Super Mario is one of the most recognizable characters in popular culture. He was created by Shigeru Miyamoto, a young Japanese artist who had just recently been hired by Nintendo. At that time, they were still a small game company, which sold primarily playing cards and other games and toys. He actually became their very first artist and in 1980 helped develop their initial attempt at an arcade game – Radar Scope. It had moderate success in Japan, however it failed to branch out into North America. This left them with many unsold units and on the verge of financial collapse. Their only chance at survival was in some way to convert the existing units into a new game and hope it was more successful. At first Miyamoto found inspiration in the cartoon character Popeye, but after Nintendo failed to gain the rights to make a game, based on the comic, he had to rethink his idea. Instead of a sailor, he made his main character a carpenter, Olive Oyl became a princes and Bluto, the main antagonist, was turned into a huge gorilla. The game was titled “Donkey Kong” and it marked the first time ever that a game’s storyline preceded the actual development of the game itself.
Being limited by the hardware in their already existing arcade units, Miyamoto was faced with serious challenges. Being an artist, he wanted his characters to be able to express themselves on the screen and for that he needed to show details. However, all he had at his disposal were simple 8-bit graphics and very few pixels. This is what drove many of the design decisions, which shaped the character. Most of them remain unchanged to this day. For example, using the technology at their disposal, there was no way to realistically show hair motion, so he got a big red hat. To hide his mouth and accent his nose, a moustache was added. His famous overalls were chosen, so that his arms could have a different color than his body and not get lost when moving. The characters also needed suitable names for the North America market, a task given to the staffers in Nintendo’s office in Redmond, Washington. As the story goes, during one meeting they were interrupted by the warehouse landlord, Mario Segale, who bore a striking resemblance to the character. The employees quickly nicknamed their character Mario and when Miyamoto heard it, he liked it so much that he stuck with it.
The game hit the shelves in 1981 and was an instant success. Soon after Nintendo released sequels, turned Mario into a plumber and introduced new characters like his brother Luigi, his archrival Bowser and many more. The game became so popular, that during the early nineties Mario was more recognizable to American children than Mickey Mouse. Today the Super Mario Bros series holds the Guinness World Record for the most successful gaming franchise ever, with global sales of over 507 million units. The main theme, composed by Koji Kondo, remained in the Billboard ringtone charts for 125 weeks and has been performed countless times around the world, in every arrangement imaginable. Mario himself has appeared in more than 200 games and is hugely popular to this day.
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