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Few industry icons can claim the multitude of phenomenal successes that Nintendo game designer Shigeru Miyamoto can. Miyamoto's greatest creation, a character named Mario has reshaped the industry in many ways over the years. With the coming launch of Super Mario Sunshine, GameCubicle takes a look back at the history of Mario, from Miyamoto's first sketch of Mario to the character's domination of the video game universe... 

Shigeru Miyamoto

Shigeru Miyamoto grew up in a modest home in Sonebe, Japan. An artist from his youngest years, Miyamoto took great joy in drawing and painting. Miyamoto's interests in art only increased over the years and he spent much time filling sketch pads with scenes of nature, creating puppets, constructing models, and creating lively characters through cartoon flip-books.

Miyamoto was also an adventurer and often took off to explore local creeks, fields, mountains, and forests. On one of his many outdoor adventures, Miyamoto came upon a dark cave in a hillside near his home. He eventually got up the nerve to explore it and with a lantern, climbed inside. Miyamoto still recalls the experience as one of the most exhilarating of his childhood. 

In 1970, Miyamoto began attending Kanazawa Munici College of Industrial Arts and Crafts. He continued his many hobbies throughout college and even taught himself to play the guitar. Being an incessant daydreamer, Miyamoto never paid much attention in his classes and it took him five years to graduate with a degree in industrial design. 

Following his graduation, Miyamoto asked his father to contact his old friend Hiroshi Yamauchi, then president of Nintendo, to request an interview. Yamauchi hired Miyamoto as Nintendo's first staff artist in 1977.

The Game that Saved NOA

Recognizing the business opportunities that an emerging North American arcade market offered, Hiroshi Yamauchi found an imperative in developing an independent Nintendo subsidiary in North America. In 1977, Yamauchi turned to his son-in-law Minoru Arakawa to lead the new firm. After much consideration, Arakawa accepted Yamauchi's offer and moved from Vancouver to Manhattan where he set up Nintendo of America's first office.

Arakawa's primary task was to break Nintendo into America's coin-operated arcade business. Nintendo of America (NOA) found only failure in its early efforts to meet this task (see: Space Fever and Sheriff). Impressed by the early success of a new arcade machine called Radarscope and in desperate need of a hit, Arakawa boldly ordered 3,000 Radarscope machines. Only 1,000 units sold through to arcade owners and the Radarscope operation proved disastrous.

Finding little success in the North American arcade market, Nintendo of America was in a desperate situation. Arakawa decided it would be best to move the subsidiary's headquarters closer to NCL and thought Seattle to be the best location. 

With Nintendo's best designers occupied on more important projects for the Japanese market, Yamauchi turned to young Nintendo artist Shigeru Miyamoto to design a coin-op arcade game that would bring success to Nintendo's efforts in North America. The imaginative Miyamoto conceived a story involving an angry gorilla that escapes from his master, kidnapping the master's girlfriend and taking her to the top of a construction site. Players control the master as he ascends the building, a factory, and a steel foundation, trying to save his girlfriend. 

In designing the game's hero, Miyamoto sought to create a silly character with whom gamers could connect. He designed a pudgy carpenter with a rounded nose and wide eyes. The low resolution of video game displays at the time, in addition to hardware limitations of the Radarscope sets on which Donkey Kong would run, required Miyamoto to make a few adjustments so that gamers could discern the character's features. To make the carpenter easily visible, Miyamoto outfitted him with colorful overalls and shirt. A mustache was drawn in to distinguish the his large nose. Finally, a red cap was added because programmers found it difficult to create the hair movement that would occur when the character jumped. In the end, Miyamoto settled on the name Jumpman for the carpenter and Donkey Kong for his pet gorilla, believing that 'donkey' translated into stubborn or silly in English.


"I didn't know how to make a really cool character... so I made Mario." 
- Shigeru Miyamoto


By 1981, Miyamoto had completed Donkey Kong - the game that saved Nintendo of America. While Yamauchi insisted that the Donkey Kong title remain unchanged, Nintendo of America was given the task of localizing the game's text for North America. Arakawa decided to rename Jumpman after the landlord of NOA's warehouse in Segali Business Park, Mario Segali. Thus, the name Super Mario was born. Donkey Kong soon became the fastest selling game that the arcade industry had ever seen, eventually selling 65,000 units.

In 1983, Mario would title in his own game, Mario Bros. On the input of a colleague who mentioned the character looked more like a plumber than a carpenter, Miyamoto decided to change Mario's profession. In Mario Bros., Mario and his brother Luigi must clear underground pipes of unwanted pests including crabs, turtles, and fireflies. Playing cooperatively or against each other, players had to jump from beneath an enemy to overturn it and then kick it away to score a gold coin from the piping system. Mario Bros. proved only a moderate success while in arcades but the best was yet to come.
Super Mario

Never at ease with the state of current affairs, Yamauchi sought to expand Nintendo's business in a substantial way. In May of 1983, Nintendo launched the Family Computer - or Famicom. The incredibly innovative home console would lay the foundation of a new pathway for Nintendo. A technological work of art, Famicom featured incredible power at an affordable price in a very functional package. Nintendo sold more than 500,000 Famicoms within two months of the console's launch. 

Evaluating Famicom operations, Yamauchi realized the immense importance of software. "The name of the game is the games." In 1984, Yamauchi assigned Shigeru Miyamoto to lead R&D4, a new development group within Nintendo. Miyamoto's single mission was to create the most inventive video game ever made. He succeeded. The game, Super Mario Bros., would forever change the video game industry.


"The decision was one of the smartest Yamauchi would ever make. Miyamoto, it was soon apparent, had the same talent for video games as the Beatles had for popular music. It is impossible to calculate Miyamoto's value to Nintendo, and it is not unreasonable to question whether Nintendo would have succeeded without him." - David Sheff, Game Over


Recognizing the early success of Famicom in Japan, Yamauchi wished to take the console to North America. In mid-1985, Nintendo of America brought the Nintendo Entertainment System (NES) to New York City, considered by Nintendo to be one of the most difficult markets in the nation for video games. Toy retailers at the time still had memories of the industry's recent implosion fresh in mind. To get consoles onto store shelves, NOA made the bold move of offering a money-back guarantee to retailers for unsold merchandise. By the end of the year 500 retailers in New York City sold half of the 100,000 NES systems allocated to Nintendo of America. Though it was far from spectacular, the New York City NES test launch was a success.

Meanwhile in Japan, Super Mario Bros. was about to be released. In designing the game, Miyamoto borrowed many ideas from his childhood experiences and books he had read over the years. Ideas for hidden blocks, multiple pathways within each level, and underground passages came from Miyamoto's childhood adventures. His memory of exploring caves and canyons in Sonebe for example shaped the game's underground levels. Miyamoto's fascination with the unseen and unexpected weighed into the addition of pipes to the Mushroom Kingdom. The idea for mushrooms that increase Mario's stature was taken directly from Alice in Wonderland. 

Super Mario Bros. would define a new era in gaming. Graphically, the colorful world of the Mushroom Kingdom was unlike anything gamers had ever seen before. Super Mario Bros. was a first in the side-scroller genre and truly absorbed gamers of all ages in to a fantastic world that could only have been experienced in a dream.

When Super Mario Bros. was released in late 1985 it was an immediate and unprecedented success. Later that year, Nintendo bundled Super Mario Bros. with Famicom and console sales increased. Mario was a system-seller. While Super Mario Bros. was breaking records in Japan, Nintendo was readying a North American NES launch. While early test launches suggested moderate success for NES, Mario would arrive in time to change the equation for NES's national launch in 1986. Mario's legacy as an icon for the whole of the video game industry was sealed. In following years, Mario would prove to be the most valuable name in video game history. 


"What if you walk along and everything that you see is more than what you see... What if, on a crowded street, you look up and see something appear that should not, given what we know, be there. You either shake your head and dismiss it, or you accept that there is much more to the world than we think. Perhaps it really is a doorway to another place. If you choose to go inside you may find many unexpected things." - Shigeru Miyamoto


In 1987, a game titled Dream Factory: Doki Doki Panic was released in Japan. Developed by Nintendo and Fuji, Doki tells the story of two children who are pulled by a large green hand into a book they are reading. Their pet monkey runs to find help from another family who themselves jump into the the novel. Gamers were then left to select a family member with whom to progress through the book's chapters. Doki performed well in Japan and that might have been the last we heard of the game if it weren't for a hole in Nintendo of America's holiday release schedule the following year.

With North American demand for a sequel to Super Mario Bros. peaking, Nintendo bought out Fuji's rights to Doki Doki Panic and modified the game to feature Mario, Luigi, Princess, and Toad. The game was released in North America as Super Mario Bros. 2 during the 1988 holiday season. With vegetables, potions, shyguys, and cactii, SMB2's gameplay and setting were completely unique from what gamers experienced with the original SMB. Nevertheless, most gamers enjoyed the Mario experience just the same. 

In Japan, Super Mario Bros. 2 had already been released as a direct sequel to Super Mario Bros. based on the original game's engine. SMB2 offered slightly improved graphics and considerably more challenging gameplay. While the game performed extremely well in Japan, SMB2 was thought to be too difficult for American gamers at the time. It wouldn't be until 1993 that the game was finally released in North America as Lost Levels, part of the Super Mario All-Stars SNES compilation. The American SMB2 would eventually be released in Japan as Super Mario Bros. U.S.A.

It had been four years since the introduction of Super Mario Bros. when the game's first true sequel from Shigeru Miyamoto was finally released in Japan. Featuring eight worlds, each containing numerous levels, the game used an innovative map navigation system and was the largest in the series yet. The game's story was very familiar. Bowser has captured the Princess and taken over the Mushroom Kingdom. His seven children have stolen the royal wands of each world. 

While staying true to the format of the original, SMB3 introduced new gameplay elements including special suits that gave Mario new abilities. The Tanooki Suit for example gave Mario the ability to turn into a statue, the Sledgehammer suit let Mario throw hammers, and the Frog Suit enhanced Mario's swimming and jumping skills. Mario could also fly with a cute raccoon tail and find warp whistles carefully hidden in certain levels. Super Mario Bros. 3 is considered by many to be the best Mario game in the series. 

The first that most North American gamers got to see of Super Mario Bros. 3 was in The Wizard, a movie about a child video game prodigy who travels with his brother to the West coast, where he competes in a national video game contest. The film culminates in the unveiling of Super Mario Bros. 3. Nintendo's marketing effort was flawless and demand for the game at launch was more than even Nintendo anticipated. Super Mario Bros. 3 remained sold out for months after its North American release. According to a national survey in 1990, Mario was more recognizable among American youths than Mickey Mouse. 


"Mario can do amazing physical things like high jumps but he's not superhuman; he drowns in water and gets hurt if he falls from high places." - Shigeru Miyamoto


In the same year, Nintendo was beginning to face serious competition in the video game industry. Distracted by its own success, Nintendo stood on the sidelines as NEC and Sega introduced their respective '16-bit' consoles. Nintendo's Masayuki Eumura had been working on a follow-up to Famicom for years by this time but with NES sales strong as ever, Nintendo saw no imperative in hastening the new console's launch.

Both TurboGraphx and Sega Genesis were on the market for more than a year before Nintendo's Super Famicom was ready for release. Yamauchi realized that Nintendo needed to offer consumers a compelling reason to invest in a new video game console - especially one that was not compatible with existing software. He turned to Shigeru Miyamoto for a game that would show off the processing power of the new console and sell systems.

Miyamoto created Super Mario World. In this adventure, Mario and Luigi take off for a vacation on Dinosaur Island to recuperate from their adventures when they finds out that the Princess has again disappeared. Mario must head out across Dinosaur Island's seventy-four levels to find the Princess and save Yoshi's friends. The game was non-linear and certain levels even had to be played multiple times to find hidden keys that opened new roads on the overworld map. Landscape changing switch blocks were added to the game adding replay value to each level. Super Mario World also introduced Yoshi, a little green dinosaur that provides protection and transport for Mario. While the game truly demonstrated Super Famicom's technical abilities, Super Mario World was ultimately not as great of a leap from Super Mario Bros. 3 as it could have been. Nevertheless, it was a massive success. 

In Japan, there were an astounding 1.5 million retail orders for Super Famicom at launch. The console and games had to be shipped to retailers in secret. When the console was finally launched, shortages were so severe that near-riots were reported at some video game stores. 


"An adult is a child who has more ethics and morals. That's all. When I am a child, creating, I am not creating a game. I am in the game. The game is not for children, it is for me. It is for the adult who still has a character of a child."
 - Shigeru Miyamoto


A New Dimension


Since the moment Miyamoto made his first sketch of Mario, the character existed in only two dimensions. After fifteen years, there was a paradigm shift in the Mushroom Kingdom. Mario and the whole of his universe was rendered in three dimensions. Controlled with a 360 analog stick, Mario could run, walk, jump, or tip-toe through vast non-linear levels of Super Mario 64. As he had done years before with Super Mario Bros., Miyamoto again defined a new genre in gaming, the 3D platformer. 

Although the title's gameplay significantly changed, the storyline did not... Bowser has again kidnapped the Princess and stolen the Power Stars that protect Mushroom Castle. Providing for the game's overworld structure, Bowser hides the stars inside the castle's paintings. Mario must enter paintings and recapture the stars to progress through the game. Like Super Mario Bros. on the NES, Super Mario 64 was a giant leap for console gaming. Yet despite the new format, Super Mario 64 offered an experience remarkably similar to earlier Mario games.

Super Mario 64 would be the launch title for Nintendo's 64-bit home console entry, Nintendo 64. With few games available at launch, the success of Nintendo 64 depended on Mario. Nintendo's famous launch advertisement read, "On September 30th, Dinosaurs will Fly." Fly they did. Super Mario 64 sold one to one with Nintendo 64 throughout the console's launch period and the console broke all outstanding launch records at the time in Japan and North America. If there ever was a "system-selling" title, it was Super Mario 64. Nintendo 64's installed base grew to 4 million by the end of 1996 on the shoulders of one game. 

With the transition to three dimensions came distinctive evolution in Nintendo's approach to game design. "In the old days, Miyamoto created puzzles then built screens around them," describes industry expert Steven Kent in an article on Shigeru Miyamoto. Because of the growth in sophistication of games for modern consoles, Miyamoto finds "it is often easier to create landscapes and then figure out what to do with them." One example Miyamoto offers is Cool Cool Mountain from Mario 64. "We wanted to make a snowy mountain in Mario 64 - a really big one. That came first, and afterward we talked about ideas of how to make use of this mountain."
Mario's Success

In the last twenty years, over 160 million Mario games have been sold. Topping the list, more than 40 million copies of Super Mario Bros. were sold on the NES and 20.6 million copies of Super Mario World on SNES. However, because these games were bundled with console hardware, their sales may not be fairly compared to other games. To this day Super Mario Bros. 3 remains the best-selling video game of all time never bundled with console hardware, having sold 17.28 million copies. For additional information, click the Mario Sales link below.

The Mario brand has proven to be a priceless asset to Nintendo. The franchise has been branched out into an number of games over the years. Dr. Mario, Mario Golf, Mario Kart, Mario Party, Mario Tennis, Mario RPG, and Mario Paint, to name a few. Over the years, Mario's products have come to include cartoon shows, movies, books, hats, plush dolls, cereals, t-shirts, lunch boxes, ice cream, bedding, kitchenware, clocks, and the list goes on. Mario has even appeared on the cover of Nintendo Power eighteen times - more than any other character.

Mario's legacy continues to grow every year. As Super Mario Sunshine climbs the list of best-selling Mario games, additional titles are still on their way. Hudson's Mario Party 4 improves upon the classic series first introduced on the Nintendo 64. Meanwhile, Mario Tennis and Mario Golf are under development at Camelot Software for release on GameCube sometime next year. Mario's history may already be set in stone but Nintendo has every intention of seeing Mario games dominate the sales charts for years to come.

Nintendo's Shining Star:   Mario Sales Numbers


Super Mario Sunshine

Nintendo GameCube was the first video game console launched worldwide by Nintendo without the support of a Mario game. With the launch of Super Mario Sunshine, Nintendo will begin the most aggressive assault it's ever mounted to win back its position the video game industry. At this year's Electronics Entertainment Expo, Nintendo introduced Game Giants - a reference to their strongest franchises - as their focal strategy to dominating this year's holiday season. Super Mario Sunshine will be the first to the forefront, followed by Star Fox Adventures, Metroid Prime, and the Legend of Zelda.

In Super Mario Sunshine, entirely new game elements are combined with classic Mario gameplay to create one of the most unique and enjoyable Mario adventures yet. The storyline of Super Mario Sunshine is much different than previous games in the series. The adventure begins when Mario and Peach decide to take a vacation to the beautiful Dolphic Island. When the couple arrives on the island, they notice ugly scribble marks covering the walls throughout the community. What's worse, the person responsible for the scribbling has disguised himself to look just like Mario. Falsely accused by the locals, Mario decides to investigate the situation. Armed with a new water-pumping backpack, Mario climbs trees, wall jumps off buildings, hangs from gates, walks on on tightropes, and swims through coral reefs on his quest to reveal the identity of the true villain.

Nintendo's Shining Star:   Super Mario Sunshine   Interview with Creators


The truly defining aspect of Super Mario Sunshine's is unquestionably Mario's new water backpack, named F.L.U.D.D. The idea for Mario's water backpack came from Yoshiaki Koizumi, Director of Super Mario Sunshine. Like the special suits and hats of earlier Mario games, the inventive devise adds an entirely new dynamic to Mario's adventure and allows for many new gameplay elements. The backpack can be toggled to spray a stream of water in any direction or shoot downward to propel Mario into the air. Mario can use both backpack functions to clear sludge and defeat enemies. Enabling Mario to hover for extended lengths, the pack also greatly increases Mario's mobility. Later in the game, additional nozzles can be found, giving Mario the ability to perform incredibly high jumps and propel himself around levels. Players will also have to worry about conserving water and finding locations to refill Mario's backpack.


"When I submitted the basic proposal for the game to Mr. Miyamoto, I had already come up with the water-pistol idea. I tried to explain how the analog stick could make players feel the touch of a water pistol... What I really wanted to reproduce with this new game were the feelings we had in our childhoods when we were playing. The water pistol idea came from this effort. I wanted players to feel the coldness of water. I wanted players to engage in mischief, such as watering other characters or playing with mud." - Yoshiaki Koizumi


After an eleven year absence, Mario's close friend Yoshi finally returns in Super Mario Sunshine. Yoshi speeds along Mario's quest and even adds additional depth to the game's gameplay. Like the meter on Mario's backpack, Yoshi now carries a juice meter that gradually runs out as Mario rides him. The meter can be replenished by feeding him fruit. Yoshi can even throw up fruit punch for some humorous ends.

Sunshine's controls are easy to pick up and very responsive. The basic system is derived from Super Mario 64 and the button layout is near flawless. In many respects, GameCube's controller almost seems like it was designed for this game. Mario's transition into three dimensions brought with it some difficulties first seen in Mario 64. The camera system in particular is still somewhat of an obstacle and is perhaps the game's only significant flaw. While game designers wanted to give players near autonomous control over the camera system, the system's occasional failure to auto-correct can be very frustrating. 

Mario's water backpack serves to resolve at least one control issue by improving the gamer's ability to manipulate Mario as he jumps from one platform to another. Miyamoto explains, "Making precise movements, such as jumping, are not easy in 3D games... Hovering contributes to the smooth play." Because the game's designers felt the water backpack could make certain levels too easy to navigate, use of the tool is limited in some areas of the game.

Graphically, Super Mario Sunshine is somewhat varied. At times the game can be less than impressive. However, Miyamoto created Mario's environment to been one of fantasy and imagination so any expectation that the game's appearance should have rivaled the likes of Star Fox Adventures would be unfair. This is not to say that Super Mario Sunshine's graphics aren't beautiful. The game's colorful worlds have a life of their own and are incredibly fun to explore. From any point in a level, Mario can see structures and animated characters clear to the horizon. Additionally, the real-time lighting effects in the game are nothing short of spectacular. Keep an eye out for free moving fully-reflective surfaces. The sludge, water, and heat wave effects are also beautifully designed and very entertaining. 

Overall, Super Mario Sunshine can be viewed as Mario 64 taken to the next level in every possible respect. The new environments of Dolphic Island in addition to Mario's water backpack create an entirely new feel to the Mario experience, which is looking to be the best yet.


"Thanks for saving us Mario, but our princess is in another castle."


Super Mario Sunshine may not be Mario's only adventure on GameCube though. According to Nintendo, Mario could be returning for a second time around sooner than you might expect. When designing Super Mario Sunshine, Nintendo established a new GameCube development system that permits for significantly reduced game project times. According to Miyamoto, once the system was created, Super Mario Sunshine took only a year and a half to develop. In a recent interview Miyamoto expressed great interest in developing another Super Mario game for GameCube and commented that key designers of the Mario series have been divided into several teams, "in order to introduce Mario series games with less lag time between them."
  Rick - Editor in Chief, GameCubicle 


Article References

Kent, Steven L. "If Shakespeare Made Games." The Japan Times. Tokyo, Japan. June 7, 2001.


Kent, Steven L. The First Quarter: A 25-Year History of Video Games. BWD Press, Washington. 2000.


Nintendo Power. Nintendo of America, Washington. 1988-2002.

Sheff, David. Game Over: How Nintendo Zapped an American Industry, Captured Your Dollars and Enslaved Your Children. Random House, New York. 1993.


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