It’s been 20 years since the iconic red plumber Super Mario, bushy mustache and all, burst into 3D on the Nintendo 64.
Video games like Nintendo classic “Super Mario 64” are so deeply ingrained in the culture that it’s easy to forget how recently they were created.
Even crazier: All Mario games released before “Super Mario 64” were in two dimensions. Its predecessors are all on the Super Nintendo — games like “Super Mario World” and “Super Mario World 2: Yoshi’s Island.” And that change meant more to the Mario series than you might imagine.
Sure, the art style would have to change, but Mario’s signature jump?
“The essence of what makes a 2D game ‘fun’ is entirely different,” Mario creator Shigeru Miyamoto said in a 1996 interview, according to a translation on gaming blog Shmuplations. And the “essence” of what makes Mario games fun is its perfect-feeling jumping. It may sound simple, or silly, but it’s the core of the gameplay in the vast majority of Super Mario games.
It’s the je ne sais quoi of Mario, that you only notice when it’s broken. And it all had to be thrown out and re-made for 3D.
“In earlier Mario games, we were able to measure the number of pixels Mario could jump and know exactly what was possible,” Miyamoto says. “But this time, we had to design the levels so that as long as your jump was ‘close enough,’ you’d make it; it was too hard for the player to judge.”
That seemingly small difference meant the world to the programmers working on the game under Miyamoto. “There was a lot of booing from the staff,” he says in the 20-year-old interview. Part of that came from the timing of the change, no doubt: “This was a design change we made in the middle of the development, when the game was far already.”
Given how game development works, it’s not easy to make major changes when you’ve already completed much of a project. It could cause any number of problems, from game-breaking technical bugs to harder-to-quantify stuff (like breaking the “flow” of a game, for instance). In short, it can be an expensive proposition.
Yet, if Miyamoto hadn’t insisted, perhaps “Super Mario 64” wouldn’t be considered the classic we think of it as today. Be sure to check out the full translation of the interview at Shmuplations.