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Tales from the GDC Vault: Nintendecade

[Continuing his 'Tales from the Vault' series, official GDC historian Jason Scott debuts complete free video of two seminal Nintendo keynotes at GDC -- Shigeru Miyamoto in 1999 and Satoru Iwata in 2005.]

The videotapes are starting to pile up in the "done" box and the process of turning the resulting video files into more lightweight video streaming files is now well underway, and I'll be adding these talks at a good clip for the coming months.

Since Nintendo gave the main keynote for the 2011 GDC [GDC Vault free video], I thought it might be fun to bring out two other Nintendo keynotes given across the last ten years plus: a Shigeru Miyamoto presentation from GDC 1999, and Nintendo's 2005 GDC keynote that introduced the Nintendo DS in depth to the world.

So we're debuting these talks for the first time online, free via GDC Vault. Firstly, Miyamoto's appearance and keynote at the 1999 Game Developers Conference [GDC Vault free video] is a big deal -- a real big deal.

Even if you didn't know who he was, the introductions and palpable excitement from the presenters shows that having the legendary Mario game designer was a huge win for the conference.

To his great credit, Miyamoto provides a presentation about his ideas on game design, the history of Nintendo's entry into the console game market, and a call to innovation, and it's filled with ideas both specific and universal. In other words, he makes it worth the trip.

miyamoto.pngHis speech, coming via a BetaSP archive we've digitized, starts in English. But then he announces he'll continue in Japanese, which he does, with a translator providing the rhythmic back-and-forth between the two languages.

And the core message, as I hear it, is that he thinks story and gameplay, with a good dash of artistry, is what brings the games from being mere shoot-em-ups and twitchfests to being something more, something that will stay with people a long time.

Perhaps that might seem obvious, but his consistent vision from the days of Donkey Kong up through to what he hints at (the Wii) gives these games a sense of weight and thoughtfulness, and his wish in the speech is for many others to do the same.

As an unbroken, long-form presentation of evidence that Miyamoto deserves his high regard and hall of fame designer status, this speech is perfect. It lives up to all the promises of any great speech, and is well worth enjoying, even a decade plus later.

In 2005, a different member of Nintendo's leadership spoke: Satoru Iwata, global president of Nintendo. His keynote, 'The Heart Of A Gamer' [GDC Vault free video] shared multiple elements from Miyamoto's speech six years earlier -- the focus was on translating what makes a game worth playing, the thoughts behind design, and a glance of things to come. In fact, one of the big glances in this speech is a sneak preview of what would eventually become The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess.

iwata.pngAnd, granted, his presentation has a lot more in the way of technical and product demonstrations, brought by a host of assistants and cohorts.

But what I found interesting here was that Iwata still chooses the personal narrative, still stresses his own journey just as Miyamoto does, to tell you to think of these platforms and systems as homes for gamers, and to encourage the spirit of gaming through them.

Nintendo is as big as they come, but I really like the tone and approach of these speeches -- instead of being product pushes with a smattering of humanity to help with the selling, they're primarily personal stories.

At least according to these talks, the speaker gives a biographical perspective about what they've learned in their years in the game business, and occasionally showing some new product or idea that they think fulfills that outlook.

Overall, there's a sense of whimsy in the chosen illustrations, and a nice bunch of history besides. It's quite humbling, to think of it, that while Miyamoto gives his talk about his early days with Nintendo, he is doing so during Nintendo's 110th year as a company.

Next time: An avalanche of content.

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