Miyamoto Shigeru Agrees with Me

I previously made a post positing that one of the big changes that occurred in video game graphics around the NES era was that character’s began to have faces. Their eyes and mouths (or approximations thereof) made the characters more relatable.

While I thought it made perfect sense, I realize that aside from my visual analysis there wasn’t a whole lot of record and evidence to back it up. But then recently while reading the New Super Mario Bros. Wii interview, the creator of Mario himself Miyamoto Shigeru said something which helped support my theory immensely.

Mario’s trademarks are his moustache, his hat and his overalls. Why did you decide to give him this look? I have no doubt you’ve spoken about this many times before, but I’d like to take this opportunity to ask you to tell us about it one more time.

Certainly. The original Mario was a 16 X 16 pixilated image. At that time, when games made overseas used human characters, they were always rendered with life-like proportions.

It felt as if the developers weren’t happy unless they’d drawn a figure that was eight-heads tall.

Or sometimes it would be six-heads tall. But actually, the number of pixels we were able to use was so limited that, if we did that, we’d only have had a couple of pixels for the face.

With two pixels, you wouldn’t even have been able to draw eyes. You’d basically have ended up with a matchstick figure. In early video games from overseas, that kind of figure often featured.

And as they just didn’t resemble human figures, I was absolutely convinced that they’d been designed by people who couldn’t draw!


I thought it was most likely that it was the programmer who was drawing these figures. But I thought: “I know how to draw!” I mean, I’m not saying I can draw as well as an artist, but I was confident that I was better at drawing than a programmer. That’s why I started by saying: “Right, let’s draw something that actually looks like a person’s face!” So I drew the eyes, the nose, the mouth and…
Miyamoto goes on to talk about how in creating the face, it left him with very few pixels to actually design a body, and that Mario’s look was essentially dictated by function (Mario has a mustache so that they didn’t have to draw a mouth). What’s important in Miyamoto’s words is that he saw how most of the characters in games abroad were attempts to replicate a “realistic” human figure, and he still made an effort to give his character Mario some semblance of a personality by giving him facial features, even if those features were the result of limitations.
Certainly it wasn’t impossible or uncommon for games prior to Donkey Kong to have personality of their own, and Miyamoto certainly wasn’t the first to give facial features to his characters (Pac-Man being the most obvious example), it does show the kind of thinking that would go on to implicitly influence generations of gamers.

3 thoughts on “Miyamoto Shigeru Agrees with Me

  1. I guess when your canvas is as limiting as it was in the early days of games, you’ve got to exaggerate the important bits more, proportions be damned. It’s also nice to read a little about the process of how Miyamoto designs his games. For the most renown game designer in the last 40 years, his methods always seem to be based on more intuition and “magic” than any set repeatable procedure. Ideas just seem to spring from the fountain of his genius.


  2. Interesting. I would say Miyamoto just embraced a different kind of realism, because, apart from strict morphology of the average H. sapiens, how are we supposed to describe a human being? Seems he embraced cartooning principles in gaming, which IS pretty revolutionary for the time.

    Great food for thought. Cheers.


  3. Pingback: Miyamoto Shigeru Continues to Amaze Me « OGIUE MANIAX

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