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Fire Underwater: Miyamoto Explains Mario's Unnatural World

Shigeru Miyamoto discusses maintaining believability within Mario's surreal world, and talks balancing established (if nonsensical) rules with "judgment of how far we need to go so it feels natural."

Leigh Alexander, Contributor

November 25, 2009

2 Min Read

The world of Shigeru Miyamoto's Super Mario Bros is so familiar to most longtime gamers that few question its logic: Blocks floating in mid-air, fireballs that survive underwater, flying raccoon costumes. But revisiting the world of Mario with a new development team for New Super Mario Bros Wii, Miyamoto says he was prompted to take another look at the surrealism of the world he's created. "This time around, there were lots of discussions about judging what was 'natural' and 'unnatural', from the perspectives of myself and the rest of the team," says the veteran Nintendo visionary in a new "Iwata Asks" dialog between himself and the company's president. Even suspending disbelief about fireballs that can work underwater, Miyamoto concedes it's strange to have them work the same way in water as they do outside of it -- "But when fire that's been flying through the air enters the water, it would be "natural" to see it sizzling and giving off foam, wouldn't it?" "If that's not possible then we should make it so that you can't use fire in that area," he continues. "But looking back over previous titles in the series, the people who made those games believed in the way things worked, and didn't question whether or not it was 'unnatural'. They just thought that doing it that way made it easier to play." "From my perspective, when I went to the development area [for NSMB Wii, it really played on my mind that you could still see the consequences of all the lies I had told in the past all over the place," Miyamoto laughs. He also recalls being "nervous" when Mario was made into a 1993 movie, wondering how the odd physics of the world would translate. Re-examining the weird physics of Mario's world for NSMB Wii -- which adds an "ice flower" that can freeze enemies -- Miyamoto and the design team found themselves considering new layers of physical oddities, like whether enemies frozen in ice cubes can float or whether they should melt when hit with a fireball. "So basically the discussion keeps developing like that, and if we took account of every possible angle, it would end up being a fantastically complicated game," he explains. "What's called for is judgment of how far we need to go so it feels natural and has rules that are easy to grasp. Now, if I don't do that...' "...Then no one else is going to be able to decide," laughs president Iwata. "Nothing will get decided!" Agrees Miyamoto. "Even the directors are all secretly thinking: 'Go ahead and make the decision yourself!'"

About the Author(s)

Leigh Alexander


Leigh Alexander is Editor At Large for Gamasutra and the site's former News Director. Her work has appeared in the Los Angeles Times, Variety, Slate, Paste, Kill Screen, GamePro and numerous other publications. She also blogs regularly about gaming and internet culture at her Sexy Videogameland site. [NOTE: Edited 10/02/2014, this feature-linked bio was outdated.]

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