Twenty-five years have passed since the birth of Super Mario and lots of games have appeared in the series. When you work on a Mario title, what do you place emphasis on? Put another way, what have you learned from Miyamoto-san toward making sure that a Super Mario game has the “essence of Mario”?
I was involved with Mario 3 and Mario World, so I never really thought about the essence of Mario. I just focused on drawing levels.
I don’t think Miyamoto-san was talking about the essence of Mario back then.
In its early days, I guess the series didn’t have the history behind it to give rise to such talk.
What Miyamoto-san said a lot was “Is that fun?” and “Does that feel right?” That was true for games he wasn’t developing as well. For example, when I’d be playing a game on my lunch break, he’d be watching over my shoulder and ask, “Is that fun?” And I’d say something like, “It’s so-so.”
That’s not really an answer. It could be good or bad! (laughs)
When I say so-so, there’s a lot I want to say, but I’d just say, “It’s so-so.” (laughs)
You never knew when he might ask, so you had to analyse for yourself, as hard as you could, what was fun.
Yeah, that’s right. So even if I was playing during lunch break, there was a little pressure.
Miyamoto-san asks a question to make you think.
I get that feeling.
I’m not sure, though, if he had any particular objective to asking “Is that fun?” I think maybe he was just curious. (laughs)
Miyamoto-san can’t rest easy until he’s figured out why something is interesting. When you’re making a game together with Miyamoto-san, what kinds of things does he say?
He taught the importance of introducing game elements in order. For example, when there are multiple land forms and enemies, you don’t show them all together at once, you introduce them one by one in order.
When you do that, even if multiple elements appear combined later on, you think, “I saw this earlier, so I know how it moves.”
Right. First there’s a basic instance, then a developed instance, and then an advanced, combined instance. He often said, “Use one element three times.” You’ve got to make the same caramel taste good three times.
When I hear you say that and I recall levels from Super Mario, there are times when you think, “ Oh, I get it .” Back then, Miyamoto-san was much more immersed in development than he is now, so as you worked on something with him, you would naturally learn a lot from him.
Right. He drew some levels with us.
And as we were drawing levels together, he wouldn’t hesitate to point out all kinds of details. This Koopa Troopa should be one block forward. But whether there’s two blocks or three blocks between Koopa Troopas, there’s still two appearing, so we couldn’t see what difference it made, but he’d say something like, “Don’t you think it would be better to pack them in a little?” and be really straightforward, and honest, about little details. That’s true now, as well. (laughs)
He never changes. (laughs)
He’s very particular about first impressions. And if you change it just like he says, then it feels much better to play. I’ve seen that over and over again.
But, as mentioned earlier, if you said, “Move that block here,” in the morning, you only got to try it out in action once a day.
Back then, you couldn’t update level data without asking a programmer.
Even if you tried really hard, you could only try something twice a day, in the morning and afternoon, and toward the end of development, we’d be tired and be like, “Isn’t this good enough?”
But a certain someone shows no sign of giving in and won’t budge on even the tiniest of details. (laughs)
Like, “There shouldn’t be two blocks open here!” (laughs)
And “Let’s change that back the way it was!” (laughs)
He really was that picky! He doesn’t think at all about the work involved in fixing something. If it’ll make the game even a little bit better, Miyamoto-san’s always been unhesitant about making changes.
That’s so true. It’s all coming back to me now! (laughs) For example, when we made Mario 3, I wrote lots of specs for enemies. Something that gave me trouble was a small Goomba called a Micro-Goomba. Micro-Goombas would rain down and cling to Mario, slowing him down. But when we ran it, it just wasn’t right.
You yourself could tell that something was off.
Yeah. (laughs) I was making that part of the game based on specifications according to which Mario got heavy and couldn’t jump well because the Micro-Goombas were clinging to him. So I increased his weight and halved his speed, making his movement awkward. I had Miyamoto-san look at it, but since I knew something wasn’t right, there was no way he was going to say, “Oh, this is great!” Just as expected, he said, “This is no good,” and rejected it.
Miyamoto-san is pretty cold toward something he doesn’t like. (laughs)
Yeah. (laughs) So I made all kinds of adjustments and had him try it out, but again he rejected it.
Saying, “This is no good!” again? (laughs)
Yeah. (laughs) In the end, Miyamoto-san said, “Despite all this effort, it’s probably not going to be fun like this,” and he came up with a new idea. That was to put an invisible block over Mario’s head instead of making him heavier.
So he couldn’t jump higher than a certain point?
Right. He could jump, but he’d hit something. So I didn’t have to change Mario’s speed. It was a really simple solution, and when I made it just like he said , it was great. (laughs)
I bet that was frustrating. (laughs)
Yeah. Absolutely. (laughs) I knew it wasn’t a logical solution, and lots of times after that when I’ve run up against a wall, he’s come up with a completely different approach. But even when I think of it today, yeah, it galls me to think about that. (laughs)
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