The Science of Super Mario Bros.

Super Mario Bros.

Some might argue that game design is an art form, something not meant to be taken apart and analyzed, but researchers at IT University
of Copenhagen believe that
making the game design process more scientific could actually enhance player
experience. Their goal is to create games that
adapt to players’ personalities, which they believe would make video and computer games more entertaining.

For their experiment, described in full in an article in New Scientist this week, the researchers broke down Nintendo’s successful Super Mario Bros. in an
attempt to quantify what aspects made the game fun or frustrating for different
players. Some players, the researchers found, preferred fun tasks, such
as kicking turtle shells and acquiring coins, while others seemed to take more
pleasure in challenging tasks like clearing difficult jumps.

The research team has been presenting their preliminary data
at various computer intelligence conferences this fall. Their early results
suggest that controlling for certain features, such as reducing the number of
challenging jumps for fun-seeking players, improves players’ reception of the
game. But, for now, the researchers are still primarily focused on collecting and
analyzing player data. You can take theSuper Mario test yourself at this Web site (it requires a brief survey, then four rounds of a modified Super Mario level).

[Image from Pedersen, Togelius, Yannakakis 2009]