Super Mario 3D Land - An inspiring development to find joy in the face of national tragedy

When we came to the GDC panel about how Super Mario 3D Land was created, we expected to gain interesting insight into the game, some old school Nintendo wisdom, and even some funny anecdotes. That was all there, but we got something more. We got to hear how 3D Land came into existence in the wake of the devastating tsunami Japan suffered last year, and how the development team worked to bring joy to its native country with its new game.

3D Land's director Koichi Hayashida started his presentation talking about some of the ideas his team threw together when planning 3D Land. Ideas that would never be used, but spurred creativity nonetheless. He talked about Mario changing sizes to the extreme, replacing Princess Peach's face with a picture of your girlfriend, and squashing a cockroach with a touch panel. Perhaps nuttiest of all the rejected concepts was "pro skater Mario."

Hayashida was quick to point out that none of these went past early concepts, but he didn't see it as a waste. Even if those were never used, the mental exercise for his team was invaluable. (Hayashida also jokingly cautioned the audience not to get spread rumors that Mario the skateboarding roach killer was Nintendo's next game.)

Examples like that were important to Hayashida to highlight the need to spread joy during development. He then went over the history of 3D Mario games and his own personal experience with the series, where he started as a level designer, later heading up Mario Galaxy 2 and 3D Land. He even revealed the funny trivia that he did the voice for Galaxy boss Major Burrows.

Hayashida went on to the more technical aspects of creating 3D Land to take advantage of the 3D visuals. He went onto more technical points about camera placement in 3D and making it work with the number of objects on screens. He even mentioned how the top down view interested him and reminded him of Zelda, which is why he added a Zelda-inspired stage to the final game.

As Hayashida went on, he kept coming back to a man that was a clear inspiration to him: Shigeru Miyamoto. He referenced Miyamoto's need to let the player enjoy the game the way they want. He touched on Miyamoto's approval of items like P-Wings that allow players to skip a stage if that's what they need to have fun with the title. Hayashida seemed most inspired by Miyamoto when it came to finding happiness with one's job.

Hayashida talked about Miyamoto's philosophy of "enjoy everything," and he tries to make it a part of his own team, reminding them (and his audience at GDC) that games are fun and making them should be as well. He talked about how Miyamoto uses "enjoy everything" in his own hobbies, creating special little rules for diversions like swimming. Things like this highlight how the games he creates for himself are infused with the same sense of fun as the games he makes for the rest of us.

After that was done, things took a somber turn as Hayashida took the audience back to March 11 of last year, when a massive earthquake caused a devastating tsunami, resulting in a harrowing natural disaster for Japan. Hayashida and the 3D Land team are based in Tokyo and felt the effects of the initial quake, the aftershocks, and the general state of panic that followed, even briefly fearing death. He wondered what he could ever return to enjoying work with such a tragedy hanging over his head.

However, soon enough Hayashida left that darkness to try and redouble his team's efforts to enjoy creation once more. The team behind 3D Land was recommitted to creating a game that could give smiles to a nation that needed it more than ever. They soon found themselves playtesting 3D Land in groups at least once a day, reminding the devs of their happy childhood gaming years. He ultimately found that enjoying work again granted him renew strength when making the game.

Was his strategy a success? Hayashida ended the panel with this comment he received from a Japanese player. "This game has been like a light finally shining into what has been such a depressing time. I feel like this game has given me the power to go on living." It was an incredibly touching moment, adding weight to Hayashida's final comment about what making 3D Land taught him (and what we ended up learning too): "Enjoying making something leads to making something enjoyable. So let's all go forth and enjoy doing what we do."

Henry Gilbert

Henry Gilbert is a former GamesRadar+ Editor, having spent seven years at the site helping to navigate our readers through the PS3 and Xbox 360 generation. Henry is now following another passion of his besides video games, working as the producer and podcast cohost of the popular Talking Simpsons and What a Cartoon podcasts.