i_mario_box.jpgI, Mario is the brainchild of Shael Riley, a New York office temp and musician, who has previously contributed tracks to OC ReMix. The “game” is an overtly realistic re-imagining of Super Mario Bros., which Riley originally wrote up on the OC ReMix forums “just for jollies, really”.

The concept proved so popular that it quickly became the most viewed thread on the forums, and a Yahoo! group was formed to facilitate further discussion of ideas. More recently, an I, Mario wiki has been started.

Riley has since left the project to others, though. “There's a Wiki now?” he says when asked about the latest development. “I didn't even know!”

However, he seems flattered that the project is continuing, noting that he feels like he “tapped into a common fantasy, completely incidentally” when he write his initial proposal.

He’s also playing “a big show” with nerdcore favourites MC Frontalot and Optimus Rhyme on Saturday October 21st – that’s tonight - at Crash Mansion in said New York City, for anyone able to get along.

We contacted Riley via email to ask about I, Mario’s beginnings, and his feelings on where it’s going now.

Where did the idea for I, Mario come from?

I'd been playing a lot of Resident Evil: Outbreak in 2003 and 2004, and one day it dawned on me that the primary distinction between a horror game like Resident Evil and an action game like Super Mario Bros. was each game's treatment of violence; that is to say, the more realistic a game's treatment of violence, the more horrific the game is.

While their treatments are diametrically opposed, with Resident Evil: Outbreak allowing your character to become crippled, crawling on the ground and slowly dying while remaining playable, and Super Mario Bros. responding to your character's presumable immolation as he is engulfed by a swinging chain of flames by either shrinking him, while keeping his body otherwise intact, or changing him into a little sort of jumping pretzel who falls comically off the bottom of the screen. Both games place players in an environment in which every encountered creature's intention is to assault and kill the player's character; the thing that makes the games so different, regarding matters of theme and mood, is each game's respective treatment of violence.

To illustrate this, I did an imagery-heavy write-up of a version of Super Mario Bros. that gave violence a realistic treatment.

i_mario_bowser.gifWhy work on something like this?

I never intended, and still do not intend, to ever actually work on developing a game from the write-up, though several enthusiastic parties have taken it upon themselves to do just that, and I'm flattered that they're trying to give my idea form.

How well does a realistic re-imagination of Mario work, do you think?

I think it works very well. We have surreal horror games--Silent Hill, FEAR--set in other-worldly realms, or not-normally-accessible parts of our world that are populated primarily, if not entirely, by nightmarish aliens possessed with a single-minded desire to attack and kill your character. I think that's pretty similar to the mushroom kingdom. Imagine going through world 1-1 in 3D third-person, with Mario and his opponents depicted as realistic creatures that breathe, bleed and scream when harmed?

The consequences of stomping on a turtle change form Mario bouncing triumphantly off the thing's back, while its head and feet disappear sheepishly into its shell, to Mario grunting and he strives to drive his foot through bone and cartilage, while the turtle thrashes and screams, ground underneath the work-booted heel of the weighty plumber.

How would you describe the mood of I, Mario?

Abject, alien terror. The original game establishes a setting that cannot be reasoned with, a place in which the first, last and only recourse of our displaced hero is lethal force, administered by his bare hands, or feet, as the case may be. If the only consequences of that force are a tinkly sound effect and a few thousand points, then that's all well and good, but what happens when violence, and the world's inhabitants, are treated realistically.

Killing becomes no casual course of action, and weighs on the character's--and the player's--conscience. The same goes for being killed; I don't think we want to see Mario slowly lapse into a coma after a hammer brother cracks the back of his skull open.

How could gameplay be different to that of regular Mario games?

I'd want players to feel every blow, so I'd propose a system that allows for specialized ways of attacking each foe. For example, after rising your foot to stomp on a koopa trooper, you might rotate an analog stick while the controller vibrates to grind your foot through the unlucky tortoise's skull. If you don't do it fast enough or with the right amount of force or rhythm, the koopa could shake you off and deliver horrible lacerations to you with its teeth, while you're prone. An emphasis would have to be taken off of jumping, I'm afraid, as a realistic tone should be established; gameplay would reflect that tone.

It seems that the question of how Mario reaches the Mushroom Kingdom is one of the more difficult ones to figure out – what ideas are being suggested?

It's been a long time since I've kept up with the plans of the several development groups who are, or were, planning to make I, Mario into a game, so I really couldn't tell you. In the early game design documents that appeared on the original thread in the OverClocked ReMix forums, I believe Mario was washed down a pipe in the New York City sewer system, while working during a torrential downpour.

i_mario_luigi.jpgWhat are your favourite elements of the concept so far?

I'm happy to see the enthusiasm that a realistic treatment of Mario evokes in so many people. I think this has to do with our deep-seeded love of Mario, established in our childhoods, clashing with our having become considerably more jaded adults. By coming our adult understanding of the world with our childhood wonder, we're able to experience Mario in a whole new way: as a surreal, if whimsical, masochistically enjoyable nightmare.

What have been your favourite pieces of concept art so far?

There have been so many! I'm sure I haven't seen all of them at this point, but I remember seeing a drawing of Princess Peach Toadstool with her dress torn, her face bruised, and her shoulder raked by a five-pronged claw, after she'd been captured by Bowser. I think that really captures the essence of the concept; a kidnapping, performed by physically overpowering the victim, as is presumably the case in Bowser's kidnapping of the Princess, is a horrifying thing with physical and emotional consequences that long outlast its victims rescue, if a rescue is performed at all.