Nintendo does a regular feature where president Satoru Iwata interviews relevant staff regarding recent game releases. With New Super Mario Bros. Wii just out, he sat down for a long chat with Shigeru Miyamoto, the creator of Donkey Kong, Mario and Legend of Zelda. He’s now one of the higher ups, as a Senior Managing Director and EAD’s General Manager (EAD is the largest design studio within Nintendo) and oversees numerous projects at any given moment, but the main Mario titles always pull him in for closer involvement.
Anyway, the interview is pretty cool in that it reveals a lot about the really basic design choices going back all the way to the beginning, like why Mario looks like Mario or why koopas are turtle-like. And who knew so much thought went into the very first seconds of Super Mario Bros., where the player first encounters a goomba and a mushroom? That discussion is absolutely fascinating. It’s also interesting to see how Miyamoto’s background in industrial design lent itself to making the most of the then-necessary basic designs and gameplay concepts. The second half of the interview talks about the sorts of discussions that went into crafting the multiplayer modes of New Super Mario Bros. Wii and how to tackle the problem of making a game fun for both beginners and people who have been mastering Mario titles for decades.
Iwata: So you made Mario wear a hat in order to keep the number of pixels you were using down?
Miyamoto: Well, if you have hair, it also presents problems to animate it. And if you draw a hat, you can have the eyes directly beneath it.
Iwata: And with that the face is complete.
Miyamoto: But when you come to draw the body using the remaining pixels, there’s a limit to what you can do. Furthermore, because we wanted him to run properly, we needed to animate him and we were only able to use three different frames for this. When Mario is running he moves his arms, but in order to make that movement easier to see, I thought it would be best to make his arms and his body different colors. So I wondered whether there was a type of outfit that was like that…
Iwata: And that’s how you came up with overalls! (laughs)
Miyamoto: Right! Overalls were the only option! So that’s how we ended up giving Mario overalls. Fortunately, the game was set on a construction site so we thought we had no other option but to make him a carpenter! (laughs)
Iwata: There’s a sense of inevitability about all of this! (laughs)
You can read the whole interview over at Nintendo’s site. I really recommend it if you’re a fan of the series or even just video games in general.