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Designers every designer should know #2 – Shigeru Miyamoto (sort of)

November 28, 2007

If you’re planning to write a series on designers every designer should know, you must mention Shigeru Miyamoto. It goes without saying.

Except I’m not going to really write about him, not much anyway.

Miyamoto is arguably the best known and most talented game designer living today, and everything he touches turns to gold. He has probably had more games canceled than most designers have released. If you are reading this blog, you already know who he is. For designers, his process is absolutely worth studying.

Like I said, though, I’m not so much interested in talking about Miyamoto in this post. Instead, I’m going to ask questions about Super Mario Bros.

As some of you may know from reading this blog or from knowing me personally, I’ve been on a retro gaming kick lately. It’s gone in three different, but similar directions:

  • Old console games: Wii downloadables flush money from my bank account. It’s too easy. I can’t say no. This has led to many nights re-beating many of Miyamoto’s early games.
  • Board games: I’m having a major fling with board games right now, both old and new, playing and making them. I am not looking for new mechanics or new ways of designing things. I’m just having a lot of fun. If you haven’t tried making a board game, do it. Making games is easily as fun as playing them.
  • Text adventure games: I am making one for no other reason than I just feel like it, and it’s fun to make games.

All of this play and retro-creation has led me to do some thinking about the simple, intrinsic things games possess that makes them to engaging no matter what they look or sound like. I’ve been reading about it a lot lately, too. For the most part, it boils down to the stuff that Costikyan, Koster, and Church have written about, but what it doesn’t boil down to is amazing technology.

As a gamer who came of age during the D&D administration, I’m used to having to provide disclaimers for games that I recommend others play (i.e. “But it looks like shit.” Me: “Just play it. Trust me. It’s an amazing game.”) My job as a prof requires that I recommend a lot of games, so I do this more than your average designer, I’m guessing. M.U.L.E. isn’t going to turn anyone’s head. Neither is the latest set of rules for MTG, for that matter.

I say all this as a disclaimer in itself that leads me to my primary question, and one which we can’t really answer: would Super Mario Bros. fly if it were released new today? (And I’m not talking about being re-released on the Wii.) The question is clearly rhetorical, but at the same time, it has intense relevance. Somewhere out there in the indie game market, there’s a game with equal simplicity of design that’s as endlessly engaging as SMB was and still is. Is that game getting lost amid all the CoDs and GoWs and Gears? I don’t know why this concerns me… except that it does. No disrespect to those beautiful games just mentioned. The new Call of Duty just slays me with its beauty. I can’t believe we’ve come that far technologically.

But still, I wonder if the inevitable, consistent focus on technology leaves some really hip games in the dust.

7 Comments leave one →
  1. November 28, 2007 11:37 pm

    A 2D independently developed game, these days, will have one heaping truck load of problems to squash to get out in the limelight that the CoDs and GoWs sit in.

    Kids growing up these days have 3D games all around them, and that is what they are becoming used to. Outstanding graphics, fancy 3d audio, among other things. Without a doubt, they’re spoiled on fancy 3D.

    Is all lost in the realm of 2D? No. I just came across a game called Aquaria the other day, and the game looks really great for a independent project. But, how well will it do, even when it has all of the publicity of being a IGF grand prize winner? I’m going to guess it’s not going to do anything compared to the sales of the games we’ve mentioned, but should it? We’ll see.

    If an indie game is out there that provides such a rich and engaging game play experience like SMB did, wouldn’t a publisher jump in to reap the benefits from it? If not, the power of the internet can easily pull something out of the ashes, dust it off, and spread it like a wildfire. Just get your title on Digg, and you’re off to the races.

  2. aortiz permalink
    November 29, 2007 12:37 am

    Well, just look at the reception of online MCOGs (Massive Community Online Games–there’s a mouthful–and a made up genre) like Gaia Online. Their following is huge. And then there’s games like Maple Story and Ragnarok Online. Ragnarok, okay, has nicer graphics, but they’re still very low key and rather dated, and yet for some reason, they have a massive quantity of users. There’s keys to gathering a following, but no recipies. I think we rely too much on the media to tell us what’s popular or what’s getting attention. Sometimes huge things can be happening under our noses.

  3. aortiz permalink
    November 29, 2007 12:43 am

    PS. Can I play your text adventure game when you’re done?
    I love text adventure games D:

  4. November 29, 2007 5:14 am

    “Can I play your text adventure game when you’re done?
    I love text adventure games D:”

    Yes… but you probably won’t want to. It’s evolved into a game for my kid to teach her how to type, read and spell. She’s 6. 🙂

  5. aortiz permalink
    November 29, 2007 1:36 pm

    “Yes… but you probably won’t want to. It’s evolved into a game for my kid to teach her how to type, read and spell. She’s 6.”

    I might want to… it might be really good…
    Ah, well. It’s probably a more efficient use of your time.

  6. November 29, 2007 7:51 pm

    Would Super Mario fly if released today? Yes, but it wouldn’t be AAA (by definition because of its lower budget). Some modern games that are the equivalent of the original SMB:

    Everyday Shooter
    Geometry Wars
    Katamari Damacy

    Not exactly huge sellers, but you’ve probably heard of a few of them…

  7. Brian Shurtleff permalink
    November 30, 2007 11:45 am

    It’s hard to take Super Mario Bros. out of context and ask what it would be like if it was released now because it was such an influential game. So many games have been inspired by it (or inspired by games inspired by it) that it’s hard to imagine where video games would even be now without it.
    Would video games have evolved in a similar way without Mario? How you answer that question determines, in my mind, how much of an impact that game would have if it had never existed until now.

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