Nintendo on Super Mario Kart – ties to F-Zero, how Mario characters got in, items, more
Posted on September 25, 2017 by Brian(@NE_Brian) in General Nintendo, News
Nintendo has been publishing weekly interviews about games included in the Super NES Classic Edition in preparation of the hardware’s launch later this week. For the latest discussion, Super Mario Kart is the focus. Tadashi Sugiyama and Hideki Konno were brought in to talk about the SNES game.
Sugiyama and Konno talked about Super Mario Kart’s origins, including how Shigeru Miyamoto’s request to create a 2-player F-Zero led to the start of the project. They also explained how Mario Kart characters ended up being inserted, the various items, and more.
You can read the full interview with Sugiyama and Konno below.
Congratulations on the 25th anniversary of Super Mario Kart!
Sugiyama and Konno: Thank you.
You both served as directors of Super Mario Kart. Much earlier, Sugiyama-san, you were involved with the development of Ice Climber , so you’re also the father of Popo and Nana, right?
Sugiyama: Yes. I designed them.
1. Ice Climber : A vertically-scrolling platform action game released for the Nintendo Entertainment SystemTM (NES) in October 1985.
Konno-san, what was your first job?
Konno: Ice Hockey  for the Nintendo Entertainment System. Sports games are popular overseas, so when I talk to people in other countries and tell them my first job was Ice Hockey, they remember it and say, “Oh, that?!” So I’ve benefited from that experience. (laughs)
2. Ice Hockey: A sports game released for NES in March 1988.
I see… (laughs) What were each of your specific roles on Super Mario Kart?
Sugiyama: I was in charge of design, so I did planning and background design and so forth.
And you also oversaw the characters, didn’t you?
How about you, Konno-san?
Konno: I was largely the director regarding technological aspects, so I was involved in matters such as gameplay logic. Of course, we had dedicated programmers, but I was also in charge of things related to the game system.
Exactly how many people made Super Mario Kart?
Konno: Not many.
Sugiyama: A total of eight people.
Does that include Shigeru Miyamoto, the producer?
Sugiyama: Yes. For the time, that was quite a lot! (laughs)
Just eight people was a lot?
Konno: Ice Hockey only had five!
Oh… How long did development take?
Konno: About one year?
Sugiyama: Yes, I think so.
You made such a memorable game in just one year?
F-ZERO for Two Players
How did you come to make Super Mario Kart in the first place?
Konno: Miyamoto assigned us the task of making F-ZERO  for two players.
Sugiyama: F-ZERO was a racing game for a single player.
3. F-ZERO : A racing game released as a launch title for the Super Nintendo Entertainment System in August 1991.
Super NES had two controllers, so I suppose he wanted to make use of them both.
But if it started as F-ZERO for two players, then it had nothing to do with Mario!
Konno: That’s right. We didn’t at all have the concept of a racing game with Mario. We began with experiments for a multiplayer F-ZERO game. In F-ZERO, you race at over 400 kilometers per hour along incredibly long straight lines, but we realized that splitting the screen into upper and lower portions for two players to do the same thing was out of the question.
Sugiyama: Due to hardware constraints, it was impossible to display tracks with long straight lines in two windows on the screen.
Konno: If you look back at the Super Mario Kart tracks, you’ll understand. Instead of tracks with long straight lines, the track designs are compact, with lots of twists and turns so they fit well within a square.
Due to hardware constraints, you had to make sort of squiggly, tightly woven tracks?
Konno: Yes. And about the only vehicle that made sense within such tightly woven courses were karts.
I see! Because of track design, it was only natural for you to adopt karts, which run much slower.
When I thought about why you chose karts, I imagined it was because you wanted to show the characters who were driving!
Sugiyama: No, that had nothing to do with it!
Konno: Early on, we had young men in overalls driving the karts.
Sugiyama: We put helmets on them and used different colors to differentiate between them. But looking from behind, we couldn’t tell who was who.
Konno: They were all wearing overalls, so they had the same form.
Sugiyama: And it’s pixel art, so…
Konno: With eight nearly identical guys racing, it’d be boring. Until then, we’d been focused on the system, so then we began to focus on design.
Sugiyama: We wondered what kinds of characters would be recognizable from behind and gave Mario a try.
You put in Mario as a test.
Sugiyama: And it looked like it just might work!
A 10th-Anniversary Special Appearance?
Didn’t you consider completely new characters instead of Mario?
Sugiyama: Well, it needed to be someone anyone would recognize from behind, so…
Konno: You would be able to tell immediately whether it was Mario or Luigi by the colors red and green. They looked good visually, and we were able to clearly differentiate their characteristics, so we thought it was a good choice.
Thus, you decided to have Mario and Luigi show up. How did you decide on the other characters?
Sugiyama: Since it had to be clear who was who from behind, we decided on Yoshi, Peach, Toad, Koopa Troopa, Bowser and Donkey Kong Jr.
Did you decide quickly?
Sugiyama: Relatively so.
Even Koopa Troopa?
Sugiyama: I think we decided on him last. (laughs) At the end, I think we weren’t sure what to do and threw in Koopa Troopa.
Konno: We never even tried rendering Goomba. (laughs)
Well, he doesn’t have hands, so he couldn’t grip the wheel! (laughs)
Sugiyama: Which basically left only Koopa Troopa! (laughs)
I wonder, though, why did you use Donkey Kong Jr. and not Donkey Kong?
Sugiyama: Yeah, why was that?
In an interview with Miyamoto-san in a Super Mario Kart strategy guide from 25 years ago, he said it was because it was the 10th anniversary of the Donkey Kong Jr. game.
Konno: Oh? Really? (laughs)
The arcade game of Donkey Kong Jr.  came out in 1982, so that would indeed have made it the 10th anniversary.
4. Donkey Kong Jr. : An action game that appeared in video game arcades in 1982. The original Donkey Kong game appeared in arcades in 1981.
Sugiyama: I think another reason was that Donkey Kong Jr. wears a shirt, so he would be easier to design.
Konno: Mario wears overalls because they’re good for pixel animation, and I think that line of thought led us to choose Donkey Kong Jr., too.
Yes, I suppose so.
Konno: It was that plus the 10th anniversary! (laughs)