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How Nintendo devs grappled with making the first 3D Mario game

"Implementing jumping in 3D is really difficult," says Miyamoto in newly-translated Super Mario 64 chats. "We had to design the levels so that as long as your jump was 'close enough', you’d make it."
"With 3D, little 'lies' like that can go unnoticed. So we lied a lot! I mean, Mario is this weird old dude who can jump 3 times his height…so who’s counting?"

- Shigeru Miyamoto, commenting in a 1996 interview about Mario's unrealistic movement in Super Mario 64.

It's been just over two decades since Nintendo brought its flagship franchise into 3D with the released Super Mario 64. 

Now, Shmuplations has translated and published a pair of equally old interviews with Shigeru Miyamoto and other Super Mario 64 devs that offer some interesting perspective on what it was like to try and develop a 3D game that captured the "feel" of a Mario game.

"Take jumping, for example. Implementing jumping in 3D is really difficult," says Miyamoto at one point. "In earlier Mario games, we were able to measure the number of pixels Mario could jump and know exactly what was possible. But this time, we had to design the levels so that as long as your jump was 'close enough', you’d make it; it was too hard for the player to judge. This was a design change we made in the middle of the development, when the game was far already very complete. There was a lot of booing from the staff."

It's important to keep in mind these are fan-translated versions of 20-year-old interviews that appeared in Japanese strategy guides for the game, and the interviewees' perspectives on 3D game design are likely significantly different nowadays. 

Still, they make for fun reading and provide an intriguing snapshot of what it was like to be making games at the dawn of 3D, as well as some insight into how the seminal games of Nintendo's flagship franchises were actually built. At one point, for example, Miyamoto acknowledges that the castle in Super Mario 64 was originally conceived as something that would be included in a 3D Zelda game.

"For me, Mario and Zelda exist side by side," said Miyamoto. "Their basic gameplay elements are the same, with the only difference being that one focuses on action, and the other on puzzle solving. They’re always developed at the same time, and lots of good ideas from Mario get used in Zelda, and vice-versa."

For game devs with even a passing interest in Nintendo game design circa 1996, the translated versions of both interviews are well worth reading in full over on Shmuplations.

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