How Super Mario Bros 3 led to the creation of Doom and Quake

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SMB3

Back in the late 80s and early 90’s, the home consoles of the time were significantly more powerful than home PC – especially when it came to games. There was no such thing as a dedicated video card for purely for video game graphical processing. In particular, PCs of the time had a real problem with side-scrolling – which was a problem as they were the most popular genre then, thanks to games like Mario Bros.

And that’s what makes this story so incredible (via USGamer) – and what you’re about to see such an amazing part of history. The following video was uploaded by former id Software guru John Romero yesterday in honour of Commander Keen’s 25th anniversary, and tells us the story of how Super Mario Bros 3 led to the formation of id soft, and indirectly brought you not just Commander Keen, but also franchises that still exist today – like Wolfenstein, Doom and Quake.

A team of very clever people working at a company called SoftDisk had some grand plans. These are chaps you might recognise; John Carmack, John Romero Adrian Carmack (unrelated to the former Carmack), and Tom Hall. Together, they attempted to port the immeasurably popular bit of technical wizardry Super Mario Bros 3 to PC – but because of the constraints of PCs of the time, struggled. It was then that clever dude John Romero figured something out; using adaptive tile refresh, they could only update the bits that changed instead of redrawing each and every frame – leading to a playable (if very jarring) version of Super Mario Bros 3 for PC. That was made in 72 hours.

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This is a genuine bit of video game history 

As you can see, it’s far from perfect. The jumping is odd, the animation is off, and Mario himself looks like he’s having a seizure – but as a proof-of-concept, technical prototype it’s perfect. As a new company with lofty goals, IFD – or Ideas from the Deep – approached Nintendo with the idea of porting the game officially. It didn’t take long for Nintendo to shoot them down.

It wasn’t long after that that Apogee Software approached Romero to publish a game he’d created for SoftDisk, but because of copyrights it didn’t happen. What did happen was that the tech for the Mario prototype was appropriated and used to create a new IP – Commander Keen. Sold using the Shareware model, where the first chapter was free and the concluding ones were paid for (Hey! It’s the progenitor of DLC!) Commander Keen was a roaring success, leading to the creation of id Software; the company responsible for some of the best known, and most loved PC games ever made.

Last Updated: December 15, 2015

Geoffrey Tim

Editor. I'm old, grumpy and more than just a little cynical. One day, I found myself in possession of a NES, and a copy of Super Mario Bros 3. It was that game that made me realise that games were more than just toys to idly while away time - they were capable of being masterpieces. I'm here now, looking for more of those masterpieces.

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