ingenious! Shows the genius of the man himself.

  19. Legend now fast forward in 2019 where games are all about political agendas and designed not to hurt someone's sensitivity

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