What Mario Learned from Mickey Mouse - Part 4: Supporting the World and Mechanics with Characters

"What Mario Learned from Mickey Mouse" is an analysis on the world building of Super Mario Odyssey through the design of Disney theme parks. Part 4 studies how studies how characters are used to support themes and game mechanics that we want to convey.

This article was first published on my blog, which can be found here:

Supporting the World and Mechanics with Characters

Figure 26. This photo (Wong J.) displays Disney’s iconic characters, going from left to right, Goofy, Donald Duck, Mickey Mouse, Minnie Mouse, Pluto, and Chip, who are recognized world-wide.

Disney’s characters are absolutely vital to the world building of a park. Whether it’s the meet-and-greet cast situated around the park, or the characters that are created specifically to enhance attractions, the role they all play for immersing the guest into an environment is one of the biggest keys to an environment’s success. Characters make a world feel real, as though they actually live in the environment they’re in. The realism they provide is so genuine that young kids truly believe the characters live within each park. Characters within a Disney park are used to pull the theme and world of an environment together, with an ability to convey the story of an setting to guests in just a few seconds (Rafferty & Gordon 44). In order to enhance the realism that the characters provide, Disney ties their meet-and-greet characters to specific locations that their characters could be found in from their source content. For example, the Star Wars characters such as Darth Vader, can only be found near the Star Wars attraction “Star Tours” at the Star Wars Launch Bay in Disneyland. To further the realism of their characters, Disney ensures that all character actors have the same character signature for autographs, are all of similar heights and body shape to their character, and must go through rigorous auditions and training to get them to perfect the character whose role the actors must fill (Disney Internships & Programs).

Figure 27. Disney World’s utilidor system that stretches to all sections of the Magic Kingdom. The photo on the left (Simpson, T.) shows cast and characters using the utilidors, and the photo on the right (Corigliano, J.) shows the utilidor map.

Disney cast members must also traverse through the park in Disney’s own secret underground tunnel system called “utilidors”. Utilidors are a collection of underground tunnels located underneath the park that allow workers to discreetly move around the park to complete tasks. Character cast members use the utilidors in order to prevent being seen in costume at locations that their character wouldn’t typically be found in. It could break the immersion within an environment for guests to find Cinderella wandering around Tomorrowland. Disney takes the purpose of their characters seriously, going to extreme lengths to maintain their purpose.

Figure 28. This photo (Goebetz W.) shows the pirate character animatronics on the Pirates of the Caribbean ride at Walt Disney World, selling “wenches” to other pirates.

Characters within an attraction are used to communicate the story and/or theme of the attraction to the guests, and enhance the world of the environment that they are located in. For example, the pirates on the ride “Pirates of the Caribbean” all tell small scale stories that support the overall larger plot of pirates taking over a small harbour town. Some of the smaller scale stories include pirates attempting to get information out of a man by dunking him in and out of a well, pirates auctioning off women to other pirates, and the pirates setting the town on fire. The overall story of the attraction is told by the interactions of the pirates, ensuring that the characters are fitting the theme, atmosphere, and overall namesake of both Pirates of the Caribbean, Adventureland in Walt Disney World, and New Orleans Square in Disneyland. In an attraction, no character feels out of place, every character feels natural to the environment that the guest is in. Disney leaves no questions in the mind of the guest regarding a character’s persona in an attraction. A character’s clothing, dialogue, movement, and shape all reflect the environment, the time period when applicable, and the story that the attraction is trying to tell.

Characters to Convey Information in the Snow Kingdom

Figure 29. The photo on the left (Tazzi, R.) displays the blizzard that welcomes the player upon entering the Snow Kingdom. The photo on the right show the tunnel entrance that leads to the underground town of Shiveria, where the bright orange glow warms the player from the icy blizzard.

Shiveria of the Snow Kingdom in Super Mario Odyssey is the most freezing kingdom in the entire game, with a temperature of -10° celsius. A freezing dark, monotone blizzard greets players at the start of the level, setting up an unsettling atmosphere within the frigid cold environment immediately. Players explore Shiveria in low visibility due to the blizzard before finding and jumping down a giant hole in the ground that gives off a pleasant orange glow. This hole in the ground serves as the entrance to the town of Shiveria, home of the plump, seal-like creatures called the Shiverians. The Shiverians provide Mario with a warm welcome when he arrives in their town after his long drop down the hole. The Shiverians friendly greeting, childlike appearance, and adorable round physique instantly melt the emotions of the player like a cup of hot chocolate. Upon entering their underground cave they call home, the player has gone from experiencing the extreme conditions of the environment to stepping into a cozy space that accepts the player, almost as if they are coming home from the to family for the winter holidays.

Figure 30. This photo (Super Mario Odyssey) shows the adorable race of the Shiverians that are found in the Snow Kingdom. The photo on the left demonstrates their surprise when Mario enters their home from the hole above ground, and the photo on the right displays their dance that plays when they’re talking to Mario.

The warmth that is felt upon entering the town of Shiveria is due largely in part to the characters of the Shiverians. In order to change the emotions of the player from unsettled to warm and happy, the designers created a character that reflected the warmth that they wanted the player to feel. Shiverians are reminiscent of animals that live in extreme cold environments, particularly harp seals, and polar bears. Their chubby composition, thick fur, and soft pelt clothing reflects the ability to live in these extreme temperatures and still stay warm. On top of the characters making the player feel as warm as they look, the Shiverians melt the hearts of the player with their childlike appearance, dialogue, and adorable animations. The purpose of the characters from an emotional standpoint, work to guide the player to feel at home within a new environment. The ability to convey warmth, and acceptance through simple character design provides a sense of realism to the world that the characters inhabit. The characters reflect emotional states to the player and strengthen the bond between the player, character, and the environment.

Figure 31. This photo (Super Mario Odyssey) shows the bounding ability that the Shiverians use move around the environment and to compete in races. The world they occupy is built similarly to the race track, with many ramps and small stairs customized to fit their traversal methods within their home.

Even still, their design acts as so much more than an emotional piece. Their character designs are used to convey information to the player about how they use the environment that they live in. The town of Shiveria is made up of ramps, holes and tunnels, and flat flooring. There is barely any stairs or platforms in sight, which plays into the mechanics of how the character is built. Shiverians are rounded creatures who move through their environment by rolling and bouncing through obstacles and off walls with a technique they call “bounding”. The Shiverians would have no need for stairs or platforms as they would be difficult to traverse using their methods. The Shiverians spherical shape also communicates their abilities to the player symbolically with their fat, round appearance mirroring that of a basketball. Once the player captures one of the creatures and tests their abilities, the actions of bounding and rolling actions that the player can perform feels like a natural conclusion to both the design of the characters and the environment they live in.

Characters With a Purpose in the Wooded Kingdom

Figure 32. The Wooded Kingdom features a large rusted metal factory, surrounded by monstrous trees that have been untouched and left to continue growing.

The Steam Gardens of the Wooded Kingdom in Super Mario Odyssey is a factory-style metal fortress that is located in a densely forested environment surrounded by gargantuan trees. The purpose of the Steam Gardens is the cultivation of small white flowers which are used for the Soirée Bouquet. The mix of nature and the industrial themes from the environment makes for an interesting and unique setting in Super Mario Odyssey. The residents of this kingdom, robots called the Steam Gardeners, solidify the theme of nature mixed with industrialization further. Although it is never stated how they got there, the Steam Gardeners were built to fulfill their namesake, and are in charge of maintaining and managing the Steam Gardens flower beds for the Soirée Bouquet. Given this unique setting with no human characters within the environment, why is it that players don’t question the relationship between the two? Why were the Steam Gardeners built, and how did they end up here? Why is there a mechanical greenhouse in the middle of the forest? The characters interactions with the environment and the player help to solidify this purpose to the player in order to make this kingdom feel authentic, so that the players doesn’t wonder about these questions that have no answers.

Figure 33. This photo (Super Mario Odyssey) shows the Steam Gardeners jobs that they fulfill throughout the environment.

The Steam Gardeners feel as though they have a place because they have a purpose to the environment. The Steam Gardeners have many occupations within the Steam Gardens, but, as stated previously, their main purpose is to tend to the flowers. The Steam Gardeners can be seen fulfilling this objective through their watercan-like appearance which is symbolic to nursing flowers, and in their staging on top of the flower beds, signifying that they’re there to complete a task in that location. This is further emphasized again with some of the other duties that the Steam Gardeners have throughout the environment. In one instance the Steam Gardeners can be seen dispensing seeds that grow massive vines for the player to climb, showing that the Steam Gardeners sow many of the organisms seen in the Steam Gardens, care for more plants than just the flowers. After that, Steam Gardeners are seen lining up for a turn to use the “Recharging Station” near the top of the factory. The fact that the Steam Gardeners need to recharge batteries proves to the player that the Steam Gardeners are maintaining the Steam Gardens through their various tasks. The fact that the Steam Gardeners have such specific tasks and jobs to fulfill throughout the environment, shows the players that there they have a relationship to the setting that they live in.

Figure 34. The photo on the left (Super Mario Odyssey) and the photo on the right (Penniston, J.) from Walt Disney’s Pirates of the Caribbean attraction, highlight the similarities in storytelling between the two. The characters in both fulfill a purpose and fit the theme of the narrative, conveying information to the guests and the players the same way.

The Steam Gardeners pull the theme of this kingdom together. Without them, the player might begin to question the validity of the environment. The Steam Gardeners given purpose within the setting, it does not matter how or why they’ve arrived here, all that matters is their relationship to the world. The use of characters within the Steam Gardens is very similar to the use of characters within Disney’s Pirates of the Caribbean attraction. Both use characters as a way to tell smaller scale stories. The robots are fulfilling tasks and taking part within the environment that they have been placed in, just as the pirates have impacted the environment they lived in, and set fire to the town during their looting. Characters are utilized to strengthen the realism within a world and pull the theming within the environment together.


1. Hench, J., & Pelt, P. V. (2009). Designing Disney: Imagineering and the art of the show. New York: Disney Editions.

2. Super Mario Odyssey Nintendo Switch (Version 1.2.0) [Digital software]. (2017, October 27). Retrieved November 2, 2018, from video game Super Mario Odyssey was used as the base for the analysis of said game and for pictures in the Art of Color, Architecture, Weenies, Characters, and Visual Storytelling sections to illustrate the ideas of the analysis to the reader.

3. Rafferty, K., & Gordon, B. (1996). Walt Disney Imagineering: A Behind the Dreams Look at Making the Magic Real. Hyperion.

4. Simpson, T. (2013, December 6). Mickey and the gang in the utilidors [Digital image]. Retrieved December 9, 2018, from to illustrate how the cast uses the utilidors system at Walt Disney World and what they look like.

5. Corigliano, J. (2008, May 22). Map of the Magic Kingdom Utilidors [Digital image]. Retrieved December 9, 2018, from Used to show how far the utilidor system at Walt Disney World reaches to.

6. Wong, J. (2018, February 11). Disneyland Band March [Picture of Disney cast members in pose.]. Retrieved December 2, 2018, from[email protected]/26911727388 Used to show Disney cast members performing to crowds.

7. Goebetz, W. (2017, July 7). Disney World: Magic Kingdom - Pirates of the Caribbean [Digital image]. Retrieved December 2, 2018, from Used to highlight the similarities between Disney and Nintendo's visual storytelling to readers.

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