Posted on June 16 2011 by Nathanial Rumphol-Janc
Yoshiaki Koizumi, one of the head producers of Super Mario 3D, answered questions from game reporters this past E3 about the upcoming 3DS Mario title. Does the Mario development team listen to fans? How did they decide to put things like the Tanooki Suit back in the game? More importantly, why the decision to go back to a more classic-style level design approach, and why now? And what kind of “3D” experiences are they going for in this game?
GameSpot asked Mr. Koizumi about whether Nintendo is open to listening to fans in terms of input for future Mario titles. The answer isn’t quite what you’d want to hear:
GS AU: When you’re designing a new Mario game, how much influence do fans have? The inclusion of the tanooki suit in Super Mario 3DS, for example, answers a lot of fans’ calls. Do you listen to fans before you start development?
YK: I think it’s important to note that our staff are all fans of the series as well, having grown up with Mario. And, as such, they’re very familiar about what the traditional Super Mario game elements are, and what makes it a fun experience. So we decided to focus on those few elements and culled the rest, to really get down to the essence. And of course, on that list the tanooki suit was very high. So I would say in that sense, yes, we do listen to fans when we design the game.
Of course, this time the Tanooki Suit works differently than in Super Mario Bros. 3 – instead of flying as long as you’ve got built-up speed, Mario just performs a short flutter jump to gain some distance. Kotaku picked up on a quote from Koizumi on the change:
So it’s true that Mario was able to fly with the Tanooki suit in past games, but there was also, I believe, a form that had a tail and ears but couldn’t fly? And one of the reasons that we decided to go with the “Raccoon” Mario style in this game is that flying does present some interesting issues in three dimensions. You do have the slow fall, which makes certain types of gameplay more accessible, but having the character fly in 3D on the smaller 3DS screen would have been a little bit difficult. So we decided to bend the rules of the Mario world [on the 3DS] and solve that problem.
Koizumi’s a little off on his Mario 3 history (the raccoon suit could indeed fly), but otherwise this explanation makes sense. The level design of Super Mario 3D doesn’t exactly seem to play well with the kind of flight we normally think of when we see the Tanooki Suit – it’s certainly no Super Mario 64 in terms of open exploration of a large environment. Speaking of which, Koizumi also talked about why the levels seem to be throwbacks to the classics:
GS AU: You worked on both Super Mario Galaxy games. Given the creative and gravity-defying ways platforming was approached in those games, does it feel more restrictive now to work on a more “traditional” Mario game?
YK: It’s kind of strange. When I worked on Galaxy, as with every Super Mario game I always focus on the surprise and the newness of what we could bring to the gameplay experience. Perhaps that’s just my personality.
While Galaxy had a lot of very interesting new features that weren’t present in other games in the series, I feel like we also were able to sink down to some of the origins of the series at the same time. We put a lot of effort into it as we were working on it.
this time I guess our approach is best described as focusing on how to bring the core essence of the Mario gameplay experience to a game that is presented in 3D.
And this is taking us to lots of interesting new ideas that go even beyond what we did in Galaxy.
GS AU: So what is the core Mario experience?
I feel like the core experience is something that we may have started to get away from a little bit when we first started presenting games in 3D like in Super Mario 64. The idea in those games is that you walk around in those environments and give the players a lot of opportunity to explore.
But the real basics of the Super Mario series is that players have to get to the goal of a level without dying.
You have short levels with a very quick tempo, and it should be a very thrilling experience. So some of that was actually missing from Galaxy. The gameplay was a bit slower, and it was so much easier to die, so the core experience of getting to the goal without dying was harder to achieve.
This time around, you’ll find that we have something closer to the three-minute levels you see in Super Mario Bros, so for me, overall this feels closer to the core of the Super Mario Bros. experience traditionally.
This question I think is incredibly revealing in a way that one would think would even make Malstrom proud in that it reflects on something that’s been a bother to fans of classic Mario for years: the 3D games just aren’t a faithful translation of the 2D games into a 3D space (unfortunately, he seems content to quote Koizumi out of context). While games like Ocarina of Time and Metroid Prime simply fleshed out existing gameplay ideas such as exploration, collecting items to help navigate a complex world, and intense combat with 3D graphics, 3D Mario changed from a linear platformer to more of a glorified fetch quest. (Not a bad one by any means, but it certainly was a different face than the previous games.) Super Mario 3D plans to fix that – and from what I’ve played of it, it does a pretty good job of advancing that goal.
As for the 3D effect – I finally get why Miyamoto spoke about 3D helping with specific challenges like jumping on Bullet Bills thanks to Koizumi’s explanation:
GS AU: From what we’ve played of Super Mario 3DS so far, you seem to be playing a lot with perspective. There’s been a lot of foreground to background movement when it comes to Mario traversing levels, and vice versa. What else do you have planned for the game?
YK: The effect of things coming from the background to the foreground was definitely something we wanted to use specifically because we could present it in 3D. When you’re presenting someone with a fictional world, and you’re trying to help them grasp how to move objects around inside of it, it was always very difficult, particularly on 2D displays, to show something coming from the background towards you. But now, we’ve gotten away from that taboo in development, and we now feel like we can use that effect more easily.
It’s true! Having things come at you from the background was definitely more effective with the 3D display than it was in, say, Super Mario Galaxy. Of course, even when I tried turning the 3D off for a short spell I still had no problems, but the added sense of depth fleshed this idea out and really made it more interesting.
Super Mario 3D releases sometime later this year. We’ll keep you posted on any word of a more specific release date in the future.