In thinking about the origins of classic video game characters, who better to start with than Mario? The chubby Italian plumber bounced his way into the top spot in the video game hall of fame in the 80’s and has broken more records than he has power up boxes in the decades since. Hailed as the video game icon, Mario’s history is just as endearing as his famous catchphrases, stature, and gaggle of friends.
Around the time of the video game crash in 1983, Miyamoto understood that players were growing tiresome of the similar designs of games that we’re being rapidly churned out in the industry. Recognising the need for players to have a human character to connect with through the game rather than just a spaceship, he began working a carpenter character into his Donkey Kong game. And so the concept of Mario was born.
Originally named Jumpman, Mario’s original carpentry profession was developed to fit with the construction site setting of Donkey Kong. When he was granted his own title, however, his career path took a turn towards plumbing. It has been said that Mario’s career was an effort to make him look more hard working, and therefore relatable to the player. A colleague apparently mentioned to Miyamoto that the character looked more like a plumber, and so Mario Bros. was based in the sewers of New York City.
Mario’s iconic outfit was originally reversed, with a red jumpsuit accompanied by a blue shirt. The character needed to stand out against his background and so his prominent nose, brightly coloured clothing and light-heartedly Italian moustache were necessary. Miyamoto completed the outfit with a red cap for simplicity’s sake, to work around the issue of animating Mario’s hair every time he jumped.
This appearance has developed with the abolishment of technical limitations. As the technology available for video games improved, so did Mario’s characterisation. The colours of his clothes were reversed to what we see today, his cap took on the iconic ‘M’ marking, and his facial features became more animated.
Charles Martinet is the prominent voice of Mario, and has been working for Nintendo since 1990. Originally uninvited to the auditions, he rocked up late to a video game trade show and asked to read the part. He originally planned a stereotypically husky Italian voice but developed the idea to become more child friendly, making his voice light, bouncy, and soft. The legend goes that Martinet’s audition tape was the only one sent to Nintendo, but it must have been lengthly as Martinet stated that he maintained the Mario voice until the tape ran out. Martinet started as the voice of Mario at video game trade shows through the “Mario in Real Time” system – a motion capture interactive display in which groups of people would approach a 3D Mario head on a screen, watched on camera by Martinet, who would then have his movements synchronised with the image of his Italian character to respond to them.
Mario is the proud icon of the best selling video game series of all time and has become one of the most widely recognised symbols of digital entertainment. With over 115 title games and countless other crossovers and references throughout the video game industry (everyone chuckled when the line “it’s me Mario” was cheekily thrown into Assassin’s Creed 2), his plumbing business has certainly had to take the back seat for a while.