Legendary video game composer Koji Kondo has sat down with NHK to discuss what it was like making the music for the original Super Mario Bros. on the Nintendo Entertainment System, specifically the Ground Theme. Kondo said that his first attempt was scrapped. This was due to the fact that when he saw the actual game, finally playable and in motion, he and the team didn’t feel it was the right fit. He said that the second track he made, based on the gameplay he saw, made the cut and fit perfectly. That theme is known as the iconic Ground Theme. Here’s what was said:
What was your first impression of Super Mario Bros.?
At first, I saw the game when the graphics were finished to an extent and it was playable, then I was asked to provide a soundtrack and sound effects for it. Before that, games only had tiny characters moving around on a dark screen, so seeing a character that was larger than in most games at the time move around, with a blue sky and green plains that left a strong impression, I thought it seemed really fun.
How did you expand upon this impression?
The blue sky and green plains left the strongest impression, so I composed a track that felt like a gentle, relaxing stroll under the sun, but then I saw Mario run and jump around, so the rhythm of that song didn’t really match. The first track was scrapped, and the next one I composed was the one we have now.
Who decided to scrap it, you or another staff member?
Other staff members told me that the track felt weird for some reason. Indeed, the track might have matched the feel of the game’s background, but didn’t quite go with the gameplay.
Since that was no good, what direction did you take when you started working on the Ground Theme?
There’s a certain rhythm that perfectly matches the physical feeling of running or jumping, so I tried to capture that and turn it into a melody.
Was there a trial and error process that led to you finding that “rhythm”?
Of course, I had to play the game many times. While trying to find that rhythm, I gave thought to what it was while changing the tempo and basic pattern.
Did you keep doing that even when new consoles came out?
Yes. The movement of the enemies would change for every game, of course, which led to a shift in the overall rhythm, so for every game I would play it myself again and again, find the proper rhythm from that and start composing.
How long had you been involved with Super Mario Bros.?
It was my second year.
Were you under pressure? How did you feel?
Before working on Mario, I was mostly responsible for creating sound effects, and hadn’t created BGM before, but when I started to work on Super Mario, I went in wanting to create music that hadn’t existed before. It might have been a lot of pressure, but I wanted to somehow create enjoyable music never seen before using only three notes.
Once you finished it, what did the other staff think?
After listening to the Ground Theme, a lot of people said “This sounds nice, what genre is it?”, but I didn’t make it with any genre in mind. A lot of people said it sounds like Latin, or like jazz, but I said, “No, it’s game music”, not fitting into any genre, created to match a game.
Thanks to Greatsong1 for sending in the news tip!