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This isn't Amelia Earhart or the Bermuda Triangle we're talking about here...
March 29, 2012 9:46 AM   Subscribe

And yet, we don't know exactly when the game came out. In fact, talk to enough people and you'll come to find out that we can't even agree on the year...
Sad But True: We Can't Prove When Super Mario Bros. Came Out
posted by griphus (47 comments total) 23 users marked this as a favorite

 
I didn't know they where in the closet.
posted by The Whelk at 9:48 AM on March 29, 2012 [9 favorites]


You know how Jack White and Meg White used to tell the press that they were siblings, but were actually married?

Yeah.
posted by griphus at 9:51 AM on March 29, 2012 [1 favorite]


It came out for me in the early 90s when my dad brought it home for the best 7th birthday ever.
posted by 2bucksplus at 9:51 AM on March 29, 2012 [8 favorites]


I just thank god the families can finally have some closure.
posted by Zed at 9:54 AM on March 29, 2012 [1 favorite]


We have Wikipedia now. It can have come out any time we like.
posted by George_Spiggott at 9:58 AM on March 29, 2012 [12 favorites]


but it can never leave.
posted by The Whelk at 9:59 AM on March 29, 2012 [10 favorites]


It might not be that important what the exact date was when Super Mario Bros. was released, but in the context of preserving history it's a pretty good indicator of just how poorly video games are treated. At least in recent years, the people that worked on the games are credited, but even that wasn't the case until relatively recently.

We know what date Pride and Prejudice was published, for example, and that was in 1813. It's mind boggling to me that one of the most successful games ever was created in my lifetime, and no one can say for sure what day it was first sold.
posted by helicomatic at 10:01 AM on March 29, 2012 [8 favorites]


I love the photo showing how Super Mario Bros. is fun for the whole family.
posted by John Cohen at 10:09 AM on March 29, 2012


George_Spiggott: "We have Wikipedia now. It can have come out any time we like."

[Citation Needed]
posted by radwolf76 at 10:11 AM on March 29, 2012 [3 favorites]


Pretty sure I bought the hand held lcd version here in New York City at a gray market electronics dealer in 1985 when I was 12. This preceded the Nintendo version I think, but was after the arcade version.
posted by Liquidwolf at 10:15 AM on March 29, 2012


John Cohen: Yeah, and player 2 is really well-positioned to play, at a 90 degree angle to the screen and all. Way to space hog, Mom & Dad.

Also, why is he pressing buttons?
posted by leotrotsky at 10:17 AM on March 29, 2012 [1 favorite]


We know when Pride & Prejudice was first published because publishing was a whole lot simpler in the early 19th century. I'd be willing to bet that, using the sort of sources this article relies on (i.e. not scouring store financial records) you couldn't definitively establish when any game was first sold, provided the game was sufficiently low-profile on release day. You can establish when it went gold, when it was mass-produced and when the first shipments left the publisher's warehouse, but the date of first sale depends on when the retailer puts it on shelves. Theoretically they do that on a date mandated by the publisher, and with your Madden titles and your Calls of Duty there's enough attention on the release that anybody who breaks the “street date” will be noticed and punished. But when the game isn't so popular, the stores can get away with selling it earlier. More than once, I've bought an obscure RPG on Friday when it wasn't theoretically on shelves until the following Tuesday (and, in practice, that usually means Wednesday).
posted by Holy Zarquon's Singing Fish at 10:18 AM on March 29, 2012


Just for the record, what the article is saying is that although we know the exact date that the game originally shipped in Japan we don't know which date it began showing up in U.S. retail outlets, or even the year.
posted by XMLicious at 10:19 AM on March 29, 2012


The point to take away from all this is that nobody, not even Nintendo, understood back then what a legendary game Super Mario would become (a NES that wan't bundled with SMB? Unthinkable). It was all just a roll of the dice, the kind of thing that people do all the time.

Anyway, I distinctly remember playing the arcade version of SMB (not the Vs. version) at the local mall, and it would have been about that same time that NES exploded everywhere because I was keenly interested in the minute differences between the arcade and NES versions.
posted by i_have_a_computer at 10:20 AM on March 29, 2012


Read the whole article. You know why we don't know the exact date of the first sale of Super Mario Bros in North America? Because it doesn't fucking matter. History isn't about pinning down specific facts. At least, not the interesting part. Good history is about explaining the story, and the reasons behind events, and the context everything happened in. This article does a bit of that, getting into the chaos of Nintendo of America's start selling the NES. But the hook of "OMG which exact day" is just not very interesting.

What I'd really like to know more about is this
Kent also says that "an arcade version of the game predates the NES version and the well-known VS version," and that this original arcade version shipped in 1984. This is interesting given that there is no historical record of this earlier arcade game ever existing, and even more interesting considering that game director Shigeru Miyamoto himself has said that full development on Super Mario Bros. did not start until 1985.
Kent's a pretty strong authority on video game history, so I'd assume if he said something like that he had some reason. Or maybe it was just a simple mistake.

(The original Mario Bros. arcade game is 2003. That was an awesome 2 player co-op game.)
posted by Nelson at 10:25 AM on March 29, 2012 [4 favorites]


I love how the kids in the very first NES commercial don't quite know what to do with the controller. It looks like that kid is playing a game almost exclusively with the start button.

Video games seem like such a ubiquitous thing now, but if you look back at ads, tv shows and movies from the 80s and even through the 90s you see a lot of actors, even child actors, who look like they're touching a gamepad or joystick for the first time in their life.
posted by thecjm at 10:29 AM on March 29, 2012 [1 favorite]


I had the original NES in 1985, with the ROB and the grey Zapper and separate Duck Hunt and Gyromite cartridges.

I recall that the package also included a small poster highlighting the other titles available (all of which, IIRC, came in the same sort of orange-or-blue-all-caps-Helvetica-on-a-slant box as SMB). This poster may have also included launch dates.

I don't recall if SMB was on that poster, but it might be worth checking. (I don't have it with me here, unfortunately, but somebody must.)

Failing that: Ads? Surely there must be some ads, if only print ads in trade publications.
posted by Sys Rq at 10:30 AM on March 29, 2012


They cover that poster on the second page, if it's the same one you're thinking of. The problem isn't that we don't have the information at all, but that we have too much conflicting information and all of it from reasonably authoritative sources.
posted by griphus at 10:35 AM on March 29, 2012 [3 favorites]


I think, historically, pinning down specific dates does matter. Memorizing historical dates doesn't matter because anybody can just look that up. But you still need the dates.

Having a chronology in place - was Nintendo's first monster hit released at the same time as crap like Hogan's Alley and sat on the shelf like a timebomb waiting to go off, or was it launched 4-6 months later and an instant hit - is the beginning of the narrative about Nintendo's rise to power in America.

That's why research like this is important in the end. Even the author acknowledges that once he's done, it's just going to be a cite on Wikipedia. But those cites have to come from somewhere, and I'm glad he's doing his due diligence and not just relying on someone else's research.
posted by thecjm at 10:38 AM on March 29, 2012 [10 favorites]


You can establish when it went gold, when it was mass-produced and when the first shipments left the publisher's warehouse

That's a key point that wasn't really established in the article. Multiple pieces of promotional material make it clear that Super Mario Bros was planned to be a release title, but it's not clear if it actually shipped as a launch title or was delayed and actually released months or weeks later. That's mainly because unlike today where something like that would be reported on by the press, back then the only sources used by the press seem to have been official Nintendo of America press releases and promotional material.

Also this is one of the reasons why we need to make sure that there's a permanent archive of things like Usenet and Twitter posts. Some day in the not too distant future it will help a lot to be able to look at the Internet chatter of the past on a given date to figure out what exactly happened when. It may all seem like ephemeral trivia now but if we hold onto that data it will be one of the greatest sources of historical information ever compiled.
posted by burnmp3s at 10:39 AM on March 29, 2012 [4 favorites]


They cover that poster on the second page, if it's the same one you're thinking of.

D'oh. Of course they do.

I didn't even notice there was a second page!
posted by Sys Rq at 10:45 AM on March 29, 2012


John Cohen: Yeah, and player 2 is really well-positioned to play, at a 90 degree angle to the screen and all. Way to space hog, Mom & Dad.

Also, why is he pressing buttons?


That photo is from the box that the original NES came in, IIRC from 27 years ago (or whatever it was.) My friends and I used to make fun of the shit-eating grin player 1 has on his face while jumping backwards into certain death on stage 1-1 for what seems like no reason.
posted by Navelgazer at 10:48 AM on March 29, 2012


helicomatic: We know what date Pride and Prejudice was published, for example, and that was in 1813.

We sort of do. Like with Super Mario Bros. we have an official date, January 28th, 1813, but if someone would look into it with the same kind of focus that Frank Cifaldi brings to the question of when Super Mario Bros. came out in the US, I'm sure that it will turn out that the answer to the question of the exact date of when Pride and Prejudice was published is just as complicated as with Super Mario Bros. I know from personal experience, for instance, that while my novel had an official publication date, it was available in stores a few days before that.
posted by Kattullus at 10:48 AM on March 29, 2012 [2 favorites]


was Nintendo's first monster hit released at the same time as crap like Hogan's Alley

Pistols Light guns at dawn, sir.
posted by Lentrohamsanin at 10:54 AM on March 29, 2012 [4 favorites]


I can understand the mystery. The first time I saw Super Mario Bros., I was on a family outing to the mall in Janesville, WI. Despite having been a subscriber to Electronic Games magazine in prior years, being a fan of Donkey Kong and the first Mario Bros., and being a regular presence at the arcades in my own city, seeing a Super Mario Bros. machine pop up out of nowhere was a shock.

The game itself was even more of a surprise. The settings of the Donkey Kong games and Mario Bros. always sort of made sense - they were stories set around a construction site, the jungle, or the sewer system, and followed a kind of conventional narrative - but Super Mario Bros. made no sense at all, with its mushrooms and flags and castles and dragons, a hallucinogenic shift to endlessly scrolling fantasy from what was previously one of the most "realistic" series at the arcade.

It was also, as we all know, awesome.

But I didn't see Super Mario Bros. again for a long time. It didn't show up in my hometown's arcades, I hadn't read about it in magazines... nothing. The memory of playing the game was so weird I wondered if I had dreamt it, and it wasn't like my family was going to go back to Janesville to find out. It actually kind of bothered me, and I was relieved when the NES started popping up in stores and the Vs. version popped up at my local arcade, that after that weird pause, Super Mario became entrenched in gaming history.
posted by eschatfische at 10:57 AM on March 29, 2012 [3 favorites]


Sorry for anyone I offended with the jab at Hogan's Alley. I got my NES in 88 and there was a definite gap in quality between the R.O.B. era of games, which were still advertised on the packaging of the system and on the packed-in poster, and some of the first games I had for the system other than SMB/Duck Hunt, like Mike Tyson's Punch Out, Mega Man and Metal Gear.
posted by thecjm at 11:00 AM on March 29, 2012 [1 favorite]


I’ve been fascinated with the fragility of history for a while, and the fact that many people seem to really want to convince themselves that we know more than we do, or that it’s all documented.
posted by bongo_x at 11:20 AM on March 29, 2012 [1 favorite]


crap like Hogan's Alley

You mean you have to use your hands? That's like a baby's game!
posted by Sys Rq at 11:27 AM on March 29, 2012 [4 favorites]


...so that the history books of the future could be properly informed...
Won't someone think of the future children!?
posted by hot_monster at 11:40 AM on March 29, 2012


leotrotsky: Also, why is he pressing buttons?

I always 'play along' during the other player's turn-- not in every game, actually.. but always in SMB.

~40% of the time, they're doing the same thing that I would, so...
helps ya stay sharp.

...I would always correct my parents (or anyone) when they left the "Super" out. "That's another whole game, you know!"
posted by herbplarfegan at 12:44 PM on March 29, 2012


...also, (since we can't see what the cables are doing off the edge of the table,) we have no reason to expect that the kid in the yellow shirt isn't actually player 1.
posted by herbplarfegan at 12:46 PM on March 29, 2012


I know from personal experience, for instance, that while my novel had an official publication date, it was available in stores a few days before that.


The reason for this in bookstores (and I assume game stores etc as well) is that physical objects like books are shipped by mail and take varying amounts of time to arrive at the stores, depending on store location.

So publishers decide on a release month for a book (say March 2012). Stores order that book from publishers months in advance. Then publishers decide on a general publication date (March 29!) and mail the book to stores a week to a month in advance, so that all stores will have the book available to start selling it around the same time.

[The game changes entirely with digital sales like ebooks and downloadable games: publishers can control the points of sale entirely to hold the file until a specific date/time, and/or they can just hop on Amazon etc to see if the ebook is available early.]

Anyway, the bookstores receive their book packages. Some stores will politely hold the book from sale until the slated publication date because who cares, why not? Some stores will put the book out for sale immediately because who cares, why not? Most of the time publishers don't really care, as long as you're selling it BY the publication date; a few dozen earlyish sales won't make a huge difference either way, and it's not worth the effort to police it. But highly anticipated, big-ticket books will get specific laydown / on-sale dates, and woe betide you if you sell that book early: there are anonymous hotlines you can call to turn in early sellers!

What this means for publishing history (and I assume physical format games) is that the publication date for most books is really just "date when any store could be expected to have it," not "earliest date it was definitively first available." Even the ultra-controlled laydown-dated Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows I'm sure had a few illicit early copies floating around. So looking for the "earliest available date" for Super Mario Bros is a little pointless, since videogames weren't really a hot item then: all you'll be finding is the specific store(s) that couldn't be bothered to hold the game and just threw it on the shelf when it arrived. For all we know, some random store got a shipment of Super Mario Bros in 1983 (through the FedEx time travel portal?), put it on the shelf immediately, and sold zero copies, leaving no record of its early release.
posted by nicebookrack at 12:57 PM on March 29, 2012 [4 favorites]


So looking for the "earliest available date" for Super Mario Bros is a little pointless

Uh, yep.
posted by mrgrimm at 1:03 PM on March 29, 2012


> It might not be that important what the exact date was when Super Mario Bros. was released, but in the context of preserving history it's a pretty good indicator of just how poorly video games are treated.

Yeah, it reminds me of how little programming has been preserved from the early days of television and radio. There are decades of Carson that we don't have anymore, save from a small handful of episodes. Entire game shows ran for years and have no surviving footage because it was standard policy to re-use tapes. (It took years before we decided that it was worth it to keep archival copies of everything we air on TV, even throw-away programming.)

Likewise, the original recording of the radio broadcast of Wilt Chamberlain's 100-point game (which wasn't televised) is mostly lost, and we only have the fourth quarter because a listener had recorded it with a Dictaphone and held onto it for 26 years.

The problem is that we only know what's meaningful in retrospect. Does it matter when the Atari Lynx came out? Maybe to some people. But I doubt they'll go to this much trouble to pin down the exact date.
posted by savetheclocktower at 1:15 PM on March 29, 2012 [4 favorites]


savetheclocktower: "Entire game shows ran for years and have no surviving footage because it was standard policy to re-use tapes."

Doctor Who fans know this pain all too well.
posted by radwolf76 at 1:25 PM on March 29, 2012


OFF-TOPIC GRIPING While I'm thinking about it, other annoying things about laydown dates:

1) Publishers that pack laydown-dated books with ordinary backstock for shipment, and then slap a DO NOT OPEN TIL XMAS laydown embargo on the whole order. Meaning you have to either go through the entire order to find the actual laydown books, and/or hold the entire package out of paranoia, because god forbid you get reported to the publisher hotline for selling that new edition of "Pride and Prejudice" before its May 2012 release date!

1) Publishers that wait until the last minute to ship books, meaning many stores won't get the packages by the laydown date. This disproportionately affects small/indie stores, since chains have multiple distribution centers and Most Favored Nation status with publishers. So as the laydown date nears and your books are MIA, do you as a store A)order more books from a fast-shipping but more expensive book distributor like Ingram so you'll have books to sell on the laydown date, running the risk that the publisher shipments will arrive in time anyway and/or you won't sell enough of the extra books to cover the extra expense? B)wait & hope that the books will arrive in time, running the risk that you'll have no books by laydown and will lose customers and will be stuck with late packages of books everyone has already bought elsewhere?

I remember with one particular Big Book a few years ago, the publisher was assuring my store the packages were totally on their way for realz until the night before release date, at which point my boss went "SCREW IT" and hit a 24-hour Walmart for copies--where the book was being sold as a loss leader for less than the discounted retailer price we were paying the publisher for it. The packages finally showed up TWO WEEKS later. Thanks awfully, publishers!
/OFF-TOPIC GRIPING
posted by nicebookrack at 1:26 PM on March 29, 2012 [3 favorites]


The problem is that we only know what's meaningful in retrospect

Well the other part of the problem is that people don't care about these kinds of things to plan around preserving things. For example, World of Warcraft is obviously a huge game right now, but what are the chances that the original version of the code that went live in 2004 will still be around 50 years from now, if it even still exists today? We still have rom images of pretty much every NES game ever released, no matter how obscure, mainly because those physical cartridges still exist in decent numbers out in the wild. So people in future generations will probably be able to play Super Mario Brothers or any other NES game and get more or less the same experience as people did playing them when they came out. But for stuff like WoW where the guts of it only exists on one company's servers, it's much more likely that they will be lost forever, even if everyone knows it's a big deal today.
posted by burnmp3s at 1:53 PM on March 29, 2012 [1 favorite]


Sys Rq: The games came with a small poster, the system came with a large one (I actually have mine framed after 6 year old me filed it away for 20 years).

thecjm: The kid is playing gyromite which had a whack control scheme, where you hit start to take control of the robot.

R.O.B. was how lonely kids played two-player games before MMORPGs and COD. It did totally suck, though.
posted by lkc at 2:53 PM on March 29, 2012 [1 favorite]


I want to know more about this ROB thing. I had a later NES bundle that came with the NES, two controllers, Zapper, and Super Mario Bros./Duck Hunt. I have never even heard of ROB until now.
posted by asnider at 3:18 PM on March 29, 2012


The Angry Video Game Nerd discusses ROB the Robot (very NSFW audio)
posted by ShutterBun at 4:29 PM on March 29, 2012 [2 favorites]


The preservation of information infringes on my right to remember things wrong.
posted by George_Spiggott at 6:38 PM on March 29, 2012 [3 favorites]


I always 'play along' during the other player's turn-- not in every game, actually.. but always in SMB.

I am completely incapable of not doing this.
posted by shakespeherian at 9:13 PM on March 29, 2012


You know why we don't know the exact date of the first sale of Super Mario Bros in North America? Because it doesn't fucking matter.

You have my pity. It's over there, in that castle.


...


Sorry. I meant another castle.
posted by obiwanwasabi at 1:09 AM on March 30, 2012 [1 favorite]


At least in recent years, the people that worked on the games are credited, but even that wasn't the case until relatively recently.

It's still not really the case. Some games have credits that mean what you'd think they'd mean, while at some companies, the credits policy means that being in the credits doesn't mean you worked on the game, while working on the game doesn't mean you'll be in the credits. There aren't any standards like there are for movie credits, because there are no unions.

You're right - most companies make some kind of an effort these days - but I think it's invisible to most people how little stock should be put in video game credits.
posted by -harlequin- at 1:23 AM on March 30, 2012


But for stuff like WoW where the guts of it only exists on one company's servers, it's much more likely that they will be lost forever, even if everyone knows it's a big deal today.

More than that, the guts of WOW is that a bazillion other players are in there. It's a social game. You can't recreate it even if you have the code and servers, unless ten thousand people want to spend a significant chunk of their lives every day re-creating it.
posted by -harlequin- at 1:26 AM on March 30, 2012


More than that, the guts of WOW is that a bazillion other players are in there.

I would be MORE than happy to set up a private server with a population of ME which allowed me to explore Azeroth on my own. (vanilla edition with bug-fixes only, please)

Granted, the auction house would be pretty dead, but still...
posted by ShutterBun at 2:29 AM on March 30, 2012


Programmers get remarkably little love in video game credits. Somehow, unlike the "producer," the writers, the artists, the president of the company, the lovable dog who died during production, and the entire staff of the Korean offshoring team who put it in their contract, programmers don't matter.
posted by sonic meat machine at 4:03 AM on March 30, 2012


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