If you are learning to be a game designer, there isn’t a better game to study then the original Super Mario Bros. Even though Mario will be celebrating his 30th anniversary this September, he is still one of the best known if not the most well-known video game characters in the world.
Recently, master video game designer Shigeru Miyamoto shared some of the original drawings they made when designing the first Super Mario Bros. And along with the cool art, there is a ton of very valuable information for anyone who wants to learn about video games and level design.
This year at E3 (Electronic Entertainment Expo) in Los Angeles, Nintendo talked about their upcoming game Super Mario Maker. This game allows you to create your very own Mario levels and share them with all your friends. Whether your levels are pretty straightforward or extremely difficult, every future “Mario maker” will benefit from taking a look at the early hand drawn sketched designs from the first Super Mario Bros.
▼ This video from E3 shows Shigeru Miyamoto and Takashi Tezuka discussing the methods they used to build levels in Super Mario Bros.
▼ English dub version
These amazing pieces of Mario history show how the team of designers went about creating these iconic platforming levels. Using graph paper, level designers were able to sketch out their ideas which were then relatively easy to translate to the programmers. However, since tweaking the design on an already programmed level was quite difficult and time-consuming, designers had to make sure their levels were as polished as possible before handing them off. They accomplished this by making additions and corrections to the hand drawn levels. Sometimes they found that some parts of the level were being changed so often it was ruining the paper, so they eventually started adding tracing paper on top of levels in order to facilitate easier editing.
While most levels were inspired by the imagination of the designers, the first level, World 1-1 was worked and re-worked for days on end in order to get it just right. Their goal was to design a level that could teach you the rules of the Super Mario Bros. world and show you what you can and can’t do without having to explicitly explain it. Each element of the first level was purposefully placed so that by grabbing a controller, anyone could learn to play Mario in just one simple level.
This elegant design can be a real eye-opener for present day game developers where intricate and scripted tutorials are often required to teach players how to play their game. In World 1-1, the enemies are placed so that the player quickly figures out that they must avoid or destroy them. The power-up mushroom that comes out of the second question block is also purposefully placed so that players will naturally or accidentally pick it up.
Even the death-causing pits in the level were non-intrusively taught to be avoided. The first gap in the level doesn’t kill you, but let’s the player know that they shouldn’t jump into them. The following pits will cost you a life, so without even being told to, players will naturally jump over the gaps instead of falling in. It might seem very obvious to players nowadays, but remember it took a little plumber man from 30 years ago to teach us that bottomless pits are deadly.
▼ Teaching us to jump over the drop
▼ Now we know to jump over these!
Taking these things to heart, you can try your own Mario levels in September with Wii U’s Super Mario Maker. We have already seen the kinds of levels that can be made with the game at the Nintendo World Championships 2015. Soon we can all unleash our inner Miyamoto and design levels that we want to play through ourselves.