SUPER MARIO 64
Developer Nintendo EAD Publisher Nintendo Format N64 Release 1996
The entire [R&D] department was basically just experimenting with new APIs and new ideas for 3D. I was getting involved with that, which was great. At the time, the stuff that I was doing for the games prior to Super Mario 64 was kind of state of the art for Nintendo, so they wanted to educate, as it were, the rest of the company.
I was just messing around with the SGI Indy, trying to figure out how to detect where positions were on the screen using the camera, and using ping-pong balls [attached to my face with tape] was just an easy way of detecting that from a software point of view. The ping-pong balls were painted a very specific colour, and after we basically just scanned through the image every frame and found out where those colours were and grouped them into blobs, and then found the position of that blob. That determined where that ping-pong ball was and then I could just track different blobs around so that I could have a mask for a chin blob, a forehead blob, whatever. It was very rough and not very accurate, but it worked quite well as a head-tracking type thing. It was realtime, but it just didn’t have the fidelity to do any kind of facial animation. It probably had bones or rudimentary programmer art so I could see what was going on. At some point [Miyamoto] just said, “Let’s try that with a Mario face and see what it looks like.”
I guess it’s just a symbolic thing, isn’t it? It’s a thing that everybody remembers about Super Mario 64. There was nothing particularly technically amazing about it or new, it’s just a very easily identifiable thing that is attached to that time. I’m
“I’M MUCH MORE PROUD OF, SAY, 1080 SNOWBOARDING OR CARVE THAN THE MARIO FACE”
much more proud of, say, 1080 or Carve than the Mario face. It was one small part of a massive project – it was me just doing it in a couple of weeks in between doing two things. It was great [working in R&D] because I could just tinker around and experiment, but you can only do that for a certain amount of time before you need to turn it into something real. That’s when I started getting back into making games again, like 1080.