Stories of how Mario creator Shigeru Miyamoto draws inspiration for game design from his everyday life have become beloved bits of video game mythology. The Legend of Zelda sprang from his experiences playing outside in caves as a child, his family's pet canine sparked the idea for Nintendogs and so on.
But the principles that makes the execution of these brainstorms flow come from another part of Miyamoto's past. According to a Gamasutra interview with Super Mario 3D Land director Koichi Hayashida, it's the Nintendo icon's comics-drawing background that influences the level designs of his games:
"It's very similar to a narrative structure that you find in four-panel comics. Something that's talked a lot about in Japanese manga, for example, is a phrase, kishoutenketsu, where you introduce a concept, and then in the next panel you develop the idea a little bit more; in the third panel there's something of a change-up, and then in the fourth panel you have your conclusion."
In the article, Hayashida explains that the same principles show up when new game mechanics appear in Nintendo titles. And it's all because a young Shigeru used to read and draw comics as a kid:
"He drew comics as a kid, and so he would always talk about how you have to think about, what is that denouement going to be? What is that third step? That 10 that really surprises people. That's something that has always been very close to our philosophy of level design, is trying to think of that surprise."
The full interview gives a fair amount of insight into the considerations that go into a Mario game, so go give it a read.
The secret to Mario level design [Gamasutra]