Nintendo started out as a manufacturer of playing cards. However, when its eventual third president Yamauchi Hiroshi learned that biggest manufacturer of playing cards in the United States operated out of a small office, he realized that said industry had limited potential for further expansion. As a result, Nintendo went into a number of side businesses, which went on to fail for various reasons. It was not until 1966 that Nintendo stumbled into the toy industry, which resulted in a number of successes that were still not enough for it to go up against bigger and better-established competitors. As a result, it wasn’t until Nintendo realized the potential of video games that it found its true calling.
The corporation had said success with its initial ventures, but it lacked something capable of standing up to Pac-Man and the like. As a result, Miyamoto Shigeru was the one charged with coming up with a true contender. Initially, he wanted to make a game based on the Popeye franchise, but he was forced to come up with something original because he wasn’t able to secure the rights to said franchise at the time. The result was Donkey Kong, which featured the first version of Mario.
Curiously, the character who would on to become known as Mario wasn’t actually named Mario at the start. In fact, the character doesn’t seem to have had an official name in the Japanese version of Donkey Kong, though Miyamoto was known to have called him by the name of Mr. Video. Whatever the case, it wasn’t until the English version that the character started becoming called Jumpman, though there were marketing materials using the name of Mario as well. Supposedly, the name Mario came from a business-man named Mario Segale, who had confronted the head of Nintendo of America because of late payments on the rent for their warehouse but was eventually satisfied with the promise that the late payments would be paid. As a result, the people at Nintendo decided to name the character that would become known as Mario after him.
Why Did Mario Have a Hat?
Other choices behind Mario’s character design were based on convenience. For example, Mario had a large nose as well as a large mustache so that the people making Donkey Kong wouldn’t have to animate his facial expressions. Likewise, Mario had a hat because that eliminated the need for the people making Donkey Kong to animate either his hair, his eyebrows, or his forehead. Even Mario’s combination of blue shirt and red overalls were meant to contrast with one another as well as the surroundings, thus enabling the character to stand out in spite of the technical limitations of the times.
With that said, previous decisions went on to influence later decisions, which is why Mario went through a fair amount of evolution in those earliest times. For example, he started out as a carpenter because Donkey Kong took place on a construction site. However, he became a plumber by the time of Mario Bros. because so much of the game took place in underground environments. Likewise, once it was decided that Mario was a plumber, Miyamoto went further by deciding that Mario was an Italian plumber operating in New York City. Eventually, these decisions culminated in the character that we have today, who remains iconic in the gaming industry in spite of the fact that he has been around for decades and decades. Hopefully, that will remain true in the future as the Mario franchise continues to produce great games.