The Video Game History Hour kicks off its inaugural episode with Mr. Gaming Historian himself, Norman Caruso, who recently published a nearly 45-minute long YouTube documentary about the 1992 Super Nintendo title, Mario Paint. By providing the context of history, Norm ‘paints’ us a full picture of how and why this classic title came to be, who it was made for, and what this program inspired to come after.
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The Video Game History Hour music is Blippy Trance by Kevin MacLeod (incompetech.com) Licensed under Creative Commons: By Attribution 4.0 License: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/
Video Game History Foundation 00:09
Kelsey Lewin 00:10
Hello, and welcome to the first episode of the Video Game History Hour: Presented by the Video Game History Foundation. My name is Kelsey Lewin. I am the co-director of the Video Game History Foundation. I’m here with Frank Cifaldi, the founder and co-director of the Video Game History Foundation. And because this is our very first time doing this, and we don’t have a snappy intro nailed down, I thought it might be a good idea to get started with a brief intro of what you can expect from the podcast. So Frank, why don’t you tell us a little bit about how this is gonna work?
Frank Cifaldi 00:37
Oh, putting me on the spot?
Kelsey Lewin 00:38
Frank Cifaldi 00:39
So the premise is that every episode of the Video Game History Hour is gonna feature a guest who can teach us a little bit about video game history. We want these shows to sort of tell you a story and teach a little bit more than you might have already known, even if it’s a game, or a premise, or a subject that you’re already familiar with. Each episode we’re going to bring on what I consider an expert on something. Maybe that’s going to be a content creator who just did some history, might be a game developer who might tell us specifically about the making of a product, could be a video game historian. All kinds of guests, I think.
Kelsey Lewin 01:22
Yeah, and of course who better to kick off a podcast about video game history then YouTube sensation Mr. Gaming historian himself, Norm Caruso. Norm recently published a nearly 45-minute long YouTube documentary about the 1992 Super Nintendo title, Mario Paint. Welcome to the Video Game History Hour, Norm!
Norman Caruso 01:42
Hey, thanks for having me! I’m honored to be on the show. I’ve been supporting the foundation for a while. Since you guys started I think.
Kelsey Lewin 01:49
I think that’s right. I can look that up though, and I prove you wrong.
Frank Cifaldi 01:53
I could look that up too. Hang on. [Laughs]
Kelsey Lewin 01:55
And embarrass you, first thing.
Norman Caruso 01:57
Well, you could I guess.
Kelsey Lewin 02:00
No, you probably did. I mean, we had a lot of people sign up in kind of that first month there. I bet you’re on there.
Frank Cifaldi 02:07
February 26th of 2017.
Kelsey Lewin 02:09
That’s basically almost day one.
Frank Cifaldi 02:12
Norman Caruso 02:12
Kelsey Lewin 02:12
Frank Cifaldi 02:13
You didn’t start at the Discord level, but you moved up eventually. [Laughs]
Kelsey Lewin 02:18
Called out! Geez.
Norman Caruso 02:19
Yeah. Well, you know, I make $1 per view on YouTube. So, no problem moving up tiers.
Kelsey Lewin 02:24
Frank Cifaldi 02:29
So Norm, why don’t you go ahead and set the stage for us here. Tell us a little bit about Mario Paint and how it got started.
Norman Caruso 02:38
Sure. So Mario Paint – as you said – 1992 Super Nintendo game, was probably the best console art program for its time, and maybe ever. But it was born out of a changing landscape in the video game industry. It’s funny how all these different things are connected in history. So you see a huge boom in births in the United States. You see, you’re gonna have an influx of children coming of age and needing education, you have computer prices coming down, and all of a sudden they may be competing with consoles. Then you have criticism from parents who think Nintendo is evil, and it’s ruining their children’s lives. So all these things come together at once, and Nintendo has to come up with a program that will be good for children, it’ll make parents happy, and it will say, “Hey, Nintendo can do these things that a computer can do too, and it’s way cheaper.” So that was the concept of Mario Paint.
Frank Cifaldi 04:00
Just thinking back throughout video game history, almost a repeat of the early 80’s when all of the consoles were like, “Hey, we can be computers too.”
Norman Caruso 04:09
Yeah, yeah. Let’s make all these add ons. Let’s, “Oh, you can program on the Atari,” and whatnot. So yeah, very, very similar.
Frank Cifaldi 04:19
Definitely the basic programming environment that you want is an Atari 2600.
Kelsey Lewin 04:24
Frank Cifaldi 04:26
I don’t know, two bytes of RAM. [Laughs] Something that I found interesting that was new to me, watching this video, was your explanation that Nintendo actually donated – I believe it was $3 million – to MIT. Can you tell us about that?
Norman Caruso 04:45
Yes. So MIT was doing a lot of research on using entertainment to educate children, and educate them in a way so it feels like they’re not learning. Because their theory was if you have something, and the kid knows that they’re learning, they’re less likely to do it. So you kind of, I guess, have to trick the kids into learning. One researcher had done a lot of work with Legos. So the kids build stuff with Legos and they kind of learn about architecture and engineering through Legos. This research group turned their attention towards video games, they did a lot of studies on SimCity and Tetris, and how it is teaching kids about math and city management and resources. Ultimately, I think it was kind of a PR move for Nintendo, but Nintendo said, “Okay, we’re gonna give this research group $3 million for studying how Nintendo games can be made educational.” There was there were no stipulations either Nintendo didn’t say, “Okay, you have to make a video game for us.” They just gave them $3 million. I really do think it was more of a PR move than anything, because they were getting a lot of heat from parents about, “Nintendo is rotting kids’ brains.”
Frank Cifaldi 06:33
Yeah, and they did quite a few things, thinking back, to try to combat that. I think the most famous example is… Howard Phillips is actually a volunteer for the Video Game History Foundation in a sort of weird life events thing for me, [Laughs] growing up reading Nintendo Power. They liked to tour Howard around as sort of the the cheery face of video games, explaining how, “Video games are not bad, they’re actually good, and even adults can play them!” So a lot of Nintendo history is trying to convince the world through PR that actually these products are good for people.
Kelsey Lewin 07:16
And I think that Norm talked a little bit in his video about how even parents agreed that there was potential there, because they saw that their kids were so into video games that you know, if you could trick them into learning that that would be a really good opportunity for them to get even more learning in the home.
Norman Caruso 07:33
Right, and it’s funny, there’s there was an article about “the dark horrors of Nintendo” and I think the article mentions “Ninja Kid and Contra” My first thought was “Ninja Kid? That’s the example they came up with?”
Frank Cifaldi 07:50
Norman Caruso 07:51
But yeah, psychologists and parents did come together on that point of, “Video games are here, our kids are obsessed with them. We can use them as a tool for learning as well.”
Frank Cifaldi 08:06
Right, and we’re not quite on the cusp of, Doom, Mortal Kombat, Night Trap, that sort of era but we’re getting close around 1990. So it’s a maybe more of a preventative measure that sometimes than an actual response.
Norman Caruso 08:22
Yeah. They did a lot of studies on, “Oh, my kids spending way too much time playing video games.” So it looks like a video game addiction. “Oh, and they’re they’re becoming more irritable when I say ‘You can’t play video games anymore.'” I don’t think it was necessarily, strictly about, “These video games are so violent.” It was kind of a bunch of stuff coming together. Obviously some people did think even Super Mario Brothers was too violent.
Kelsey Lewin 08:51
Frank Cifaldi 08:52
Sure. I mean, those are turtles! You can’t step on turtles.
Kelsey Lewin 08:56
You’re squishing things! You can’t be squishing things.
Frank Cifaldi 09:00
This is making me think of a product that came out, I’m pretty sure around this time, called the Homework First. Are you both familiar with this?
Kelsey Lewin 09:07
Norman Caruso 09:07
I am not familiar with this.
Frank Cifaldi 09:09
[Laughs] So the Homework First was actually – I don’t think it was a padlock, I think it was a combination lock for the cartridge mechanism on the NES.
Norman Caruso 09:22
Okay, I have seen this.
Frank Cifaldi 09:24
Yeah. [Laughs] It was called the Homework First. Yeah, it’s actually a really good name for this product! “The Homework First.” So that’s sort of setting the stage for where Nintendo is, as we’re coming into the early 90s as maybe the Super Nintendo is about to debut. Do we know much about where Mario Paint as a concept came from?
Kelsey Lewin 09:28
It’s a great name.
Norman Caruso 09:53
We don’t know much. We do know that it was directed and designed by an employee at Nintendo named Hirofumi Matsuoka. He joined Nintendo as a graphic designer, this was in 1985 if I recall. This was when the Famicom and NES are all of a sudden a huge thing. So they said, “Okay, well, you’re not going to do design work anymore, you have to help us make video games, because that’s where all the money is now.” So he did a lot of work on Metroid – I think that’s what he’s most known for, is the Metroid series – and Super Mario Land. Then his first director job was Mario Paint. It was, from what I can gather from context clues from the interviews he’s done, it really was a product to compete with the personal computer.
Kelsey Lewin 10:55
That’s interesting. So you talk about how the price of the Super Nintendo once they slashed it down to $99. Then the Mario Paint program was $60 – right? – and how much cheaper that was than a personal computer of the day. If it had maybe beat it by like 100 bucks or whatever, maybe not a huge deal, but that was 20% the cost of a personal computer in some cases?
Norman Caruso 11:24
I did some research into, “Okay, how much did a computer cost around this time?” I think the cheapest one I found – and this was by no means a good computer – but maybe like $600-$700.
Kelsey Lewin 11:39
Norman Caruso 11:40
And a lot of times it didn’t come with a monitor. So you got the computer but you couldn’t actually use it.
Kelsey Lewin 11:46
Well, Super Nintendo doesn’t come with a monitor either. [Laughs]
Norman Caruso 11:49
Frank Cifaldi 11:50
But your house does.
Norman Caruso 11:52
“But surely there’s a television somewhere!” Nintendo definitely pointed this out in their advertising. They had those ads that said, “Send your kid art, music and film school for only 59.95.” Of course, they didn’t add the price of the Super Nintendo in there.
Frank Cifaldi 12:14
Norman Caruso 12:15
I guess they just assumed you had a Super Nintendo.
Kelsey Lewin 12:17
Frank Cifaldi 12:18
And actually, that ad is really interesting to me. That was mostly targeting parents magazines, I think, right?
Norman Caruso 12:27
Yes. Nintendo specifically wanted to target parents. So you see the ad in Parents Magazine, Good Housekeeping, TV Guide. I guess parents read TV Guide back then. [Laughs] Is TV Guide even still around?
Frank Cifaldi 12:44
Oh, my God. I don’t know.
Kelsey Lewin 12:45
They call it Netflix Guide now.
Frank Cifaldi 12:48
Norman Caruso 12:49
That’s it. But yeah, it was part of that effort of, “Okay, we want to make parents happy about Nintendo. Let’s target them with Mario Paint, because surely they can be happy about their kids using an art program.” And learning music too, which is, you know, probably one of the best things about Mario Paint.
Frank Cifaldi 13:10
The reason I bring up the ads is, I don’t know if a lot of people realize this. It’s one of those things where like, you might have false memories: Nintendo did not do print advertising in video game magazines at all in this era. I think the assumption was that video game magazines are basically advertising Nintendo games for free by covering them. So there’s no real need to run ads. There’s no ads for Super Mario World. I mean, there’s not even like an ad for, like, “Buy a Super Nintendo.” They tended to focus their marketing to the trade industry, right? So like video stores, things like that, as opposed to consumers. Then I guess the exception once in a while would be something like this. Although, literally no other examples come to mind for me.
Kelsey Lewin 14:09
Yeah. Well, they did TV commercial spots and that stort of thing.
Norman Caruso 14:14
Oh, for sure. Yes.
Kelsey Lewin 14:15
I mean, Norm pointed out there was a $6.5 million ad campaign for this game specifically.
Norman Caruso 14:22
Kelsey Lewin 14:22
Which feels like a lot. I imagine most of that just goes to commercial costs. But yeah, that would mean, that’s kind of the way that Nintendo stuff was advertised and not in print.
Norman Caruso 14:37
I believe they commissioned Will Vinton which did the California Raisins, I think they commissioned them again to do the Mario Paint stuff. That makes sense, because in the Nintendo Power cover, there’s that clay model of Mario Paint.
Frank Cifaldi 14:51
Oh, that’s true. A friend of ours actually owns that clay model.
Norman Caruso 14:58
Oh, The Art of Nintendo Power.
Frank Cifaldi 15:00
Yes, Stephan Reese. Yes, he used to have a real name, but now hes… [Laughs]
Kelsey Lewin 15:07
He’s now @ArtofNP.
Frank Cifaldi 15:12
It’s kind of funny. He had a Twitter account that was just his name that I think he’s abandoned at this point. He purchased that model and that one, I believe, did not come from Vinton Studios. However, the model for Nintendo Power number one – the famous one with Super Mario slightly off-palette jumping on a mushroom or whatever – that actually did come from an artist to who worked at Vinton. So there’s definitely some continuity there.
Norman Caruso 15:48
Interesting. I was actually trying to figure out, because it was in a press release that Will Vinton was doing this marketing campaign. I was trying to figure out what they did. So I was like, “Okay, well, maybe they did the Nintendo Power cover.” But if that’s not it… There were the Japanese commercials with claymation Mario riding a Super Nintendo mouse, so maybe they did that? Or maybe they just did the commercials and it had nothing to do with claymation. I’m making the connection to claymation.
Frank Cifaldi 16:21
Right, I’m doing the same thing. Like, we are both typecasting Will Vinton Studios, because why would you hire them for anything but claymation? They’re the California Raisins people!
Norman Caruso 16:31
Frank Cifaldi 16:32
They did that holiday special with the dinosaurs. Like, that’s just what they do. So actually, I’m kind of realizing we haven’t talked about – for those listening who don’t know the game – what is Mario Paint?
Norman Caruso 16:47
Mario Paint is an art, animation, and music program for the Super Nintendo. You turn it on, it just gives you a blank canvas with a bunch of drawing tools, and you can draw with it. Then it has a very basic animation program. You can do four-frame, six-frame, or nine-frame animation. It also has a music program. Now you don’t actually use notes, per se, you use little sprites and those represent musical notes and different sounds. You put them on the staff and you can compose music. And it came with examples so you could kind of like understand how it worked. It was just a very cool creative program for the Super Nintendo, and it came with a mouse, which I think is very important because there were art programs before Mario Paint. But they didn’t come with a mouse, and so you couldn’t really draw anything super detailed, or you wanted to it would be very difficult. Art Alive came out on the Genesis before Mario Paint. You had Videomation on the the NES, and I think that had a little animation tool as well, but it was all very basic and it wasn’t super fun. Mario Paint made it fun.
Frank Cifaldi 18:12
Yeah, and I think some of the brilliance of Mario Paint – you kind of alluded to – it is a blank canvas. There’s not really goals, there’s not instructions even, as your video points out. It just kind of has you learn by yourself how things work. It’s designed incredibly intuitively. There are no goals. There’s not, like, a coloring minigame or anything like that. It is just leaving you wide open to express yourself.
Norman Caruso 18:46
Yes, and when I was doing research on Mario Paint, I was curious, “Is there like a secret ending to this game? Is there something I’m missing?”
Kelsey Lewin 18:58
Frank Cifaldi 18:58
Did you look up the TAS?
Norman Caruso 19:02
I determined there really is no secret ending of Mario Paint. But, there is that site Retro Achievements where people make up achievements for older games, and there’s stuff for Mario Paint. It’s like, “Make an animation”, “Make a drawing”, “Complete Gnat Attack level three.”
Kelsey Lewin 19:24
Can you speedrun making an animation in Mario Paint?
Norman Caruso 19:29
Kelsey Lewin 19:30
Norman Caruso 19:31
I think Gnat Attack is the only thing that you could consider: Beat something in Mario Paint. But you know, Mario Paint wasn’t about beating the game. It was to be creative, and learn how to draw, learn how to animate, learn how to make music, and express your creativity. That’s what it was all about.
Kelsey Lewin 19:53
So in this video, you interviewed three different people and they were pretty present throughout the entire video, with additional context and that sort of thing. Can you tell me a little bit about… You know, normally when people do historical videos, they’ll try to interview the people actually involved in the making of the game. That’s obviously not very possible in regards to old Nintendo stuff; those guys aren’t exactly jumping at the chance to talk to random Americans. But you still found a way to get a bunch of interviews in there that I thought were actually pretty interesting. Can you tell me a little bit about what that process was like? How you selected those people, and what you thought it added to the conversation?
Norman Caruso 20:36
Sure. Initially, like you said, I tried to reach out to everybody who worked on Mario Paint in some way. If you actually click on the title screen – on one of the letters – it rolls the staff credits, so that was an easy way for me to see, “Okay, who worked on this game?” I contacted everybody from Nintendo of America and I also tried to contact a few of the developers who worked on the game in Japan. Didn’t hear back from anybody in Japan, which is pretty standard. Nintendo of America, I heard back from most of them.
Frank Cifaldi 21:21
Norman Caruso 21:22
And all of them basically said, “Oh, yeah, I kinda remember that game. Yeah, we didn’t really do anything with it, we just kind of repackaged it and released it.” So they didn’t really have anything to say about it, ’cause Mario Paint didn’t really need to be localized for the North American market. It’s not like stuff had to really be translated in the game, because it’s just a creative program. The only thing they really had to do was figure out how they were going to market the mouse. This was, you know, 25 plus years ago, so a lot of their memories – especially on a game that they didn’t really do much on – they’re like, “Ehh, I don’t really remember much.” So I said, “Okay, I can’t really go that route.” Plus, we were in a COVID pandemic, so I can’t even go interview anybody, really, or people aren’t really comfortable with meeting up at that moment. This was March, April, where we were kind of on lockdown around here. So I said, “Well, I have to do a different angle with this video.” Oddly enough, Mario Paint was a very highly requested topic for me to cover. I didn’t grow up with Mario Paint, but for some reason this game was very special to people and I wanted to figure out why. So that was kind of my angle for bringing in people that just grew up with the game and maybe used it in special ways. So I just did a call out on Twitter. I said, “Hey, if you grew up playing Mario Paint, or you still use Mario Paint in a weird way, I’d love to hear from you.” That’s how I got in contact with a bunch of people that still use Mario Paint today or grew up playing it. I talked with… I want to say, like, 10 people. It was all very helpful, because it gave me good insight into why they love the game and how it helped them in their future careers. I talked to one guy who is a special effects artist on Star Wars today, and he grew up playing Mario Paint. He credits Mario Paint for getting him interested in digital art.
Kelsey Lewin 23:50
Norman Caruso 23:51
Yeah! [Laughs] He did tell a funny story of when he first started doing digital art, he kept using a mouse instead of a pen and all the other artists would make fun of him. He said he was just used to it because he did transition from Mario Paint to a computer with the mouse, and now he’s just doing this with a mouse. So out of those 10 interviews, I narrowed it down to three people, and I wanted to get a good mix of people that use it in creative ways. TomBob, who had one of the first YouTube channels to do Mario Paint music covers. This was back in 2006-2007, so this was the early days of YouTube. Then Jazzy Boho, who incorporated Mario Paint into their filmmaking, which I thought was extremely creative. Jazzy had a lot of great insight as well. Then Benjamin Rivers who’s a game developer who learned kind of the process for game development through Mario Paint, and that was a real surprise to me. Actually doing research on Mario Paint, there’s a lot of developers that credit Mario Paint for getting them into game development.
Frank Cifaldi 25:15
Including people at Nintendo.
Norman Caruso 25:17
Frank Cifaldi 25:19
Which is really cool. I loved the spread between those three guests that you had, showing three very distinct ways, I think, that this game has influenced people. I think I’m with you, I was really fascinated by the idea that for a lot of people – possibly even myself, if I were to really sort of dig – this program might have been the introduction to like how sprites work, right? Or even the notion that you don’t have infinite power on these machines. The limited palette, for example. It’s like what, 15 colors? Something like that. It’s not something that me as a child, when this game came out, would have ever considered having been a limitation, and I think that made me understand that people making these things probably have some limitations.
Norman Caruso 26:25
Yeah, and as I was doing research and talking with people that grew up playing Mario Paint, that became kind of the central theme of the video, which is “limitation breeds creativity.” That was kind of what I wanted to get across with Mario Paint, where people were making these really awesome, creative things in a program that – by today’s standards – is very basic and minimal. That’s what opens up your creativity and that’s what makes it charming, I guess,
Frank Cifaldi 26:54
Just as historians, one very fortunate thing, I think, is something you alluded to earlier, which is that Mario Paint has real credits with actual names.
Norman Caruso 27:06
Yes. Which is… Um…
Frank Cifaldi 27:09
Norman Caruso 27:10
During that time, yeah, it was very rare for Nintendo to do that. Of course, it’s a hidden easter egg in the game, but yeah.
Frank Cifaldi 27:16
Kelsey Lewin 27:17
But the nice thing about that is that sometimes when games had credits, you had to complete the whole game to see that. I mean, that’s all documented now but if you were to try to research something that didn’t have that… I mean, at least you can access those credits from the title screen. It’s a lot less work.
Norman Caruso 27:39
Yes. It was very helpful for me to just click the mouse once, and I can see everyone who worked on the game.
Frank Cifaldi 27:47
I’m sure all three of us tried to do this, but I tried to figure out some sort of lineage from the staff, besides, you know, the obvious, the director of the game. Their programming lineage, and because Nintendo games didn’t tend to have real credits, we just don’t know a lot about the programming lineage of internal Nintendo development. I just could not really find a clear thoroughput of engineering that this fit into nicely, which is kind of frustrating.
Norman Caruso 28:27
Yeah, and that’s one of those pitfalls of research. You kind of hit dead ends on things and it’s very hard with a company like Nintendo where they’re very secretive about that stuff. When you’re making a documentary, you kind of just have to say, “Okay, I gotta move on.” I can’t just go down this rabbit hole.
Frank Cifaldi 28:50
So one name that is easy to trace there is the composer, Kazumi Totaka.
Norman Caruso 28:59
Frank Cifaldi 29:01
Famous for Totaka’s Song, which didn’t make its debut in Mario Paint necessarily. I believe that was in X for the Game Boy.
Kelsey Lewin 29:12
Frank Cifaldi 29:12
But I think this is probably the most famous example of Totaka’s Song and for a lot of us may be the only one we actually stumbled into.
Norman Caruso 29:22
Yeah, it was on the title screen. Again, one of those letters you could – I think it was the ‘O’ – it became a bomb, it blew up the title screen, and then Totaka’s Song would play. He did do an interview and he does mention his work on Mario Paint. I think he does mention that was the only Super Nintendo game he worked on.
Kelsey Lewin 29:44
Is that right? Wow…
Norman Caruso 29:47
And he also mentioned that he did some work on the music program, and the initial idea had always been, “Let’s find a way to arrange sprites to form music.” That was the general concept of the music program. So you get little nuggets here and there from interviews. Totaka is definitely one of the bigger names on that staff credit.
Frank Cifaldi 30:14
God, just arranging colorful, fun images to make a song, that is pinnacle of Nintendo.
Norman Caruso 30:23
Yep. [Laughs] “We’re gonna base it around this general idea and turn it into something.”
Frank Cifaldi 30:30
So, as you pointed out, the game was a huge seller, especially in Japan, right?
Norman Caruso 30:37
Mhm. Yeah, very popular in Japan, that surprised me. When you see Mario Paint is outselling Street Fighter II and Zelda: A Link to the Past? That’s kind of shocking. That’s not something you think about, I guess.
Frank Cifaldi 30:50
Yeah, it just hadn’t occurred to me. I hadn’t seen that commercial you mentioned, either, that was in Japan. I believe, as a claymation Mario moving around.
Norman Caruso 31:00
Yeah, he’s riding the Super Nintendo mouse around. Hootin’ and hollerin’.
Frank Cifaldi 31:05
As one does on a mouse. [Laughs]
Norman Caruso 31:07
Yeah. I don’t know if it was like a mechanical bull kind of thing, or he’s riding a horse, but… Yeah, that was what he was acting like on the mouse.
Kelsey Lewin 31:15
Frank Cifaldi 31:17
So we talked about the legacy among the players of Mario Paint, but I think there’s a really interesting game development legacy within Nintendo as well. Can you talk about that for a minute?
Norman Caruso 31:34
Sure. What do you mean?
Frank Cifaldi 31:35
In terms of the core concept and features of Mario Paint tended to show up pretty quickly, actually, after the original Mario Paint in a sequel that came out on another console.
Norman Caruso 31:51
Ah, yes. The very next console after the Super Nintendo, the Nintendo 64, you all of a sudden see teasers and hints about Mario Paint 64. Which, looking back, it makes sense because Mario Paint was a very successful program. So you have a more powerful console, so why not try a sequel of this very popular game? It should sell very well. Then you have the addition of the 64 Disk Drive, which could really open up the possibilities of a Mario Paint program, where you could go online and share creations, or you could save creations then open them up in a different program and modify them as well. The whole idea of that Mario Artist suite – which is what Mario Paint 64 became – that whole concept was very appealing. It’s a shame how it ended up on the 64 Disk Drive, which really bombed, but the scope of what they were trying to do was impressive.
Frank Cifaldi 33:06
Yeah. I mean for me, at least – and I’m sure a lot of people watching the video – I was aware of the 64 Disk Drive. I knew at least vaguely what all the titles were, I knew that there was a suite of tools, but it hadn’t really occurred to me until seeing all of them in action on your video that this whole suite was not only a sequel to Mario Paint, but just a dramatic expansion of the ideas of Mario Paint. By the way, what how many games are there on the 64DD? Not very many, like six or something?
Kelsey Lewin 33:51
Um, there’s a little more… nine? Ten, I think?
Frank Cifaldi 33:53
There’s nine, something like that.
Norman Caruso 33:54
And half of them are Mario Artist.
Frank Cifaldi 33:57
Right! Right, and that’s not even all the ones that they were working on. [Laughs] ‘Cause some didn’t ship.
Norman Caruso 34:02
Right, they were planning eight. Eight different Mario Artist titles and I think we have four!
Kelsey Lewin 34:07
I looked those up – I wasn’t even familiar with that – so I looked those up, and it goes even further than what these four games could allow you to do. They were planning a Mario Artist game maker, a Mario Artist graphical message maker. I mean, they were giving you some very serious tools here, or they were at least planning to give you some very, very serious tools to learn how to develop everything from graphics, to games. I mean, these were hardcore tools!
Norman Caruso 34:38
Yeah. It was extremely impressive. Obviously, we didn’t get Mario Artist in North America, so I had no experience using it. So my first time using it, I was shocked at how robust it was. Especially the polygon maker!
Kelsey Lewin 34:54
Norman Caruso 34:54
I mean, you can make very intricate polygons and then you can draw on them. You can make these custom polygons, and then you can put them in your own movie. It’s just wild what you can do with that Mario Artist suite.
Kelsey Lewin 35:10
Yeah, I actually played the Polygon Studio for the first time, I think it was last year. I ended up messing around with it for hours. You can make your little creatures and stuff out of polygons that give you kind of a basic game world to roam around in and interact with the environment. I mean, again, it’s really robust.
Frank Cifaldi 35:30
Is it – so, you two have both played with this, I have not. Is it actually intuitive? Is it like Mario Paint, where a child could do it?
Kelsey Lewin 35:40
It would be if I spoke Japanese.
Frank Cifaldi 35:42
Norman Caruso 35:43
Yeah, that’s true. There is a language barrier if you’re playing on the original cartridge, but in the emulation community, there have been translations of all these titles, and it is very intuitive. They have like a simple mode for people, that’s probably for kids. If you’re just a kid and you want to mess around, they give you like prebuilt polygons that you can stretch, move around, and do whatever you want with. Then they have a more advanced mode where you can get down to the nitty gritty and do the wireframing polygons and move them around in a 3D environment. So it can get very, very detailed. But it is also accessible to younger children or people that aren’t familiar with it.
Frank Cifaldi 36:28
That’s so cool. Looking at the footage of these products, this is something that I think they were taking extremely seriously at Nintendo. I think that they really saw a new future for themselves with this suite of products. I think that the polish level on these is incredible. The marketing looked like it was there. It just seems like this very lost idea of Nintendo’s, at least from from that era, though we see hints of it later on.
Norman Caruso 37:11
Yeah, they really did put a lot of effort into the Mario Artist series. From a lot of the advertising and research on the 64DD, they really did advertise it a lot with the Mario Artist games. Jazzy mentions this in the video, that it seemed like Nintendo was trying to pitch this 64 Disk Drive as this “super computer” that you can use instead of a personal computer. Unfortunately, the 64 Disk Drive just didn’t take off and it just got delayed, and delayed, and delayed. By the time it was finally out, it was like time to move on, you know?
Frank Cifaldi 37:59
This didn’t occur to me until just now, hearing you word that the way that you did, but going back we’d been talking about how there were attempts to turn your console into a computer, because you already sort of had a computer there. So like, “Let’s add a keyboard and you can start doing computer stuff.” We were kind of joking about it earlier, but even like, you have a monitor in your living room so you’re already sort of halfway there. What’s occurring to me talking about this now is that people didn’t really have 3D rendering stations at home in the late 90s. The 64, while it didn’t have an incredible amount of 3D horsepower, it was essentially a lightweight SGI workstation that you already had. So it’s almost an evolution of the idea of stealthing a computer into your home through a game system, in an era where people actually did tend to have computers in their homes.
Norman Caruso 39:16
Yeah, and a much more powerful type of application. I mean, this is beyond just like a drawing program, this is like you can make legit 3D animation in polygons and video games with this application. It was very impressive.
Frank Cifaldi 39:37
Something that didn’t really come across in the video that I think of when I look at the lineage of this game is: I feel that the original WarioWare is a very clear descendant of Mario Paint and then Mario Artist. Not only in features – because actually one of the Mario Artist Suites literally has some WarioWare micro games three years before WarioWare – but just the tone of WarioWare. The occasionally kind of quote unquote “bad graphics” in WarioWare. The intentionally low fidelity, sort of mouse driven graphics of WarioWare. WarioWare to me, and I mean the original even on the GBA, feels like a very clear descendant of these games.
Norman Caruso 40:35
Yeah, it does. Just from reading interviews from the development team behind the WarioWare series, it’s clear that a lot of them grew up playing Mario Paint, loved it, and that’s what kind of got them into video games. WarioWare DIY is the most clear sequel to Mario Paint and Mario Artist. But you’re right, the older WarioWare games with these very simple, childlike graphics and animations does kind of harken back to the charm of Mario Paint.
Frank Cifaldi 41:11
And they were they were directed by Hirofumi Matsuoka, same guy.
Norman Caruso 41:15
Frank Cifaldi 41:18
That’s something to look into, listeners at home! If you’re into the aesthetic of Mario Paint – and even though it is a blank canvas for you, I think there is clearly an aesthetic to Mario Paint – I would argue that WarioWare is the closest descendant of that. As you said, Norm, WarioWare DIY specifically the DS version. Or was it 3DS?
Kelsey Lewin 41:53
DS. No, DIY was DS.
Norman Caruso 41:54
I think DIY was regular DS.
Frank Cifaldi 41:56
Okay. Or DSi, DSiWare maybe?
Kelsey Lewin 42:00
No, it’s on DS. I’m looking at it right now.
Frank Cifaldi 42:03
All right, whatever. I didn’t have it, okay?
Kelsey Lewin 42:08
Frank Cifaldi 42:08
Yeah, that one is very clearly almost a sequel to what Mario Paint and Mario Artist was doing. In fact, Kelsey brought up the Mario Artist suite had plans for something like a game maker. It almost seems like, at least spiritually, that ended up showing up in DIY even without Matsuoka’s involvement.
Norman Caruso 42:34
Yeah. It’s got all the tools that, you know, Mario Paint had. It’s got a drawing program, it’s got a much more robust music program, but the the biggest draw is that you can kind of make your own little minigames with it with the stuff you come up with. That was specifically where you see interviews with the developers and they talk about growing up playing Mario Paint and loving it. So that connection is definitely there.
Frank Cifaldi 43:04
I kind of enjoy that the WarioWare series came from Matsuoka, who was the director of Mario Paint, and even after himself leaving the company and that series that Mario Paint inspiration and lineage just carried forward, maybe even unintentionally into WaiorWare. It’s kind of a neat full circle thing for me.
Norman Caruso 43:35
Yeah. Matsuoka infused the WarioWare series with this identity, and Nintendo just ran with it.
Frank Cifaldi 43:43
Yeah. There is, of course, a pretty large Nintendo product that actually I didn’t know until you mentioned it started life as a new Mario Paint.
Kelsey Lewin 43:55
Yeah, that was news to me too.
Norman Caruso 43:57
Yes, I was shocked by that as well. There was an interview with Takashi Tezuka, who has been involved with the Mario series since Super Mario Brothers. He’s kind of the head honcho of that series. He was interviewed about Super Mario Maker and he said it originally began as a concept for Mario Paint on the Wii U. They kind of just evolved it from there to, “Well, I think people really want to make their own Mario levels. Maybe we can combine these developer tools we have internally with the ease of access of Mario Paint.” And that’s how Mario Maker came to be. It’s so obvious it was inspired by Mario Paint because you have so many fun little easter eggs and references to Mario Paint. Like there’s the Gnat Attack minigame in Super Mario Maker, the little rocket ship will erase your level just like rocket ship erased your canvas and Mario Paint, and then my favorite is the Undo Dog who is a cute little dog that undos a mistake you made.
Frank Cifaldi 45:10
Does he make the same sound? The weird like, “Ehh! Neh!” [Laughs]
Norman Caruso 45:16
I don’t know if he does that in Mario Maker, but I had to include that when I was going over Mario Paint just because it’s such a charming little sound.
Frank Cifaldi 45:25
Norman Caruso 45:26
Yeah. It doesn’t sound like a dog, it doesn’t quite sound like a duck. It’s just kind of its own thing.
Frank Cifaldi 45:32
Am I mistaken, isn’t the save music in there too?
Norman Caruso 45:37
In Mario Maker?
Frank Cifaldi 45:38
Norman Caruso 45:40
Yes! The robot!
Frank Cifaldi 45:41
Norman Caruso 45:41
That’s in there as well.
Frank Cifaldi 45:42
That’s my jam, that one. Yeah, ideas survive in a company like Nintendo for a really long time. I was actually at GDC, when Miyamoto gave the keynote that year. I don’t remember what year it was, it was when Nintendogs was coming out, I believe. Just things like how the concept of Miis, traced back to a Disk System prototype that he was working on in like ’86. That evolves into that GameCube thing that never came out where you would sort of scan your polygonal face and dance around, which sort of kind of evolved into Wii Music.
Kelsey Lewin 46:38
That’s sort of on the 64DD too, in the Talent Studio.
Norman Caruso 46:41
Kelsey Lewin 46:42
Yeah, Mario Artist.
Frank Cifaldi 46:45
Right, right. Talent studio seems to be like the predecessor of whatever that thing was called that does ship.
Kelsey Lewin 46:50
Frank Cifaldi 46:51
Yeah, these ideas just survive. I think, yes, Nintendo’s special in a lot of ways but I think what maybe makes it the most special in the video game world is that it’s still here. [Laughs] You know that I mean? It’s an old company that still exists and still employs people from the old days, and that’s just very rare in video games, in any country.
Norman Caruso 47:18
It is. I do love how Nintendo kind of holds on to ideas for years and years and years and just comes back to them every now and then.
Kelsey Lewin 47:28
Even Nintendogs that you were mentioning right there. That goes back to its days as a 64DD game called Cabbage that never shipped. We never even saw footage or screenshots or anything, but there have been a couple people from Nintendo have come out and said that a lot of the ideas present in Nintendogs, they’ve been there for a while.
Frank Cifaldi 47:50
The thing about Kelsey Lewin is that: Any excuse to talk about Cabbage? She’s on it.
Kelsey Lewin 47:58
[Laughs] I want Cabbage!
Frank Cifaldi 48:00
I think you should tell us briefly about Cabbage, because I think it actually is part of this story.
Kelsey Lewin 48:04
Sure, yeah! So Cabbage was an an [Shigesato] Itoi – who is the Mother director – and [Satoru] Iwata (I believe) joint thing they were working on in the 64DD era. There’ve been a lot of different descriptions of it, and none of them really quite mean anything? But it’s essentially like a pet sim meets real-time clock and communication and… There’s a lot of buzzwords involved in it. What makes it really interesting is that everyone who was involved with it seemed really excited about it. First of all, you’ve got a bunch of really big developer names on it, who have done some great work.
Frank Cifaldi 48:46
Wasn’t Mtyamoto involved with it as well? Am I wrong?
Kelsey Lewin 48:48
That sounds right. Sure.
Frank Cifaldi 48:50
Sure. Yeah. Throw him in there! Yeah.
Kelsey Lewin 48:51
Yeah! [Laughs] It was everyone. It got completely abandoned – as a concept called Cabbage – but a lot of these ideas have persisted into future products and have been just kind of mentioned offhand. Like when people have talked about Animal Crossing, they’ll be like, “Oh yeah, we started thinking about this with a game called Cabbage.” Or when it comes to Nintendogs. “Yeah, we started kind of thinking about this idea with a game called Cabbage.” So… what the heck was Cabbage?! [Laughs] All these awesome games (I would say enduring but we haven’t had a new nintendogs since the 3DS so maybe, not so much on that one), but these really big franchises who kind of got their starts with this completely unknown 64 DD game, that we’ve never even seen a screenshot of.
Norman Caruso 49:42
Just the name Cabbage alone makes me want to dive in and figure out what the heck it was all about.
Frank Cifaldi 49:49
So Norm’s next video, he just announced…
Kelsey Lewin 49:53
Norman Caruso 49:53
In collaboration with the Video Game History Foundation!
Frank Cifaldi 49:56
No! We don’t have time! We’re busy!
Kelsey Lewin 50:00
There’s, like, two articles and none of them have screenshots. So… Yeah.
Frank Cifaldi 50:04
I mean, they never announced it as a product, right? It was just an internal project that seems to have just been this wild storm in a teacup of crazy ideas that they were able to use on products in the future, right?
Kelsey Lewin 50:23
Yeah, yeah. I mean, I have no idea how much- I mean, maybe we’ve never seen screenshots because it never even got that far, who knows. [Laughs]
Frank Cifaldi 50:30
Right! You never know! [Laughs] It just occurred to me – another recycling ideas thing, just to get back into this Nintendo processes – the quote unquote “Mario 128 demo” that they showed for the GameCube with a million Marios running around. Yeah, people were like, “Where’s that game? Where’s that game?” Eventually, Miyamoto was like, “Oh, that was Pikmin.” [Laugh] “Calm down, we made it. It’s called Pikmin. We just swapped Mario for these weird clay guys.” I really feel like the Mario Maker implementation of these ideas, I don’t know if it’s, like, the ultimate idea, but I do feel that they threw out a lot of the cruft, right? There’s not this Polygon Studio, there’s not a Talent Studio. They kind of realized, in a very Nintendo way, they sort of “found the fun” of merging this blank canvas creativity with a game. Because they already had what is essentially one of the most simple game designs ever. Super Mario is just about blocks and physics that you put a face on. When you load up Mario Maker, maybe appreciate where it came from. “Know your Roots” as the Hot Topic Nintendo shirt sold in 2005 that someone bought me for Christmas said.
Kelsey Lewin 52:09
Norman Caruso 52:10
Oh, wonderful. I remember those.
Kelsey Lewin 52:13
Is that in the same vein as the Classically Trained shirt with the NES controller?
Frank Cifaldi 52:17
Yes… A co-worker also purchased a – I don’t think I wore it very much – but they were very excited to give me a “Nintendo Clinic” shirt. There’s like red with white text and like a Red Cross logo. [Laughs] I don’t know what that meant, but they were like, “You like old games! This is for you!”
Norman Caruso 52:40
I had a Yoshi shirt…
Frank Cifaldi 52:42
Norman Caruso 52:43
…that said, “Give me a free ride.”
Frank Cifaldi 52:46
Kelsey Lewin 52:46
Norman Caruso 52:46
I don’t know what it meant exactly? I don’t know if it was like a sexual thing, but…
Frank Cifaldi 52:52
Or if it was just, like, appealing to the bus driver?
Norman Caruso 52:57
Exactly. [Laughs] I don’t know if it was like, “I’m getting on public transportation, and Yoshi gave Mario free rides. So why not? I get a free ride on this bus.” I don’t know. I didn’t really wear it that much. I thought it was kind of weird. Nintendo had some weird shirts.
Kelsey Lewin 53:12
Is it just Yoshi?
Norman Caruso 53:13
It’s just the Yoshi sprite and it just says, “Give me a free ride” under it. It is an official Nintendo shirt.
Frank Cifaldi 53:20
So it almost reads as Yoshi appealing for a free ride.
Kelsey Lewin 53:24
It’s like, “I’ve given my share of free rides. Now it’s your turn to give Yoshi a free ride.”
Norman Caruso 53:31
Frank Cifaldi 53:34
Kelsey Lewin 53:35
I want it. Now I think your next video should be on the history of Nintendo merchandise. Actually, that sounds like a really good video. So… [Laughs]
Norman Caruso 53:44
That would be super interesting, and a very expensive video to make.
Kelsey Lewin 53:47
Yes it would be!
Frank Cifaldi 53:49
Yeah, you’d have to buy every piece.
Kelsey Lewin 53:51
You’ve got to wear a different shirt in every shot, too.
Norman Caruso 53:54
Oh, yeah. A different hat. a different shirt. Doing research for some topics involves buying everything surrounding the topic. So for Mario Paint, there was merchandise for Mario Paint. There really wasn’t a lot but I figured, “Maybe I should buy this stuff.” When you deep dive you want to cast a wide net and try to like grab everything you can. So I bought the Mario Paint easter egg decorating kit that PAAS put out.
Kelsey Lewin 54:28
Norman Caruso 54:30
I mean, there’s nothing specifically about Mario Paint with it. It was just kind of branded as a Mario Paint merchandise item.
Kelsey Lewin 54:36
Norman Caruso 54:37
I guess that’s the connection. Yeah.
Kelsey Lewin 54:39
Frank Cifaldi 54:40
I can see exactly where this came from. I mean, it’s not a Nintendo product, it’s PAAS like you said. The licensing for Nintendo merch was like, “Here’s the properties you can use, here’s their logos” probably for like three months it was probably a license that they offered and what else would make sense but a paint kit? [Laughs]
Norman Caruso 55:07
Yeah, and it came with a Legend of Zelda cardboard cutout adventure… thing?
Frank Cifaldi 55:16
Which was really hard! I never beat it.
Norman Caruso 55:18
It was very difficult. And I think there was a tie-in with Froot Loops for like Mario Paint markers. Macy’s was doing like a Mario Paint promotion where you could buy a Mario Paint painter’s hat. You got it for free if you showed up to this Mario Paint demonstration at Macy’s.
Frank Cifaldi 55:44
Norman Caruso 55:45
There wasn’t much with Mario Paint, but I found what was there.
Frank Cifaldi 55:48
Occasionally on eBay, I have seen – and you mentioned this in your video – during whatever show it was, I guess it was CES still, they had artists set up to to draw your portrait in Mario Paint. They actually, I don’t know if you knew this Norm, they offered a souvenir VHS of yourself being drawn.
Norman Caruso 56:13
I didn’t know they gave you the tape.
Frank Cifaldi 56:15
Norman Caruso 56:17
That’s funny. I found an upload on YouTube of somebody getting their portrait made. I said, “Hmm, I wonder how he got that.”
Frank Cifaldi 56:24
That is from CES, yup.
Norman Caruso 56:25
It was from the show. Okay.
Frank Cifaldi 56:26
Yep, and I have seen them on eBay occasionally. Once in a while someone will find one and list it. That is a CES souvenir of your face being drawn in Mario Paint, which is some excellent, excellent merch to give to a Walmart buyer or something to remember this product. Norm, before we hit record on the show, you mentioned that this is your favorite video you’ve ever done.
Norman Caruso 57:00
It is. Oddly enough, it is my favorite video I’ve ever made.
Frank Cifaldi 57:06
Norman Caruso 57:08
Um… It’s funny how it all kind of tied together. You know, the theme of the video was “limitation breeds creativity” and it was the central theme of me making this video as well. Because I, again, did not grow up playing Mario Paint. Initial research was pretty limited. Like I mentioned, I reached out to these developers, and they’re like, “Yeah, I don’t remember anything, we don’t really do anything. I don’t want to talk about it.” So I just thought, “Well, I don’t even know how I’m gonna make this thing.” But I had to make it. It was a Patreon voted topic. I think the three choices were Chex Quest, Mario Paint, and Sony Mistakes. Whichever one got the most votes was the video I would work on next, and Mario Paint won by a ton. Initially, I was doubting if I could even make it. The angle of talking to people that grew up with the game and how they use it in creative ways, it just all came together really well. It was more of a social history of Mario Paint than a traditional history. I think I just really enjoyed making it and I just love how it all came together in the end.
Frank Cifaldi 58:33
Well, Norm, thank you for being the guest on the inaugural episode of the Video Game History Hour. Is there anything else you wanted to discuss in regards to Mario Paint? Kelsey, I suppose this applies to you as well.
Norman Caruso 58:47
Now, how much are you guys paying me to be on this? That’s my first question.
Kelsey Lewin 58:53
How much have you given us on Patreon?
Norman Caruso 58:55
Oh, hundreds of thousands.
Kelsey Lewin 58:58
Frank Cifaldi 59:00
Well, Norm, we are a charity. So that is short for: “we are very poor.” So we will, once you’ve gotten your master’s degree – and by the way, congratulations! You are now a grad student! Where are you studying currently?
Norman Caruso 59:24
I am studying at the University of Missouri, Kansas City. So it’s right here in Kansas City. My emphasis is on Public History, so you know, ties in very well with what I’m doing right now.
Frank Cifaldi 59:38
I would say so!
Norman Caruso 59:39
Actually I was talking with the director of the Public History program, and she mentioned, “For your final project, you can make a documentary.” I just thought, “Oh, well, I think I know how to do that.”
Kelsey Lewin 59:52
Frank Cifaldi 59:54
Actually, come to think of it, your payment was the letter of recommendation that I wrote.
Norman Caruso 1:00:00
Yes. Thank you very much. I should also mention, Frank helped me out with the Mario Paint video.
Frank Cifaldi 1:00:08
Norman Caruso 1:00:09
Because I found a website, Nintendo Player, I think it was. And they had a little blog post about Mario Paint. He found, like, an early prototype build, which wasn’t really any different than the final build, but he had some figures in there, like, it’s sold X amount of units and whatnot. It was not sourced at all, though. So I said, “Gosh, where did he get this? I need to know.”
Frank Cifaldi 1:00:37
Oh, that’s right.
Norman Caruso 1:00:38
And so Frank helped me find it. It was on the LexisNexis database. Then I discovered, “Wow, I can sign up for LexisNexis. It’s open to individual researchers now.” I think I mentioned to you that it’s a lot cheaper now.
Frank Cifaldi 1:00:57
Yeah, you’re paying like a third of the amount that I was grandfathered into like 10 years ago. [Laughs] Usually when you’re granted grandfathered in it’s the opposite, you’re paying less, but they have been suckering me for a decade.
Norman Caruso 1:01:14
See, I’m like the accountant of the Video Game History Foundation. You can save some money here Frank.
Frank Cifaldi 1:01:22
Wow, we have an accountant!
Kelsey Lewin 1:01:24
Frank Cifaldi 1:01:25
Well Norm, thanks again. This was awesome. You got any new work, you want to plug? Anything like that before we go?
Norman Caruso 1:01:32
Gosh. I have been sitting on Oregon Trail interviews for a year now.
Frank Cifaldi 1:01:39
Norman Caruso 1:01:41
And I am just I’m trying to finish that video, but you know, COVID hit and it really threw a wrench in that whole production. I guess that’s my teaser. Stay tuned for a big Oregon Trail video. I don’t know when it will come out, but I’m working on it.
Frank Cifaldi 1:01:59
Our friends at the Strong Museum of Play have some really good stuff around Oregon Trail. I hate to throw that wrench into your research right now!
Kelsey Lewin 1:02:06
Norman Caruso 1:02:07
That’s where I was planning to go. I was talking and say, “Okay, I’ll be there in April” and then a pandemic hit.
Frank Cifaldi 1:02:15
Right, and even they were not there in April.
Norman Caruso 1:02:18
Frank Cifaldi 1:02:19
Well, thanks again, Norm. Thanks everybody for listening.
Kelsey Lewin 1:02:22
Make sure to follow Norm on his YouTube channel: The Gaming Historian. Do you want to plug the rest of your stuff too, your social channels?
Norman Caruso 1:02:29
Sure. Twitter, I’m @gaminghistorian. And yeah, youtube.com/gaminghistorian.
Frank Cifaldi 1:02:37
Cool. This has been the Video Game History Hour. Thanks for listening, everyone.
Video Game History Foundation 1:02:44
Thanks for listening to the Video Game History Hour brought to you by the Video Game History Foundation. If you have questions or comments for the show, you can find us on Twitter @gamehistoryhour or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org. Did you know that Video Game History Foundation is a 501c3 nonprofit and that all of your contributions are tax deductible? You can support this podcast and all of our other work on Patreon or at gamehistory.org/donate. This episode of the Video Game History Hour was produced by Robin Kunimune and edited by Michael Carrell. Thanks so much for listening and we’ll see you next time.