Legendary game designer John Romero recently shared an epic piece of video game history that never was: Super Mario Bros. 3 for PC. It seems unthinkable now, but 25 years ago Nintendo absolutely ruled the gaming industry. Not only did everyone want a Nintendo console in their home, but many of the most popular games of the era came from the company.
It’s no wonder then that back in 1990 a burgeoning game studio called Ideas from the Deep (IFD)—which included John Carmack (currently of Oculus Rift fame) and Romero among its team members—wanted to port Super Mario Bros. 3 to the PC. The company even created a rough demo version based on SMB 3’s first level and showed it to Nintendo.
The key to the whole endeavour was Carmack’s techinical trickery that allowed side-scrolling games to behave smoothly on PCs, as recently recounted by Ars Technica (calling on tales from the excellent book Masters of Doom by David Kushner). Prior to 1990, PCs had a terrible time with side-scrolling, which Carmack solved by only redrawing elements that actually changed as Mario ran along his path avoiding deadly plants and turtles—not to mention those angry Goombas.
Nintendo ultimately wasn’t interested and IFD’s work on Super Mario Bros. 3 for PC was locked away in the IP vaults of history. IFD went on to rename itself id Software and developed the Commander Keen games using some of the tech developed during the SMB 3 demo, and later Wolfenstein 3D and Doom.
Nintendo, meanwhile, had about a decade left before it would succumb to the overwhelming popularity of the PlayStation and Xbox consoles.
Why this matters: Today, getting Super Mario Bros. 3 on your PC is as easy as procuring a readily available ROM online and a console emulator. At the time, however, a premiere game like Super Mario Bros. 3 on the PC would have been a big deal. In the end it wouldn’t matter as id games like Doom would help to make the PC a premiere platform in its own right. Nevertheless, it’s fascinating to see this clip to get a taste of the PC gaming history that might have been.