Mario 64 is one of the best games of all time. You probably know that, but have you ever wondered about the specifics of why that is? Here, let the game's creators explain to you that it's stuff like the momentum of Mario's movement, the placement of the camera and the feel of Mario's jumps.
Translation site shmuplations has got hold of a pair of old Japanese strategy guides for Mario 64, and they contain interviews with guys like Shigeru Miyamoto, Takashi Tezuka and Yoshiaki Koizumi.
There's a ton of interesting stuff here, like where Mario's centre of gravity is (and how his running was inspired by a character from the Dr. Slump game series):
What is his centre of gravity? I feel like it's in the hips…
Miyamoto: You've got a good eye. (laughs) The area around his hips is a big "joint" that controls which way his body moves. We created all his movements from that point of origin: when he accelerates and inclines forward, when he turns and leans left or right, etc. So Mario sort of runs like Arale-chan, with the correct sense of weight in the body.
Here's how they had to change the way jumps were programmed for 3D:
Miyamoto: In the Mario games up to now, we've carefully crafted every stage and level down to the individual pixel. Take jumping, for example. Implementing jumping in 3D is really difficult.
In earlier Mario games, we were able to measure the number of pixels Mario could jump and know exactly what was possible. But this time, we had to design the levels so that as long as your jump was "close enough", you'd make it; it was too hard for the player to judge. This was a design change we made in the middle of the development, when the game was far already very complete. There was a lot of booing from the staff.
And here's why Luigi isn't in the game:
Miyamoto: Well… until February, he was in the game. (laughs) Ultimately, due to memory issues, we had to take him out. Then we were going to include him in a Mario Bros. style minigame, but because most users probably only have that one controller when they first buy their N64, for that reason (and others) we decided not to.
Here's how the levels were created by the seat of the team's pants:
When you created the level maps, did you draw out models/blueprints beforehand?
Miyamoto: Actually, no, not at all. There would only be some concept art sketches, and brief notes/memos. For example, I'd talk with course director Yoichi Yamada about an idea for a level, then he'd make some quick sketches of it. Yamada isn't an artist, but he draws weird stuff. (laughs) Then we'd look over those and talk more ("oh, there should be a snowman here!"), and those key elements of the level would be written down. Yamada and the other level designers then would refer back to those notes while designing the levels with our software development tools.
Know that if the team had had more time to develop the game, there'd have been animal murder and arsehole monkeys:
Miyamoto: At first Mario was able to throw the rabbit too. (laughs) If we had another month, we could have added an animation where Mario tosses the rabbit by the ears… but we hit our time limit. I wanted to do it though.
Tezuka: I wanted to have more monkeys, too. In an earlier version of the game, we had them in more areas, and you could chase them around.
Miyamoto: If there were 3 of them together, they'd taunt Mario.
Tezuka: Yeah, and if Mario caught one of them, he could toss them off of a really high cliff. (laughs) I regret we weren't able to do more with the monkeys.
And finally, here's a cool story about how Miyamoto's kid came in to help playtest the game (and disappoint his father):
Miyamoto: Truth be told, we did something with Mario 64 that we don't usually do: we had children playtest it. We had a row of about 10 middle schoolers, and had them play around on the King Bob-omb's stage for half a day, while we observed from behind.
My child was one of them, actually… but seeing him try dozens of times, over and over, to get up this unclimbable hill, as a parent I couldn't help but think, "Geez, does this kid have any brains?" (laughs) Afterwards we asked the children what they thought of the game, and they said it was fun, and that they wanted to play it again.
Up to now, I think there's been this image with games that if you can't beat it, it's not a fun or good game, right? That's a philosophy we've stuck to at Nintendo, too, but I figured that if a game was this fun to play even if you weren't getting anywhere, well, it must be alright. Until this game, I was very sceptical about something like this being fun.
You can read more of the interview excerpts, and see some cool old pics from them, over on shmuplations.