Nintendo Wii

'With the smile of a cat that has just eaten the canary'

Shigeru Miyamoto (Sonobe, Nantan, November 16, 1952)

Nintendo's president Satoru Iwata believes in the "blue ocean" business theory: to succeed, a company must seek out "a blue ocean," a place where there are no competitors.

If you venture into the bloody red ocean where countless rivals are fighting to the death, your chances of success are slim. Iwata: 'It's always good to 'zig' when everyone 'saws'.

With the traditional games, making them more and more realistic, you only appeal to the hard core of gamers, young men aged 18 to 35, the reasoning goes. Where are the families, the women, the little children, the old people?

Hence the brain games of recent years, especially for the elderly, hence the Wii series, Wii Fit, Wii Music, Wii Sport.

Hence (while 'zigging') no joystick, no two-handed controller with action buttons and movement keys, but the Wiimote, a bar equipped with motion sensors that wirelessly transposes the player's physical movements on the screen.

The driving force, the creator of all those games, directly involved with more than 70 of those Nintendo products, is called Shigeru Miyamoto, also known as the "the Spielberg" or "the Walt Disney" of the game industry.

Miyamoto has brought the first story into the games and the first human being. Always based on what he himself has experienced. Even the Wii Fit. Miyamoto: “Around 40, I started to gain weight and started swimming to lose weight.

After a while it went so well that I neglected my weight again, which made me gain weight again. My wife then suggested that I buy a good scale, one that could measure weight very accurately and also calculate fat content.

I hung a piece of paper with a chart in my bathroom and that's how I got interested in measuring my weight.'

Wii Fit was initially called 'Health Pack', and was little more than a kind of electronic scale that you could connect to a Wii. In Miyamoto's head, it was just a small jump to the Wii Fit's balancing board.

Tens of millions of Miyamoto's inventions are sold around the world every year. Where does he come from?
Shigeru Miyamoto was born on November 16, 1952 in Sonobe, a small town 50 kilometers northeast of Kyoto.

He grew up in the middle of nature. He fished in the river, ran along the banks of the rice paddies and rolled down the hills.

His parents, both teachers, had no television in those years. In the evenings they took him to the no-theatre, to heroic dance dramas or a puppet show (bunraku).

Every few months they traveled by train to Kyoto to shop and to go to the cinema: little Shigeru saw the Disney pictures Peter Pan and Snow White. He read a lot, drew, painted and made detailed puppets that performed in his own puppet shows.

One day he discovered the opening of a cave. It took him a while to muster up enough courage to step inside with a homemade flashlight. Deep in the cave he discovered a new passage, with pounding heart he climbed on.

He would never in his life forget the excitement he felt then. The excitement that he later wanted to cause to all the players of his games.

Afterward, the Miyamoto family moved to Kyoto. Shigeru dreamed of becoming an artist, a puppeteer or a painter. He always had paper and pencil with him and drew from nature.

Either he drew comics, the mangas that came into fashion, he made flip books, or founded a club of cartoonists at school that exhibited every year. In 1970, he started studying as an industrial designer at Kanazawa University of Applied Sciences.

He wasn't particularly diligent, only going to class half the time, and it took him five years instead of three to graduate. He drew and listened to music. In addition, he learned to play the guitar himself and immersed himself in country music.

He found someone who played the banjo
controlled and together they performed in Kyoto, in coffee shops and at parties.

After his studies he had no idea which profession he would choose.

In desperation, his father called someone he knew from back in the day, one Hiroshi Yamauchi, the boss of Nintendo. "We need engineers," Yamauchi said at the time, "not artists." But he still invited the young man to visit.

Miyamoto was 24, his hair was wild, boyish freckles, and he had the smile, according to Nintendo historian Shepp, "of a cat who just ate the canary."

He was well dressed and there was mischief and wonder in his eyes. Yamauchi asked him to come back and bring some ideas for toys.

And Shigeru came out with coat racks in the shape of an elephant's head or a bird, both with rounded corners so that children could not injure themselves with them. He then got a job in the department
Schedule. That was in 1977. One of Miyamoto's original assignments was not to invent a game, but to embellish the cabinets in which games for halls were mounted.

Nintendo had tried in vain to conquer the American market from 1980 with its arcade games. One failure followed another. Finally, Yamauchi called Miyamoto over to ask if he could come up with such a game himself.

Miyamoto had played many video games in his college years, the usual shooting games in the arcades. Enemy planes that flew in your direction and had to be shot down. And he had found them uninspired.

He had always wondered why they didn't contain a story, like a book or a movie. Why couldn't they be understood like his favorite stories, fairy tales and legends, King Kong for example?

So he came up with a sweet King Kong owned by a mad carpenter who mistreated him. The gorilla ran off with his girlfriend and climbed to the seventh floor of a house under construction.

Chased by the carpenter, the gorilla threw down barrels of cement mortar. Players could help the carpenter jump over those barrels – hence his original name, Jumpman, jumpman.

Arriving on the top floor, the chase continued on a construction of steel beams. Now the carpenter had to dodge flames created when the gorilla pulled the pins from the beams. The moment the whole scaffolding collapsed, the carpenter was reunited with his girlfriend.

The male must be a little eccentric. Miyamoto chose an ordinary carpenter, not particularly beautiful or heroic. He started out with a big nose and two big eyes that he still had in his sketchbooks.

The Nintendo engineers taught Miyamoto that the body had to be clearly visible on such a screen. So he opted for flashy clothes and thick arms that clearly swayed back and forth.

The hairs on his head were difficult, they had to swing with every movement, so he put a red cap on the carpenter. "By the way, I'm not very good at drawing hair," Miyamoto said later. Using an electronic organ, Miyamoto wrote the music himself.

Because Nintendo boss Yamauchi thought of the American market from the beginning, the game had to have an English name. Miyamoto barely spoke English and used a Japanese-English dictionary to come up with a name. In Japanese he had coined the name 'stubborn gorilla'.

After the entry 'stubborn' he thought 'donkey' (donkey) and from King Kong he took Kong for gorilla. It would only become clear later that 'Donkey Kong' made no sense in English.

The men who had to market the new game in the United States - after a series of defeats - were stunned. They didn't know what they heard.

It would also be them who changed the carpenter's name Jumpman to Mario, because they felt he resembled their shed owner, Mario Segali, who so often knocked on the back of the rent. Despite great protest, Yamauchi stuck to the name Donkey Kong.

And Donkey Kong hit American arcades in 1981

Nintendo's first super hit.

Top designer Gunpei Yokoi, who had been with Nintendo since 1965, needed help coming up with new games for his Games & Watch. He asked Yamauchi if he could call on Miyamoto. He immediately developed a modified version of his Donkey Kong.

Top designer Uemada was looking for new games for his Famicom NES game console in 1984. Again Miyamoto was called to the big boss. Miyamoto resumed the little man now known as Mario.

Because someone told that he looked like a plumber instead of a carpenter, he turned it into a real plumber. Based on the idea that you should be able to play his game in pairs, he came up with a brother for Mario: Luigi, completely dressed in green.

The story for the Famicom became Super Mario Bros, released in 1984, one of the most beloved video games of all time.

Shigeru Miyamoto with all his figures

Miyamoto loved walking the streets in an unknown city and being surprised. He drove through a tunnel and discovered a completely different world on the other side. As a child, while walking, he discovered a small lake in a place where he had not expected this.

He put all those experiences into his games. Miyamoto's games exude the wondrous atmosphere of the way he himself experiences reality, and they hark back to the memories of his childhood.

For example, The Legend of Zelda, from mid-1987, intended for Nintendo's 8-bit machine. The first real adventure in history, a revelation.

Nintendo was Mario and Mario was Miyamoto. By putting forward his young genius, revealing him to the public eye, the secretive, reclusive Hiroshi Yamauchi was able to remain completely in the shadows during the 1980s and 1990s.

Although Miyamoto-san is widely regarded as the greatest genius of video games, he himself likes to refer to the happiness he has had in his life.

"Besides," he says, "I like this job so much that I want to do it for free." He tries to make his games in such a way that they encourage the creation of alternative solutions that lead to different results. He does not like to reward the player for a single answer.

Which figure is closest to his own person? Lakitu, from the Super Mario series: 'He's very free, he flies through the air and he can go anywhere. That's me.' 'When I design, I don't create a game. I'm in the game. The game is not for children, it is for me.

It is for the adult who still has the character of a child.'

In his early years at Nintendo, he met his wife Yasuko, who worked in the office there. He had spent the night in the company's dormitories until his marriage.

They moved to a house nearby and since then anyone who wants to can see Miyamoto cycling to work in the morning in Kyoto. He has remained the same somewhat timid, unpretentious, boyish man with the 60s haircut. Yasuko stopped working when their second child was born.

Miyamoto today: “My son is now 23, my daughter 21. Now I have nothing more to say to them, but I have always been very strict with them in their dealings with video games. It is the parents' responsibility to say no.

You should, of course, let your children gain as many experiences of their own as possible. In the Zelda games you can fish and that is fantastic. But that can't compete with the feeling you have when you catch a fish yourself in nature with your bare hands.'

Shigeru Miyamoto today holds the titles of Senior Marketing Director and General Manager of the Entertainment Analysis and Development Division at Nintendo. He works with a crew of 400 people.

He is also known among them for a phenomenon called 'chabudai gaeshi' in Japanese, literally 'turning the tea table', metaphorically referring to Miyamoto's cry: 'Stop! Start over from scratch!'

In March 2004, he was one of the first in San Francisco to receive a star on the 'Walk of Game'. The game series with Donkey Kong, Mario and Zelda alone have sold more than 350 million units worldwide.

No wonder he appears in all Time Magazine annual reviews as one of the most influential figures in contemporary culture. The French Minister of Culture, Renaud Donnedieu de Vabres, beat him in March 2006 to Chevalier in the Ordre des Arts et des Lettres.

A high honor for a Japanese who played country-and-western as a guitarist in the coffee shops of Kyoto more than thirty years ago. And who had no idea what to do with his life.