Super Mario Bros. (video game)
Super Mario Bros. began with a simple idea: Miyamoto wondered what it would be like to have a character bouncing around under the background of a clear, blue sky. He took his idea to a programmer, and they started working on it. Kazuaki Morita, one of the game's three programmers, described the working relationship between its designer and programmers: "In the NES era, the designer and programmer would sit side by side, constantly discussing what the game design should be, and the programmer would actually try to program the design right there on the spot while the designer watched."
At the time, division of labor was an emerging concept in the video game industry. Before Donkey Kong, programmers were responsible for creating every element of their games—the same person who created the concept was also responsible for the coding, the art, and even the sound effects. But Miyamoto is not a programmer, he is an artist. As one journalist tells it, "the games he designed were so different from everything else simply because he didn't really know what he wasn't supposed to do. That left him free to explore, and exploration soon became a part of his games." Super Mario Bros.'s progression is linear, but its hidden items, rooms, and shortcuts encourage exploration and experimentation.
The game's scope and sophistication were unprecedented. Pong, one of the earliest commercial video games, is set on a single screen; Super Mario Bros. spans more than 200 screens. The seamless transition between these "screens" as Mario advances from left to right gives the game its smooth "side-scrolling" style of play. The full playing field isn’t immediately visible; it only unfolds with progress, fostering a sense of discovery and a spontaneity that’s complemented by the game’s whimsical architecture: bricks and platforms hang suspended in mid-air, green sewer pipes protrude from the ground, bottomless pits space the bedrock. Guiding Mario around, over, and under these obstacles and conquering the game’s colorful villains—which include marching mushrooms, flying turtles, and man-eating plants—are the primary challenges. These challenges require quick reflexes and considerable hand-eye coordination but are alleviated by the precise control afforded to the player. The ability to alter the distance, height, and hook of the character’s jump is one of the game’s main innovations.
As large as the game is, its objective is as simple as Donkey Kong's: Players control Mario or his brother Luigi in their quest across the Mushroom Kingdom to rescue its missing monarch, Princess Toadstool. The rules are likewise straightforward: Complete all four levels (linear, self-contained courses) of all eight worlds (collections of levels) within each level's 300-second time limit and with the player's allotted number of continues. The fourth level of each world is a castle, and at the end of every castle is Mario's nemesis and Princess Toadstool's kidnapper, Bowser, a fire-breathing dragon reminiscent of Godzilla.
Before the advent of timesaving tools like Character Generator Computer Aided Design, animating Mario’s movements was a laborious process. Miyamoto had to paint each character; the colors in the painting were assigned numbers and programmers input the numbers into a computer. He also showed programmers not only how a character looked but also how it moved and what special traits it had. Line of code by line, the programmers reproduced Miyamoto’s designs as faithfully as they could. During this process the team developed programming techniques allowing them to create a larger character than they thought possible, so they planned to make the game so that the player was always "Super" Mario but eventually conceived a magic mushroom to double the character's size, an idea Miyamoto attributed to Alice in Wonderland. Other "power-ups" were added to aid Mario in his quest: a flower that allows him to shoot fireballs, a flashing star that imparts temporary invincibility, and a green mushroom that rewards the player with an extra continue.
Synchronizing game music with game control
When Mario’s star-induced invulnerability is wearing off, the music fades out; when the time limit is critically low, it speeds up. The game's composer, Koji Kondo, believes that Mario's music should enhance or highlight the action on the screen. Because Mario is an action game, Kondo said, "it’s vital that the music sync up directly with game control." Kondo works closely with the rest of the development team to achieve his envisioned synthesis, a sharp contrast to the scoring procedures of many other big-budget titles whose developers usually hire an outside contractor to create the background accompaniment. Kondo revealed that the famous main theme of Super Mario Bros., a lilting, Latin-flavored tune which counts Paul and Linda McCartney among its admirers, initially underwent significant changes to match new developments in its design.
And so, "like most classic toys, Super Mario Bros. was based around a handful of small elements joined with an elegance that allowed the sum to far exceed the components." The formula was established, and it was a recipe for success.
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