When Nintendo announced they’d be working with Apple to launch Super Mario Run on iPhone, the partnership made a lot of sense. After all, both companies share a similar arc in the history of their respective industries, each defining the early decades of the home gaming and computing industries, respectively. But perhaps the most relevant similarity is in the two companies’ focus on design.
Shigeru Miyamoto, the legendary game designer behind no less than Super Mario Brothers, Donkey Kong, The Legend of Zelda, F-Zero, knows what makes a game that connects with players and stands the test of time. He recently spoke to Glixel about his design process with Nintendo, and why the decision to join forces with Cupertino an easy one.
“I’ve always had this image that Apple and Nintendo have very similar philosophies,“ he said.
One of the clearest signs of that shared philosophy shows in both companies’ effort to aim for the wide middle between highly tech-savvy consumers on the one hand, and the technologically illiterate on the other. This was a much more significant divide when the Mac and NES launched in 1983 and ‘84, a time when computing and gaming were largely niche industries.
“Apple, like Nintendo, is a company that thinks about how people will use their products. We design things to be usable by a very broad range of people. They put a lot of effort into the interface and making the product simple to use, and that’s very consistent with Nintendo,“ Miyamoto says. “In the early days when computers were very complicated things, computer companies were purposely presenting them in ways that made them seem very complicated. Then you had Apple who came along with their very simple and colorful logo and it all had more of a fun feel to it.”
Miyamoto says he sees himself as more a designer than an artist. Unpacking his process and role at Nintendo, he reveals some of his similarities with Jony Ive. Both, for instance, have worked with the same core team of people for decades. Both strive for a childlike sense of ‘magic’ in what they make. And both seem to aim to please customers on an emotional level.
“I’m a designer,” Miyamoto says. “I don’t think of myself as creating works, I really think of myself as creating products for people to enjoy. That’s why I’ve always called my games products rather than works of art. It’s not about coming up with an idea and trying to make that idea, the work of a planner is to work within the constraints of what you’re given and make the best possible thing you can.”
With Super Mario Run, one of the world’s most recognizable characters is brought to one of the most widely used platforms on the planet. It’s brand synergy at its finest. Classic Nintendo design brings the simple and accessible play style (Super Mario Run is controlled with only a single tap) to hardware that not only shares their aesthetic sensibilities, but can do justice to the IP involved. And of course, an enticing try-before-you arrangement plan that invokes the business savvy Apple was built on.
“Part of the reason we took it to Apple was that in order for us to have the performance we wanted we needed some development support to ensure that the game would run the way we expected. Because Nintendo is always trying to do something unique we also wanted to try and do something different on the business side too.”
It’s interesting to see the apparently successful results of a collaboration between the great minds of these two titanic companies. Whether Nintendo and Apple will work together on future projects is unclear, but if they do, we can be damn sure whatever they release will be really well designed.