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May 22, 2019
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The Beautiful Drawings Behind Super Mario Bros. Sprites

by Bryan Cashman on 11/04/16 01:46:00 pm   Expert Blogs   Featured Blogs

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The following blog post, unless otherwise noted, was written by a member of Gamasutra’s community.
The thoughts and opinions expressed are those of the writer and not Gamasutra or its parent company.

 

At Callvention we are actively reviewing design documents from Super Mario Bros., and below are some of our biggest findings.  While some drawings are from a Nintendo Direct for Super Mario Maker, most are taken from photos we directly took during an in-person display unit presented by Nintendo.

1. The Title Screen Was Almost Green

The title screen to Mario's first side scrolling adventure is memorized in all of our minds.  And that's why unearthing an alternate Super Mario Bros title screen design, drawn either by Shigeru Miyamoto or Takashi Tezuka, is so surprising.

Let's first show the original version that we know and love.  The drawing below is the final graph drawing used by programmers to build the actual title screen used in Super Mario Bros. 

Surprisingly, Nintendo's vaults hold an alternate title screen, shown below.  This version has a green banner for the logo, which I personally find much more cheerful than the final version.  It also strongly uses the color of Mario's brother, Luigi.  In addition, the "S" of "Super" is drawn differently in this alternate drawing.

Super Mario Title Screen

 

2. An Unreleased Enemy for Super Mario Bros.

The second drawing that stood out was of an enemy that doesn't appear in the Super Mario Bros series until Super Nintendo's Super Mario World.

Shigeru Miyamoto originally envisioned Mario facing off with a Koopa outside of its shell.  This dream wouldn't occur until Super Mario World, when stomping on Koopas would force them to slide outside of their shells to face off in their underwear.

The Japanese text written next to the drawing reads, "Bare Shellcreeper runs around naked," as translated by Twitter's Cheesemeister.  In Japanese, Shellcreeper is a term used for the original turtle villains of the Mario Bros. series.  Additional translations on design text can be found here.

3. The Sprite Work is More Accurate Than You May Think

What ended up being the most surpising revelation for Callvention is how close the pixel drawings mimic the original graph paper sketches. 

As shown in the collection of comparisons below, the pixel drawings we see today in Super Mario Bros. are incredibly similar to their original designs, a striking accomplishment given the technical limitations of the NES hardware.  For reference, our drawings below are compared against NES sprites provided by Beam Luinsir Yosh at Mario Mayhem.

Goomba

Goomba

The Goomba, Mario's first enemy in Super Mario Bros., is differentiated in design drawings by diagonal eyebrows.

Blooper

These underwater creatures, called Bloopers, were drawn accurately as sprites, with four tentacles hanging from the creature's body.

Koopa

Koopa sketches evolved significantly from the shellcreeper design illustrated earlier in this article.  Even the drawing here doesn't capture the more detailed design in Super Mario sprites.  The drawing here mimics the enemies from the original Mario Bros. arcade game.

A Hill Changes

While the art style itself is similar, hills represent a significant change from the game's original level drawings.  Super Mario Bros. hills consistently have grass spread beyond the hill/mountain, as shown in the Super Mario Sprite.  In the video game, grass always spreads a full "sprite box" beyond the mountain.  However, in original level drawings, the grass would not spread beyond the hill itself.

Shiny Pipes

Even in level drawings, the beautiful shadowing and lighting effect placed on pipes is illustrated.  The added depth presented by such a subtle coloring of the pipes makes a significant difference on the game's presentation.

Wait, That's Not Donkey Kong

Interestingly, floating platforms changed significantly from original level drawings.  The drawing here closely mirrors floating platforms from Shigeru Miyamoto's other big game of the time, Donkey Kong.  The diagonal design of platforms would be simplified for Super Mario sprites, becoming the more boxy version we know of today.

The Many Vines of Super Mario Bros.

Vines found above land in Super Mario Bros. have a more simplistic design than what ended up in the real game.  The drawing presented here more closely resembles vines in Donkey Kong Jr., another title created by Shigeru Miyamoto.

Vines found underwater also appear differently than they ended up in the end-game.  The final Super Mario sprites for underwater plantlife appear far more dangerous and uncontrolled than the original level design's drawing.

Powering Up

Drawings of Magic Mushrooms capture perfectly the characteristics of final Super Mario sprites.  From the randomly sized spots to the iconic mushroom shape, it's all here.

Mario is Walking Tall

This original drawing of Mario walking through a level emphasizes the movement of his arms and legs, which would later be animated into Super Mario sprites.  Interestingly, the design of his face seems similar to his design in Donkey Kong, Mario's first appearance in a video game.

More Mario Insights Are Coming

In the coming weeks, Callvention will also be publishing animations, level layouts and more drawings from Super Mario Bros.  Please subscribe to our newsletter at Callvention, or follow us on Twitter or Facebook.

Bryan Cashman is a sixteen year video game veteran with games experience in corporate consulting, incubators and investor research.  He is currently president at Callvention, connecting fans with the people behind their favorite video games.


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