Last week, Nintendo introduced a new Interview series marking the launch of the NES Classic Edition globally. The Interview series centers on the development of each of the 30 NES Classic Edition titles, giving us a behind-the-scenes insider look at the making of many of our favorite games. If you’d like to go back to last week’s series entry, feel free to do so. This week, we will get a great look at the Super Mario Bros. game series, specifically the first adventure and the third one, as well.
Mr. Akinori Sao conducted a recent interview with legendary game developers Shigeru Miyamoto, Takashi Tezuka and Koji Kondo. During his interview, he kept in mind that a lot of what could be shared was likely already covered by previous Iwata Asks interviews over the years.
…so Nintendo has already shared a lot of behind-the-scenes anecdotes. For example, the Iwata Asks sessions covering the New Super Mario Bros. Wii game (Volumes 1 & 2) and the 25th anniversary of Super Mario (Volume 5: Original Super Mario Developers) come to mind.
What was shared about these two games, however, was fantastic, to say the least. It was interesting that when Tezuka-san and Kondo-san first joined Nintendo, not only had the Famicom already launched in Japan, but neither of them owned one, either.
Sao: Tezuka-san, you and Kondo-san joined Nintendo in the same year. At that time, the Famicom was already on sale.
Tezuka: That’s right. Nintendo had released the Famicom the year before, in 1983.
Sao: Did you have one?
Tezuka: Um, no. (bluntly)
Tezuka: I did buy one after joining the company.
Sao: And you, Kondo-san?
Kondo: I didn’t have one either. I played a lot of arcade games though. Donkey Kong<sup>TM</sup>3 was popular at the time I entered the company, so I was playing that as hard as I could.
Sao: What was your impression of the Famicom back then?
Kondo: I liked how you could play arcade games at home.
Tezuka: I didn’t have any knowledge of this thing called the Family Computer (Famicom), so I thought it was like a home computer! (laughs)
Sao: (laughs) When it first came out, I suppose more than a few people had that misunderstanding.
Tezuka: Yeah. It’s hard to believe that someone like me, who was so unknowledgeable, would end up developing games for the Famicom/NES.
Now when it came to the creation of the first entry in the Super Mario Bros. series, Miyamoto-san shared some interesting things about their aim with the game. Super Mario Bros. was meant to be the culmination of all of Nintendo’s cartridge-based games.
Sao: Our topic today is Super Mario Bros. Miyamoto-san, what was your approach toward this game?
Miyamoto: I wanted to make a game that would be the culmination of all NES cartridge games up to that point.
Sao: From the release of the original Famicom until the release of this game—which would go on to become a worldwide hit—it took two years. Did the participation of Tezuka-san and Kondo-san play a big role in making it happen?
Miyamoto: Yes. I was doing design work all on my own, so Tezuka-san’s arrival was a big help. The first game we made together was Devil World.
Sao: In Devil World, players could control a player-character twice as big as in games before it, and Excitebike had a scrolling screen and warping. And all of that accrued technology was at work in the development of Super Mario Bros.
Miyamoto: That’s right. We wanted to pack various technologies into one Famicom cartridge game, like a puzzle. So we ended up making the player character larger, and creating long courses that scroll.
Sao: The Family Computer Disk System came out the next year.
Miyamoto: That’s why I really wanted to make Super Mario Bros. the grand culmination of Famicom/NES cartridges. We had built up a lot of know-how since the release of the console, and the time had come when that would be possible.
Another really neat anecdote from the interview was when Miyamoto-san recounted the story of how power-ups came to be in the game. I thought his reaction to an incorrect report was absolutely hilarious, too.
Sao: Quite a long time ago, a manga magazine had stories about the development of Super Mario Bros.
Miyamoto: Yes, that’s right. (laughs)
Sao: That manga contained an episode in which a bug caused only Mario’s upper half to show when displaying that big Mario, and that’s what gave you the idea for a small Mario.
Miyamoto: That’s absolutely not true. (bluntly)
Miyamoto: I remember this clearly. Tezuka-san and Nakago-san5 and I were having a meeting, and we had the length of all the courses drawn up on a whiteboard. We were discussing whether there was any way to see farther ahead.
Sao: Mario was big, so you couldn’t see very far?
Miyamoto: Right. We could pull back for a broader view, but then Mario would be smaller. Then Nakago-san said, “Wait a minute. Wouldn’t it be fun to have a small Mario, too?”
Sao: Ah, I see. You introduced a smaller Mario to make it easier to see what’s ahead in the course.
Miyamoto: Yes. And then we decided that you’ll lose a turn when the smaller Mario runs into an enemy, when big Mario runs into an enemy, he would just get smaller. That would be a brand-new game mechanic, and we decided to go with it right away in that meeting.
Sao: So the inspiration didn’t come from a bug as in the manga. (laughs)
Miyamoto: No. (laughs)
Sao: By the way, did you ever consider letting players start the game with the bigger Mario?
Miyamoto: Starting with the small Mario would make players happier when Mario got big later, and it would also give a better impression to players.
(To Tezuka-san) We decided that quickly, right?
Miyamoto: And since Mario had gotten bigger, we added “super” to the title to make it Super Mario Bros.
Later, Tezuka-san gave a lot of great information about the development of Super Mario Bros. 3 (probably my all-time favorite NES game). One such bit of information had to do with the development time and why it was taking so long to complete.
Sao: Tezuka-san, did you feel pressure as the director of Super Mario Bros. 3? After all, the original Super Mario Bros. was an incredible hit.
Tezuka: I didn’t feel pressure from the original game so much as I felt like I needed to do a good job. But it wouldn’t come together well and dragged on.
Miyamoto: And Nakago-san got angry. (laughs)
Tezuka: Yeah, he definitely got angry. (laughs)
Sao: What wouldn’t come together?
Tezuka: At first, we were making it with a bird’s-eye view rather than a side view.
Sao: The view was looking down diagonally from overhead rather than directly from the side as in Super Mario Bros.
Tezuka: Yes. But we couldn’t do it well.
Miyamoto: He said he wanted to look from a little above. But in Super Mario Bros. it is important whether Mario’s feet hit the ground or not, even barely. With a diagonal view from slightly overhead, you lost your sense of distance to the ground. So I told him that development would be difficult.
Tezuka: Yeah, it was. (laughs wryly) So partway through development, we switched to a side viewpoint, but there are relics of the bird’s-eye view in the final product.
Sao: So the development period was a bit long.
Tezuka: Not a bit—a lot!
Miyamoto: We began after Super Mario Bros.: The Lost Levels in the spring of 1986, and it still wasn’t finished a year later. In the spring of the following year, we were finally able to apply the final polish.
Tezuka: Yes, that’s about right.
Miyamoto: So it took about two years. No…longer. We wanted to release it in spring of 1988, but we couldn’t do that either, so it dragged on for another six months! (laughs)
(To Tezuka-san) Right?
Tezuka: (nods silently)
Sao: So it took two and a half years. What caused such trouble?
Tezuka: Well, we wanted to put in a lot of stuff. There were all these things we wanted to do, but once all the features were placed together, there were a lot of holes that needed to be patched up.
And so, the effort and work definitely went into the creation of both Super Mario Bros. and Super Mario Bros. 3, which cemented the iconic character into the Pop Culture lexicon permanently. Mario is the most recognized character in the world, even surpassing Mickey Mouse. That is amazing, and to think it started as a character whose eyes were too close to his hat.
Again, I did not share all that was given to us in the interview, but if you would like to read the entire interview, feel free to do so.
I look forward to sharing even more entries in this interview series with the developers as they are made available. The process by which these gentlemen created some of the most memorable experiences in history is amazing to behold. The desire to get it right, from the mechanics, art design, and the music are all indicative of the type of game developers that Nintendo became, and still are to this very day, 30+ years later.
Were you aware of the fact that the original Super Mario Bros. was intended to be the last of the cartridge games before moving on to the disk system? Did you know that Mario started as Big Mario before becoming Small Mario…to grow into Big Mario? Did you recognize that there were remnants of the birds-eye view left in the final version of Super Mario Bros. 3?
As always, gaming is meant to be fun, so keep gaming!!