In the first article about Super Mario we talked about its influence on culture as well as the cultural impact on the game. This one will treat some principle ideas behind the game design leading to its convenience. Quite a lot of the content to come is taken from the highly recommended book “Drawing Basics and Video Game Art: Classic to Cutting-Edge Art Techniques for Winning Video Game Design” written by Chris Solarski which seems really shareworthy.
The psychology of shapes and classical art
Let’s start off with the five characters above. Do you see an evolution from left to right? Mario’s figure is entirely rounded, even his moustache. Although Wario’s belly is round, too, almost every other of his features is angled – his moustache, boots, arms, nose, ears, eyes, eyebrows and even his chin. This evolution peaks in Mario’s arch-enemy, Bowser, who commands angled footmen, Goombas. The character design is based on the psychology of shapes; a circle illustrates attributes such as innocence, youth and energy whereas a triangle is linked to aggression, masculinity and force. Shapes are also used in the environment, putting Mario in harmony with the rounded clouds, mountains or cactus families. Super Mario Galaxy from 2007 takes the player in the outer space where Mario has to clear whole planets from angled enemies in order to save his princes.
The player unconsciously realizes in no time who belongs to this planet and who not. Yoshi, Toad and round stars as guideposts suit well to the environment and thus are accepted. Furthermore, every form Mario can take is rounded making even ghosts seem friendly. Compare the two sides in this game, it is round versus angled, good versus evil. But this is processed way too easy for being realized, isn’t it?
Of course, shapes are a common tool for game and film designing, think of The Shore in Tolkien’s legendary The Lord of the Rings compared to Sauron and his mountain. But even in classic art, the composition of images strongly influenced their perception and can be traced back to forms. Take “Diana and Her Companions” by Johannes Vermeer from around 1655 and compare its harmony in contrast to Peter Paul Rubens’ “Massacre of the Innocents” from 1611-1612:
These different shapes are equally transferred onto the pathways one can take during a game. For the traditional Super Mario, one could jump along concave, rounded half-circles or straight upward. This principle is maintained until today where one has seldom to move along acute angles. This aspect clearly distinguishes genres.
So the video game series with the red plumber represents the impact of classical cultural background in gaming and transfers it to our everyday life. Did you recognize another interesting aspect concerning classical art and video games? Leave a comment.