The Mak­ing Of...

Su­per Mario 3D World. How Nin­tendo fused the best of its 2D and 3D Mario games for Wii U


No tea ta­bles were up­ended – as a Nin­tendo eu­phemism for rad­i­cal changes to­wards the end of a game’s de­vel­op­ment goes – dur­ing the mak­ing of Su­per Mario 3D World. Since 2005’s Don­key Kong Jun­gle Beat, Nin­tendo EAD Tokyo has blos­somed into one of the pub­lisher’s finest as­sets, and it says much for the re­gard with which the group is held that Shigeru

Miyamoto and fel­low Nin­tendo vet­eran Takashi Tezuka felt com­fort­able tak­ing a back seat, their re­spon­si­bil­i­ties limited to “oc­ca­sional spot checks”. The two de­sign­ers of the orig­i­nal Su­per

Mario Bros could rest easy: their most fa­mous cre­ation was in safe hands.

The man­date pre­sented to Nin­tendo’s elite de­vel­op­ment team was clear. Its aim, ac­cord­ing to Miyamoto, was “to make a 3D home con­sole Su­per Mario game that people who like the

New Su­per Mario games can also en­joy”. In other words, to forge a stronger link be­tween Mario’s two-di­men­sional ob­sta­cle cour­ses and his more ex­pan­sive 3D ad­ven­tures. And not only in de­sign terms, you sus­pect, but also to bridge the sales gap be­tween the two. Plans were set in mo­tion af­ter Su­per Mario

Galaxy 2 was com­pleted. “We de­cided we should make an en­tirely new ti­tle, rather than an­other in the Galaxy se­ries,” co-di­rec­tor Koichi

Hayashida says. “Up un­til that point, we had only been work­ing on games for the home con­sole, so you might ex­pect that we’d go on to de­velop a game for Wii U. In fact, we got re­ally in­ter­ested in cre­at­ing a 3D Mario game that could be played with the 3D ef­fect of 3DS. That’s why we chose to de­velop for the hand­held sys­tem in­stead. Say­ing that, though, at that same point we also planned on mak­ing a ver­sion for Wii U. So, in that sense, you could say the game was in de­vel­op­ment for over three years.”

Hayashida ad­mits that Nin­tendo may have had to re­con­sider its ap­proach had Su­per Mario

3D Land been a fail­ure. But the crit­i­cal and commercial suc­cess of Mario’s 3DS de­but en­cour­aged the com­pany to stay its course. With the help of Nin­tendo sub­sidiary 1-Up Stu­dio (for­merly known as Brownie Brown, which worked on the likes of Mother 3 and

He­roes Of Mana), the largest de­vel­op­ment team in EAD Tokyo’s his­tory be­gan work on its Wii U spir­i­tual se­quel. And with the core con­cept es­tab­lished at a very early stage, there was plenty of time for ex­per­i­men­ta­tion.

In­deed, the fin­ished prod­uct bears the hall­marks of an eclec­tic ap­proach to game de­sign, one ac­tively en­cour­aged by the poli­cies of co-di­rec­tor and team leader Kenta Mo­tokura. Over 100 staff mem­bers were asked to come up with ideas, from throw­away gim­micks to en­tire level con­cepts, which were then dis­played across dozens of Post-it notes stuck to the stu­dio’s


walls. So per­haps it’s lit­tle won­der 3D World some­times feels gen­er­ous to a fault, in­tro­duc­ing ideas be­fore throw­ing them away min­utes later.

“We dis­cussed and dis­carded a huge num­ber of ideas dur­ing de­vel­op­ment,” Mo­tokura says. “Some­times you just can’t tell if an idea is good or bad by look­ing at it on the draw­ing board; when this hap­pens, we try it out in-game. If we don’t find the idea fun, it won’t make it into the fi­nal prod­uct. There was a lot of back and forth on the course de­signs due to this.”

That sense of rest­less­ness is pro­nounced in 3D World with its myr­iad asides, which range from the rapid-fire thrill of the Mys­tery Houses to the puzzle-led Ad­ven­tures Of Cap­tain Toad lev­els, the lat­ter hav­ing been par­tic­u­larly warmly re­ceived. “We thought they were a lot of fun, so we’re re­ally glad ev­ery­one likes them too,” says Hayashida. “If enough fans ex­press such enthusiasm, we’d con­sider do­ing some­thing with this fea­ture in fu­ture.” It’s tempt­ing to sug­gest that the rise in pop­u­lar­ity of the quick-fix gam­ing of­fered by smart­phones may have been an in­spi­ra­tion, but it’s a com­par­i­son that Mo­tokura is quick to dis­miss. “They weren’t in­spired by smart­phone games. The idea was to de­sign a game that would be­come even more fun as you play through it, and this in­flu­enced the pace of the game, ef­fec­tively in­creas­ing the rhythm. We felt that a short chal­lenge with quick re­sults would be a good mo­ti­va­tion for play­ers to ad­vance onto the next course.”

Pro­ducer Yoshiaki Koizumi chips in: “We do feel a need to keep de­liv­er­ing games that will sur­pass our au­di­ence’s ex­pec­ta­tions. As cre­ators, we try to fill our games with as many unique el­e­ments as pos­si­ble. Mov­ing into the fu­ture, we want to con­tinue to deliver even more sur­prises as fast as we can so that it never feels like there aren’t enough.”

De­spite hav­ing such a vast pool of ideas to draw from, one of 3D World’s very best no­tions came about by happy ac­ci­dent. The Dou­ble Cherry power-up was con­ceived when one of the level de­sign­ers ac­ci­den­tally added an ex­tra char­ac­ter model into one of the cour­ses. “We ended up with a sin­gle player be­ing able to con­trol two ver­sions of Mario at the same time!” Mo­tokura re­calls. “We all tried it and it was re­ally amus­ing, so we scram­bled to read­just the game so that this fea­ture would make it into the fi­nal prod­uct. If the game had locked up with two iden­ti­cal char­ac­ters on the level, I don’t think we would have the dou­ble Mario fea­ture we have now!”

While the Dou­ble Cherry was a late­comer, the Su­per Bell that al­lows Mario and com­pany to adopt fe­line form was in­tro­duced nearer the start of de­vel­op­ment, be­com­ing the sig­na­ture fea­ture of a game over­loaded with play­ful touches. As with many of the best Nin­tendo de­signs, it was sim­ply the most el­e­gant so­lu­tion to an ex­ist­ing prob­lem, or in this case two: the di­rec­tor’s de­sire to al­low Mario to climb walls, and to pro­vide a way to help novices clear high ob­sta­cles. “We wanted Mario to make use of not only the ground but other sur­faces, which is what led us to this idea,” Mo­tokura says. “At roughly the same time, we were look­ing at ideas for more ex­cit­ing ways for play­ers to run around the cour­ses. One of the things we in­ves­ti­gated was hav­ing char­ac­ters scam­per around on [all

fours]. For both move­ment styles, the test char­ac­ters were ei­ther a nor­mal-look­ing Mario or a ver­sion with a slight dif­fer­ence in colour. In fi­nally putting all this to­gether into a new Mario abil­ity, we felt that a cat ticked all the boxes… For the fi­nal de­sign, we strove to make it as cat­like as pos­si­ble, while keep­ing it clearly dis­tinct from [ 3D Land’s] Tanooki Mario.”

Cat Mario also rep­re­sented an­other an­swer to an an­cient prob­lem – that of com­bat within the con­text of a 3D plat­form game. Leap­ing onto en­e­mies’ heads in two di­men­sions might not be a is­sue for most play­ers, but that doesn’t hold true for 3D. It’s a bal­ance that Nin­tendo has wres­tled with for some time, as Hayashida ex­plains: “[This] is why you had the punch in Su­per Mario 64 and the 360-de­gree spin at­tack in Su­per

Mario Galaxy. Since Su­per Mario 3D Land, though, with the 3D ef­fect, jump­ing on en­e­mies has be­come a lot eas­ier, but we still de­cided to add in the claw at­tack to give Cat Mario an ad­van­tage. Then, of course, there’s Rosalina, the un­lock­able char­ac­ter for this game, who can per­form a spin at­tack with­out need­ing a trans­for­ma­tion. I think, when play­ing as her, you’re re­ally able to feel the dif­fer­ence in playstyles.”

Yet if the five playable char­ac­ters of­fer a range of abil­i­ties – Toad’s run­ning speed makes him ideal for time at­tacks, while Peach’s floaty jump acts as a built-in dif­fi­culty mod­u­la­tor – the stages were seem­ingly de­signed with only one skillset in mind. “If a course is fun to play as Mario, then gen­er­ally speak­ing it will also be fun to play us­ing the other char­ac­ters as well,” Hayashida says.

But the plumber han­dles dif­fer­ently from his other home con­sole in­car­na­tions, the ab­sence of a triple jump be­ing a no­table omis­sion. Its ex­clu­sion stemmed from a de­sire to hark back to the sim­plic­ity of older Mario games. “Back when we were dis­cussing the char­ac­ter abil­i­ties for

Su­per Mario 3D Land,” Mo­tokura says, “we thought about what was the sim­plest bit of fun that could be had us­ing Mario’s reg­u­lar abil­i­ties. We de­cided it was jump­ing across a se­ries of plat­forms with­out fall­ing – think back to the dough­nut blocks and ro­tat­ing plat­form cour­ses in pre­vi­ous games. This de­ci­sion helped us make com­par­a­tively in­tri­cate cour­ses for Su­per Mario 3D Land and 3D World. In con­trast, in a game

like Su­per Mario 64, I think the fun needs to be on a slightly larger scale, hence why the triple jump worked so well there. It’s not that one abil­ity is bet­ter than the other, it’s just that we use ones that best fit the de­sign of the game.”

Los­ing 3DS’s stereo­scopic ef­fect and its aid to depth per­cep­tion proved chal­leng­ing, though, de­spite Hayashida’s ad­mis­sions that it was also the root of the big­gest hur­dles dur­ing de­vel­op­ment of the 3DS ti­tle. “With Su­per Mario 3D Land, we de­vel­oped the game with the premise of hav­ing the 3D ef­fect, but we also had to make sure the game was still fun to play when this ef­fect was turned off; that made things much more dif­fi­cult. Through a lot of tweak­ing, I think we man­aged to make a game that’s also fun to play even with­out us­ing the 3D fea­ture. We took the lessons we learned here and used them in mak­ing Su­per Mario 3D World.”

Fur­ther com­pli­cat­ing mat­ters, Nin­tendo’s team wanted to ac­com­mo­date four play­ers si­mul­ta­ne­ously for 3D World. “We had to make sure none of the play­ers would feel left out, even if all four play­ers are mov­ing in dif­fer­ent di­rec­tions,” Hayashida says. “We com­bined mul­ti­ple types of cam­era move­ments that would ad­just to the lay­out or a given fea­ture in the cour­ses. It was a lot of work set­ting all this up!”

Miyamoto’s pres­ence was felt at a macro level, but even so he di­rected the 3D Land and World team to tackle prob­lems it might rather have skipped. “We used the Goal Pole in Su­per Mario 3D Land, but it was quite a chal­lenge for us,” Hayashida says. “We ten­ta­tively asked Mr Miyamoto if we could change this, but he was pretty sure that the Goal Pole is a sta­ple of Mario games. It’s def­i­nitely a clear marker, and is eas­ily vis­i­ble even from afar.”

Its blend of old and new earned Su­per Mario 3D World uni­ver­sal ac­claim, even if it was crit­i­cised for be­ing a poor show­case of its host con­sole’s fea­tures. “We al­ways try to keep our 3D Mario games both highly in­tu­itive and read­ily ac­ces­si­ble,” Mo­tokura says. “We de­signed this game so that the play­ers could re­ally sink into it and clear all the cour­ses with­out hav­ing to read lots of text or deal with dif­fi­cult con­trols, whether play­ing by them­selves or with oth­ers. How­ever, if we were to make an­other game then we might need to make even more use of the GamePad.”

“For Su­per Mario 3D Land, we strove to in­te­grate the best el­e­ments of 2D Mario games into a 3D Mario game,” Koizumi says. “In a sense, you can also say that we cre­ated Su­per Mario 3D World by re­think­ing tra­di­tional Mario game ideas. In ad­di­tion to do­ing this, we went all out in­sert­ing el­e­ments [that al­low] play­ers to fur­ther en­joy the sprawl­ing en­vi­ron­ments. There’s still a lot more room for dis­cov­ery and in­ven­tion, and we’ll con­tinue to pro­pose new and ex­cit­ing game me­chan­ics go­ing into the fu­ture.”

Whether that will in­volve Toad, Luigi and com­pany re­mains to be seen, but it may have to. Af­ter all, now we’ve had a home con­sole 3D Mario with four­player co-op, it could be hard to jus­tify a sin­gle­player-only out­ing. But will the team’s ad­ven­tures con­tinue on 3DS or Wii U? “That’s still a se­cret!” Koizumi laughs. “I can tell you, though, that we’ve al­ready started ap­proach­ing our next chal­lenge.”

3DWorld’s co-op is a sub­tle in­no­va­tion, but its in­clu­sion al­tered this 3D Mario game in ways a GamePad never could

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