Some theories on Super Mario Odyssey design influences

The Electronic Entertainment Expo – E3 –  united millions of video game developers and fans this week. Nintendo’s efforts stood-out from the crowd. Their new game, titled Mario Odyssey, received some attention. We finally had a chance to see the game play.

I want to dig a bit deeper into some of the ideas and inspirations behind Nintendo’s new Sand Kingdom in Super Mario Odyssey. The Kingdom introduces a rusty red, cold and dry desert level.

Eagle-eyed gaming and theory enthusiasts might notice several cultural facts and references from myths influencing the design when Mario arrives in Tostarena Town.

In this post, I wanted to touch on what some of these influences are.

Samantha Robertson, Assistant Manager of Product marketing at Nintendo Treehouse, interviewed Nintendo’s developers. Robertson’s interviews reveal some of the main design influences:

  • The game play foundations stem from the dense but fascinating spaces Nintendo created in Super Mario 64, and Super Mario Sunshine.
  • The concept “Hakoniwa”, which translates into “Miniature Garden”, inspired the overall game design.

Nintendo have created a set of miniature gardens to play in.

They want to invite their fans to explore a miniature version of the real world, and it is likely their aim is to invite their fans to see the familiar world in a new, playful way.

Some Super Mario Odyssey character designs callback to past Nintendo titles. Specifically, the “Moe-aye”, inspired by Easter Island Moai statues.

“Moe-aye” are the basic sounds of the word Moai, which makes pronouncing the word easy. Super Mario Land for the Gameboy featured these statues. It is likely that “Moe-aye”
connect back to Nintendo’s early handheld Mario games.

The addition of the sunglasses is also a fun way to re-imagine the Moai statues.

Moeaye

Nintendo connects events of the past with its stylish new game in a playful way. Mario encounters a stone creature called a “Jaxi”, which resembles an ancient Mayan mask.

There is a reason for this resemblance:

It’s likely “Jaxi” combines the words jaguar and taxi.

Mario can call a ride from these stone Jaguars to get a lift across the vast red sands at breakneck speeds. This explains the taxi part of the name. But why a jaguar?

Mayan mythology regards the Jaguar as a symbol representing the energy of the sun. Similar to the sun god Apollo from the Greek pantheon, the Jaguar sun deity, called Ahau-Kin, travelled across the sky during the day.

My theory: this myth inspires the “Jaxi”

Like if Apollo became a ride share driver with his sun chariot.

Another playful idea from Nintendo that reaches back into past traditions.

Jaxi

Samantha Robertson says that Super Mario Odyssey embodies all the great experiences that the development team had while travelling overseas from Japan:

“[Mario Odyssey is] a love letter to our experiences travelling”

Kenta Motokura – Super Mario Odyssey Director, and Developer at Nintendo.

Nintendo’s Youtube channel contains all the E3 announcements from this week. Including the footage of the Sand Kingdom, and New Donk City, which I’ve added at the end of this post.

For more gaming content on the Wallflyer and you can follow me, Joe, on twitter @thewallflyer.

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How to play Super Mario Bros. themes on piano

After receiving a book of Super Mario music arranged for piano, I started to play the World 1-1 theme, and wanted to play faster to recreate the sunny, jazz-like sound of the Mario theme.

I am going to need more practice first though.

This post covers a bit about the composer of the piece, and a few practical steps on how to go about playing Mario piano themes.

Memorising the melodic part of the music, and the supporting bass notes of this arrangement is essential to eventually performing the piece at the intended speed. The Mario music composer, Koji Kondo, intended the music to be played like a faster, jazz-like piece.

Koji Kondo’s goal in composing Super Mario Bros. music is to create a jazz-like sound, without recruiting difficult chords. This style is one of reasons Kondo is considered a mastermind, with his music compositions remarked as milestones in game music design.

Jazz is usually played fast with improvisation, which requires talent or time spent practicing scores. Influences from other sources are also a large part of the Jazz-like sound. Kondo started learning music on the electric organ, which he pushed to produce a hard rock sound in high school. Practice, however, is just as important as talent or musical influence.

Breaking down music into sections, and rehearsing those parts individually, is a good strategy when learning a new piece for the first time.

The version of the Super Mario Bros. themes I have has broken the music down into different sections. It’s easier to learn any new piece of music after dividing the sections up, and focusing on one at a time. Later, build the piece up, adding in each new section.

Playing the Right hand part separately, and then the left hand part separately before putting the two parts together, is also a good strategy.

The melodic part of the piece, usually carried in the Treble clef part of the music stave (the five lines and four spaces the notes appear on), is played in the right hand. Since Mario’s theme is so well know, the right hand is what will create the familiar sound.

Play this part separately from left hand first. Bass clef notes usually provide support to the piece. Music with a resonant bass clef added gives a sense of combined ensemble – a choir, or an orchestra, working together. Eventually, look for the notes where the left and right hands play at the same time, and start to practice the two parts together.

For more information on Koji Kondo’s background, glitterberri.com has an interview on his life and music.

Alfred music has copies of the Super Mario Series for Piano.

Pop Culture – German Myths in Django Unchained.

German mythology plays a huge role in the Marvel universe – Loki and Thor’s battle over an artefact from Asgard summarises the The Avengers plot succinctly. It was interesting to see even more Teutonic myths and folklore act as a framework for Quentin Tarantino’s Django Unchained.

Also, I’ve mentioned German and Teutonic myth, and they are almost referring to the same thing – Teutonic myth is any kind of story about gods, goddesses, and heroes from the German region of early Europe – around the 4th Century BC. Characters like Brunhilde and Siegfried featured prominently among theme. It makes sense that Christopher Waltz’ character, Dr. King Schultz, would say that these two characters and chiefly beloved.

Around a campfire, the winter wind carries the mournful sound of a coyote or wolf howl, and Dr. Schultz begins to tell Django the tale of Siegfried and Brunhilde – This is where Django begins his journey as a new Siegfried on the way to rescue Broomhilda (a mispronunciation of “Brunhilde”). It has been noted by the IMDB community, however, that the version of the story Schultz tells is impossible. He tells Richard Wagners’ version from his opera Der Ring des Nibelungen – The Ring of the Nibelungen. The opera was first performed in 1869, while the film is set in 1858. These historical changes, I think, are in place to create a unique, western universe, which acts as a backdrop for the story – they are effective anachronisms. It’s a lose, fable versions of history, designed to tell the revenge story without obstacles. This is similar to how the Kill Bill films appeared to be set in a universe of assassins detached slightly from our own reality – The airlines and motor cycles in this universe had sword holders built into their seats for example.

The core highlights of Wagner’s opera are retold – Siegfried climbs a mountain, fights a dragon, and walks through a ring of hellfire to rescue Brunhilde. Shultz accurately recalls another key detail. He says that Siegfried climbed the mountain, and slew the dragon because he was not afraid of them. In the original myth, Siegfried received a sword sometimes called Nothung, which could only be used by a hero who was not afraid.

Across other games, comics, and television in pop-culture, different genres and characters follow this structure. Super Mario Brothers and Adventure Time, for example, both employ a general “Rescue the princess” trope, which is comparable.  Tarantino has expertly reinvented and adapted the myth of Siegfried and Brunhilde, giving Django Unchained a foundation in prominent mythology to build from.

Django Unchained is written and directed by Quentin Tarantino, and distributed by Sony Pictures