It's been a tough year for Nintendo.
Revenue at the venerable game company is plunging. Its stock price has been cut in half. And initial sales of its new 3DS handheld game machine were so disappointing that Nintendo dropped its price less than six months after launch.
But don't count the company out. When Nintendo released the Wii console five years ago, many analysts thought it would be an also-ran behind Sony and Microsoft's more powerful game machines. Instead, it dominated the industry.
Nintendo is hoping for a similar resurgence now. Next year it will release the Wii U, which will replace the Wii and finally bring high-definition gaming to Nintendo fans. In the meantime, the company is counting on its game studios to deliver some hits.
Leading the company's development efforts is legendary game designer Shigeru Miyamoto, whose hits include "Mario Bros." and "Donkey Kong." He recently talked with this newspaper about the company's new games, the new console and the competition from smartphones and tablets. His comments have been edited for space and clarity.
Q One of the big successes of the Wii has been to lure in people who either hadn't been gaming in a long time or had never been a gamer. But with "Zelda," you have a game that is 25 years old and has a long and established following. How much did the tension between appealing to those two divergent audiences play into the design of the game?
A To appeal to both is an idealistic thing. We are always trying to achieve that goal, but the fact of the matter is the "Legend of Zelda" franchise is known for its rather sophisticated game controls.
With "Skyward Sword" we tried to make it simpler. You can control the movement of Link much more intuitively. I don't know if I can say this is the perfect game for casual players, but I think we have come up with something attractive enough even for those players who have never played these sophisticated action games to understand their real attraction.
Q One of the truisms of the video game industry is that after new game machines are released, it takes several years before developers are able to maximize their potential. Where do you think developers are in maximizing the potential of the 3DS, particularly its 3-D feature?
A When it comes to the 3-D effect itself -- or the surprise factor for people to be able to say, "Wow, this 3-D!" -- I think the mission has already been completed sufficiently. But when it comes to how the 3-D effect can be used for the sake of game play without distracting people's attention too much, I do not think that developers have done a sufficient job yet. Even with "Super Mario 3DLand," I think we were able to attain just about 50 percent of the entire goal we really have to achieve. So there's much more room for us to be able to improve.
Q While the new "Mario Kart 7" has an online multiplayer feature, Nintendo is generally considered to have been slower in adopting online gaming than Microsoft or Sony. What have you learned from what they've done, and how have you decided to do things differently?
A It's true that for many years, Nintendo has been said to have been slow in online applications. And I think that's been said for 10 years or more -- even before Microsoft entered into the video game industry.
But the fact of the matter is that Nintendo has always been involved in the network business in one way or another. At least we have been continuing to experiment. The difference between Nintendo and other companies might be that Nintendo has always been trying to do something which makes sense from our business perspective, rather than trying to do something similar to other companies.
So I cannot tell if we are behind or faster. But when I am looking at how we are deploying our online business, I think what we are doing today is appropriate.
Q A lot of gaming seems to be shifting lately from traditional consoles and particularly gaming handhelds to smartphones and tablet computers. What's your opinion on this trend? And have you seen any compelling smartphone or tablet games?
A To me, the utmost concern is how we can create games for dedicated game machines that are unique enough so that they can never be reproduced on any other devices.
I believe as time goes by, the kinds of games people are expecting on smartphones are going to be largely different from what games people are expecting from the dedicated video game machines.
I recently purchased a smartphone and tried several games myself, but I just have not been able to find any games so far that I particularly like.
Q You guys have a new console coming out next year. What aspects of it particularly excite you as a game developer?
A Wii developers are always trying to make something new and unprecedented, but there is always some limit whenever we are working on existing hardware. But when the working environment or the subject for which we are making the game changes, it can give us a fresh idea to make something really new. Whenever we face that kind of situation, that's very exciting.
Contact Troy Wolverton at 408-840-4285. Follow him at Twitter.com/troywolv.
Birthplace: Sonobe, Kyoto, Japan
Position: Senior managing director; general manager, entertainment analysis and development division, Nintendo
Previous jobs: Has been with Nintendo since 1977, when he was hired as a staff artist
Education: Degree from the Kanazawa College of Art in Ishikawa, Japan
Family: Married; has a son and a daughter
Other interests: Loves to play the guitar, mandolin and banjo. Has a Shetland sheepdog named Pikku that provided the inspiration for "Nintendogs."