The Maker Of Mario Kart Justifies The Blue Shell

I'd like to think that I made a reasonable request of the man behind Mario Kart.

Hideki Konno has been the director of Super Mario Kart and Mario Kart 64, the producer of Mario Kart DS and Mario Kart Wii. Get this guy in a room and you've got to ask him something about one of video game's most-loved series.

Often, he told me last week during an interview that was mostly about the Nintendo 3DS, people ask him if he can make a Mario Kart that includes a mode with no items.

I was simply asking him to justify the Mario Kart blue shell. Isn't that item, the one that seeks and crashes the first-place racer in a Mario Kart game, a little bit unfair?

"You know, with [Mario Kart]Wii, at least you can avoid it," he said through a translator, laughing. "The timing is tough, but at least you can avoid it."

The Mario Kart series is one of the most successful multiplayer experiences created inside or out of video games, rivaling chess, Trivial Pursuit or Halo as a good time to have with friends. The balance of the game changes with each iterate since the original Super Mario Kart's 1992 release. The blue shell, I'd found, was controversial since it debuted in 1997's Mario Kart 64.

I wanted to know its origin story and to understand better how Nintendo's top Mario Kart creators saw its place.

"Fundamentally we're always playing while we're making adjustments [to the games,] " Konno said, beginning to explain. "We usually have some sort of theme to direct what we're looking at. With [2008's]Mario Kart Wii, it was to create a race where, up until the finish line, you didn't know. We wanted to create a race where everyone was in it until the end.

"With Mario Kart 64, we wanted to have the same thing where everyone was in it until the end, but some of the processing problems occurred that didn't allow us to do that. And what I mean by that is once you're in a middle of a race you'll get that natural separation. What we were trying to do was push them back together with 64, having eight racers on the screen all the time, didn't work all that well. So, because the processing power didn't exist, we weren't able to create the racing environment we wanted."

"We wanted to create a race where everyone was in it until the end."

Ask a game designer a specific design question and beware that the answer could above our head, and hampered by the time pressures of scheduled, translated interviews. We have to unpack this a little, maybe infer that Mario Kart 64's blue shell wasn't avoidable because the developers, while wanting to keep people from perpetually being in the lead, also wanted to knock everyone off the track to keep the N64's processor from getting jammed up. By the release of the Wii, such a technical concern would have been irrelevant.

"Going back to the blue shell, it sounds like maybe you have some issues with it," Konno joked during our interview. "I'm not trying to project or anything. I think in our next Mario Kart, we'll be looking at the balance and I think we'll come up with some answers and some solutions to make the game fresh and exciting as we move forward."

The next announced Mario Kart is the 3DS edition, which doesn't yet have a date. While keeping specifics of the game to himself, he did say that his Mario Kart teams always have new ideas they want to get out there. I predict, however, that none of those ideas will be an item-free racing mode. That's that thing Konno said people request.

"I'm often asked, hey, in Mario Kart, could you please make a mode where there are no items. Let us race. But personally I think Mario Kart without items is not Mario Kart. Our goal, of course, is to keep the items in but just balance it well."


Comments

    I agree, it just isn't Mario Kart without items. If you want to just see who's the fastest, then that's what Time Trials are for.

      I agree. There's plenty of good racing sims out there, Mario Kart is about thrills and spills.

    Best 'blue shell' implementation I've ever seen in a game is Rollcage: Stage II. It has the typical random powerup of a missile that chases the lead car (or two missiles if you can get a charged version), but rather than an assured knockout for a cheap victory the higher level cars can actually outrun it, just.

    In Mario Kart I'll just accept that if I sit in first I'll come in fourth if someone shoots off a blue shell, but in RC:S2 you can stay constantly just ahead of the missile if you can maintain a clean run without any collisions or spinouts. The sound cue is a typical missile lock beep that gets faster as it gets closer, so it really gets the tension up when you're leading the final lap and have spent the last five minutes suffering the rapid beeping and an occasional hint of the missile coming into view behind the car! (the racing game equivalent of Minecraft's creeper methinks)

    Never was that bothered by blue shells. Did lose in a tournament because of one. But that's just the game. Take it how it is.

    This is like PC gamers who get their knickers in a twist if gamepad support is given.
    'IZ MENT TO PLAY MOUZE KEYBOARD!' will be the cry.

    I don't see why with a fully priced game centered on multiplayer content, in a series he himself says he wants to improve upon, wouldn't open itself to as much player customisation as possible.

    What if I don't want to time trial but have nothing BUT blue shells? Or bananas? Or other slants on the game which would be easy additions.

    I think its silly when devs lock away things that could add so much replay value.

      I'm going to qantm so we are all games and i have never heard people complain about gamepad support however if it is gamepad only and for pc the devs should be shot

      Nothing wrong with gamepad support, so long as the interface (for KB/mouse users) is actually suited towards a mouse. Fallout 3's pip boy would be an example of what not to do

    Honestly I liked the way the blue shell was implemented in MK64. It ran along the ground and hit everyone who got in the way before finally hitting whoever was first, as opposed to the winged one that just flies to the last guy and explodes, taking out anyone else who happened to be near.

    I hate the lightning cloud in Mario Kart Wii more than anything else. I'm fine with the Blue Shell.

    If the Lightning cloud came out of a power up left by another player, I'd be fine with it too.

    I refer to the little lightning cloud that appears over your head, and you need to ram somebody to get rid of it. I'm almost never near anyone. Not the lightning bolt that shrinks everyone on the track.

    I'd like it if they added a system like Smash Bros, a menu where you can turn any or all items on and off.

    You can say Mario Kart without items would be boring or not Mario Kart, but you could more or less say the same about Smash Bros.

    Some people want to see how good they are without a random bomb dropping on them 5 secs before a match ends, and some people probably want to see how a race would go without a random blue shell 1 sec before the finish line.

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