The original Super Mario game was designed on graph paper

Thirty years ago, an Italian-American plumber from Brooklyn first saved a princess from a tyrannical turtle monster, using only mushrooms and guile. Since then, he’s gone on to get a doctorate, appear in more than 250 video games, and earn a spot in the hall of fame. But Mario had an arduous beginning. For the first Super Mario video game released for the Nintendo Entertainment System in 1985, its designers had to draw every pixel by hand.

“Back in the day, we had to create everything by hand,” Nintendo designer Takashi Tezuka said in a video released as part of Nintendo’s E3 announcement Tuesday. Every square of land, question-mark block and Goomba had to be hand-drawn and colored on graph paper. When they were happy with the design, they sent it off to a developer to code. Fixing errors or making changes was tricky. Shigeru Miyamoto, Mario’s creator, said whiting out mistakes was too messy, so they overlaid opaque tracing paper on top of the level being drawn.

mario card
Did you get the memo? (YouTube/Nintendo)

Miaymoto also gave some insight into his creative process for designing Super Mario games. “Most times I start by making a course I want to play,” he said, which often becomes the first level in the second world of a Mario game. Then they try to make an easier level that can become the first level of the game.

A lot of modern, complicated games have tutorial levels before the games start, letting players get oriented with the controls and gameplay, but Miaymoto said the first level of the original Super Mario was the tutorial. He drew the level out to show users how to jump, that mushrooms are to be craved and Goombas feared. “We put a lot of thoughts into those sorts of things,” he said.

mario cloud
In early sketches, Mario rode clouds. (YouTube/Nintendo)

Now, Nintendo has the luxury of using computers to design and edit games, which makes it a lot easier to correct mistakes. Nintendo’s forthcoming Mario game, Super Mario Maker, was based on the company’s internal tool for developing side-scrolling games, Miaymoto said. “The tool got so good,” Miaymoto added. “The more we worked with it, the more we realized we could also turn it into something everyone could enjoy.”

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