Skip to main content

One of Nintendo’s top designers says he always wanted a tool like Super Mario Maker

One of Nintendo’s top designers says he always wanted a tool like Super Mario Maker


Takashi Tezuka reflects on the journey from the original Super Mario Bros. to the latest Switch release

Share this story

Super Mario Maker 2

When Takashi Tezuka served as assistant director on the very first Super Mario Bros. for the NES, creating levels was a laborious, time-consuming process. First, a designer would sketch out their vision for a level on graph paper. Then they would bring the drawing to a programmer, who would try to translate it into the actual game. This process would happen multiple times, as the team adjusted each stage to get them just right. “That cycle really took a long time,” Tezuka explains.

It’s a far cry from his most recent project where Tezuka served as producer on Super Mario Maker 2 for the Nintendo Switch, which launches today. Like its predecessor, it’s more of a tool than a game, an intuitive and playful way for players to craft their own 2D Super Mario levels and share them with others online. Players can create obstacles and then test them out in seconds, and it’s all done via the Switch’s touchscreen. It’s the kind of tool that Tezuka would’ve killed for when he was designing games in the early 1980s.

“I’m always thinking about that,” he says with a laugh.

Nintendo Kids Corner Event At E3 2014
Takashi Tezuka (in red, to the left of Mario) at E3 in 2014.
Photo by Bob Riha, Jr./Nintendo via Getty Images

Despite its current status as the Switch’s big summer release, Super Mario Maker didn’t actually start life as a commercial product. Instead, it began as an experimental prototype within Nintendo’s tools team, who were trying to make it easier and faster for designers to put together 2D Mario levels. As soon as he saw the prototype, Tezuka — who started at Nintendo in 1984, and has worked on nearly every Super Mario game, serving as director on everything from Super Mario World on the SNES to the mobile Super Mario Run — realized that it could be something much bigger. Not only was the tool intuitive, it was also a blast to play. (When asked if that internal tool still exists for making Nintendo games, Tezuka says “it’s actually a secret.”)

The first Super Mario Maker launched on the Wii U in 2015, and it almost immediately spawned a dedicated audience of would-be level designers. Users created everything from punishing death traps to inventive levels that used goombas and piranha plants to tell a story. Tezuka distinctly remembers seeing someone make a working calculator in the game, and he was always impressed by the automated levels, Rube Goldberg-style contraptions that pushed players along without any input. “We knew that those types of courses were possible,” he says, “but seeing the specific shapes they took, and the lengths that people went to to make them, it really took us by surprise.”

For the sequel, there were a number of elements that didn’t make it into the first game that the team wanted to revisit on the Switch. One was online multiplayer play, and another was a more robust story mode that offers more than 100 pre-built levels to play from. There are, of course, new building blocks for budding designers, and Nintendo also added a very detailed series of lessons on game design, covering everything from specific mechanics to philosophies on game difficulty. It’s so in-depth, in fact, that Tezuka occasionally wondered if it was okay to give away so much of the company’s “course-making secret recipe.”

Super Mario Maker 2

For the sequel, the team also had the advantage of being able to observe the community from the original game, and use that data to shape the changes for Super Mario Maker 2. “As developers, we are always keeping an eye on what people are doing and the courses they’re making,” Tezuka says. “We take that in and it inevitably becomes a part of what goes into the game’s development. I think it’s probably safe to say that the biggest way it influences us is just being reminded of the fun of creation.” Without getting into specifics, Tezuka says that many of the changes for the sequel involve quality-of-life updates, in particular ensuring “that the environment we’ve created for people to create courses and play courses in is one they feel comfortable in, one they feel safe in.”

Photo by Amelia Holowaty Krales / The Verge.

Super Mario Run is going to introduce millions of more people to the fun of Mario.” - Mario creator Shigeru Miyamoto on bringing the series to iPhone

There have been more than 20 mainline Super Mario titles released over the years, and Tezuka believes that the enduring appeal of 2D Mario games comes down to their accessibility. “They’re immediately easy to understand,” he explains. “They’re simple: you see it and you know what you need to do, you know where you need to go. And so many, many people are able to understand and play those games right away.”

Meanwhile, for Tezuka himself, who has spent decades with Nintendo’s block-hopping plumber, you might think he would get bored working on the same series for long. But he says that he’s constantly inspired by advances in hardware: whenever he learns about the next Nintendo platform in development, it always gives him new game ideas. That could be anything from the advent of 3D graphics that led to Super Mario 64, or the touchscreen-centric controls that shaped Super Mario Run.

“I really enjoy that kind of challenge each time,” he says.

Today’s Storystream

Feed refreshed 18 minutes ago Not just you

Thomas Ricker18 minutes ago
The Simpsons pays tribute to Chrome’s dino game.

Season 34 of The Simpsons kicked off on Sunday night with an opening credits “couch gag” based on the offline dino game from Google’s Chrome browser. Cactus, cactus, couch, d’oh! Perfect.

Thomas Ricker7:29 AM UTC
Table breaks before Apple Watch Ultra’s sapphire glass.

”It’s the most rugged and capable Apple Watch yet,” said Apple at the launch of the Apple Watch Ultra (read The Verge review here). YouTuber TechRax put that claim to the test with a series of drop, scratch, and hammer tests. Takeaways: the titanium case will scratch with enough abuse, and that flat sapphire front crystal is tough — tougher than the table which cracks before the Ultra fails — but not indestructible.

Emma RothSep 25
Rihanna’s headlining the Super Bowl Halftime Show.

Apple Music’s set to sponsor the Halftime Show next February, and it’s starting out strong with a performance from Rihanna. I honestly can’t remember which company sponsored the Halftime Show before Pepsi, so it’ll be nice to see how Apple handles the show for Super Bowl LVII.

Emma RothSep 25
Starlink is growing.

The Elon Musk-owned satellite internet service, which covers all seven continents including Antarctica, has now made over 1 million user terminals. Musk has big plans for the service, which he hopes to expand to cruise ships, planes, and even school buses.

Musk recently said he’ll sidestep sanctions to activate the service in Iran, where the government put restrictions on communications due to mass protests. He followed through on his promise to bring Starlink to Ukraine at the start of Russia’s invasion, so we’ll have to wait and see if he manages to bring the service to Iran as well.

Welcome to the new Verge

Revolutionizing the media with blog posts

Nilay PatelSep 13
External Link
Emma RothSep 25
We might not get another Apple event this year.

While Apple was initially expected to hold an event to launch its rumored M2-equipped Macs and iPads in October, Bloomberg’s Mark Gurman predicts Apple will announce its new devices in a series of press releases, website updates, and media briefings instead.

I know that it probably takes a lot of work to put these polished events together, but if Apple does pass on it this year, I will kind of miss vibing to the livestream’s music and seeing all the new products get presented.

External Link
Emma RothSep 24
California Governor Gavin Newsom vetoes the state’s “BitLicense” law.

The bill, called the Digital Financial Assets Law, would establish a regulatory framework for companies that transact with cryptocurrency in the state, similar to New York’s BitLicense system. In a statement, Newsom says it’s “premature to lock a licensing structure” and that implementing such a program is a “costly undertaking:”

A more flexible approach is needed to ensure regulatory oversight can keep up with rapidly evolving technology and use cases, and is tailored with the proper tools to address trends and mitigate consumer harm.

The Verge
Andrew WebsterSep 24
Get ready for some Netflix news.

At 1PM ET today Netflix is streaming its second annual Tudum event, where you can expect to hear news about and see trailers from its biggest franchises, including The Witcher and Bridgerton. I’ll be covering the event live alongside my colleague Charles Pulliam-Moore, and you can also watch along at the link below. There will be lots of expected names during the stream, but I have my fingers crossed for a new season of Hemlock Grove.