Sounds silly, I know, but here’s a nice quote on “Great products are triumphs of taste” by 37signals:
Want to build a great iPhone app? Go listen to Billie Holliday. Trying to design a piece of hardware? Visit a Frank Lloyd Wright house. Aiming to write great marketing copy? Read Aldous Huxley. Need a color scheme? Go to the museum and check out some Mark Rothko paintings.
So. Super Mario Bros.
I’ve been reading this series of interview between Satoru Iwata, the president of Nintendo and Shigeru Minamoto, the guy who created Super Mario Bros, along with other guys who contributed to the game. The interviews are a goldmine of video game design lessons, and I’m going to list some of the brilliant thoughts that go into the making of one of the best game ever, Super Mario Bros.
The real reason why Mario wears hat and overalls.
About the hat:
There’s absolutely no way that you would have had enough pixels, right?
Right, there weren’t enough. Before you know it, you’ve used up 8 X 8 pixels. But if you draw a nose then a moustache, you don’t really know if it’s a mouth or a moustache, and it saves pixels.
And the overalls:
[…] 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 colours. So I wondered whether there was a type of outfit which was like that…
And that’s how you came up with overalls! (laughs)
Whatever you do, you’ll get that first mushroom.
At the time, mushroom is an item of unknown use for players. Pac Man gains power by eating the big dots, but a mushroom? What could it be? It also didn’t help that Mario’s first enemy, the Goomba, was shaped just like the mushroom.
So, to show that it is a useful and harmless item, Miyamoto designed the layout in such a way that whatever you do, you will always get that mushroom. See that pipe right there? It’s there for a reason, namely so that the mushroom bounces off and goes toward the direction of the player. They also have a video that shows it here, under point 4, “Letting Everyone Know It Was a Good Mushroom”.
Right. There was one problem, however. When you play, you encounter a Goomba right at the start and it’s shaped like a mushroom.
It does look very similar.
So when you hit a box and something that looks like a Goomba pops out…
You run away.
Right, you run away. This gave us a real headache. We needed somehow to make sure the player understood that this was something really good. That’s why we made the mushroom approach you.
Ever wondered why Mario had to deal with turtles? It was originally started from Mario Bros. (a different, earlier game), where you have to hit an enemy from below to beat it:
That’s when we thought about what kind of creature could withstand being struck from below and would eventually recover. We racked our brains thinking what we could use…
And that’s how you came up with the turtle! (laughs)
The turtle was the only solution! (laughs) Strike it from below and it flips over! Leave it for a while and it rights itself!
Can’t Unsee This: On Clouds and Grasses
Take a good look again at this picture.
Yup. The clouds and the grasses are the same thing, colored differently.
Right. That’s why we strived to make the items take up as little space as we possibly could.
We’d use the same image for both clouds and grass, just changing the colour.
The clouds and grass look like separate objects, but actually they both use the same graphical elements.
To be truthful, I’m linking to the interview series simply because it’s a fascinating read in itself. You get to dive into the mind of the designers behind a truly good game that’s loved by many. If we have to draw a conclusion for all this, though, it’s that in a truly great design, everything is there for a reason.
Mario’s hat, overalls, the way they re-used the graphic for cloud and grass, they’re all there to save memory. Having turtles for enemy, it turned out, had a reason as well, a funny but perfectly logical choice. Even the very first screen of the game had a lot of thoughts put into its design.
This maybe is the key to the popularity of Super Mario Bros. even to this day. We may not realize why it’s so damn enjoyable to play, but now we know that underneath, there are a lot of thoughts, considerations and brilliant ideas put into its design.
That’s what I believe to be the best kind of design: Subtle, probably goes unnoticed by many, but quietly adds to the overall quality of a product.
And that, my friends, is why you need to read an article about Super Mario Bros. in a WordPress design and development blog.