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How the inventor of Mario designs a game

Shigeru Miyamoto's design philosophy, explained.

Shigeru Miyamoto is a big name in gaming. Since he first designed Donkey Kong in 1981, he’s been called “the father of modern video games” — and for good reason.

Right after Donkey Kong’s release, the North American video game market came close to collapse in the early 1980s. Console sales alone peaked at over $3 billion in 1983 before plummeting to around $100 million by 1985. Miyamoto’s subsequent games (Super Mario Bros., The Legend of Zelda, Star Fox) are often credited with jumpstarting the industry in North America.

So how does he do it?

Before Donkey Kong, most video game designers tackled game design by working on the programming first, not the plot. But Donkey Kong started out as a game adaptation of the 1980 Popeye movie. After Nintendo was unable to secure the rights to use those characters, Miyamoto was inspired to invent a story that used the same themes. He wound up with the classic love triangle between a gorilla, a princess, and the character we now know as Mario.

Three decades and 247 Mario titles later, Miyamoto faced a unique game design challenge this year: creating a game for a console that Nintendo didn’t design.

Super Mario Run, released for iPhone in December 2016, is the company’s first venture into the mobile-phone gaming market. It’s a pivot away from their longstanding tradition of making games only for Nintendo’s own hardware. Since the release of the original Nintendo Entertainment System, almost every one of their console generations has brought an innovation in controller technology, from the introduction of L and R shoulder buttons with the Super Nintendo, to the 360 degree thumbstick with the Nintendo 64, to mobile gaming with the Game Boy, to motion control with the Wii.

Making the first Mario game for a non-Nintendo platform meant using the touchscreen — quite possibly the simplest controller they’ve ever worked with — and creating a game users could play just by tapping one finger.

Check out the video above to hear Miyamoto explain the core parts of his design philosophy and how they took shape.

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