AAlmost everyone who has ever bought a video game controller has played at least one Mario game. Whether you had a Nintendo Entertainment System in the 1980s, the N64 in the 90s or a Wii in the 00s, the cheerful little plumber has adorned every generation of Nintendo’s consoles – and touched every generation of gamers. To date, over 373 million Super Mario games have been sold, meaning hundreds of millions of siblings are banding together to find Star Road in Super Mario World, commuters flee on the train with Super Mario 3D Land, and parents in Super Mario Galaxy from Planet Too Planet fly with their children.
These are essentially simple games about the pleasure of running and jumping, moving a character in a colorful, abstract space. What makes them better than a thousand other platformer, as this genre is called, is the finesse and responsiveness in Mario̵
The first of these designers, Shigeru Miyamoto, was 24 when he joined Nintendo in 1977, and a month before his 33rd birthday when the original Super Mario Bros was released. For him, this joy in movement is what makes Mario still special, even if he has gone from being a little pixel man to a galaxy hopping superstar. “[Mario is about] To be able to improve as you memorize the movements and then use those movements, thinking about what to do next, and trying different things. The essence of these games was to generate a wide variety of reactions to this player experiment, ”he says. “I have [always] The feeling that gamers who try different things and know exactly what they are doing are at the heart of interactive gameplay. “
Takashi Tezuka, who directed the 2D Mario games of the 1980s and 90s with Miyamoto, agrees: “The basic requirement of Super Mario games is that we can of course enjoy Mario’s actions. The technical aspects can be different between 2D and 3D games, but this remains the same. If we as players mess up a move because of the controls and not because of something we did wrong, then we end up not wanting to play anymore. On the other hand, if we feel like things would have worked out if we had jumped just a little earlier, then let’s try again. “
Mario’s history as a character goes back a little further than the September 13, 1985 release of Super Mario Bros. in Japan. He first appeared in the 1981 arcade game Donkey Kong, trying to save a virgin from a giant monkey. At that time his name was Jumpman, although Miyamoto’s own name was “Mr Video” to him. He came to be known as Mario after some employees at the up and coming Nintendo of America discovered a resemblance between the Squat, Moustachiod character and their warehouse landlord Mario Segale. Miyamoto liked the nickname and stuck with it. Another arcade game, Mario Bros from 1983, made the character’s debut as an Italian plumber along with his tragically less famous brother Luigi.
The visual limitations of video game technology of the 1980s – small pixel grids, a limited color palette – explain both Mario’s appearance with his color-constricting blue dungarees and red shirt, and the trippy aesthetic of Mario games to this day: clouds with eyes, small ones Turtles with beetle eyes, animated rocks, trees and mushrooms. “I’ve always designed assets that best fit the game’s features – that is, so that players can understand them without any explanation, as can the people watching from the sidelines,” says Miyamoto.
“There were several reasons we used pipes [as a visual motif]: They were perfect for the mechanic in Mario Bros, where enemies that disappear at the bottom of the screen would reappear at the top. They had that comic book feeling about them where they bulged and let something come out of them. and then there was the fact that I would always see her on the way to work [at Nintendo HQ in Kyoto]. ”
“In the 8-bit hardware era, many games used black as a background,” Tezuka adds. “But to create a world where the background scrolls, we used these limited colors and developed a design based on black outlines filled with individual colors. Miyamoto drew rough sketches for the Super Mushroom and Super Star, and it seemed natural to look at them. After that, it felt like a natural extension to keep an eye on the clouds and mountains in Super Mario Bros: The Lost Levels. “
From Super Mario Bros from 1985 to 1996, 2D Mario games just got more colorful and sprawling, with an ever-growing cabinet of vaguely psychedelic power-ups from the classic mushroom to a leaf that granted a feather, a raccoon tail and Ears gave Mario the power of flight. In 1996, Mario took his first steps in 3D in Super Mario 64, a groundbreaking game that set the blueprint for moving a character around in space. While most of the early 3D games are all but non-playable right now, hampered by the limitations of emerging technology, Super Mario 64 still feels magical.
Mario owes his current expanded moves to the challenges of running and jumping in 3D, says Yoshiaki Koizumi, who has directed 3D Mario games from Super Mario 64 to Sunshine to Galaxy. “When we first switched to 3D in Super Mario 64, we realized how difficult it is to jump on enemies moving around in 3D space,” he explains. “So we developed a lot of new moves, besides jumping, that use the functions of 3D, such as: B. walking around or shooting water or spinning. I was full of excitement working with the new technology we had before us. I didn’t feel like we were going to turn Super Mario into 3D. Rather, it was a feeling that we were creating a completely new style of entertainment. “Koizumi later found that he had recreated these early experiments during the development of Super Mario Galaxy 2007:” There weren’t any other games where you could move in space using modified gravity.
Nintendo’s early experiments with Mario in 3D left Miyamoto unhappy. Plans to include Mario’s brother Luigi in the game so people could play together were quickly abandoned. “When we tried to do our experiments in 3D on a console, the only thing moving was Mario. Of course there was no background either. Although we expected things to be limited, what we ended up with was even less than we expected. At that point, we gave up seeing Mario and Luigi at the same time and instead decided to redesign the gameplay, ”he says.
Mario 64’s famous opening screen, where players can grab a giant Mario face and turn it into amusingly grotesque expressions, has also been carried by the frustrations and challenges of working in 3D, says Tezuka. “I wasn’t involved in the game design for Super Mario 64, but since it was 3D there were a lot of things that we first got into. While we were struggling with this, Mr. Miyamoto said he wanted to make it so that outside of the game, players could play with the model of Mario’s head that a programmer made by themselves. Let them twist or pull on their nose. “
Around the time Super Mario 64 was in development, Miyamoto started swimming and was very excited about it – if you’ve ever wondered where Mario’s idiosyncratic breaststroke came from, now you know. Mario’s other designers have also been inspired by their real-world experiences over the years. “With Mario, I wanted to recreate the experience of a hero jumping from roof to roof like the heroes I saw in my childhood,” says Koizumi. “I achieved this somewhat in Super Mario Sunshine by being able to climb the rooftops of the square and walk around. The water-based game with FLUDD [Mario’s water-gun backpack] also reflects my childhood experiences of playing in the water and enjoying the coolness on my skin. “
Kenta Motokura, director of the latest Mario games Super Mario 3D World and Super Mario Odyssey, is part of a generation of Nintendo designers who grew up with the earlier Mario games. His approach to the series is therefore shaped by his childhood experiences. “Super Mario Bros 3 is my favorite Mario title,” he says. “The idea of having many different kingdoms in Super Mario Odyssey came from Super Mario Bros. 3. The fact that I grew up playing Mario games had a huge impact on how I make games.
“I also used knowledge of body movements acquired through sports like snowboarding as a reference for Mario’s movements, as well as recording terrain and environments that I found interesting in the games. I think you can also see things from trips to places like Mexico or New York that I enjoyed or that also made me nervous in Super Mario Odyssey. “
The first level of Super Mario Bros., 1-1, is now considered such a perfect example of game design that it is taught in universities. The elements are arranged so that you can’t miss the rules: you have to jump over a Goomba to avoid this. Eating mushrooms transforms Mario; ? Blocks contain surprises. Every Mario game has adopted this philosophy of design where the levels themselves teach you to play and always give you a chance to experiment before you fail so that you can follow your curiosity. It’s this playfulness and experimentation that new generations of Mario designers appreciate.
“I tell them first of all that they need to have an idea of how users are going to play,” says Tezuka. “Imagine we are running down a certain route, encountering an enemy and avoiding them. Then we’ll probably wonder what’s up there on the left and want to go that route, so we should place a hidden block there. That way of thinking. It’s like pretending to be playing like that as a kid. “