Stéphane Perrin, March 2008

Introduction

Super Mario Bros. is one of the most famous video games of all times, and an icon of the video game culture. More than 20 years after its creation, it is still marketed by Nintendo itself, licensed to other companies and subverted or re-used by numerous artists.
A good example of a legal recuperation is the Super Mario Bros.  series of the so-called Soundrops made by Bandai. The Soundrops are small drop-shaped colored plastic key holders containing an IC, a power supply and a speaker. They feature a single large round-shaped push button and each Soundrop emits a short sound sample when pressed. In the case of the Super Mario Bros. series, the sound samples are taken from the video game.
The project dubbed Sonata per Mario aims at pushing further the use of detournement (an anglicization of the French word "détournement" that could be translated as subversion) and recuperation through DIY and lo-tech hacking techniques.
Description

In Sonata per Mario, both the game Super Mario Bros. (by Nintendo) and the related Soundrop series (by Bandai) are re-used to create a new game that in turn can be seen as a detournement of the game Taiko Drum Master (by Namco).
The players use the eight Soundrops of the Super Mario Bros. series as an eight-buttons controller for a game based on pre-recorded plays of Super Mario Bros.. The pre-recorded plays have been stripped of the sound and the goal of the game is to reconstruct it through the use of the Soundrops, in perfect synchronization with the actions of the character Mario. Players earn points by pressing the correct Soundrop button at the right instant in a way that is similar to the game Taiko Drum Master.

Sonata per Mario features a list of the highest scores and the possibility for the player to enter his/her name when a high score is achieved. Moreover, it has two levels of difficulty. At the normal level of difficulty, visual indications are provided to help the player to be perfectly synchronized with the action of Mario. At the hard level of difficulty, such indications are not provided and the player must rely only on the actions of Mario.

The Soundrops are similar to a musical instrument and the pre-recorded video to the score.
Concept

In addition to the sheer entertainment value of the project when considered as a game, Sonata per Mario is a reflexion on the practice of recuperation by companies and the similar practice of detournement through hacking and DIY techniques by hobbyists and artists.
The Soundrops can be classified as merchandising and as such, products of recuperation. At the same time, the object itself is an original and creative product that yet cannot be dissociated of the original product to which it is related. Without its reference, the pertinence of the object is lost.
Sonata per Mario re-uses (or hacks, "détourne") an already recuperated merchandising product (the Soundrops) to become an original game that is itself a detournement of video games. In addition, it can be seen as a reflexion on copyright issues with an ironic and parodic twist.
 
Screenshots of the game
 

Technical statement

Sonata per Mario was developed using an Arduino board to connect the Soundrops to a computer running an application (initially built  with the free software Processing and then ported to OpenFrameworks). The players interact with the game through the Soundrops as a controller/instrument  and are presented with a display showing the game/score.

Setup

The setup of Sonata per Mario as an installation is very simple. Only the Soundrops, a display and speakers are needed. The computer as well as the Arduino board are necessary to the functionning but are hidden to the audience. Wireless communication between the Arduino board and the computer allows for an easy placement of the Soundrops.
The Soundrops should be placed (suspended) such as it recalls a musical instrument. In a dark environment, lights could be added to lighten the Soundrops only, leaving the surroundings in the dark.


drawings by A. Cassinelli


Media

Video [320x240 10.5MB wmv] [320x240 37MB mov] [720x480 50.7MB wmv] [640x480 87.3MB mov]

Flickr

Exhibitions

2010.06.27 - 07.13: Mario Viva, Hong Kong.
2008.07.26: Dorkbot Tokyo.



1up
The eight Soundrops of the Super Mario Bros. series (click on a Soundrop to hear the sample [mp3])

Acknowledgement

Many thanks to Alvaro Cassinelli and Monica Bressaglia for their help, valuable comments and inspiration, and to Thomas for showing me my first Soundrop.

August 2008, Stéphane Perrin