When you think about it, Super Mario Run is the perfect entry point for Nintendo’s leap into mobile gaming.
Without the Mario games there would be no endless runners, the genre first popularized on Apple’s earliest iPhones. Run spices things up with distinctly Mario flavors — collectible coins of various colors, mushrooms, Goombas, Koopa Troopers, boss battles — but embraces the one-handed play of a mobile game.
Series creator and Super Mario Run producer Shigeru Miyamoto sat down for a chat with Mashable ahead of the game’s Dec. 15 release. The brief but informative chat covered a range of topics, including the game’s always-online requirement, Nintendo’s approach to formulating a mobile strategy, and Miyamoto’s own ideas when it comes to designing for mobile.
Note that the below quotes are translations provided by Nintendo’s own Bill Trinen, a familiar face from Nintendo Direct streams and frequent interpreter for Miyamoto. Some quotes have been edited for length and clarity.
What kinds of mobile games have you been playing or looking at as Super Mario Run came together?
I don’t really do a lot of comparing other games in the market to my games or what I’m working on. And in fact, generally what I try to do is avoid doing that for the most part. But I do play some mobile games and one of the things that I’ve found to be very relevant is … when I see people playing on the train, they are usually playing games that are very short bursts of play.
I think the other thing is that with mobile phones, that persistent network connection means that having something that you’re kind of continually building up in a mobile game is also very relevant.
Obviously we’ve made portable games in the past [but] this being a device that people seem to carry with them all the time, we really kind of focused in on what’s the best style of play for that type of device.
As you brought Mario to this new platform, did anything from Mario’s past drive the ideas for building a game for this new platform?
Well obviously it’s been a few years since, internally, we decided we were going to start moving in the direction of games for mobile. We’re working on a lot of different games; Animal Crossing is another one that’s in development as well.
When we made the decision, what we decided to do was we weren’t going to port over existing games. We were gonna focus in on creating new experiences in our franchises specifically for mobile.
Certainly Mario is a series that has a long history, but what we noticed is that as the series evolved … even Mario games which originally were intended to be very simple and easy to pick up and play gradually became more complex, and it became harder and harder for newcomers to be able to start playing. That was why, maybe about six or seven years ago, we sort of hit the reset button and reintroduced the side-scrolling Mario games in the form of New Super Mario Bros.
Obviously when we did that we set the game back to the original premise, which was Mario runs from left to right and there’s a goal pole at the end and maybe there’s some gaps in between that you have to jump over. But I think for Super Mario Run, that basic premise was the gift that Mario gave us and drove the development forward.
Even on Wii, we actually experimented with some ideas where you just pressed the button to make Mario jump. But what we thought was: Why are we doing this where you’re just pressing one button to make Mario jump when we have the [D-pad] or the Nunchuk with the control stick? It seems unnatural to just press the button on the Wii Remote.
So then, when we started working on the mobile version, we decided that, really, the best fit for mobile was a game that you can play with one hand where Mario is running left to right, towards a flagpole, and all you have to do is jump. So that was where we selected those core elements and began working on the project.
You mentioned that this move in the direction of mobile is a larger business decision at Nintendo, but for you personally: What excites you about designing for mobile? Can you remember what first excited you?
For me, I think one of the things that’s been most exciting has been the opportunity that mobile brings.
Obviously for a long time our platforms were the gaming device that had the largest install base and the broadest reach, and it was through them that we were able to introduce our games and characters to consumers.
While we still have that opportunity on our platforms, what’s new now is that smartphones have become a device that virtually everybody seems to have, and it’s something that they carry around with them all the time and … check it everyday.
For me what it means is it just opens up this possibility for us to reach a much larger audience and introduce them to our games and our characters, but do it in a way that introduces them with a playstyle that’s suited to that platform.
I understand you’re not talking about the specifics of Switch yet. But between the very portable tablet mode and the fact that Nintendo accounts are tied into a unified system, is there any chance of Super Mario Run appearing on or offering cross-connectivity with Switch?
We do have the Nintendo accounts system and through [that] we will be able to have connections, and players will be able to — for example — keep their save data up in the cloud. And obviously, from a consumer perspective, your save data is a valuable thing.
When it comes to the actual game itself, though … we do view the mobile platform and our dedicated game platforms as very different devices where we will continue to offer different experiences. So we will continue to put our efforts into more in-depth experiences on our dedicated gaming devices.
I learned today that Super Mario Run requires an internet connection to play. What’s the reason for that? Are there any thoughts about an offline mode?
For us, we view our software as being a very important asset for us. And also for consumers who are purchasing the game, we want to make sure that we’re able to offer it to them in a way that the software is secure, and that they’re able to play it in a stable environment.
We wanted to be able to leverage that network connection with all three of the [Super Mario Run] modes to keep all of the modes functioning together and offering the game in a way that keeps the software secure. This is something that we want to continue to work on as we continue to develop the game.
But actually, the security element is one of the reasons that we decided to go with iPhone and iOS first. So this is just — based on the current development environment — a requirement that’s been built into the game to support security and the fact that the three different modes are connecting to the network and interacting with one another.
We had thought at one point that it would be nice to have the World Tour [story] mode available standalone, to be able to play without that connection. But then the challenge is when that’s operating in a standalone mode, it actually complicates the connection back to the Toad Rally and Kingdom modes. And because those two modes are relying on the network save, we had to integrate the World Tour mode as well.
Just to be clear: When you say “security,” you mean the risk of piracy, right?
Unlike our dedicated game devices, the game is not releasing in a limited number of countries. We’re launching in 150 countries and each of those countries has different network environments and things like that. So it was important for us to be able to have it secure for all users.