Super Mario Bros. main character originally started out as...a huge square

A portion of an Iwata Asks: Vol. 2 interview with Iwata-san, Tezuka-san and Nakago-san…

Iwata: How did Super Mario and Zelda come about in the first place?

Tezuka: The initial concept behind Super Mario was that we wanted a dynamic, athletic kind of game that would be set on land, sea and air and that would feature a large character.

Iwata: I’ve heard that the original plan was to have a huge Mario.

Tezuka: Right, we wanted a Mario that was twice the size of the regular one. But I don’t really recollect whether or not we’d decided to use Mario from the start.

Iwata: Do you think you could try to remember? (laughs)

Tezuka: I’m certain that at the start, we had a 16 X 32 pixel square that moved about…

Nakago: At first, you moved a square object about a single non-scrolling screen.

Iwata: Really? So it all started with a square object that you could move around a single screen?

Nakago: That’s right. At the time, having a square that moved was groundbreaking. SRD had experimented with a square object that simply moved in a wave-like manner.

Iwata: And that’s where Super Mario began?

Nakago: Right. That’s why at that time, you couldn’t even jump.

Iwata: And why did that square object become Mario?

Tezuka: I more or less remember this one! (laughs) Next door to the development room was the Sales and Marketing Division. The head of that department at the time was a pretty approachable guy, and though it might be hard to imagine it happening nowadays, I got him to show me the sales figures.

Iwata: At that point, you were a new employee who had just joined Nintendo.

Tezuka: Right. I was still in my first year at the company.

Iwata: So a new employee just went up to the head of the Sales Division and asked to be shown the sales figures?

Tezuka: Well, at lunchtime I’d often wander to various places and chat to people from other departments. So I’d become friendly with people that way. Anyway, I was shown the sales figures and I saw that although Mario Bros. on the Famicom19 had been released over a year previously, it was still selling consistently well.

Iwata: So you saw those sales figures and a light bulb lit up above your head?

Tezuka: Right. I thought: “This Mario is pretty popular.” I recall that I mentioned to Miyamoto-san that Mario was selling consistently well and he said, “Mario seems like the way to go.”

Full interview here

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