When Takashi Tezuka was working as assistant director Super Mario Bros. for the NES, creating levels was a difficult, time-consuming process. First, a designer would outline their vision for a level on graph paper. Then they brought the drawing to a programmer who would try to translate it into the actual game. This process would take place several times, because the team adjusted each phase to get them right. "That cycle really took a long time," Tezuka explains.
It is a far cry from his most recent project where Tezuka served as a producer Super Mario Maker 2 for the Nintendo Switch, which is being launched today. Like its predecessor, it is more a tool than a game, an intuitive and playful way for players to create their own 2D Super Mario levels and share them online with others. Players can create obstacles and test them in seconds, and it is all possible via the Switch touchscreen. It is the kind of tool that Tezuka would have killed when he made games in the early 1980s.
"I always think about that," he says, laughing.
Despite its current status as the big summer release of the Switch, Super Mario Maker life didn't really start as a commercial product. Instead, it started as an experimental prototype in the Nintendo tool team, trying to make it easier and faster for designers to assemble 2D Mario levels. As soon as he saw the prototype, Tezuka – who came to the market at Nintendo in 1984 and worked on almost everything Super Mario game, as a director for everything Super Mario World on the SNES to the mobile Super Mario Run – realized that it could be something much bigger. Not only was the tool intuitive, it was also a blast to play. (When asked if that internal tool still exists for making Nintendo games, Tezuka says, "It's actually a secret.")
The first Super Mario Maker was launched on Wii U in 2015 and almost immediately created a dedicated audience of high-level designers. Users created everything from punishing deadly traps to inventive levels that goomba & piranha plants used to tell a story. Tezuka clearly remembers that someone made a working calculator in the game, and he was always impressed by the automated levels, Rube Goldberg-like constructions that pushed players without any input. "We knew that those types of courses were possible," he says, "but given the specific shapes they took, and the length that people have to make them, it really surprised us."
For the continuation there were a number of elements that did not make it to the first game that the team wanted to see on the Switch. One was to play multiplayer online and another was a more robust story mode that offers more than 100 pre-built levels to play from. There are of course new building blocks for budding designers, and Nintendo has also added a very detailed series of lessons about game design, covering everything from specific mechanics to philosophies about game difficulties. In fact, it is so profound that Tezuka occasionally wondered if it was okay to have so much of the & # 39; s groundbreaking secret recipe & # 39; from the company.
For the future, the team also had the advantage of being able to observe the community from the original game and use that data to Super Mario Maker 2. "As developers, we always keep an eye on what people are doing and what courses they take," says Tezuka. "We take that with us and it inevitably becomes part of what fits into the development of the game. I think it is probably safe to say that the greatest way it affects us is simply reminded of the pleasure of creation. "Without going into details, Tezuka says that many of the changes for the future relate to quality of life updates, in particular ensuring that" the environment we have created for people to create courses and take courses is the one in which they feel comfortable, in which they feel safe. "
There have been more than 20 main lines Super Mario titles released over the years, and Tezuka believes that the lasting appeal of 2D Mario games comes down to their accessibility. "They are easy to understand right away," he explains. "They are simple: you see it and you know what to do, you know where to go. And so many, many people can immediately understand and play these games."
In the meantime, for Tezuka himself, who spent decades with the block-hopping Nintendo plumber, you might think he'd be bored if he'd been working on the same series for a long time. But he says he is constantly inspired by advances in hardware: when he learns the next Nintendo platform in development, it always gives him new game ideas. That can be anything from the arrival of 3D images that led to Super Mario 64or the touchscreen centered controls that are formed Super Mario Run.
"I like this challenge every time," he says.