In his final piece covering the GDC, Al Lowe offers some thoughts on meeting the man of the hour, Shigeru Miyamoto.
Originally posted at Next Generation, On-Line's web site
March 22, 1999
I've met many famous men and women over the years, but I have never asked anyone for an autograph--until I met Shigeru Miyamoto.
I now have an autograph collection of one simply because Shigeru Miyamoto is one of the few people in this world whose life, and life's work, have affected me enough to make me want his autograph.
You see, Shigeru Miyamoto is a game designer. But not just any game designer. He's the man who created the "Nintendo stable" of thoroughbreds: Donkey Kong, Mario et. al., Zelda, and more.
Anyone who knows me or my work knows I have a sense of humor. Yet I played a whole lot of video games before I ever found one that made me smile. Mr. Miyamoto's games always did.
Thursday evening at the Game Developers Conference in San Jose, Mr. Miyamoto presented the keynote address. It was an event unlike any at any computer or software event I've ever attended.
It began with a look back at his career, a video filled with clips of all his games, beginning with those "chunky-style" graphics from two decades ago. Each clip was greeted with applause, as all of us in attendance recognized in those grainy images what got us into this business in the first place-the effect a great game can have on us. I was surprised; there wasn't one game shown that I hadn't played, most for hour upon hour. A wave of nostalgia washed over me.
You see, I obtained a FamiCom (or Family Computer, which was what Nintendo called their first home game console) from Japan in 1984. With it came a handful of video games, all in Japanese, of course. My young son and I played and played the first Mario Brothers game. Endlessly.
And it was so good for both of us. He handled the eye-hand part much better than I, while I concentrated on the logic aspect. It was the first time the two of us worked together as equals on anything, each contributing towards the achievement of our shared goal. And, more important, it was the first time that he was better than Dad at anything. And he knew it. He knew I wasn't "letting him win!" We worked together even though we were also competing. Since then, he has gone on to do it many times in many ways, but Mario was his first taste, and he and I both loved it.
Later, conveniently about the time he grew too cool to play games with his Dad, his younger sister had grown into the right age. So I was fortunate enough to repeat the same exact experience with her, this time on SNES and N-64. And with Mr. Miyamoto's games, of course.
All this went through my mind during the introductory video before his speech, as this gymnasium-sized arena jammed with game developers was filled with wave after wave of applause as the games that shaped our collective lives appeared, growing from the crude 4-color chunklets of Donkey Kong to the beautifully-rendered 3-D vistas of Ocarina of Time.
Then Mr. Miyamoto was introduced. And as he walked out onto the stage, something unique happened. Something I've never seen before. Something I have trouble imagining I'll ever see again.
These hardened professionals who had just spent the past few days watching eye-shattering demonstrations of future graphics boards, game machines of the next millenium, and next generation software demos; these seasoned veterans who have been subjected to every form of hyperbole; these ultimate competitors who would never dream of admitting someone else's code might run a little faster; these veterans of "if it moves, kill it" software; these…"Game Developers"... rose to their feet as one to give this small, humble, sweet-natured, elder statesman of the art form a standing ovation!
I can't imagine that happening for anyone else.
Oh, I won't go into the content of his speech; you can find that elsewhere. But it was exactly like his games, of course. Know the game, know the man. It was clever, witty, organized, insightful, warm and human. He pleaded with us to make games more interactive. What did you expect? Whose soul did you think was in those carts?
But then I was really shaken.
As he talked about the future of gaming, I remembered an epiphany* I had back in 1980. I attended a demonstration for educators of a system created by Bell & Howell that linked two primitive VCRs of the period to Bell & Howell's licensed (black case) version of an Apple II computer. The demo consisted of a videotaped lecture, followed by a computer-led individual question and answer session that measured how well the viewer had learned the material. It was the first time I had seen video and computers linked, and was remarkably advanced for its time. Of course, that technology never caught on, but on the way out, my mind merged this technology demo with the adventure game I had been playing at home in the evenings and extrapolated a new idea.
When I returned to the office, I announced to everyone who would listen (and that wasn't many!) my vision of the future of computer games. Games would eventually include the player. Players would scan their face into the computer, and that graphic would then become the game's protagonist, so that everyone would "star" in his own version of the story. (I related this tale a few years ago when Leisure Suit Larry 7 came out, because we made a humble attempt to include players' photos in the game, although certainly not in the way I had envisioned 16 years earlier.)
So why did this memory all come flooding back? Because there on the screen Shigeru Miyamoto was showing his current project: a game featuring the player's own image, photographed on a Game Boy camera, wrapped around the head of a 3-D character, starring in his very own version of a computer game!
Although not quite up to my old vision, we had taken a big leap closer.
Later, after his speech had concluded (to another standing ovation, of course), I braved the jam of journalists in the far-too-small reception area. I waited behind the reporter from National Public Radio who asked the most inane questions. I waited while people asked him detailed questions about old games. I waited while people asked specifics about programming the next generation Nintendo machines about which we all knew he wouldn't comment. I waited…until I was face to face with Mr. Miyamoto himself.
And what did I say, when I finally had the chance to talk with this video wizard? This master of the gaming universe?
"I just want to thank you for all the hours of joy you have given my family and me while you and I raised my children," I stumbled.
He smiled as if he understood that jumble of English images, but it doesn't matter to me if he did or not. Because Thursday night, Shigeru Miyamoto reminded me of why I got into this business in the first place: to have fun, and to share the joy of games with others.
And then, like a nervous schoolkid, I, the bearded, 52-year-old, balding, overweight geek, asked for my first autograph.
*epiphany: 1. A sudden manifestation of the essence or meaning of something. 2. A comprehension or perception of reality by means of a sudden intuitive realization.