8 Sep 2015

Super Mario meets musical robots

1:46 pm on 8 September 2015

A Victoria University PhD student has built a robotic orchestra that plays the Super Mario Brothers theme and sound effects in real-time game-play.

Nintendo platform game Super Mario Bros. is believed to be one best-selling video games of all time. 

The 8-bit cartridge game, which celebrates its 30th anniversary this year, also has one of gaming’s most recognisable tunes, covered by the likes of orchestras, concert pianists, and even the San Diego Comic Con Cos-Play Choir.

Even now, the Koji-Kondo composed blips and beeps fondly ring through the mind. Hours and hours of sunny childhood days were spent in a darkened lounge room in far too close proximity to the old cathode-ray television wrestling for the Nintendo Entertainment System controller. From here you would direct plumber Mario through the various lands of Mushroom Kingdom, smashing random bricks in search for gold coins, steroid-like fungi, infinity stars and weaponry-enabling flower pots.  

So with this in mind, it’s not hard to get enthusiastic when you combine Super Mario Bros. with musical robots. 

Victoria University of Wellington PhD student Jason Long has built a live robotic orchestra to accompany Super Mario’s real-time game play. For him, it was a no-brainer to use the game that probably is responsible for a nascent generation of electronic music fans and adept diplomatic negotiators (as anyone who had to maintain strategic friendships in exchange for regular access to buddy with the hallowed console and game can attest to).

“Everyone knows Super Mario. Everyone is really familiar with the theme song and sound effects,” says Jason.

In the School of Engineering and Computer Sciences, he’s been able to turn gaming music and robotic players into a legitimate area of research.

“The word robotic sounds like it’s very, very structured and non-organic. But I kind of see it as bringing electronic music into the more organic world than the other way round.”

And many visitors to his workshop and Victoria University are grateful for Jason’s research interests as it provides a far-too welcome break from their own.