Friday, October 9, 2009

Super Mario 64 and the Introduction of the Camera

Written By Chris Solis

On September 29th, 1996 Nintendo released Super Mario 64 as the flagship launch title for their new console, the Nintendo 64. Nintendo has always believed in focusing on a new "element" from the previous generation and the N64 was Nintendo's launch into the world of Three Dimensions. We have seen third dimension titles from Nintendo before; Star Fox (Nintendo, 1993) was a huge hit and even earlier third dimension was seen on the early First Person Shooter’s. Gamer's were used to two dimensional space and Nintendo needed to convince the gamer to not only enjoy three dimensional space but also be able to understand and navigate three dimensional space; It was time to introduce 3D space to the main stream and masses. Mario 64 revolutionized the platforming genre and agreeably carried elements of 3D game play to games today.

The Box Art of Super Mario 64

The Opening Crane shot of Super Mario 64

What function does the crane shot serve in our film language?  The crane shot is usually used to establish location in most contemporary film we see today though it is also used to establish space. Famously Touch of Evil (Orson Welles,1958) uses a long crane shot to establish space. More recently Children of Men( Alfonso CuarĂ³n ,2007) uses extremely long takes to provoke a sense of journey. We understand a close up means “remember this” and we understand a crane or establishing shot means “ this is where we are”. It seem so obvious now because our film language is so developed but you had to be taught this. It now works on a subconscious level. Mario 64 uses our film language to help us understand it’s 3D space;Space and depth is illustrated to the viewer as the camera cranes around the opening environment. There are no cuts until we are put into the control of the characters. This crane shot was the first step to making the player understand the new play environment by tapping into everyone’s film language.

The Opening Scene of Mario 64

The Two Main Characters
The game opens with a premise; Peach has baked us a cake at the castle and we are invited. Once she fades out we are introduced to something very new to the world of gaming; the camera. This new element is presented before us as Lakitu takes his camera on a crane (literally) for a spin around our new environment. After the space is established we are introduced into our main character, Mario. Consider the order of presentation. In a traditional story telling platform we would first talk about the Main character(s) then the plot or present a plot and plug in the characters. That information wasn’t enough for the introduction to 3D space. We now had to introduce another constant even before we introduced the main character. So why do we introduce the camera before we introduce the main character? Simply the camera is more important then Mario in this title. Yes mario saves the princess but the function of camera and the use of the camera is what other 3D games lacked and Mario 64 presented to the industry. We are always playing as two characters from the beginning to the end of the game. The two heroes of early 3D, Super Mario and the camera.

Lakitu and the Personification of the Camera

Nintendo was faced with the problem of the personification of the camera. With the player having control over the camera it was uncertain if it would lead to the feel of the player voyeuristically following Mario around. Another problem was what if the camera didn’t feel like a point of view shot and instead felt like the eye of another in-game entity. Remember this was a time of uncertainty when we didn’t know how the control of the camera in space would be interpreted by the player. Why don’t we have to explain the camera in cinema? The truth is the camera is consistently being explained with the control of the frames angle, movement, and subject matter. When the camera isn’t explained we always feel the view is from a persons perspective. Sometimes the film maker will do this intentionally to give a sense of voyeurism or intention of a character. Even in amateur film making, if the film’s perspective isn’t explained in some way you will think of “they poorly filmed this” , “ why did they use this shot?”, or something of that nature. They key word there is “they”. You are always thinking of the camera’s entity when it isn’t hidden explained or concealed in film language. Considering the camera’s identity became a problem since we have no way to conceal it. Given those circumstances, Nintendo decided to personify the camera as Lakitu. Lakitu serves as an in game reason why we are getting the opening crane shot of the castle and even more dynamic angles as we play the game. If the player ever felt the presence of the camera the reason would be it’s Lakitu.

Our camera man

Super Mario 64 was a benchmark for many reasons though the most important reason is the camera. It helped us understand 3D space for the first time by tapping into our film language, it gave us the tools needed to navigate the space of the game ( c-buttons, Z snap back) and it personified the camera into a definable entity if the camera turned out to hold to much presence.

To Long. Did Not Listen Version:
1.) The opening crane shot taps into our film language to familiarize us with 3D space.
2.) The camera was personified as Lakitu to give reason for the presence of camera 4.)
3.)You play as two characters. Mario and Lakitu ( the camera)
4.) The camera is introduced before Mario because the camera is what’s important in  this title.

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1 comment:

  1. I remember when I met this title, I couldn't believe it. It was to bring Mario experience to another level. Mario Galaxy games are so cool, but anything gave that innovative experience that Mario 64 did. Buy Viagra Viagra