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ILoveRetro Relegation: Super Mario 64


It is an ordinary day at the end of the 90s, and a young boy, like so many years he is, to perform an operation done a thousand times in the past and that will do a thousand others in the future: insert a cartridge into the home console and press the button. power. Only this time his life will change forever, and the whole videogame movement with him.

If, reading the handful of lines above, you have for a moment stepped back to that afternoon before the age of the internet and gameplay videos, you have to admit: you are privileged. Not because your parents loved you enough to let you find a Nintendo 64 at home, nor because in an era where games often chose you (and not the other way around) you found yourself blowing inside a cartridge. that would have forever changed your perception of video games. Quite simply, you are privileged because you are old enough to have had a look at what was there before Super Mario 64. Essentially, for to understand how Super Mario 64 was a gamechanger.



By 1996 video games had already discovered the third dimension, but they hadn't really gotten any deeper yet.

Nintendo didn't invent the analog stick, but it did invent the 3D video game. It is different, and it is a much greater merit

Very few developers had really figured out how to use 3D, and virtually none of them had the right tools to create a 3D experience that from the point of view of the controls was not cumbersome, when it could not be destabilizing (Doom, for example, could cause a sense of nausea very similar to what we are experiencing today with Virtual Reality). At this point some characters more intendaro than myself would tell you how Nintendo has given a reason for being to the three dimensions thanks to the invention of the analog stick: in reality, however, it is easy to find examples of similar technologies predating Nintendo 64, let's think for example of the “old” joystick joysticks, arcade cabinets or projects like the controller XE-1 AP by Dempa. And, at this point, some less intellectually honest characters would start a tirade against the image of innovators that Nintendo has built over the years; after all, they simply took items that the market already offered and just repackaged them so that the general public could digest them - an Apple ante litteram, but on a small scale. The undersigned, on the other hand, is convinced that the meaning of innovation be just that. Nintendo cannot take credit for having invented the analog stick - so much so that the game object of this demotion, in the early stages of development, was tested using modified versions of some Sega controllers - but it has the much more all-encompassing one of having explained to the rest of the world how it was used to create three-dimensional video games. And if you are not stupid, by now you will have realized that he did it, above all, with Super Mario 64.



 

The one on the right is not a second analog, but an "analog slider" to be used as an accelerator in racing games

 

Until that moment, no he really understood how to make a good shot for a 3D game

True revolutions never arise only from the hardware or software side, but are the merit of visionaries who manage to take both worlds and put them at the service of each other. This story, without the vision between the meticulous and the obsessive of Shigeru Miyamoto, it would have a tremendously different meaning: because Miyamoto over the years may have strayed from the straight path and filed a certain series of playful crap in his resume, but in 1996 - for one thing - he decided that in Super Mario 64 any polygonal element had to have a shadow, even those who in the real world would not have projected one. Because? Because this simple trick on the edge of reality would have improved the final user experience, helping them to perceive more easily the depth of the game worlds designed by his team. Because yes, beyond the immense historical value of Super Mario 64, we are talking about a great video game: thanks to the Nintendo 64 controller the player could move Mario with precision, no longer having to use the front keys to tell the plumber to run but being able to play simply with the inclination of the analog stick. 360 ° movements, which are combined with a convincing physics management - not realistic in all respects, but quite permissive to allow the player actions such as wall jumps (exploiting the walls to “bounce” higher after a jump) which the developers then used to draw the levels accordingly. And then they meet with one camera and it worked very well, boasting both a closer mode (with the possibility of switching to the first person, but only to look more closely at the game world) and a more spaced and "orientable" mode via the C-Pad of the controller (basically, the ancestor of the second analog stick later introduced by Sony). Considering that, up to that moment (and, to say it all, also for many other years to come), several three-dimensional productions will rely on a more directing (but limiting) fixed shot decided scene by scene, you immediately understand how Super Mario 64 is at the same time very important from a historical point of view and absolutely virtuous on the gaming level. And you understand how Miyamoto has seen us altogether along, deciding to wait Nintendo 64 to release the first chapter of the three dimensional series. It was not just a matter of mere computing power (also because Super Mario 64, like most of the library of the machine "runs" in 32-bit, despite the name), but linked especially to the controller: Super Nintendo simply didn't have it available enough keys, and while the Super FX chips in some cartridges could actually handle three-dimensional graphics (again, take Doom for example), SNES was not "ready" for a project of this magnitude precisely because of the joypad. A choice that also paid off on the sales side, as we will see, while forcing Nintendo to give up an installed base so widespread that it will no longer see until the Wii era. This is how the market is evanveled: ideas are not enough, but it is absolutely necessary to present them to the public only when they are ready. This is why Nintendo has made a sacrifice extreme foresight, when he decided not to ever publish Star Fox 2 (until a few days ago, at least) and to reuse all the "directorial" gimmicks designed for the title to lay the foundations of the Super Mario 64 camera. And teach 3D to everyone, gamers and developers.



 

[...] at a certain point I started to think that what I was creating shouldn't necessarily have been a game [Shigeru Miyamoto, via]

is The Gospel according to Shigeru Miyamoto: all that is one stumbling block perfectly must be removed

Miyamoto, we have already said, is a meticulous: the first stages of development are focus on the skeleton, pad in hand, of the title, on Mario's movements and - at the same time - on the framing movements, which in-game is not a simple artifice to be ignored by exploiting the suspension of disbelief (as we still do today, for all those third-person products) but it is made with a Lakitu carrying the camera itself around, almost as if he were filming the feat of Mario - habit, this cinematic cut, which then in-game actually finds its sharpness in the opening sequence that sees Mario arrive at Peach's castle. The game engine, which will then also be reused for The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time (sub-trivia: the idea of ​​inserting a in-game horse was designed specifically for Mario 64, before materializing in Epona), is pushed to its limits, also trying to insert a cooperative mode for a second player to dip into Luigi's lanky shoes. At some point, however, as you begin to design the game worlds, you have to choose: keep the co-op going to simplify the environments, making them more flat and linear, or eliminate completely (well, actually almost - there is a plaque in the castle garden that reads "L is Real 2041", object of cult and urban legends over the years) the brother of the plumber and being able to design more complicated and rewarding worlds from the point of view of platforming. And here he comes back the software designed in synergy with the hardware, and here is what Miyamoto does a drastic choice and confines Luigi on the bench until the remake of the title released a few years ago on DS - on a console without analog stick. Understand the tragedy for yourself - to allow the rest of the troops to design more compelling and rewarding levels to play. And here, among the thirty-two stages originally created, only the best 15 are selected, to meet the memory limitations that the Nintendo 64 cartridges (anachronistic solution, in the height of the era of that CD-ROM that will make fortunes of PlayStation) suffered. You change your mind about everything that, despite being a good intuition on paper, can be an obstacle to achieving perfection: originally, for example, instead of the Power Stars, the levels had to be designed by taking up the end-of-level poles of the original Super Mario Bros. (an idea that was later taken up, more recently, by the Super Mario 3D sub-series). A touch of that famous Nintendostalgia that is always nice to see in the games of the Big N, but certainly it would have conditioned the exploration of the player and the most libertine approach of this first three-dimensional plumber adventure - ok, he looks like he's no longer a plumber, but you get it. Nintendostalgia which, however, is not lacking, and indeed it further embellishes the approach seen a little on the camera: in the last challenge against Bowser, the pillars that characterize the level show bas-reliefs that mimic the 8-bit combat between Mario and his nemesis.



Miyamoto will have lost sleep over these details and tricks of this type. But it made possible the biggest 1-UP in the entire history of the industry.

A real show of strength, a more tangible sign than what it means Nintendo Difference

Why Super Mario 64 redefined a genre, forcing all other competitors to embrace three dimensions - one of the reasons Ubisoft moved to 3D for Rayman is Mario 64. And because it succeeded where until then everyone had failed and so many others would have continued to fail: to do the account of the series that the transition from 2D to 3D has thrown into a state of profound identity crisis it would be an act of playful schadenfreude (the joy caused by the misfortunes of others - the Germans have a word for everything), indecent towards a title that does not need to mock others to justify the eleven million copies placed on the market, establishing itself as the best-selling video game of the fifth generation in front of a monster as sacred as the first Gran Turismo. If you are not impressed, you should consider that the installed base of PlayStation surpassed the 100 million mark, where Nintendo 64 hung around thirty million pieces.

Mario better than Polyphony Digital, with less than a third of users available; some might argue that at this point we should call into question the piracy factor, but to that someone we would answer with the same words we used at the opening: in 1996 it was video games that chose the player, not the other way around, and to emerge the way was practically only that of word of mouth (of course, magazines helped, but if the specialized press does not have a massive impact now, at the time it was probably even less taken seriously). And placing eleven platinum records without having the less official channels of the stalls available - and not even the actual records, being confined to cartridge and subjected to all cartridge limits, such as being sold at more expensive and constant prices over time - it is in all respects a record company.

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