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30 years ago, the game that changed everything was released

We owe a great deal to Super Mario Bros. More than you could possibly imagine.

Image: Amazon

IT HARD TO believe, but 30 years ago saw the release of one of the greatest and most influential games of all time.

Few games can be described as such but it says a lot that Super Mario Bros, released on the NES in 13 September 1985, is still just as playable today as it was when it was first released.

The fact that the game still stands the test of time is a testament to the mechanics and design that has made the entire Super Mario series a success.

We know the game and how it works by now but here are a few other facts about it that you mightn’t have came across before.

How the game hooks you in

The opening level is a classic example of a game teaching you mechanics seamlessly through placement rather than spelling it out for you. The game does it in such a natural way, it’s easy to overlook just how deliberate everything is laid out.

Placing you on the left-hand side encouraged you to move right, having the first enemy place itself just after the blocks encouraged you to jump up and hit the blocks and the first pipe is placed just after them so the first mushroom of the game travels back to you.

Goombas are the first enemy you face (defeated with one jump on top of them), followed by Koopa Troopers (which require two jumps) teaches you the ways in which to dispose of them.

Super Mario Bros

Other mechanics like the fire flower, invincibility star, pipes and the steps leading up to the end-of-level flagpole are positioned in such a way so that the player learns the necessary skills to progress through the game.

In an interview with Eurogamer, its designers Shigeru Miyamoto and Takashi Tezuka mention how at one point, you’re required to jump across two drops. The first one has a floor so if you fail, you’re still alive and once you clear that, you’re able to judge how to jump over the second one.

Source: Eurogamer/YouTube

This is a mechanic that is apparent across all the Mario games, just in different forms. Even today, it can be found in more recent games like Super Mario 3D World.

Source: Mark Brown/YouTube

The dark side of Super Mario Bros

The manual for Super Mario Bros adds some backstory to the game, telling you that the inhabitants of the Mushroom Kingdom were turned into bricks, stones and ‘field horse-hair plants’ thanks to black magic.

Considering how often you break blocks in the game, you’re essentially killing an innocent inhabitant each time you do that.

The manual also used the word ‘kill’ quite a lot which makes it more unsettling when you consider just how expressionless Mario is during the game.

Screen Shot 2015-09-09 at 11.53.15 Source: Legends Of Localization

Technical drawing

When Super Mario Bros was being designed, each level was sketched out on graph paper before it was then programmed.

In an interview for Nintendo’s digital event at E3 this year, Miyamoto and Tezuka talked about how they would design each level by drawing them out first, before handing them to the programmers who would then code it.

When they had to make changes, they would use see-through paper to highlight them since marking them on the original sheets became messy.

(If the video below doesn’t start at the right place, the segment begins at 41:10 and finishes at 46:16)

Source: Nintendo/YouTube

A very different Super Mario game

Both the concept of Mario and proposed control scheme was somewhat different than the final version. Pressing up had Mario jump while pressing A had Mario attack.

In an interview with the late Satoru Iwata, the original idea was that pressing A would make Mario kick as well as shoot a rifle. They also envisioned him using a beam gun while flying on a rocket.

Some notes provided him with a dinosaur companion, which later became Yoshi in Super Mario World.

ia_mario25th_anniv_vol5_draw_2 Source: Nintendo

Outside influences

While it was released after Super Mario Bros, the original Legend of Zelda had a significant influence on the first Super Mario game.

Miyamoto was designed and director of both games and when they were experimenting with different game mechanics, one of them was a black square around but not the background. That became the basis for the Legend of Zelda.

The other games that influenced it was two other titles Miyamoto worked on. Excitebike, which brought partial scrolling to Super Mario, and Devil World, which allowed characters twice the size of those in Mario Bros.

Source: World of Longplays/YouTube

Welcome to the Warp Zone

Speaking of Excitebike, it was the reason why the Warp Zone exists in the game. Excitebike had three levels which you could choose from at any time, and Miyamoto liked this mechanic since it allowed good players to start at the advanced levels straight away.

Since they didn’t want players to jump to World 8 straight away, they made them go through the first two levels before introducing the Warp Zones so skilled players could quickly progress.

Source: nesguide/YouTube

Sequel troubles

Naturally enough, Super Mario Bros had a sequel but it was very different to the original game.

The reason was the actual sequel was a harder and more complex version of the original game. When Nintendo of America saw it, they argued that it was too hard for an American audience – which says a lot considering how difficult many Nintendo games were at the time – and asked for a newer and more friendly game.

Because it’d take too long to create a new game from scratch, the solution was to take a different Nintendo game and rebrand it as a Mario game.

That game was Yume Kōjō: Doki Doki Panic and it brought with it a lot of the tropes we associate with the Super Mario series today like Luigi being the taller of the Mario brothers and the introduction of the Shy Guys and Bob-ombs.

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Source: ZeldaMario24/YouTube

Source: DarkEvil87's Longplays/YouTube

The original Super Mario Bros 2 did make its way to the US and Europe as part of the Super Mario All-Stars collection for the SNES. It was titled Super Mario Bros: The Lost Levels.

Big seller

While being bundled with the NES certainly helped, Super Mario Bros was the best selling game single platform game of all time for 21 years, having sold 40.24 million copies overall.

The game that knocked it off top spot: another Nintendo game called Wii Sports which sold 82.69 million copies (and was bundled with the Wii console).

The Super Mario series has sold 297.8 million copies but if you include its assorted spin offs, that number increases to 509.4 million. Either way, it’s the most successful gaming franchise out there.

Composing iconic tunes

The iconic opening tune for Super Mario Bros, known as ‘Ground Theme’, was composed by Koji Kondo. Of the six tunes that featured in the game, Kondo says the main theme was the hardest theme to compose (the easiest was the underwater theme).

The first version was easygoing, and was scrapped because it didn’t match the rhythm of Mario’s running and jumping. It was when he played the prototype that he made the current song ‘Ground Theme’.

Miyamoto appointed him to sound because of a song he made for the bonus screen of Devil World, an earlier title he worked on.

Source: All Nintendo Music/YouTube

Saving space

When designing the game, the team looked for ways to save data by reusing certain elements of the game.

For example, the big castle is really the small castle placed on top of a larger base, the clouds and bushes are the same sprite but coloured differently while the sound effects for Mario travelling through a pipe and shrinking when hit are the exact same.

When they finished making the game, the team was left with 20 bytes to fill so what did they do? Give players a crown whenever they had ten or more lives.

At the time, developers would leave 100 bytes free as a precaution, in case there were any bugs that needed to be fixed. There didn’t seem to be any bugs so instead they filled up the remaining space with inconsequential elements like crowns and blocks.

Also, the size of the original NES cartridge? 256 kilobits. To put that into context, that’s 0.032MB and would load up instantly even on a dial-up connection – the standard download speeds for them usually being 256 kbs.

ia_mario25th_anniv_vol5_draw_4 Source: Nintendo

We salute you, Super Mario. Here’s to another great 30 years.

Super Mario bros finish Source: World of Longplays/Nintendo

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About the author:

Quinton O'Reilly

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