Nintendo legend Hideki Konno talks violent games, the competition, and avoiding Miyamoto’s glare

WiiU_MarioKart8_scrn03If you have even an ounce of gamer blood pumping in your veins, then there is a very good chance that you have heard the name Hideki Konno. But even if the name is unfamiliar, whether you realize it or not, you know his legacy.

Hideki Konno
Hideki Konno

Konno may not have as high a profile as Nintendo’s best known game creator, Shigeru Miyamoto, and he may not have as many titles on his resume as Takashi “Ten Ten” Tezuka, but his contribution to gaming can’t be denied. For more than 25 years, Konno has helped to create some of Nintendo’s most beloved titles. He began his career in 1987 as an assistant director and game designer on Yume Kōjō: Doki Doki Panic, the game that would be rebranded for an American audience as Super Mario Bros 2. He then directed the classic Ice Hockey before working on the next Super Mario Bros title. Then in 1992, Konno directed the first of what would become his signature series, Super Mario Kart.

“We never feel like we’re in competition, per se.”

Two decades later, Konno has eased into the position of producer, and carries the title of Head of Nintendo Entertainment Analysis and Development Software Development Group No. 1. Next year Nintendo will release the eighth game in the Mario Kart series.

We ran in to Konno at E3 and talked (through a translator) about the growing role of violence in video games, the new competition from Sony and Microsoft, and what he is most proud of in an already prestigious career.

More and more games are featuring violent gameplay, but Nintendo, and specifically the Mario Kart franchise, haven’t gone down that road. What is your strategy when competing with violent games?

I don’t really feel like we are competing with these other games. I think it’s great that there’s all kinds of genres within the gaming industry. I myself play all sorts of different games. We never feel like we’re in competition, per se.

sMB2Do you think we’ll reach a point of exhaustion with violent games?

We’re obviously making Mario Kart 8, there’s been seven previous incarnations of this game. I feel like we need to also combat how players might get tired of our series. It’s always something that we’re thinking about, it’s something that we wanted to fight with any means we can.

Where do you draw the line between making too many changes and keeping the core audience happy?

Mr. Miyamoto often says that we want our games to be playable by anyone from age 5 to 99, so we want to make our game really easy for anyone to play. For example in Mario Kart Wii, we had the Wii Wheel. And so anyone could jump in and understand the controls.

[My Dad] actually played Mario Kart Wii, and would play with his grandchildren, and he even felt pride, feeling like he could play and control the kart as he wanted to, and said something like ‘I’m not going to lose this time!’ Again, our guiding principle is just have people have fun. 

We’ve seen a lot of impressive new tech introduced lately that can expand games in new directions, but I know people that still play Mario Kart 64. Has technology made gaming better, or just created new features?

“It’s exciting, of course, to see a new platform with new technology and new games that are coming out.”

It’s a little difficult to talk about, but we all know that in the last 20 to 25 years the pace of technology has been incredible, and we at Nintendo have put out a console every few years, trying to maximize that technology. And for each time we put out a new console, we want to make sure the game fits that particular piece of technology.

You played the Super NES?

Oh yes. So, so much.

The first Mario Kart came out for the SNES, and ever since then we’ve tried to fit a Mario Kart for each console that we have. 

super mario kartYou’ve been to many E3s at this point. How does this one compare?

I haven’t had a very good chance to look around [yet]. However, as a gamer myself, I feel a lot of expectations and a lot of excitement about what I’m going to be able to see. I love being able to see what is going on with the game industry. It’s not just games, it’s gadgets. Just any type of technology as well.

Personally, it’s very exciting because I was the general producer of the 3DS, so I’m really into seeing the new technologies and trends that contribute to that.

Have you seen some of the really new tech, the stuff like the Oculus Rift and other VR stuff?

I’m always looking at things. I saw similar technology years and years ago and thought, obviously, this is going to be interesting. But I’m always looking at that kind of thing and being excited for it. But of course I’m not saying Nintendo is going to put anything like that out!

What do you think of the new consoles from Sony and Microsoft?

It’s exciting, of course, to see a new platform with new technology and new games that are coming out. So as a player myself, I’m anxiously awaiting to see what happens. So, for example when you’re just a player of games and you see the new technology, it is hard to figure out exactly what is going on when you just have a short impression of what it is. So [I’m thinking that I’ll] take a look at things as they evolve along those lines.

Mario-Kart-8-Wii-U-Official-Screenshots-Nintendo-003What games beyond your own are you excited for?

Since we are first-party, we are always kind of peeking over the curtains and see how the other games are being developed, and what they are doing, and how much more interesting they have become over the course of the development.

We also get a chance to see Mr. Miyamoto in action. The upcoming Pikmin 3, it’s going to be released very soon, so it’s at the point where he is picking out little details and saying ‘you know you might want to do something like this, or go this way.’ Or even, if he is going to just – as he’s famous for – upset the tea table and start everything over. And then as I look on and say ‘Yeah, that’s how you do it.’ So when it’s time for [me] to get the “Miyamoto glare” [my] table stays pretty level.

Looking back over your career, what game or achievement are you most proud of?

More than any one particular game I kind of think of it all as my career. [It’s] all a point of pride, and I think about it as fun. I’ve made every game since the first Mario Kart, along with Mr. Miyamoto, I try to do my best every single time. I want to put out my best with every game.

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