The first level in Super Mario Bros. - we're talking the Nintendo Entertainment System here - goes down as one of the most iconic of all time. In some ways, it's probably one of the most important, as well, as Nintendo showed the industry the right way to start a game.
By today's standards, all of Super Mario Bros. is simple from a level design standpoint. That's to be expected with a console that had limited hardware resources and thus imposed harsh limits on how much could be seen on the screen at one time, and how many different objects could be used. Did you know, for example, that the bushes and clouds in SMB are the same object, just recolored? Developers really had to be creative back in those earlier days of video gaming.
But despite the fact that World 1-1 is simple, a new interview with Shigeru Miyamoto and Takashi Tezuka shows that its development was anything but. You might think nothing of stomping on the first Goomba you see, but that enemy was chosen very specifically. Miyamoto felt that if the first enemy was a jumping Koopa Troopa, players might become immediately frustrated by dying 5 seconds into the game. A Goomba on the other hand keeps to the ground and allows the player to easily jump over - or on - it.
Credit: Thelimomon (DeviantArt)
Miyamoto further explains that the original design of the Goomba was a "bad mushroom", one that countered the good mushroom that makes the player's character grow. Even that mechanic had a specific goal in 1-1 - the game starts the player off as small and lets them grow bigger not far into the level to give immediate satisfaction and give players the impression that they never want to be small again. But of course, that privilege will be taken a away - a lot.
Also interesting is the fact that World 1-1 was one of the last levels to be created (if not the last). This might not come as much of a surprise, though, as the later levels are more complicated, naturally, whereas the first level needs to be designed with those in mind to help players become accustomed to the game's mechanics quickly.
Who knew such a simple level had such an intense design process around it?