It has become increasingly rare for people to work in the same company for years, let alone decades, but the legendary Takaya Imamura has finally left Nintendo after a remarkable 32 years! In a recent interview, he sat down with IGN to reminisce over his time with the company.
Back in college, Imamura loved playing video games and always dreamed of becoming a manga artist. Even though he was less interested in programming, he wanted to share his artistic nature with Nintendo with hopes of designing game packages and instruction booklets. The way he applied? Imamura found their address in the Super Mario Bros. instruction booklet. He landed an interview where he met Shigeru Miyamoto and was subsequently hired in 1989.
Imamura spent his tenure at Nintendo working alongside Miyamoto, who was in charge of all his projects until Miyamoto became Nintendo’s Creative Fellow in 2015. Imamura reflected fondly about his mentor:
“Someone who has achieved his level of success is very strict. He was strict on himself as well. I was much weaker and softer than him, to the very last day. But of course he wasn’t only strict. Sometimes he could be more playful, and I have memories of being praised by him, too.”
To his surprise, Imamura learned on his first day that he was placed in the Research and Development team that was in charge of franchises such as Zelda and Mario. It certainly left him stunned– he wasn’t going to be designing instruction booklets like he thought. No. Little did he know, he was to make games for Nintendo’s next console. With little experience, Imamura knew he had a long challenge in front of him.
The first title Imamura worked on was F-Zero, a launch title for the Super Nintendo. Drawing inspiration from American comics, he used his creativity to design Captain Falcon, and later for the Nintendo 64, Fox McCloud. By the time he worked on Star Fox 64, his confidence grew. He had play a few 3D games himself, such as Virtual Racing, Pole Position, and Starblade.
Star Fox 64 became his most cherished project. Although he was credited as the art director, he spent countless hours working above and beyond his title by modeling characters and mechs, writing the plot, and advising composers on music creation. With the advent of Sony’s PlayStation and their soaring popularity due to inclusion of cinematic cutscenes in their titles, Imamura poured his heart and soul into the game, with a laser focus on interactivity. Imamura describes how he envisioned Star Fox 64 as a success, despite fierce competition:
“…The communication between characters is done through radio communication, so lowering the quality of sound didn’t harm the game’s atmosphere. Games with gorgeous cutscenes on the PlayStation had become the new norm, but while we also implemented more cinematic aspects, in the end, we wanted to stay focused on interactivity. The story would change depending on the player’s score, and by having the characters communicate the world felt more alive. We aimed for a game that would make you feel like you are watching a movie, while you are actually enjoying its interactivity.”
Imamura was also heavily involved with the Zelda franchise. At first, he was simply tasked to design objects in The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past, but his role snowballed into something much bigger. He recalled it fondly:
“In the middle of the development of A Link to the Past, I was asked to join the project to design the bosses. If I remember correctly, I designed all the bosses except for the last one and one other. It was not just the art; I also designed the mechanics together with one of the programmers…I also designed the game’s title logo and dungeon maps. Designing dungeon maps is a harsh job, as the dungeons consist of multiple floors and their structure kept changing over the course of development. So, I guess you could say I did a little more than just ‘designing objects’.”
One of Imamura’s largest impact at Nintendo was, of course, The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask. He is credited with tweaking the visuals so that they carried their own identity separate from The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time. In addition to that, he not only came up with the name Majora, but Imamura also designed the mask itself, that eerie-looking moon looming over Clock Town, and yes, Tingle.
Imamura continued producing and supervising numerous projects for many years up until his departure. He spent less time with Miyamoto in the last leg of his career, and sadly, he was unable to say good-bye in person. Imamura commented:
“Under the current circumstances, we couldn’t meet, so we had to say goodbye over email. He has invited me to meet up and go down memory lane together once COVID-19 finally settles down, so I’m looking forward to that.”
However, just because Imamura left Nintendo, it doesn’t mean he’s stopped making a difference. He teaches CG Animation and video game development at Osaka’s International Profession University of Technology. With his remaining free time, he’s chipping away at one of his dreams: creating his own manga.
Is Imamura done with developing games? He hints that he would be open to some freelancing on smaller indie games.
I certainly hope this isn’t the last we see of this legend. Thank you, Imamura!