Developer Interview, Volume 5

Super Mario World & Yoshi's Island developers

Super Mario World and Super Mario World 2: Yoshi's Island

Takashi Tezuka, Shigefumi Hino and Hisashi Nogami
Akinori mii

Hello, everyone! I'm Akinori Sao, a writer in Kyoto. This is the fifth installment in a series of interviews commemorating the release of the Super Nintendo Entertainment System: Super NES Classic Edition system. The topic this time is Super Mario World and Super Mario World 2: Yoshi's Island.

Super Mario World was a launch title for Super NES, and it marked the first appearance of Yoshi. Super Mario World 2: Yoshi's Island, which was released four years later, was the memorable first game that starred Yoshi as the main character. For that reason, I will be talking today with Takashi Tezuka, Shigefumi Hino and Hisashi Nogami with a focus on Yoshi.

And now for Tezuka-san, Hino-san and Nogami-san!

Launching Super NES

Nogami-san, you've been involved with Animal Crossing1 and Splatoon.2 Super Mario World is one of the games we're discussing today, but you hadn't yet joined the company when it came out.

1. Animal Crossing : The first game in this series of community-simulation games was originally released in Japan for the Nintendo 64 system in April 2001. A total of six games have been released in the series, including installments for the Wii and Nintendo 3DS systems.

2. Splatoon : The first game in this series of shooting games was released for the Wii U system in May 2015, and a second game was released for the Nintendo Switch system in July 2017.

Nogami: That's right. My first job was Super Mario World 2: Yoshi's Island.

When Super NES released, were you a college student?

Nogami: Yes. I think I was a freshman in college.

You encountered Super Mario World as just a player. Later, I'll ask you what you thought about it.

Nogami: All right.

Hino-san, you've been involved with most of the games in the Pikmin3 series.

3. Pikmin : The first game in this series of puzzle-strategy games was originally released in Japan for the Nintendo GameCube system in October 2001. The latest game, Hey! PIKMIN , was released for Nintendo 3DS in July 2017.

Nogami: That's right. I've been involved with the series from the first game through Pikmin 3 for Wii U. Later, for development of Super Mario Maker4, I was involved with implementing art I had done for Super Mario World.

4. Super Mario Maker : This game was released for Wii U in September 2015. Players enjoy making Super Mario courses and playing courses that others have made. Super Mario Maker for Nintendo 3DS was released in December 2016.

In other words, pixel art that you had done a long time ago returned in Super Mario Maker.

Hino: Yes. I had done that art about 26 years ago, so it really brought back memories.

Super Mario World was your first job, wasn't it?

Hino: It was my second year at the company, and it was the first game I worked on that went out into the world.

Does that mean there were games that didn't go out into the world?

Hino: Yes. As a designer, I worked on a sequel to Famicom Grand Prix: F1 Race5 for the Family Computer Disk System.

Kazunobu Shimizu6 was the director of that racing game, wasn't he?

5. Famicom Grand Prix: F1 Race: A racing game released for the Family Computer Disk System in October 1987.

6. Kazunobu Shimizu: This developer has been involved in the development of such games as F-ZERO and F-ZERO: Maximum Velocity. He participated in the interview in this series that covered F-Zero.

Hino: Yes, that's right.

When I did the interview for this series regarding F-ZERO, I heard that the sequel couldn't be released because it got bashed when it was shown to staff at Nintendo of America. (laughs)

Hino: Oh, I didn't know that. I thought it was pretty good…

However, that was how F-ZERO7 came to be. In your second year at the company, you came to be involved with Super Mario, Nintendo's top series. How did that feel?

7. F-ZERO : A racing game set in the future. It was originally released in Japan in November 1990 and is also included in Super NES Classic Edition .

Hino: I felt a great deal of pressure. It was a launch title for Super NES, and the previous game, Super Mario Bros. 38, was really well-made, so it was intimidating to know it would be compared to that. For that reason, I worried a lot over how we could present Super Mario in a fresh way on Super NES.

8. Super Mario Bros. 3: A platform game originally released in Japan for the Famicom system in October 1988. This game was discussed in the interview covering Super Mario Bros. and Super Mario Bros. 3 for the NES Classic Edition system.

Tezuka-san, you were the director of Super Mario World. When did development start?

Tezuka: That was a long time ago, so my memory isn't that great… (laughs) I think we started in 1988.

That would mean you made the game in less than two years.

Tezuka: Development was shorter than for Super Mario Bros. 3.

During my interview for NES Classic Edition covering Super Mario Bros. and Super Mario Bros. 3, I heard that development for Super Mario Bros. 3 wandered a little and took two and a half years.

Tezuka: That's right. For Super Mario Bros. 3, while I was director, I also did the visuals.

You had a wide variety of work.

Tezuka: Yes. But I didn't think it was good to take on too much, so when we made Super Mario World, I left the visuals to Hino.

"I Want Mario to Ride a Horse!"

I'd like to ask about Yoshi. Super Mario World has several noteworthy characteristics. One is that it marks Yoshi's debut.

Tezuka: Uh-huh.

How did Yoshi come to be?

Tezuka: Shigeru Miyamoto said he wanted Mario to ride a horse!

A horse? (laughs)

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.

A large lizard? (laughs)

Tezuka: It was like a crocodile. (laughs)

Yoshi is quite different from 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.

In other words, the two of you consulted each other as you searched for the prototype for Yoshi. How did that croc-like creature shape up into Yoshi?

Hino: Tezuka had done a rough sketch and it was cute and pretty good, so I polished up Yoshi into its current form based on that.

Tezuka: That happened relatively quickly. I kind of forced the design though, saying, "It's related to turtles." (laughs)

That's why, instead of a saddle, what's on Yoshi's back is...

Nogami: A shell. Even after I joined the company, Tezuka kept insisting that it was a shell. (laughs)

(laughs) And that's how Super Mario World, which debuted Yoshi as kin to turtles, became the top-selling title worldwide for Super NES.

Tezuka: Really…?

As if you don't know! (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.

Oh, I see. Nogami-san, you were just a regular player at the time. What surprised you when you played Super Mario World?

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!"

It surprised you with visuals that NES didn't have.

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.

You were still a student, but you looked at it like a pro! (laughs)

Nogami: No, not at all! (laughs)

Had you decided by that time that you wanted to make video games?

Nogami: I loved video games, so I did think that I wanted to make them someday.

Tezuka: Nogami was part of the inaugural class of the Game Seminar.9

9. Game Seminar = Nintendo Dentsu Game Seminar: A practical game development course held for students. The seminar was held three times, beginning in 1990. From 2003, the seminar was then renamed to Nintendo Game seminar. The seminars are currently suspended.

Nogami: Yes, but I actually played Super Mario World before joining the seminar!

New Actions with Yoshi

Now I'd like to discuss Super Mario World 2: Yoshi's Island. It was released in 1995. That's four years after Super Mario World.

Tezuka: Yes.

How did you come to make a platform game with Yoshi as the main character?

Hino: After development of Super Mario World ended, I had some downtime, and Miyamoto said, "How long are you going to be doing visuals?"

What did he mean?

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.

So Miyamoto-san was trying to say that you should stop with the art and come up with a project.

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.

You were prepared for the worst.

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.

Did you think of that by yourself?

Hino: I started thinking about it myself, but I discussed it with Tezuka for the longest time.

What were you doing at that time, Tezuka-san?

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.

So between development work, you consulted with Hino-san.

Tezuka: Yes.

Why did you want to make Yoshi the main character?

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.

Oh, I see. After that, Super Mario 6412 came out and for a while the focus was on more three-dimensional action and not side-scrolling.

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.

Making Yoshi the main character would give birth to new actions.

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.

You wanted to make it enjoyable for people who were gaming for the first time.

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.

Super Donkey Kong Shock!

Nogami-san, it's time to bring you into the conversation! (laughs)

Nogami: Okay! (laughs)

When you entered the company, what was the state of the development of Super Mario World 2: Yoshi's Island?

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.

Was he already doing the Flutter Jump?

Nogami: I remember Miyamoto making precise adjustments to the Flutter Jump after I entered the company, so I must have joined about that time.

As the new guy, how did you become involved?

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.

Why did you decide on a hand-drawn style?

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.

Three Designers on Their Own

In other words, it was too late to turn back.

Hino: Right. So we decided to take up the challenge with visuals that were the exact opposite of the style in Donkey Kong Country.

And that meant visuals that looked hand-drawn.

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.

Something horrible?

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 ( link).

That's quite a problem! So who was left on the team?

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.

Huh?! Only three of you were left?

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-san, didn't you think that was awful so soon after entering the company?

Nogami: No. I was able to work on a lot of things, so it was fun.

You saw it as a good thing?

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)

It got a good review, so everyone decided to finish it up properly?

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.

Yoshi Sticks Out Its Tongue in Surprise?

Now for my final question. If there is anything about Super Mario World and Super Mario World 2: Yoshi's Island that you would like players to pay attention to on Super NES Classic Edition, please tell me.

Hino: As far as visuals go, Super Mario World is the first time Mario's eyes have a white part.

Oh, that's true!

Hino: Miyamoto was intent on that and was very strict in checking it! (laughs)

(laughs)

Hino: Nonetheless, I personally thought his black eyes in Super Mario Bros. 3 had character, so I left Small Mario's eyes black.

So you want people to pay attention to Mario's eyes. (laughs) Anything else?

Hino: During development of Super Mario Maker, we began to wonder why Mario's hand moves when Yoshi sticks out its tongue in Super Mario World. Many people thought Mario was pointing forward and saying, "Go!" and that's why Yoshi sticks out its tongue.

But that isn't so?

Hino: Actually, we did the animation with the idea that Mario is hitting Yoshi on the head and Yoshi is sticking out its tongue in surprise.

Oh, really? (laughs)

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)

(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)

17. Koji Kondo: This developer has been involved with the sound for many games such as games in the Super Mario and Legend of Zelda series. He participated in the interview covering Super Mario Bros. and Super Mario Bros. 3 for NES Classic Edition.

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.

Which is?

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!

In other words, you noticed that mistake after 25 years had passed?! (laughs)

Hino: That's right! (laughs) He's a central character, so I feel bad for him…

People who read this can check Bowser's color on Super NES Classic Edition! (laughs)

Tezuka: We often get out Super NES cartridges to check things.

A cartridge for each game.

Tezuka: Yes. But with Super NES Classic Edition… (laughs)

One console is enough. (laughs)

Tezuka: And that's a big help! (laughs)

(Look forward to Volume 6: Kirby Super Star!)
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