Super Mario 3D Land Interview: Tanooki Suit Beat Cape Mario

Celebrated game designer Shigeru Miyamoto receives most of the credit for Nintendo's Mario games and rightfully so, but he's one of numerous people that have worked on the series over the course of 25 plus years.

Case in point, Koichi Hayashida, director of the smash hit 3DS title, Super Mario 3D Land. A Nintendo employee since 1999, Mr. Hayashida played an instrumental role in such games as Super Mario Sunshine, Donkey Kong Jungle Beat and the two Super Mario Galaxy adventures.

Super Mario 3D Land Director Koichi Hayashida.

We had a chance to speak with him at last week's Game Developers Conference, where he discussed the possibility of a Super Mario 3D Land sequel, a level editor and the power-up he originally preferred to the Tanooki Suit.

Do you see this as a possible series? Could there be a Super Mario 3D Land 2?

Well I guess I have to turn around and ask, is that something you'd like to see?

Oh yes.

Would you consider adding downloadable content to the game? How easy is it to create new levels?

It's not something we had initially thought about. Thinking about it now, there would be some challenges, but if there was a really good opportunity to use the stereoscopic effect to create some interesting new elements to introduce to the game, I suppose it's a possibility. Of course, it's our job to constantly think of possibilities like that.

How many people worked on Super Mario 3D Land?

I guess if you look at the staff credits for the game, including the localization teams at NOA and NOE, it would come out to about 100 total?

How long was it in development for?

Just about two years.

What do you think of Mario becoming a yearly franchise like Call of Duty?

Well, the way we approach the Mario series is through evolving hardware. Every time we have a new piece of hardware, we look at it and say, what can we do with this? What sort of gameplay experiences can we create? Then we take that and try and match it to the world of Mario, the kind of expressions you would find in Mario games.

For example, I think of Super Mario World as the blending of the Super Famicom technology with Mario. With Super Mario 64, what was unique about the N64 hardware capabilities plus the world of Mario? In the same way, Super Mario 3D Land takes the unique elements of the Nintendo 3DS and uses them to create an experience that is both unique and familiar to people who enjoy the Mario universe.

If we were going to come out with a Mario game every single year, the only way we could really do this is if we also came out with new hardware every single year, which starts to get a little difficult to imagine.

What about the possibility of a Super Mario Bros. level editor? Would it do more harm than good to the franchise to give users that sort of power?

I guess one way to respond to that is to give you a slightly different example. You may know that Excitebike has a level editor, and that's something Mr. Miyamoto has worked on, so we're certainly not opposed to the concept of introducing a level editor, but in my mind, it's not really about the users having power or hurting the way the franchise is viewed, but rather, whether we can see the possibility to create a really unique and fun experience with that level editor. It's not something we've explored in any detail yet with the Mario universe, but as with everything, if we sense a good idea and a good possibility, it's certainly something we'd pursue.

Were the Special Worlds part of the game from the beginning?

Our first thought was that we'd follow the structure that we've come to think of as traditional for 3D Mario games, where each course would have multiple scenarios, each with a different star at the end, so you have a different objective to play through. That system started in Super Mario 64, where you had more stars than stages.

What we were considering as a layout for Super Mario 3D Land was 32 stages with three objectives each, but we ended up with a lot more concepts for unique stages than just 32, so we eventually had a 48 times two layout. Even then, 48 wasn't enough, so I think the total number of stages is a little over 60 plus.

Beginners could get through the game and see the normal ending, but we still wanted to offer them some kind of surprise.

Super Mario 3D Land had excellent 3D effects. Other 3DS games, not so much. Why do you think developers struggle taking full advantage of this capability? Some of these games take a toll on a person's eyes.

The development of Super Mario 3D Land really started with Mr. Miyamoto posing a scenario and challenge to us, which was his observation that it was very easy to see the position of a block in 3D space when you're using a stereoscopic effect. He wanted to see what we could develop from that concept. So, if there are best ways to use the stereoscopic effect, like resolving the exact position of a block floating in space, then there are also some places where using the stereoscopic effect will not be to your advantage, or offer certain demerits.

One of these demerits might be the stereo window violation, which is something you would see in older 3D movies, where something pops so far out of the screen that it looks a little unnatural in reference to the plane that you're trying to view and judge it in. That was something we had to be very careful about avoiding with very deliberate camera positions and careful stage design so that nothing would pop out. Most importantly, that nothing would come between Mario and the camera.

If you found the experience to be comfortable, then I guess that means we did a good job.

What would you like to see make it into a sequel?

Well, maybe one way for me to respond to that question is to talk about how we developed Super Mario Galaxy 2, the second of two games on the same hardware. We often rely on new hardware innovation to push us to new places when developing Mario games, trying to find a unique match with the hardware's capability with the familiar but fun Mario gameplay experience.

When you're suddenly in the position to make a Super Mario Galaxy 2 on the same hardware, you find yourself in a very different position. It's going to be much more of a struggle to come up with ideas, because this is the exact same way you brainstormed for the first game. Hopefully, you have ideas that didn't make it into that first title, or things you weren't able to do for some other reason.

In the case of Super Mario 3D Land, I felt we got so much of what we wanted to do into the game, that we would start from a difficult position in having to come up with something from the same process.

Having said that, we are always thinking of new possibilities for Mario gameplay experience, whether it's on a portable or console.

Was the Tanooki Suit part of the game from the beginning?

Almost all of the 3D Mario games have a jump delay mechanic that allows people to slow their fall a little bit so they can look very carefully where they are going to land. You might remember that Mario 64 didn't have anything like that, but Sunshine introduced the FLUDD jetpack that allowed the player to hover and delay their fall a bit.

In Super Mario Galaxy, you have the spin, which you can do midair during a jump, and Super Mario Galaxy 2 had Yoshi, who has a bit of a flutter kick.

We knew that we needed one of these mechanics in Super Mario 3D Land to balance gameplay. Fairly early in development, Mr. Miyamoto suggested the Tanooki Suit. Now, myself being a fan of Super Mario World, I really wanted to go with Cape Mario, but he shot that down.

That's a shame. Thank you for your time, and we look forward to new Mario adventures in the years ahead.