From Famicom Disk System To Switch – The Evolution Of Nintendo’s Miis – Feature

Nintendo Miis

Ah, the Mii. We remember when we first made my own Miis back in 2006. Back then the most character customisation we had experienced was probably with The Sims, so making Miis of our friends, family and favourite video game characters was a fun pastime. It’s a real shame, then, that Nintendo stepped away from their Miis, presumably in an attempt to distance Switch from the Wii branding. These fun avatars are still around, of course — the Switch has its own Mii Maker hidden away — but it’s not as pronounced and they have certainly taken a back seat in recent years.

With that said, the launch of Miitopia on Switch this Friday sees Miis return in full force with its own enhanced Mii Maker utility, so we thought it would be fun to take a look back at the history of the Miis — what led to their development, their popularity and their eventual side-lining.

From the mind of Miiyamoto

The idea of making your own custom characters for video games was one that Nintendo had been brewing in their offices since as early as the NES days. Back on the Famicom Disk System, Shigeru Miyamoto thought it would be fun if players could use the console to create their own custom faces for characters that you could then control after inserting a separate ‘scenario disk’. As outlined by the man himself in a 2007 GDC keynote that charted the evolution of the Mii, a prototype was even developed but when Miyamoto presented his idea to the other higher-ups at Nintendo, they truly struggled to see how this could be turned into a fun game, and so the idea was shelved.

Miyamoto is known for his tenacity, however, and this idea wouldn’t go unused. He bided his time, waiting for technology to catch-up to his concepts and they make an actual game to go alongside this character-making software. And it would take two console generations before this happened, when Nintendo launched their second disk system add-on, the Nintendo 64 DD.

Say chiise!

With the enhanced power of the Nintendo 64 and the space provided by the 64DD’s proprietary disks, Nintendo revisited its character creation software and packaged it with a Japan-exclusive title called Mario Artist: Talent Studio, the second game in the Mario Artist line and a successor to the SNES game/creation suite Mario Paint. This 64DD game was all about making your own characters, called ‘Talents’, dressing them up in different outfits and then making short, 3D movies using the software. The Talents you made could even be imported and used to the other games in the Mario Artist line.

While you could just draw the Talents face using the in-game creation software, one of the big features that Nintendo promoted was the ability to take photos and use them to create your characters. A feature that was originally to be included in Rare’s Perfect Dark (until Nintendo said it didn’t like the idea of letting players shoot each other in the face), this face transfer could be done with either the Game Boy Camera, snapping a photo and using the Nintendo 64 Transfer Pack to import it to the game, or by using any camera that supported NTSC video output, and transferring the data using a bundled capture cassette. This allowed for incredible detail (for the time) on these characters, a level of fidelity that we are only really seeing matched with the new creator in Miitopia.

Talent Studio was unfortunately limited in its reach thanks to the 64DD never leaving Japan, so the vast majority of players worldwide never experienced it. Nintendo wasn’t about to let this creator idea go to waste, though, and so began working on a successor on the Nintendo GameCube called Stage Debut, eventually renamed Manebito. This title had a more advanced version of the Talent creator, retaining the ability to take photos of yourself with the Game Boy Camera, but also utilising Nintendo’s GBA e-Reader cards to allow you to transfer pre-made characters, like celebrities, into the game.

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