I've said it before and I'll no doubt say it again, but Iwata Asks — where Nintendo President Saturo Iwata interviews the developers behind upcoming games — is pretty much my favourite thing on the internet. By God it's just full of stories! This time, hear how a Takashi Tezuka led 'Mario Cram School' led to the development a brand new, fresh Mario game by the name of New Super Mario Bros. 2.
"The Software Development Department of the Entertainment Analysis & Development Division has always made the classic side-scrolling Super Mario games," said Yusuku Amano, the Director of New Super Mario Bros. 2, "but this time, there was an opportunity where (Takashi) Tezuka-san gathered people not only from EAD, but also from the Software Planning & Development Department, and from other departments to explain how to make Super Mario stages. I was also involved with it as one of the students.
Mario Cram School was designed to help teach younger Nintendo staff members how to create Mario games.
"I heard Tezuka-san believes that the course design plays a key role in determining the fundamental elements of 2D Mario games," said Amano, "so he opened the cram school in hopes to spread that knowledge across others within the company."
With the majority of staff working on New Super Mario Bros. U, the plan was to train up younger staff to create the 3DS game, so the two games could be released almost simulataneously.
Amano feels as though he was almost tricked into being the Director for New Super Mario Bros. 2.
"You looked at it from the corner of your eye as if it were someone else's concern," said Iwata.
"Yes," said Amano. "That was what I was thinking, but Tezuka-san suddenly asked me if I would like to be the director for the next Super Mario game for the 3DS. I was like, "Uh... that's why they had me play those courses...""
"You thought you weren't involved at all, and all the sudden you became the person who would be most involved with the project!"
It's worth reading the whole thing. What I personally find most interesting about the development of New Super Mario Bros. 2, is just how committed the younger team is to shaking up the formula — almost as if the Mario Cram School enabled them to learn a discrete set of rules just to break them!
Iwata Super Mario games in 2D have always had a traditional graphics style, but in addition to extending and developing the gameworld from games past, did you try anything new?
Ishikawa This time, we added some night and evening scenes. It feels very different than before.
Iwata It was always a blue sky.
Ishikawa Yes. But this time, the designers had a desire to change that a bit. Design-wise, it's an extension of what has come before, but the night scenes make a slightly different impression.
Iwata It's definitely Super Mario, but at the same time it's a world we haven't seen before.
Ishikawa Yeah. I thought it would be good if everyone would be thrilled and—in a good way— it would be great if a sense of something unusual arose. And with regard to the characters, there's a new enemy named Boohemoth, who's sort of like a giant version of Boo. When facing Mario, Boo gets bashful and stops.
Iwata Boo's called Teresa in Japanese, because the word tereru means to be bashful.
Ishikawa Yeah! (laughs) So at first, Boohemoth gets shy and covers its face with its hands, but then peeks out and creeps after you.
Iwata Yeah. (laughs)
Ishikawa We thought it might be fun because people familiar with Super Mario games so far may be caught off guard and be like "Huh? Boo's sneaking after me!" You may be taken by surprise here and there in this game in a good way, and I hope that makes it feel fresh.
Iwata I suppose many people may take a quick glance at New Super Mario Bros. 2 and think, "Oh, it's the usual Super Mario."
Iwata But I get the impression from when I actually played it that if you think it's the same and don't take it seriously you'll run into trouble.
Amano That's right. The staff had a strong desire this time to think of tough things that people might even get angry about. And we've changed some things with regard to the setup to make a fresh impression.
I find it really fascinating the Nintendo, as a company, actively attempts to teach its staff how to make specific games — to the extent it would create a Mario cram school! It makes perfect sense. The stalwarts of Nintendo won't be around for ever. It's sort of made me anticipate New Super Mario Bros. 2 in a new way — because I'm interested to see how Mario has been approached with a fresh set of development eyes — eyes that are well versed in what it means to make a Mario game, but who are coming to the project with new ideas of their own.
Check out the new Iwata Asks in its entirety here.