Nintendo is almost done with its developer interviews for the Super NES Classic Edition. This latest installment has Akinori Sao speaking with some of the lead design team involved with Super Mario World and Yoshi’s Island. This includes Takashi Tezuka, Shigefumi Hino, and Hisashi Nogami. A portion of the interview is below, the rest can be found on the Super NES Classic homepage. It might be shocking for some to learn that Mario actually hits the back of Yoshi’s head and his tongue rolls out in surprise!
Tezuka: Shigeru Miyamoto said he wanted Mario to ride a horse!
Tezuka: I think he likes horses. (laughs) When we were making Super Mario Bros. 3, he had drawn a picture of Mario on a horse, and hung it on a wall near where he used to sit. I would look at that and think, “I think he wants Mario to ride something.” When we started making Super Mario World, we were working with the concept of a dinosaur land, so I had Hino do art for a kind of reptile.
Hino: The first keyword was horse, so I imagined something rather large and first drew up a creature like a large lizard.
Tezuka: It was like a crocodile. (laughs)
Tezuka: Yeah. It felt out of place to have a reptile suddenly appear in Mario’s world, so we went back and talked about how maybe it shouldn’t be like a crocodile.
Hino: Tezuka had done a rough sketch and it was cute and pretty good, so I polished up Yoshi into his current form based on that.
Tezuka: That happened relatively quickly. I kind of forced the design though, saying, “It’s related to turtles.” (laughs)
Nogami: A shell. Even after I joined the company, Tezuka kept insisting that it was a shell. (laughs)
Tezuka: (laughs) Launch titles are the first games that let players try the new hardware’s features, so they benefit in being able to surprise many players who are experiencing those features for the first time.
Nogami: A lot of things surprised me. For example, there’s a foreground and background with overlapped scrolling. It introduced things that made me say, “Super NES can even do this!”
Nogami: Yes. Another thing that made an impression was the action of the fence flipping around, and how characters that were in front of the fence would go behind it. Those were things that couldn’t have been done with NES, so I thought they were very interesting.
Hino: After development of Super Mario World ended, I had some downtime, and Miyamoto said, “How long are you going to be doing visuals?”
Hino: At Nintendo back then, designers would just do visuals for a few years after entering the company. After that, it was generally understood that you would move on to become a director or planner.
Hino: Yeah. So then I entered a period of thinking up all sorts of projects, experimenting with them, and canning them over and over. It got to the point where I thought if the next project fell through, I couldn’t stay at the company.
Hino: Yeah. Just then, I had the idea of making Yoshi the main character in a game. I began by starting to think about making the game a sort of spin-off of the Super Mario series.
Hino: I started thinking about it myself, but I discussed it with Tezuka for the longest time.
Tezuka: I was involved with development of the Legend of Zelda series, like development of The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past10 and The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening.11
10. The Legend of Zelda : A Link to the Past : An action-adventure game included in Super NES Classic Edition. Originally released in Japan in November 1991.
11. The Legend of Zelda : Link’s Awakening : An action-adventure game released for the Game Boy system. Originally released in Japan in June 1993.
Hino: It’s just my personal opinion, but I felt like, with Super Mario World, we had done everything we could with a side-scrolling jumping game.
12. Super Mario 64 : A platform game released for the Nintendo 64 system. Originally released in Japan in June 1996.
Hino: Right. I wondered what kind of side-scrolling platform game we could make and thought we could create new gameplay if Yoshi were the main character. I think I started with the idea of having Yoshi carry something to the goal.
Tezuka: Right. We made new actions, and one I thought was good was the Flutter Jump. Mario can’t do an action like that and it would help people who have difficulty with platformers.
Tezuka: Yeah! So when you make contact with an enemy, instead of just bumming out, there’s a mechanism for not losing a life.We tried to think of new actions that would allow newcomers to enjoy playing.
Nogami: Okay! (laughs)
Nogami: I joined the company about one and a half years before release, so it had already been decided that Yoshi would be the main character.
Nogami: I remember Miyamoto making precise adjustments to the Flutter Jump after I entered the company, so I must have joined about that time.
Nogami: I started as a designer, but the concept of making it with graphics in a hand-drawn style had already been decided on, so I began by trying to figure out how to do that.
Hino: We had decided on a hand-drawn approach before Nogami joined, but we hadn’t yet determined a direction for the exact style. Soon after joining, Nogami showed us something in a marker style.
Nogami: First, I used markers to draw a background with something like a pointed Mount Fuji and scanned it. Then I spent about two weeks in trial and error figuring out how to use it in the game.
Hino: When we saw that, we decided that was the direction to go. That was a turning point for the visual style of Super Mario World 2: Yoshi’s Island.
Tezuka: Immediately after Nogami entered the company, Donkey Kong Country13 was released.
Hino: The company that developed that game was Rare14 in Britain, and it made an impression within Nintendo. The graphics were such as we had never seen for Super NES.
13. Donkey Kong Country : A platform game included in Super NES Classic Edition. Originally released in November 1994.
14. Rare: A British video game developer that has, in addition to Donkey Kong Country, developed such games as GoldenEye 007 and Banjo-Kazooie for the Nintendo 64 system.
Tezuka: Some within the company were wondering if we could do visuals like the ones in Donkey Kong Country, but…
Hino: But development of Super Mario World 2: Yoshi’s Island had already progressed past the point where we could adopt that style of graphics.
Hino: Right. So we decided to take up the challenge with visuals that were the exact opposite of the style in Donkey Kong Country.
Hino: Yeah. And instead of doing it halfway, we wanted to fight back by thoroughly pursuing a hand-drawn style. But then something horrible happened.
Hino: Nintendo 64 was on standby for release the next year, so our director, Tezuka, and Hideki Konno15 began devoting their attention to Super Mario 64 and so forth.
15. Hideki Konno: In addition to primarily being involved with development of the Super Mario Kart series, this developer was map director of Super Mario World. He participated in the interview in this series that covered Super Mario Kart.
Hino: We could still consult them while they were off supporting other projects, but basically Nogami and I and one other designer forged on – just the three of us.
Hino: We asked SRD16 to do the programming, and they had a background with the series, so we could leave it to them without worrying. But for a time, we three designers did planning while also doing the actual work on the project.
16. SRD Co., Ltd.: A company established in 1979 that contracts to develop video game software programs and develops and sells CAD packages. Its head office is in Kyoto and its Kyoto office is inside the development wing of the Nintendo headquarters.
Nogami: No. I was able to work on a lot of things, so it was fun.
Nogami: Yes. I received all kinds of opportunities. I rendered backgrounds, thought up enemies, and did some of the art myself.
Hino: Including some silly enemies! (laughs)
Nogami: Like goonies! Most of the silly ones were mine. (laughs) At the end, I got to handle a boss character, which thrilled me.
Hino: By the time Tezuka and Konno skipped out, the framework of the game was in place, but we still had to produce a lot of game components.
Nogami: And we sure made a lot! Each day, I would illustrate a character in the morning, put in an order to the programmer at noon, check it at night, and then give the okay.
Hino: There was also a time when each day we would brainstorm ideas. Partway through development, we showed it to those involved with sales and distribution to get some feedback. It got a favorable evaluation, and we were able to get the other staff members to come back! (laughs)
Nogami: That’s right. At that point, it had filled in pretty well, but it didn’t have any balance game-wise. Thus, in order to polish it up as a product, help from Tezuka, Konno and Miyamoto was absolutely necessary.
Hino: As far as visuals go, Super Mario World is the first time Mario’s eyes have a white part.
Hino: Miyamoto was intent on that and was very strict in checking it! (laughs)
Hino: Nonetheless, I personally thought his black eyes in Super Mario Bros. 3 had character, so I left Small Mario’s eyes black.
Hino: During development of Super Mario Maker, we began to wonder why Mario’s hand moves when Yoshi sticks out his tongue in Super Mario World. Many people thought Mario was pointing forward and saying, “Go!” and that’s why Yoshi sticks out his tongue.
Hino: Actually, we did the animation with the idea that Mario is hitting Yoshi on the head and Yoshi is sticking out his tongue in surprise.
Hino: There’s even a bonk! sound. (laughs) But we thought people would feel sorry for Yoshi, so we decided to pass it off as Mario saying, “Go!” (laughs)
Nogami: I’d also like people to pay attention to the sound. Koji Kondo17 was in charge of the sound for both of these games. When we were making Super Mario World 2: Yoshi’s Island, we asked him to do the sound for bosses and the first thing he did was a fairly laidback tune! Hino and I spoke with him about it, and the result was some really cool music, which really impressed me. I never expected less! (laughs)
Hino: When it comes to sound, you usually can’t compose the music until the game has come together to a certain extent, but we were behind and I think Kondo was really chomping at the bit. But the rush at the end was insane, so I was quite moved when the ending background music came in.
Nogami: It truly was moving.
Hino: And…is it okay if I say this? We did something wrong in Super Mario World.
Hino: When we were making Super Mario Maker, we noticed that Bowser had the wrong color! His hide is green when it should have been orange!
Hino: That’s right! (laughs) He’s a central character, so I feel bad for him…
Tezuka: We often get out Super NES cartridges to check things.